“Lords of Dogtown” Interviews: Tony Alva, Skip Engblom and Stacy Peralta

From the dangerous waves off a long-forgotten pier to the concrete wasteland of a city slum, the lives of the three original Lords of Dogtown come to cinematic life.

In the early 1970s, the Z-Boys–Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams–and their guru who led them to fame, Skip Engblom, became famous for their pool skating and radical behavior. Low-riding cement lovers, these outlaw surfers took to the curves and walls of neighborhood pools and invented a whole new style of skating.

Older and wiser but still passionate about skateboarding, Tony, Stacy and Skip talk about inspiring kids all over the world, transforming the sport forever and the Spin magazine article that changed their lives.

On differences between the documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, and the film, Lords of Dogtown:
Stacy Peralta: “The idea for the fictional film came before the documentary. As it does typically it just takes a long time to get all the pieces arranged to make a fictional film happen. Getting a documentary up doesn’t require so much complexity.”
Skip Engblom: “I’ll just explain it to you in terms of the documentary ’cause we had grief from people on that. What it is if you had a mountain and you put 12 people around the mountain and you told them all climb up a separate side and what it would look like from the top you’d have 12 different opinions of what it looked like. Every opinion is based on how the individual climbed that mountain.”
Peralta: “And another side to that is we knew going into this there were going to have to be decisions made in order to make a fictional structure work with an hour and a half time. We all accepted the fact that eight years of our life was going to be compressed to about a year and that if certain characters didn’t have certain problems that certain motivations might have to be invented. So there were certain liberties taken to pull this together.”
Engblom: “We had like so many meetings and so much dialogue. Between the three of us we had so many days of sitting around and being asked questions of what we thought and then Stacy had this nice script and [director] Catherine [Hardwicke] went in and said, ‘I think you need to expand this area, dealing with this,’ and went back and forth from there. It was a five year process. What happened was the magazine article came out in Spin and then everybody rushed us and there were a couple different producers so that took a while to sort out. Then Stacy decided it would be best to make this documentary so he went out and got funding for the documentary so then we did that process. From that process he was writing the script for this other situation and it just kind of took off from there. What’s interesting is the documentary seemed to end up helping sell the script.”
Tony Alva: “Definitely. Are you kidding? I don’t even think this would have really happened or been made if it wasn’t for the success of the documentary. Now that I look back on it there’s just no way ’cause it just kept getting pushed to the back burner because of different little reasons including Jeff Ho not signing and stuff like that, you know. And then now to be with the finished product at this point, dude, f***ing stoked.”

On having their lives played out on the big screen:
Peralta: “It’s been a surreal experience that none of us, I mean, I think I can speak for all of us–we never expected this to happen. It’s like tearing a little bit of the fabric of the dream of our lives and stepping back and being able to relive it a little bit.”
Engblom: “We’re not recreating the Battle of the Bulge. You know what I mean? The fundamental thing is that you’re making entertainment. Can you sit in the theatre, pay your money and enjoy the experience? If you can do that, then you’re going to be pretty stoked. If you can’t and you want the documentary, just spend the $15 and buy that.”
Alva: “‘Cause that’s why we were influenced by the documentary, on the music, on everything on every level because that was kind of like our vision and what was going on and Catherine comes in and she’s doing something that’s based on entertainment, PG-13, all that stuff, that just totally throws in all of like the things we just kind of have to shape the whole project into.”

On some of the “fictional” elements in the movie:
Alva: “[The Sid character, Jay Adams’ rich best friend] was based off a real character, of a kid named Dino that lived on the north side who was already ill and we met him and he was the owner of the pool that we skated in.”
Peralta: “And yet he had others who were inspired too who were in the shop and stuff. That was an example; we needed Jay [Adams] to have a best friend. We just knew we would need that because Jay wasn’t the kind of kid that fended for himself so in order to tell the story properly he’s going to need somebody on his side and he always did have a sidekick. So that was a liberty. My character not making the team was another liberty because we needed to explain how important it was getting on that team, so someone has to take a fall.”
Alva: “And also the fact that Stacy was always a little bit different than all of the rest of us in like how serious his approach to things were different than a lot of the rag tag guys that basically when I was growing up weren’t able to be a part of that team. He was the one with the job, the car, and had a girlfriend, and a watch.”
Peralta: “So they used it against me, and look, now they all have watches. See, this is something that Tony and I have talked about is that in being a part of a film like this we have to accept that there are flattering things we get to see about ourselves and really unflattering things and that’s part of the whole deal.”

On the PG-13 rating:
Peralta: “As Tony said, this film is the ‘PG-13’ version. But the real version was maybe a hard ‘R.'”
Engblom: “No, it was more than a hard ‘R’, and I apologize for that.”
Alva: “It was such a special time to grow up in the seventies like that. Our mentors were all these older surfers that Skip was like pretty much the chief of, you know, and it’s just us kids. This is what shaped us into being professional skateboarders and entrepreneurs and now [Stacy] is a director and I did a lot on the film as far as authenticity, but we’ve kind of stepped up to another level as we grew up. We finally decided we had to grow up. This project gave us something to be really earnest [about] and like seriously dedicated to.”
Peralta: “But make no mistake that it’s skateboarding that saved our lives without a doubt, and Tony says the same thing– without it neither one of us knows where we would have gone because everything that is good in our lives has somehow come out of this board and these wheels.”
Alva: “And you’ve got to look back to all of our, my heroes, disposable heroes, that are just not even living anymore. We carry on a tradition that kind of was started with the old school street, Westside surfers and cholos. They were my heroes and my mentors and to this day I can look back and like count what’s left on one hand, and I’m there for a reason and that’s to push the envelop one day at a time father for professional skateboarders and surfers.”

On professional skateboarding today:
Alva: “There’s guys like Lance Mountain and Tony Hawk that are [ages] 30-plus who are making a decent living out of it and having a good time. I mean, Tony’s selling like millions of dollars worth of video games and Lance is sponsored by Adidas. It’s just now we have opportunity because I think with technology and the 21st century and we’re getting more respect back from some of the movies we’ve done too. We’re educating the youth a little bit about the fact that a bunch of ethnic– just sociologically this group of guys that we grew up with were just really diverse and we came from kind of f***ed up families and this was our family and we aspired to goals that we never really dreamed of but achieved quite a bit.”
Engblom: “The great thing about skateboarding is it’s inclusionary [sic], not exclusionary. It’s an activity where no one’s excluded. I mean, race, creed, nationality, religion, doesn’t matter. It’s an inclusionary situation. You can be 6’6″ or you can be 5’2″ and you can go skateboarding. It’s the type of situation where socioeconomic [status] cuts across everything. There’s no real demographic that you go, ‘Oh well, if you do this, then you’re going to be a part of this situation.’ You can be the worst gangster or the worst little nerd and still [get] on a skateboard and still take as much pleasure that you want to derive from that activity because the activity itself dictates what you do. It’s like no matter how rich or poor you are gravity has no conscience.”
Peralta: “I think Plato said that too…you know what’s cool though is when we were all part of this thing back in the seventies so often if people came to the East Coast and said California is a wasteland, there’s no culture here, there’s desert one way and ocean the other and airheads in the middle, and what was interesting is this film is an example that there was a culture and that kids around the world are embracing a lot of the things that began in California, and this film, not to get lofty about it, but it gives a little hint as to some of the more influential things that has come out of this state which is skateboarding.”