The History of Dogtown and the Z-Boys

The history of skateboarding, as is well known, began in California. Thanks to the movie “Lords of Dogtown,” many have heard of the 1970s history of skateboarding in California. Dogtown, or the Santa Monica/Venice Beach area, is in fact where skateboarding first became really popular.

During the 1970’s, a group of skateboarders called the Z-Boys essentially created the punk/skater subculture that exists to this day. These skateboarders were part of a team called the Jeff Ho Zephyr team, which is how they got their name.

The Z-Boys got their start in 1973, when Jeff Ho and others opened Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions in Venice Beach. The first Z-Boy was Nathan Pratt, then fourteen years old. He was hired to work at the shop, and became an apprentice surfboard maker and the founding member of what would become the Z-Boys. By 1974, this group of teenagers also included Allen Sarlo, Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Chris Cahill, and Stacy Peralta. These surfers were notorious around Dogtown for being a rough-and-tumble crowd who dominated the surf.

In the 1970s, surfing was a counterculture sport, frowned upon by much of mainstream society. The Z-Boys were not only surfers, but also avid skateboarders who used their boards to imitate popular surfing moves and create their own tricks. They developed a new style that was completely different than that of most other skateboarders of the time. By 1975, the Z-Boys started a skateboard team that was separate from the surf team started by Jeff Ho.

The Z-Boys’ first competition was the Del Mar Nationals in March of 1975, today recognized as the first major skateboarding competition since the mid 1960’s, nearly a decade earlier. Half of the finalists of the competition were Z-Boys members, in part thanks to their new style and approach when compared to the other competitors. Despite their comparatively young age, the Z-Boys soon rose to the top of the skateboarding world.

The Z-Boys’ style, which relied on vertical and airborne moves, would become widespread over the next year. During a drought in the mid 1970s, the Z-Boys took their boards to empty pools, skating on the sides. It was during this time that the technique of coming out of the “bowl” and re-entering was discovered; the Z-Boys had invented aerial skateboarding. Their techniques paved the way for today’s skateboarding world, which relies heavily on aerial tricks. It is hard to imagine today, but before the Z-Boys, no one was skateboarding in bowls.

Soon their stories were gracing the cover of Skateboard Magazine. Members of the Z-Boys became top ranked surfers and skateboarders. As a result, many team members left for other companies and teams. By 1977, the Z-Boys were no longer together. Despite their short history, the Z-Boys are considered one of the most influential skateboarding teams to this day, and their story has been chronicles in numerous films and books. The Z-Boys played a significant role in turning skateboarding from a hobby to a widely recognized extreme sport.