The other night I saw the documentary Dogtown and the Z boys on the root of skater culture and the birth of an industry. Movies can be a reflection of you want to see in yourself, or not, but I related to the tale as a startup story. I broke my share of bones on a board, bought into the marketing that framed this movement in the seventies, but regardless of if I was a skater -- there is something to learn from movements.
Tony Alva at the place and time where air was discovered. Photo: Glen E. Friedman
The craft of skating was borne out of the opportunities and constraints of achitecture. In Santa Monica where pavement was laid with wave-like curves. Jeff Ho & Zepher Production surf shop gathered a team that learned to ride it, each with their own style and pushing each others limits. The Zepher Boys literally shredded a national competition when they applied their own style to the constraining flat architecture. What was upright and balanced turned ground hugging and carved, leaving judges of a prior era perplexed.
After initial victory, the money came in and new management. The team found a new challenge with new architecture. The California dought left many pools drained, where they discovered new geometry to explore. Armed with pickup, pumping system and hard work they rapidly drained pools of random houses to gain new edges to grind. Throughout this period, their culture was magnified and projected by great storytelling, pictures and video -- commercialization that spread the movement rapidly. Some of the kids built their own companies, some became stars, some produced films, some drove in less accomplished directions by some standards.
But the team kept innovating. At one point, they gained perfect refuge in the large private pool (above), a perfect setting to experiment and test limits. When Tony Alva rose above the edge to discover vert, which Tony Hawk later livingly immortalized, led to Extreme Sports and the further creation of industry.
Many an industry arises like Dogtown. With a little leadership, a core group born out of passion within an architecture that seems natural. Rejecting established culture to develop their own and spreading it in their own words, images and actions. Constant iteration in practice and adaptation by shaping architecture. Founders have moments where they cede and where they gain. A 2002 review highighted how On a grander scale, Dogtown is a snapshot of how mass marketing can compromise sports. This is true, depending upon your level of compromise. All social movements are co-opted or die. What is successfully different becomes the norm. But what remains isn't just the history documented, but what participants make of it.