The Z-Boys: The Skateboarding Pioneers of Dogtown

This group of surfers created a radical new style of skateboarding

Jay Adams In 'Dogtown And Z-Boys'
Archive Photos / Getty Images

A small group of outcasts from a poor section of Los Angeles area known as Dogtown helped spur the resurgence of skateboarding in the 1970s and changed world of skateboarding forever. Known as the Zephyr Team or Z-Boys, they started as surfers in Dogtown, an area of southern Santa Monica and western Los Angeles that covers Venice and Ocean Park beaches.

Throughout the 1970s, the surfers in Dogtown were aggressive and antisocial. They fit into the stereotype of surfers as poor dropouts. For many of these young people, surfing was all they had.

Surfing at the Cove

  1. Between Venice Beach and Santa Monica was an abandoned amusement park on the water called the Pacific Ocean Park Pier. In the middle of the POP, as it was known, the huge wood pilings and rickety piers in a U-shape created a kind of secret cove. It was an incredibly dangerous place to surf, but the local surfers of Dogtown prized their secret surf spot and defended it fiercely—often with force. Outsiders had to earn their way in.

Zephyr Surfboard Productions

In 1972, Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom, and Craig Stecyk opened a surf shop called Jeff Ho and Zephyr Surfboard Productions right in the middle of Dogtown. Ho handcrafted surfboards and pushed the limits and ideas of surfboard design. Craig Stecyk was the artist who designed the surfboards' graphics. Most surfboards at the time used soft, rainbow images or calm, pretty island scenes. Stecyk pulled his graphics from local graffiti and made Zephyr surfboards reflect the area where they were made.

The shop also started the Zephyr surf team. Dogtown was full of young surfers who had nowhere to go and who were hungry to prove themselves and gain an identity. The Zephyr team provided that.

The Zephyr team had 12 members:

  • Shogo Kubo
  • Bob Biniak
  • Nathan Pratt
  • Stacey Peralta
  • Jim Muir
  • Allen Sarlo
  • Chris Cahill
  • Tony Alva
  • Paul Constantineau
  • Jay Adams
  • Peggy Oki
  • Wentzle Ruml

While surfing is what pulled the Zephyr team together, skateboarding would be what would pull them apart. But not before they changed the world forever.

Skateboarding's Rebirth

Skateboarding was a hobby that had a short-lived flash of excitement in the late 1950s. At that time, skateboarders rode using dangerous clay wheels.

But in 1972, the same year that the Jeff Ho and Zephyr Surfboard Productions shop opened, urethane skateboard wheels were invented. These wheels made skateboarding smoother, safer and more reasonable. Today's skateboards still have urethane skateboarding wheels.

From Pastime to Passion

The Z-boys enjoyed skateboarding as something to do after surfing. The activity grew from a hobby for the Zephyr team into a new way to express themselves and to show what they were made of. Style was most important to the Zephyr team, and they pulled all of their inspiration from surfing. They would bend their knees deep and enjoyed riding the concrete like they were riding a wave, dragging their hands on the pavement like Larry Burtleman, who touched the wave as he was surfing, dragging his fingers across it. This move in skateboarding became known as a "Burt" and still refers to dragging fingers or planting a hand on the ground and turning around it.

The skateboarding of the Zephyr team was unique and powerful. At the same time that they were sidewalk surfing, skateboarding was growing in popularity in other areas of the country. For the rest of the country, skateboarding was slalom (riding down a hill around cones) and a graceful and artistic freestyle.

While the Zephyr team had nothing to do with freestyle skateboarding, they were familiar with slalom. The Zephyr team also skated at four grade schools in the Dogtown area. These schools all had sloping concrete banks in their playgrounds. For the Z-boys, it was a great place to skate. It was in these places that each skater developed his own style. 

The Del Mar Nationals

Then in 1975, the first big skateboarding competition since the 1960s was held in California, the Del Mar Nationals. The Zephyr team showed up in their blue Zephyr shirts and blue Vans shoes and changed the skateboarding world. The Del Mar Nationals competition had two areas—a slalom course and a platform for freestyle.

The Zephyr team mocked the freestyle competition but entered anyway. The crowd loved their low, aggressive style, "Burts," and inventiveness. They were like nothing anyone had ever seen.

The Dogtown Articles

That same year, Skateboarder magazine re-launched. In the second issue, Stecyk began a series called the "Dogtown articles," which told the story of the Dogtown team. Stecyk's photography was even more inspiring than his surfboard art, and his articles fanned the flames of the skateboarding revolution that had started at Del Mar.

Only a few short months after the Del Mar nationals, the Zephyr team was ripped apart by the fame and popularity. Skateboarding was on the rise, new skateboarding companies were cropping up, and more competitions followed with even larger cash prizes. Everyone wanted a piece of the Zephyr team, and Ho couldn't compete with the money his team was being offered. The Jeff Ho and Zephyr Surfboard Productions shop closed down soon afterward.

Each member of the Zephyr team moved on, some to bigger and better skateboarding, some to other things.