San Luis Obispo

Stacy Peralta: Skate Culture's Unofficial Curator Returns to His Roots

Stacy Peralta in action

For Stacy Peralta, nothing compares to the sensation of sailing down the street on a skateboard.

"At any moment you could be kicked off your feet and onto your butt," said the professional skateboarder-turned-filmmaker, who lives in San Luis Obispo County. "You can feel the street rumbling between your feet. You can hear the click, click, click of the wheels beneath you.

"There's the terror of feeling free."

Peralta, whose film credits include 2004's "Riding Giants" and 2008's "Crips and Bloods: Made in America," is best known as the co-writer and director of 2001's "Dogtown and Z-Boys," his award-winning documentary about the Southern California surf rats who revolutionized skateboarding in the 1970s.

His latest film, "Bones Brigade: An Autobiography," chronicles the next stage in the evolution of the sport - as professional skateboarders including Tony Hawk, Mike McGill and Lance Mountain transitioned from the fluid, surfing-inspired style popularized in the '70s to the street-style stunts familiar to fans of today's X Games. The documentary, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opens in theaters this fall, features interviews, photos and videos of the Powell-Peralta professional skateboarding team of the 1980s paired with songs by Devo, David Bowie and the Buzzcocks.

According to Peralta, five Powell Peralta veterans approached him nine years ago with the idea of doing a documentary about the Bones Brigade. The filmmaker, who had just finished promoting the deeply personal "Dogtown," turned them down.

"Two years ago, Lance Mountain called me and said, 'Look, we really want to do this film, and here's why: We are now older than you and Tony Alva were when you made 'Dogtown,'" Peralta, 54, recalled. This time, he said "yes."

Stacy Peralta takes his turn in front of the camera in 'Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.' | Photo: Courtesy of Powell-Peralta.

During Peralta's childhood in the Mar Vista/Venice area of Los Angeles, skateboarding was considered a novelty, a passing fad akin to the hula hoop and the pogo stick.

"(Our parents) didn't pay attention to our skateboarding. At the time it was considered such a trivial thing to do," recalled Peralta, who was four years old the first time he stepped on a skateboard. "It was not just 'kids' stuff,' it was 'Why would you waste your time doing something like that?'"

That attitude stemmed in part from the fact that skateboarding had enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in the mid-1960s, only to vanish from the public eye. "It was a bipolar situation" for a skateboarding fan, Peralta recalled.

Then, at age 15, he joined the Zephyr Skate Team sponsored by Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions, based in the Santa Monica neighborhood known as Dogtown. He and his fellow Z-Boys, including Alva and Jay Adams, quickly turned the marginalized sport on its head - wowing the crowd at the 1975 Del Mar Nationals and dominating the pages of Skateboarder magazine in Craig Stecyk III's famous "Dogtown articles."

"The reason there was so much power coming out of Santa Monica was the terrain that existed in Santa Monica," he explained, describing the voluptuous swimming pools and sloped school grounds that skateboarders turned into their own personal playgrounds. "That was literally like having seven of the greatest golf courses in one city."

By age 19, Peralta was one of skateboarding's most respected professionals, later parlaying his success into international tours and a "Charlie's Angels" cameo. (Asked how he avoided many of the career pitfalls that plagued his peers, Peralta quipped, "Look at that famous Zephyr photo. I'm the only one with a watch.")

Peralta captures the exploits of the Bones Brigade on video in the mid-1980s. | Photo: Courtesy of Powell-Peralta.

By the late 1970s, however, "I could sense my time was coming up as professional skateboarder," Peralta said, who quit Gordon & Smith skateboards at the peak of his career.

In 1978, he teamed up with engineer George Powell, whose creations included aluminum-skinned skateboard decks and the double-radial urethane wheels known as Bones, to form the Santa Barbara skateboard company Powell-Peralta.

"George didn't really understand promoting, marketing, creating the myth behind a company," Peralta recalled, but he and Stecyk did. Peralta recruited Hawk, Mountain, McGill, Steve Caballero, Rodney Mullen and Tommy Guerrero - six self-described "freaks" with raw talent and a will to succeed - and created the Bones Brigade.

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"I started developing these kids in the hope that they'd become the next champions," Peralta said, and they far exceeded his expectations. "They created so many revolutionary maneuvers."

Take Mullen, inventor of the freestyle flatland Ollie, or Hawk, a former world champion credited with creating more than 80 vertical tricks.

"Tony shouldn't have been able to do what he does, based on his body type. ... He's really tall, really thin, really narrow," Peralta said of Hawk, now "the most recognizable alternative athlete in the world." "No one could stop him. He's a very fierce competitor." To better promote the young, talented members of the Bones Brigade, Peralta got behind the camera.

His first attempt, "The Bones Brigade Video Show," premiered in the spring of 1984 in Hawks' parents' living room. But instead of selling 300 copies to California skate shops as expected, Powell Peralta eventually sold about 30,000.

A string of successful skateboarding videos, including 1985's "Future Primitive: Bones Brigade Video 2" and 1987's "The Search for Animal Chin," followed. "What (the videos) did is enable me to show the sport the way I saw it," Peralta said. "I was able to show thousands of kids over the earth this new type of skateboarding that was developing."

"We realized that 100 percent of the products we (were) selling to kids (was) based on vertical swimming pools and ramps, but only 20 people (had) access to that terrain,'" he recalled. "Every kid can get ahold of streets, hand rails and curbs."

"By the end of the decade, street skating had completely usurped vertical skating in popularity," added Peralta, who left Powell-Peralta in 1991.

According to the filmmaker, "Bones Brigade: An Autobiography" does more than capture a pivotal period in skateboarding; it delves into the lives of the athletes who shaped the sport.

"The guys in the film are very vulnerable and they're very honest and they're very open about the obstacles they faced," he said, noting that Hawk was spat on by skate punks and Mullen faced constant pressure from his abusive father to quit skateboarding.

Mountain, meanwhile, battled feelings of inadequacy during his Bones Brigade days. "He's the one ... who never felt he was good enough, who was always struggling mentally," said Peralta, who coped with similar emotions during his own pro career.

For his part, Peralta has found peace as a filmmaker living, surfing and skateboarding in the Central Coast hamlet of Cayucos. "This is the California of my memory. This is the California I grew up with that no longer exists in Southern California," said Peralta, who's called Cayucos home for four years. "It provides for a fantastic lifestyle."

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Top Photo: Professional skateboarder Stacy Peralta, seen during his Powell-Peralta days, executes an aerial move. Courtesy of Powell-Peralta.

About the Author

Sarah Linn covers film, television and the performing arts as the editor of Ticket, the arts-and-entertainment section of The Tribune newspaper of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
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