West Los Angeles Courthouse Skate Plaza. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

In the January 1978 issue of SkateBoarder magazine, a photograph showed Tony Alva grabbing the deck of his skateboard with one hand and floating about five inches above the granite tile coping of The Dog Bowl, an empty swimming pool in Santa Monica, Calif. For the world, it was the first time anyone got “air.” For skateboarders—as depicted in the 2001 documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys—it was the moment skateboarding stepped out of surfing’s shadow. The Dogtown crew, with its rebellious approach to “sidewalk surfing,” helped turn the sport into a US$1.9-billion industry. Today, Dogtown—a patchwork of neighbourhoods in the Los Angeles area—remains central to skateboarding culture.
Venice Beach. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

Santa Monica

ZJ Boarding House. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

Start your day where it all began. The former Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions shop in the 2000 block of Main Street is ground zero for all things Dogtown. This is where boarders Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom (played by Heath Ledger in the film Lords of Dogtown) and Craig Stecyk propelled skateboarding into its own. While the shop closed in the late 1970s, the building was designated a historical landmark in 2007, and Dogtown Coffee opened at 2003 Main St. in 2012. Stop for breakfast and a cup of joe before immersing yourself in Z-Boys’ history. Once fed and indoctrinated, head a few blocks south to ZJ Boarding House, one of Santa Monica’s largest skate and surf shops.

Bicknell Hill, an incline that slopes toward the Pacific, is hallowed ground for skateboarders. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

True skateboarders aren’t known for dabbling. So, rentals here are rare. If you are ready to give it a go, pick up your own board, accessories, pads and helmets (and even some fresh new Vans) at ZJ’s before heading to Bicknell Hill, a small incline on Bicknell Avenue that slopes toward a beach parking lot. This hill is hallowed ground for skateboarders and was the location of the iconic photo of boarder Jay Adams that appears on the poster for the Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary.

If you’re feeling confident, channel your inner Jay and take a few runs down the hill. If you’re a beginner, head to the beach bike path and get your bearings on flatter ground. If your friends want to tag along, but don’t want to skateboard, Perry’s Cafe and Beach Rentals offers a selection of bikes. To make it an authentic Z-Boy experience, you might want to get in some surfing at the former location of the Pacific Ocean Park pier or at the base of Bay Street, which the Dogtowners called home.

Venice

A 16,000-square-foot skate park in Venice. Photograph by Donna Irene.

Located south of Santa Monica, Venice was historically known for being rougher than the northern end of the Dogtown territory. Dogtowners might sometimes rank their authenticity by how far north or south they lived—Venice being the realest of the real.

Dogtown Coffee. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

As skateboarding progressed into the 1980s, a worldwide boom erupted with the arrival of the flatground ollie—essentially jumping in the air with your board, but without grabbing it—the standard wooden halfpipe and the launch ramp. Much of this second boom (as portrayed in the 1986 film Thrashin’ with Josh Brolin) was squarely centred around the graffiti-covered Venice Pavilion and the two or three makeshift ramps that were there. It was also led by second-generation Dogtowners like Christian Hosoi, Eric Dressen and Natas Kaupas.

Venice is where many elements of modern skateboarding were pioneered in the 1980s. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

Kaupas is credited with bringing the flatground ollie—now the building block of all modern skating—to the streets, and is believed by some to be the first to take a skateboard down a handrail and up a wall. All of this likely occurred in either Venice or south Santa Monica, so this is the ideal place to try and learn how to do an “ollie,” “railslide” or “wallride.”

Venice Beach Boardwalk. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

If you still need to rent a board, the Venice Beach Boardwalk, unlike Santa Monica, does have a number of options, such as Jay’s Rentals just off Zephyr Court. Eateries are plentiful in the area, but The Sidewalk Café will afford you a good view of the skate park and the chance to watch the passersby on the boardwalk.

Venice Beach. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

There is now a massive, 16,000-square-foot skate park on almost the exact spot where the old pavilion and the 1980s ramps sat. Watch the locals tear it up and try your own luck in the two bowls, the snake run or the sprawling street course with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Make sure to stay for one of the majestic sunset sessions that happen there daily.

Venice Beach. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

West Los Angeles

Cafe 50’s. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, skateboarding continued moving further from the coast, separating itself from surf culture to become more of an urban pastime. As it did so, it also became less intent on catching air in pools or on ramps and more intent on sliding and grinding on benches, planters and handrails—referred to as “street skating.”

Rip City Skates. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

Spend a day on Santa Monica Boulevard (a.k.a. Route 66) and you can bridge several decades of this boarding evolution. Start your journey inland by paying your respects at Rip City Skates. Opened in 1978, Rip City became the shop of choice for skateboarders after Zephyr closed. With more than 40 years in business, it is more church and museum than mere skate shop. After, head into West Los Angeles for a big, greasy meal at Cafe 50’s, a 1950s-themed diner near the boulevard’s intersection with Barry Avenue.

Stoner Skate Plaza. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

Finally, get in some skateboarding; try the West L.A. Courthouse Skate Plaza for a good dose of 1990s-era skating—as depicted in Jonah Hill’s 2018 film, mid90s. The plaza was designated a skate park in 2014, so you can enjoy the fun of street skating without getting arrested or ticketed—something anyone who skated the courthouse prior to 2014 likely experienced. A few blocks southwest lies Stoner Skate Plaza— considered one of the best in the world, with a good mix of obstacles for any skill level.

Fairfax

Visitors to the area can try getting some air at the North Hollywood Skate Park. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

While Dogtowners certainly spent time in Hollywood, hitting the bars and clubs on the Sunset Strip, it wasn’t until the turn of the century that skateboarders truly set up shop in the mid-city region. A skateboarding ban at the West L.A. Courthouse, along with the redevelopment of the Venice Pavilion, saw the scene move toward the Fairfax and Melrose avenues area.

Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

In 2004, New York City’s highly influential Supreme skate shop opened its second U.S. location at 439 N. Fairfax Ave., and included an in-store wooden skate bowl. By then, the very skate culture born in Dogtown had travelled all the way to New York City and all the way back—with new twists and cultural ingredients picked up along the way. Within months of opening, Supreme arguably became the new epicentre of skate culture in the city. Multiple skate-related stores quickly opened on the same block.

canter’s Deli. Photograph by Sam Diephuis.

Visit the legendary Canter’s Deli on Fairfax for a Matt’s Special—an oven-roasted turkey sandwich topped with Muenster cheese on grilled challah egg bread—before walking up the block to Supreme to see 2020 skateboarding in all its glory. As for actually riding one, you might get extremely lucky and have the regulars at Supreme let you skate their bowl—but, chances are slim. Instead, try getting your air at the North Hollywood Skate Plaza or La Fayette Skate Plaza in the mid-Wilshire area.

Photograph by Sam Diephuis.
This story appears in the March 2020 edition of WestJet Magazine.

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