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April 25, 2005

The Return of Dogtown

The other day, while watching the previews at the showing of Kung Fu Hustle, I discovered that Hollywood is bringing back the 70s, or more properly, one of the few things that were actually cool about the 70s. I don't mean John Travolta. I mean Dogtown.

I wasn't hip to much of cultural geography when I was 14, but I did know that there was some crossover that I liked and some that I didn't. Once upon a time I had a pretty cool conversation over at the Well in the GenX forum about what it was like for me to be one of the first group of black kids to get bussed to school in Pacific Palisades. Around that time was the first time I stepped out of black only environments, some kids were easier to get along with than others. I hung with the longhairs.

When I first saw the documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys a couple years ago, I was shocked into recognition of my old ethos and what it felt like to be a California teen when I was growing up in the era of crossover. I was flooded with memories of skateboarding at Paul Revere during the summer of 74.

In my own neighborhood, I was the best skater, and I got everybody on the block riding on Stokers and Chicago trucks. Me myself, I had whistling Stokers on a Bahne board that was flourescent green with rainbow tape. My brothers all had GTs with the kick lip on the back. I've always been a self-taught goofy footer but I didn't know what that meant until I started hanging at Paul Revere. The dudes at Revere skated backwards to me. I had my left foot towards the rear of the board, pushed off with the right than put that on the front. They looked at me like "what's this"? So I started skating both ways. I also did a lot of straight crazy street luge back in those days. But it was all about swooping and ending whatever you did with a sweet 360.

The surfer dudes at Revere were mellow and perhaps some of them were stoners. I didn't know or care. What I knew was that they were definitely about style, and so was I. So I was going to get a new wooded long board cut by whomever it was at Revere that did that out of wood shop. I can't remember exactly how it happened but my board got split. I just remember being heartbroken and without a board and the bright red and yellow paint from it still on my bomber jacket that shared a locker.

I ended up at a Jesuit prep school instead of Pali High where I wanted to go. This actually felt like culture shock. One of my Revere buds came to Loyola freshman year, but he was out of there after a semester. None of our cool worked at LiHi at all. But I was saved from being a complete geek by another dose of Venice.

In the Summer of 75, I was a Junior Guard at Venice Beach. The attitude resurfaced but not quite as strong. We definitely represented the 'outlaws' at the Taplans and the rivalries between Venice and the other beach's Guard programs was palpable. When our group went to Zuma or Rogers, it was our duty to dig huge holes in the sand to trap the real lifeguard trucks. So we basked in much self-made glory as Venice Locals.

Later at Episcopal Camp Stevens in East San Diego County, I hung out with some Dogtown stoners. I wish I knew whatever happened to those dudes. They were good friends, and they had the serious thai stick. Tad Drivas where are you? Dan Heffernan, where have you been? Our football team, The Roaches, won the all camp football competition. I was QB and taught everybody how to do the Hustle. Ah those crossover days.

It would be good to see the true spirit of Dogtown get its due. I was not a true rebel with noplace to go. I can't represent like I was one of them, but I was there and would have been tight with them had I continued at Pali. The fact was that I have always cleaned up nice, and with a blowout and my puka shells, I had my share of female attention. Plus I had other crossover duties in the world of upper-middle class Catholics that snatched the pure spirit of rebellion out of me. I was getting around and didn't need the loyalty. Besides, I lived in Crenshaw, not Venice, nor Palisades nor South Pasadena. Still, I hated Vals.

From my perspective, Dogtown was about aggressive style with a lighthearted sense of personal aggro. I was 'Bo' and my role in those days was to be devastating with the dozens, and I was. I could make you cry with laughter or shame depending on whether you were audience or target. That worked straight out of the hood and was righteous with the surfers, skaters and jocks at Revere and Pali, as well as the San Diego kids who puffed, spun around looking up at the stars and danced on the tables in the mess hall to the sounds of Pink Floyd's Animals. We were California teens of a new era and we were crafting our own style of expression. It was strong and natural and much of it has survived to today.

What you don't often hear is where the cool black guy was, but we were definitely a part of the flavor. There was soul in that mix. You probably won't hear in in the Hollywood version - it will all be about the personalities of the kids that made money or fit nicely into the characters that Hollywood writers understand. I just want you to know that brothers were also real brothers in the larger Dogtown story.

Posted by mbowen at April 25, 2005 05:13 PM

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Beautiful writing, man. Very evocative.

Posted by: Chap at April 25, 2005 07:26 PM