Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

About 20 years ago there was a documentary called Dogtown and Z-Boys. Narrated by Sean Penn, it was this amazing slice of Southern California in the 1970s and how the surf culture of the area bled into skateboarding, taking it from something a bit naff from the 60s that people were forgetting about into something much cooler in the 70s. A big part of the story is how some surf shop owners create a team – the Zephyr Skateboard Team – to take to all the local competitions where the guys are just animals with their attitude, style and moves and dominate anyone they’re competing against.

One of the Zephyr team was Stacy Peralta, who wrote and directed the documentary, giving it an authentic flavour. It’s one of my favourite documentaries ever, and it went on to be made into a film Lords of Dogtown, which I don’t think was as well received as the documentary but I love it, too. I think I’m just a sucker for the era, the attitudes, and the concept of people coming together at a young age – like everyone does on a basic level at the very least, when they’re in school – and having fun.

Peralta would go on in the 1980s to manage his own skateboard team, the Bones Brigade, which ended up spawning some of the most famous skaters of all time in the form of Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero, but their peers like Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen were hardly slouches themselves. A lot of what we know as street skating today, for example, takes chunks of its vocabulary from what Mullen was inventing in the 1980s while part of the team. Basically these guys took what Peralta and his peers were doing in the 70s and built on it, inventing new ways to skateboard. And in a really weird “history repeating” kind of way, pretty much rescued skateboarding from dying off in the early 1980s – just like it was dying off in the early 1970s when Peralta and his crew came along.

With the Bones Brigade starting to hit the same age the Zephyr guys were when Dogtown and Z-Boys was made, I think it was a total no-brainer for Peralta to make this documentary. Again, he was there. This time even running the team, and a co-owner of the Powell-Peralta company, so his knowledge and input is clearly invaluable to the production. Not that this is his story. By and large he lets the guys from the Bones Brigade talk about their time on the team and some of it’s really eye opening. Hawk talks about basically quitting at one stage because of how his attitude to winning was making the sport no longer fun. Mullen had the same issue a year before him and actually imparted some advice, bringing him back to the fold. The whole team, meanwhile, are very down to earth and when they talk about being quite nerdy in some ways and not really into drink or drugs, or even knowing what to do with large cheques coming their way (Hawk was pulling $20k a month at one stage from board sales alone, and he was just out of high school), you get the sense that they were a pretty wholesome bunch to be around. Compared to some of the ‘rock star’ type skaters who were around in the 70s and even more so in the 80s, the Bones Brigade were really pretty normal!

I really enjoyed the documentary, however, I will say there was less of an historical feel to it, like Dogtown and Z-Boys had. In that documentary, I felt like were were getting a snapshot of the era as well as the personalities, whereas this documentary is more anecdotes and personality driven. It also doesn’t have a narrator, so feels different in that area, too. Does this mean I prefer Peralta’s earlier effort? In some ways, I think I do and, as mentioned, I like the motion picture it spawned so I do have a soft spot for it. However, the 1980s and the skateboarding culture from it is one I actually have firsthand memories of. When the film mentioned not only the videos the Bones Brigade were making, but also 80s skateboard movies like Gleaming the Cube and Thrashin’, all sorts of memories flooded back for me. So on a personal level there was still much for me to get out of this and, who knows, perhaps someone who wasn’t around in the 80s might get an historical feel from this, regardless?

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