Dogtown & Environmental Power

I saw Dogtown and Z-Boys for the first time last week. It’s a great documentary about the rise of skateboarding and its roots in Southern California’s surf culture. It has a great voice-over by Sean Penn and some amazing footage of the surf-styled skaters of the 1970s. Highly recommended.

But the striking thing about the movie is the connection of some seemingly insignificant environmental factors. I’m not talking about global warming, tides, etc.; instead, think of the various TINY pieces of history and the urban environment that seem too small to have an effect. The documentary connects these tiny details into a thrilling exposition of how little details can make all the difference.

Today, extreme sports and skateboarding enjoy multi-million dollar TV deals and near ubiquity in the minds of teenagers (in the US, at least). It seems to me, at least after watching this documentary, that this culture precipitated from the ocean water off the coast of LA. But it wasn’t just that the surfers had to find something else (namely, skateboarding) to do in their spare time. There were legitimate environmental and technological changes that had a huge impact on the progression of the surf/skate movement.

For instance, there was the development of urethane wheels–they previously used clay(!) wheels–which allowed for improved turning and cutting and a surf-like grip on the road.

And there was the downtrodden Santa Monica neighborhoods, running thick with kids that needed something to be passionate about.

And there was the ever-expanding mass of pavement. As humans spread out in LA, they began to move into the canyons and crevasses that border the valleys. And when their periphery were paved, their banked sides were perfect for skateboarders who grew up surfing.

And there was the drought. Once these kids had perfected the surf-born style, they were anxious to find the next big thing. During this time, California underwent a severe drought, resulting in the emptying of pools all over the place. Somebody (can’t remember who) figured out that you could skate these pools, and the modern vert style was conceived.

Just something to think about…It got me thinking about the seemingly insignificant factors have affected where certain brands are today. Any thoughts from the gallery? Examples?


5 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Equally good is the film “Lord of Dogtown” which is the story about the core group of skaters in the documentary that came out a few years later.

    It has cameos from a lot of the guys featured in the doc, Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams, Tony Hawk has a cameo as an astronaut, and many of the other original Z-boys including Skip Engbloom (sp?) have one-liners.

    Well worth a watch.

    As for the brand evolution discussion…I can’t think of any examples of insignificant factors adding up to shaping a brand. Likely if they had a noticeable effect, they would then be deemed “quite significant” factors by that brand’s marketing squad. Eg. How typesetters embraced the Macintosh, and spawned the desktop publishing industry, giving Apple a bit more market share for a product they never guessed would be used for that purpose.

    Or maybe I’m way off. My brain hurts. I should go watch a skateboarding movie.

  2. Err..that’s “Lords” of Dogtown.

  3. Agree Clay, Dogtown was a great documentary. Loved the competition the Zephyr gang went to, the looks on the faces of the other skating nerds was hilarious ;)

    BTW I watched a ‘DVD on TV’ version of Back to the Future town, and it was talking about how the movie revitalized skateboarding in the mid 80s.

  4. Jordan -

    It’s a shame that many brand/marketing teams would disregard pure chance as a key factor in the development of some brands. In most cases, though, I would say that there are probably many small unknowns that go into where brands stand in the minds of the public. I’m just trying to figure out what those are!

    - Clay

  5. Mack -

    Wasn’t it?! Hilarious.

    I also loved the bits where they talked about the style of the skaters. There was this one kid in particular, with a red afro, that had the moves of a smoother version of Saturday Night Fever Travolta.

    Another thing that struck me was the athleticism of these kids. They were doing truly awe-inspiring things on four wheels, all without helmets and sometimes without shoes. I don’t know how those types of skills would be perceived today, but I thought they were sick.

    - Clay