Roaming Santa Monica’s current rows of boutique shops and artisanal brunch spots, it’s inconceivable that the neighborhood once belonged to poor suburbia, specifically known to its locals as Dogtown. In this place, a ragtag group of young surfers overcame all odds and rose to stardom, changing skateboarding culture forever.
The story begins in the early 1970s at an abandoned pier called Pacific Ocean Park. The dangerous waves crashing among the ruins of the old pier (known locally as P.O.P. pier) were converted to an unlikely haven for a group of restless young locals who surfed there religiously, naming it The Cove.
When the pier first opened on Saturday, July 28th, 1958, it embodied the quintessential optimism of America’s 1950s era. Less than twenty years later, the abandoned pier transformed into a decaying reminder for locals—a testament to the changing times and changing optimism. In solidarity with the American ’70s, the west side of LA sprouted again, replacing optimism with something new: rebellion.
Members of the group, known as the Zephyr Surf Team, took to the streets with skateboards to practice on days when there were no waves to surf. The surf team was a brainchild of local surfboard shop owners Skip Engblom, Craig Stecyk, and Jeff Ho of Jeff Ho and Zephyr surf Productions. They were known as the Z-boys. With an earned reputation for shaping boards, they uniquely dodged burnt pilings and sharp remains of the P.O.P. at the Cove. Respected and revered, the members of Zephyr’s Z-boys included Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Bob Biniak, Wentzle Ruml, Shogo Kubo, Jim Muir, and the pioneering Peggy Oki, the only female Z-boy.
At the time, a major drought in southern California caused neighborhood swimming pools to dry up, many left unattended. The imaginative Zephyr team saw this as an opportunity to try something new. The Z-boys began taking skateboards into the barren pools—creating a now iconic image that was synonymous with their group. Skateboarding as a sport met its evolution at this moment, birthing a new generation and the next phase in its culture.
The Z-boys began riding the walls of the pools, eventually over the rails, making them the first skateboarders to catch air. These young outcasts began a small revolution in their impoverished beach community, known today as the vert style of skateboarding. Skaters like Christian Hosoi, Tony Hawk, and Eliot Sloan emerged from this style of skating, becoming internationally recognized for the sport itself.
Today, Dogtown nostalgia is still alive on the streets of Venice Beach—a new generation of skateboarders continue to create their own community and their own mark on West Los Angeles. As a neighborhood spanning all ages seeks out ways to push the limits of the sport, they finally found a home worthy of their talent. In 2009, a 3.5 million dollar skatepark opened in the heart of Venice, and is now a hotbed of talent and community, honoring the Dogtown legacy preceding it.
Watch the video below for more information on Dogtown and skateboard history: