The teaching of history is defined by singular events and celebrated figures. We learn about past events by stories and only the most exceptional stories make it through the myriad of pedestrian happenings that actually make up any moment in time. Movements and meteoric shifts in history don't always happen as the way future generations hear them, a million untold events occur for every classic tale recounted time and time again.
Skateboarding is no different. The shift from a mere kid's toy to a subcultural phenomena is commonly attributed to one small group of people in a very compact geographical location. Acted out by Tony Alva and Jay Adams, through the lenses and pens of Glen E. Friedman and Craig Stecyk III, all neatly packaged and sold to the world by Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom. History tells us that this group of people, located in the heart of Dogtown (Venice, CA on a map), were the surfers who first realised the potential of the skateboard. Who did the first Bertslides on hot concrete and first felt the rush of carving an empty swimming pool.
[Jay Adams epitomising the early Z-Boys style, shot by Craig Stecyk III from here]
Personally, I can't think about Jay Adams without having to seek out and give praise to the above image. It is undeniable that, in the words of Carly Simon, "nobody does it better" than Jay Adams and Tony Alva did. In terms making skateboarding the exciting, edgy and controversially cool beast it has become then the status of the Dogtown pioneers should not be understated.
However for every pioneer, there's usually a heap of ordinary people performing similar acts... just not quite as explosively. And whilst the exploits of the Z-Boys has been well document and sold to us as the birth of modern skateboarding, in reality all over Southern California bored surfer kids were doing Bertslides on concrete banks, turning the previous generation's hang ten into the two footed nose manual and breaking into backyards to surf drained swimming pools. For the most part undocumented. Another reason history forgets. Lack of documentation. Evidence.
In 2010 a book appeared that told the tale of the birth of skateboarding through a different lens. Presenting a huge body of work "Locals Only" by Hugh Holland (sadly out of print) showcased around 100 hundred colour photos taken all over SoCal of the very first skate rats. It's a crucial document both in content and also delivery. Taken between 1975-78, the same time that Adams and Alva shot to stardom, Holland's photographs were taken using old 35mm film stock from Hollywood studios. The result lends a warm cinematic flair... and just the right amount of nostalgia. The photos convey the freedom and innocence of being a Californian kid in the mid 70s, sharply contrasting the aggressive punk rock style of Glen E. Friedman and Craig Stecyk. And whilst the latter's images look like a shockwave from the future, the pictures in Locals Only are firmly rooted in 1970s folklore.
[images from Hugh Holland's "Locals Only" Ammo Books 2010]