Bridges, Bones and Brigades: The History of Skateboarding
This January, Stacy Peralta returns to Park City to premiere his fourth Sundance documentary, Bones Brigade: An Autobiography. Peralta made his Sundance debut back in 2001 when he premiered Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary comprised of ‘70s skate footage that covered the rise and fall of the Zephyr team (of which he was a member) and was eventually adapted into the Hollywood film Lords of Dogtown. The Zephyr team put skating back on the map in the mid ‘70s and became the roots of today’s skateboarding industry. Peralta returned to Sundance two more times after that with documentaries outside the world of skateboarding—in 2004 with Riding Giants, a film about big wave surfing, and then in 2008 with Crips & Bloods: Made in America. This year, Peralta brings another skate documentary to the festival with some friendly faces in tow.
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography documents the lives of the original Bones Brigade crew that included Tommy Guerrero, Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill, Steve Caballero and Rodney Mullen. The film tracks how the Bones Brigade influenced the most pivotal moments in skateboard history. During their reign, this handful of skaters started the transformation from slalom skating into modern street art. Mullen had already taken the ollie to new heights, and soon an influx of newly invented tricks were coming at an astouning speed from the minds of the Bones team riders. The kickflip, boardslide and even the 900 (although not during this era) can all be credited to the Bones team. They also revolutionized product and ramp design, and the entire present day industry through business ventures. Most of today’s top brands can be traced back to a member of the Bones Brigade. The film chronologically documents these progressions through actual archived contest and stock footage, mixed with present day interviews. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for Peralta’s personal experience as an early pioneer of the sport.
A child of the ‘60s, Stacy Peralta began skating when such things didn’t even exist. “There were no shops, there were no contests, there were no magazines, there were no places where you could buy boards,” he says. Skateboarding was a pastime, something developed by California surfers when the seas turned flat. Basically, if you wanted one you had to build it yourself. These homemade rolling planks were developed to cruise the streets, to resemble the feeling of making turns on God’s great ocean. But in the early ‘70s, as more and more kids began to participate, and with the introduction of the urethane wheel, the skateboarding industry began to boom. Magazines, skateparks and shops began to pop up in increasing numbers. “When it became popular I had been doing it for so long that I was, in a sense, in the front of the line,” says Peralta. Soon after, as a part of the Zephyr Team, Peralta began to compete as an amateur before turning pro in 1976. Boasting the highest influential team on the competitive circuit, Peralta recalls these days as “one of the richest experiences of my life.” However, the team was only together for about a year and a half before disbanding.
In order to sustain his occupation in skateboarding, Peralta went into business with engineer George Powell. Powell became interested in skateboards through his son and began tinkering with homemade designs. With Powell’s knowledge and backing, Powell-Peralta came to life in 1978. “I was coming to the end of my professional career and I didn’t want to leave skateboarding. The only way I could think to do that was to start my own company,” says Peralta. After juggling both a professional career and the upstart company, time proved too constrained and he decided to focus his energy solely on his business. With the Zephyr days fresh in mind, however, Peralta yearned to once again be part of a team. “If I couldn’t be on the world’s best team, then I wanted to create it,” he says. This was the idea behind the Bones Brigade.
In 1984, the Bones Brigade Video Show was released. Shot on 3/4 inch video, the idea was to reach the consumer in a way that a one-page magazine ad had limited. The footage consisted of contests, backyard ramps and street shots filmed over the previous year. “It premiered in Tony Hawk’s parent’s living room. Somebody cracked open a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer and we said, ‘ok, what’s next,’” says Peralta. What was next was a revolution in skateboard marketing. Videos became a must for any company trying to make a name in an expanding industry, and the Bones Brigade were the pioneers. Over the next nine years, Bones released eight more groundbreaking videos, including Future Primitive, The Search for Animal Chin and Ban This—all of which are must-have titles in every skateboarder’s visual canon.
What began as a tight-knit group of amateur teens had grown into a gang of world class athletes with the world at their fingertips. It was during this transition that we lost the Bones Brigade. “In a sense, it was time for us all to move on. The team as we know it came to an end in 1990,” says Peralta. He stepped down from Powell-Peralta to pursue other ventures, and the team’s riders branched off. Hawk started his own board company, Birdhouse, as did Guerrero with Real, McGill with Chapter 7 and Mountain with The Firm. Caballero and Mullen continued their respectitive careers through new sponsors.
Flash forward to the year 2004 when Peralta was invited to dine with some of the original crew members, including Hawk, McGill, Mullen and Guerrero. After seeing the recognition that Z-Boys had received, the brigade tried to convince Peralta that they had an equally important story to tell and that he was the man to tell it. Due to his ventures at the time, including the Hollywood adaptation of the Zephyr Team (Lords of Dogtown) and his reluctance to portray himself, Peralta believed that the time wasn’t right and respectfully declined. But the idea was never forgotten and the team continued to insist that Peralta take the helm. Finally, it was Mountain who put things into perspective a year ago when he said, “We’re all now older than you and [Tony] Alva when you made Dogtown. We really need to do this!”
This would mark the first time that Peralta would not be commander-in-chief, so to speak. He was no longer the chaperone taking the kids on skateboarding field trips. The boys that had made up his Bones Brigade are now men with careers and benchmarks of their own. They have wives, families and even kids that are getting involved in professional skateboarding. The timing was finally right and the project was a go.
Peralta says that working with the members of the Brigade as adults has been different, but ultimately more rewarding. “We’re now just friends and there is a tremendous amount of respect and love between all of us,” he says.
Check out Bones Brigade: An Autobiography when it premieres on January 21 at the The MARC in Park City at 8:30 p.m. to see archival footage and first-person accounts from the athletes that changed skateboarding into the omnipresent sport that it is today.
Additional screening times for Bones Brigade: An Autobiography:
Jan. 22, 12:00 p.m., Temple Theatre, Park City
Jan. 24, 9:30 p.m., Rose Wagner, Salt Lake City
Jan. 26, 9:00 p.m., Screening Room, Sundance Resort
Jan. 27, 11:30 a.m., MARC, Park City
Jan. 28, 3:30 p.m., Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden