The Z-Boys (Zephyr Competition Team) was a group of skateboarders in the mid-1970s from Santa Monica and Venice, California. The aerial and sliding skate moves that the Z-Boys invented were the basis for aerial skateboarding today.
The crew, who began as a surf team, derived their name from the Zephyr surfboard shop in Santa Monica. Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk opened the Santa Monica shop as Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions in 1971. The Z-Boys represented the shop in surf competitions, with the first member being fourteen-year-old Nathan Pratt. Pratt also worked at the shop and became an apprentice surfboard maker over time.
In 1974, Allen Sarlo, Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Chris Cahill and Stacy Peralta, joined the surf team. The place that the team spent most of their time surfing was at Pacific Ocean Park, a once thriving amusement park atop a pier. Now abandoned and run down and nicknamed by the locals as "Dogtown". With large tilted, wood pilings jutting from the water, and not enough room for all of the surfers, Pacific Ocean Park Pier was an incredibly dangerous place to surf. Despite these dangers, the Z-Boys surfed it anyway. They would surf in the mornings, when the waves were the highest. When the pier waves died down after the early-morning hours, they would hang out at the Zephyr shop, running errands, doing homework, skating and flirting with passing girls. At that time, the Z-Boys saw skating as a hobby, something to do after surfing, but it quickly grew from a hobby into a new way to express themselves.
In 1975, Cahill, Pratt, Adams, Sarlo, Peralta and Alva asked Jeff Ho and Skip Engblom to start a skate team separate from the surf team. Soon after, local skaters Bob Biniak, Paul Constantineau, Jim Muir, Peggy Oki, Shogo Kubo and Wentzle Ruml would join the Zephyr skate team, growing to 12 members in all. Engblom saw this as something that would help them with their surf training and self-discipline, so he quickly set up a practice schedule. The team would practice a lot of the times at Bicknell Hill. Bicknell Hill ran down from the Jeff Ho and Zephyr Surfboard Productions shop. There, the Z-Boys would set up cones and practice all day. They would skate real low, riding the concrete like they were riding a wave. They would drag their hands on the pavement like Larry Bertlemann, a professional surfer who would touch the wave when surfing, dragging his fingers across it. Style, to the Zephyr team, was everything and they pulled all their inspiration from surfing. There were also four grade schools in the Dogtown area that the team would skate quite often. The Z-boys loved to skate these schools because they all had sloping concrete banks in their playgrounds. Soon, the Z-Boys were carving real waves in the morning and asphalt the rest of the day.
That year, skateboarding had risen back in popularity enough that the first big skateboarding competition since the 1960s was held. That competition was the famous Del Mar Nationals, held in California in March 1975. This is where the Z-Boys made their debut and reached California cult status. The Zephyr team showed up in their blue Vans Authentic shoes, Levi's and blue Zephyr t-shirts. "To wear the blue Zephyr Competition shirt was the coolest thing," says Tony Alva. The crowd loved them. With their low, aggressive style, burts and inventiveness, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It was a far cry from the upright, freestyle skating that was popular in the 1960s. The older skateboard establishment was not ready for the aggressive surf style and free spirited approach that the Z-Boys exhibited. At the end of the Del Mar competition, half of the finalists were members of the Zephyr team, including Jay Adams, Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Hamish Albany. Many of the older skaters could not comprehend that they had just witnessed a revolution in skateboarding. Within twelve months of the Del Mar Nationals, the 1960s upright, freestyle type of skating vanished from the public eye, and Z-Boy style would sweep around the world.
The mid-1970s brought a major drought to Southern California that parched Los Angeles. This drought brought on severe water restrictions, forcing many pool owners in the well-to-do neighborhoods to leave their swimming pools drained. The Z-Boys saw opportunity, and like the Del Mar Nationals, they moved right in. They would drive through neighborhoods scouting for empty or semi-empty pools. They would even scout from high ridgelines. When they found a pool, they would sneak in and drain the remaining water in the pool so they could skate it. They even went as far as to bringing in their own hoses and water pumps just to clear out the dank water that collected in the pool's bottom. The Z-Boys crew took their surf style of skating to the empty pools. Every day, each skater would try something new, pushing themselves and each other. They would skate the sides of the pool, closer and closer to the pool's coping as they got better. This was the birth of vertical skating, and it became the basis for skateboarding and many of the extreme sports seen today. One day during a skating session in the fall of 1977 in a pool nicknamed "the Dogbowl" in Santa Monica, the "eureka" moment arrived. Tony Alva pushed more and more on the coping until his board completely cleared the edge of the pool. He then twisted, doing a 180 degree turn and landed back in the pool, completing the very first aerial. This revolutionized skateboarding and many extreme sports. Many of the tricks performed on skateboards, and later snowboards, wakeboards, rollerblades and BMX bikes, would be performed in midair from that point on. The Z-Boys and their "Dogtown" style revived skateboarding, which had been on a major down-hill slump since the mid-1960s.
While surfing is what pulled the Zephyr team together, skateboarding is what pulled them apart. As the members of the Z-Boys got more and more famous, it was hard to keep them together, as big money was being thrown at them from companies bigger than Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions. Jeff Ho tried to put together a sponsorship deal that would keep the team together under the Zephyr name, but could not get a deal done. He couldn't compete with the money his team was being offered, and in early 1976, he and Skip Engblom ended their partnership. Engblom ended up moving to Hawaii, and by the end of that year, the Zephyr shop closed. He now lives in west Los Angeles and owns and operates Santa Monica Airlines. He also builds surfboards and specialty skateboards, and is an actor. Jeff Ho moved to Hawaii and resurrected the Zephyr surfboard company. He hand crafted Jeff Ho Surfboards on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Recently, he opened a new shop back up in California under the name Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions. The shop is located in Venice, California.
Original members in alphabetical order:
- Allen Sarlo
- Bob Biniak (died February 25, 2010)
- Chris Cahill (died June 24, 2011)
- Jay Adams
- Jim Muir
- Nathan Pratt
- Paul Constantineau
- Peggy Oki
- Shogo Kubo
- Stacy Peralta
- Tony Alva
- Wentzle Ruml IV
Later members in alphabetical order:
- Cris Dawson
- Dennis Harney
- Donnie Ohem
- Jose Galan
- Mad Dog Tingle
- Paul Cullen (died July 23, 2009)
- Paul Hoffman
- Tommy Waller
- Ruibal, Sal "Far out! Cutting-edge sports have roots in '70s"