Something very special was happening inside the Zephyr surfboard shop at the beginning of the 1970s. Perhaps there was a lingering optimism left over from the generation before, echoes of a collective incantation, the continuing push to reach new frontiers. Whatever it was, Stacy Peralta was there – at the centre of it all. When the swell refused to rise one day, a group of young men began skateboarding in the car park at their local surf break in Santa Monica, California. They would go on to be credited with the invention of modern skateboarding – pioneers who used empty suburban pools and the beachside car park at their local surf spot, Pacific Ocean Park (also known as Dogtown), to get their fix when there was no surf.
By 1974, the Zephyr surfboard shop had created a skateboard team. Named the Z-Boys, they would compete in competitions across the west coast of America and capture the imagination of a generation. Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Chris Cahill were the most famous members of the team, reaching cult status throughout the 70s as the sport continued to grow.
While the Z-Boys broke through the wall in the early 70s, it wasn’t until 1979 that skateboarding finally took on a form and genuine identity of its own. Peralta and his partner, engineer George Powell, created Powell Peralta Skateboards (which is still one of the most recognised skateboarding brands in the world) and helped catalyse a bustling new industry devoted to skateboarding equipment and apparel.
At the same time, Peralta put together his own skateboard team, the Bones Brigade and, in picking the most talented youth from around the country, helped redefined the sport. His first bunch of youngsters included Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and Lance Mountain who, among other things, invented manoeuvres like the ollie, the McTwist, the half cab and the 720.
“When I grew up skateboarding in the 70s, in our imagination we were really surfing,” says Peralta, chatting over the phone from California. He’s doing the rounds in support of his latest documentary, Bones Brigade, which chronicles the formative years of skateboarding’s elite, competitive new era. “In a sense we were boxed in, because we were only skateboarding to supplement our surfing,” he says. “When my generation looked at a pool, we would look at the line to carve in it, like the line we would carve in a wave.”
It was his remarkable eye for talent that led Peralta to recruit the most influential skateboarders in history to the Bones Brigade. He’s outwardly enthusiastic about their achievements, but not one to take credit. “When Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen came of age, they weren’t surfers at all, and neither were Steve Caballero or Mike McGill or Lance Mountain. They were pure skateboarders, so they could take the sport in an entirely new way,” says Peralta proudly. “These guys didn’t even look at the pool as something to ride, they looked at the air above it as the place they wanted to ride. So the pool became a launching point for them to propel in the air,” he continues.
Speaking with Peralta, he’s incredibly generous in sharing his experience. It’s this zest and enthusiasm that translates on screen in all of his documentaries, including The Bones Brigade. Alongside his status as the forefather of modern skateboarding is an impossibly long list of achievements that have had great impact on American and wider youth culture. His previous documentaries include surf film Riding Giants, his incisive investigation of Los Angeles gang culture Crips and Bloods: Made in America and several early Bones Brigade documentaries that set the style and tone of skateboarding documentaries.
In one of the final scenes in Bones Brigade, Lance Mountain breaks down when talking about Peralta and there’s a universal sense among the now grown-up team that they were a part of something very special. Peralta picked up Tony Hawk and Rodney Mullen when they were children, acting as a father figure to the pair who came from mixed and sometimes unhappy families.
“The thing that I am most proud of, after being in the Z-Boys, is that all of these guys made it out the other side,” Peralta says. “None of them are looking back in their lives and saying ‘what if’. They all made it, man.”
Bones Brigade is out on DVD on December 5. For more information, click here.