If you’re young, male and you live in the city, how do you prove yourself in the most materially comfortable country on earth? How do you show courage, daring, skill, strength? How do you prove you’re a man? If you’re a Masai Tribesman in Africa you kill a lion. If you’re an Aborigine boy, you go on walkabout, if you live in Dogtown, Los Angeles you ride a skateboard.
Hilariously, this is how this vintage documentary from the golden age of skateboarding begins. At the time of its release in 1978, the sport of skateboarding was still a developing endeavor that a lot of people outside of California might have looked at with simple fascination. While the sport was growing, with skate shops and parks popping up all over the country, it was by no means as prevalent and integrated into world culture as it is today. Skateboard Kings, produced by Horace Ové for the British Television series The World About Us,features early pioneers Tony Alva, Ray Flores, Shogo Kubo, Stacy Peralta, Billy Yeron, Paul Constantineau, Jerry Valdez and Kent Senatore among many others. It makes them out to be this sort of new kind of rebel on the fringes of a faddy phenomenon, with a “No really… kids are actually getting paid money to do this for a living” attitude. Interviews with parents in a skate shop are particularly chuckle-worthy as they try to rationalize letting their kids get involved in the sport despite its inherent dangers from overly crowded “skate courts” and whatnot. If parents really wanted something to worry about, imagine what they would think if they knew anything about the legendary Dogtown party world.
There’s very little of a taste of the party here, however, but it’s still cool nonetheless, and despite some of its stiffness, there’s great footage from early skate parks, pool skating (and draining), and Tony Alva narrating tricks and using still early terminology like “aerials” and “grinders.” Tiny boards, traffic cone slaloms, flat ground 360’s and rolling handstands were the cutting edge at the time. There’s also a skateboard safety clinic featured which is really funny and mike just leave modern day skaters shaking their heads.
The last five minutes of the film are great, showing Tony Alva and others skating 21-foot high pipes soon to be installed in the desert. The infamous “Arizona Pipes” should be legendary to anybody interested in the history of the development of skateboarding as a sport and as a creative endeavor.