AFM Flashback: Skateboarding Went Airborne in Santa Monica in 1977

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A hot-doggin' Tony Alva wowed the crowd during a visit to school in 1977.

While Parisian boys had been spotted rolling down the street on wooden boards outfitted with roller-skate wheels as early as 1944, it wasn't until the late '40s and early '50s that Californians — looking to "surf" the sidewalks — crafted the first modern skateboards and the pursuit began to take off in popularity, reaching a fever pitch in the '70s.

Skateboarding got its start in Santa Monica.

While Parisian boys had been spotted rolling down the street on wooden boards outfitted with roller-skate wheels as early as 1944, it wasn’t until the late ’40s and early ’50s that Californians — looking to “surf” the sidewalks — crafted the first modern skateboards and the pursuit began to take off in popularity.

It leaped forward in sophistication and high-flying daredevilism two decades later, and no crew is more credited with that than the Z-Boys. Taking their name from the Zephyr surfboard shop in Santa Monica where they used to hang out, the boys surfed in the dangerous waters under Pacific Ocean Park, an abandoned amusement park on a pier that locals referred to as “Dogtown,” and developed skateboarding tricks in empty swimming pools during the droughts of the mid-’70s. (It was Z-Boys member Tony Alva who accomplished the world’s first “aerial” in 1977 by flying off the edge of the pool, spinning around in the air and landing inside the basin upright.)

Their story has taken two trips to the big screen since: first as a documentary in 2001 called Dogtown and Z-Boys, directed by Z-Boys member Stacy Peralta, and again in the Catherine Hardwicke 2005 drama Lords of Dogtown, which features an extraordinary performance by Heath Ledger as Zephyr co-owner Skip Engblom.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 1 daily issue at the American Film Market.