The Ocean Park Pier in Venice, Calif., was the site of a cultural revolution in the 1970s: A surfing and skateboarding renaissance that was captured in Stacy Peralta's 2001 documentary 'Dogtown and Z-Boys.' At the heart of the scene was skate icon Skip Engblom, who with his business partner Craig Stecyk launched a surfboard company called Zephyr. Engblom's eponymous shop soon became a hub of activity for local kids who lived to skate and surf (aka the Z-Boys). But forget the millennial-style money, sponsorships and prestige that surf rats often pursue today: At the time, surfing "wasn't the thing you did to build your self-esteem in society," Peralta explained.

Not only was surfing a fringe activity, but the pier and its surrounding area was a veritable ghetto of crime, junkies and working-class families. Once a major attraction (it was called the Coney Island of the West n the early 1900s), by the early 1970s Venice's heyday as a thriving tourist destination had seemingly come to an end. Starting a decade prior, the local piers had begun to shut down and fall into disrepair. Little by little, the swath of beach-side turf between Santa Monica and Venice, known as Dogtown, became a no-man's land of urban detritus, run-down buildings and, at the water's edge, the broken-down Ocean Park Pier. As Engblom explains, "[Dogtown] was the last great seaside slum. ... It was dirty, it was filthy. It was paradise."

The Ocean Park Pier in Venice, Calif., was the site of a cultural revolution in the 1970s: A surfing and skateboarding renaissance that was captured in Stacy Peralta's 2001 documentary 'Dogtown and Z-Boys.' At the heart of the scene was skate icon Skip Engblom, who with his business partner Craig Stecyk launched a surfboard company called Zephyr. Engblom's eponymous shop soon became a hub of activity for local kids who lived to skate and surf (aka the Z-Boys). But forget the millennial-style money, sponsorships and prestige that surf rats often pursue today: At the time, surfing "wasn't the thing you did to build your self-esteem in society," Peralta explained.

Not only was surfing a fringe activity, but the pier and its surrounding area was a veritable ghetto of crime, junkies and working-class families. Once a major attraction (it was called the Coney Island of the West n the early 1900s), by the early 1970s Venice's heyday as a thriving tourist destination had seemingly come to an end. Starting a decade prior, the local piers had begun to shut down and fall into disrepair. Little by little, the swath of beach-side turf between Santa Monica and Venice, known as Dogtown, became a no-man's land of urban detritus, run-down buildings and, at the water's edge, the broken-down Ocean Park Pier. As Engblom explains, "[Dogtown] was the last great seaside slum. ... It was dirty, it was filthy. It was paradise."

Location as Character: The rag-tag pack of kids spent most of their time surfing the nearby Cove, an "obstacle course" of pilings and other debris left behind from the decrepit Ocean Park Pier. In 'Dogtown,' archival footage shows some of the Z-boys dropping in next to and around the pilings, narrowly escaping impact. Their moves in the beach-break waves were the inspiration for their evolving approach to skateboarding, which thrived on style over 1950s-era tricks, and mimicked surfing by using empty swimming pools instead of flat straightaways.



In 'Lords of Dogtown,' Catherine Hardwicke's 2005 adaptation of the Z-Boys' story, the Ocean Park Pier (known as "POP," for Pacific Ocean Park), is the proving ground for our shaggy-haired heroes. The movie's early scenes feature Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) navigating the rules of the turf, which includes being relegated to grabbing runaway boards from the hazardous "Boneyard" area under the pier -- a punishment for wipeouts under Engblom's (played by Heath Ledger) reign.

The hazards at the Cove weren't just in the water. They were falling from the pier, where onlookers would sometimes drop debris, and lurked in the parking lot, where the Z-Boys would enforce their locals-only entry policy. 'Lords of Dogtown' features one such incident when Jay swipes a carburetor from an interloper's Camaro, paddles out with it and proceeds to drop it in the ocean. The scene was ostensibly based on an anecdote from Jim Muir, one of the original members of the Zephyr skate team.

Historical Significance: The Ocean Park Pier was part of an early 1900s development project by entrepreneur Abbot Kinney. According to the 'Z-Boys' website, Kinney imagined the then-sleepy town of Venice as a European-style community devoted to art and culture. In 1958, the Ocean Park Pier was transformed into Pacific Ocean Park, an amusement park with rides and attractions to compete with Disneyland. Business boomed until 1965, when Santa Monica launched a renewal project in the Ocean Park area and began demolishing buildings. The project, however, blocked visitors' access to the amusement park and pier, and attendance plunged by nearly 50 percent.

Two years later Pacific Ocean Park officially closed, and the site's amusement park rides were auctioned off to pay creditors for back taxes and unpaid rent. The remains of the site became the Z-Boys' turf until the mid-1970s, when it was finally demolished after several mysterious fires broke out there. While the original Ocean Park Pier no longer exists, the site is still a favorite break for local surfers. Tourists still have two local piers to enjoy: the break is flanked on the south by the Venice pier and on the north by the Santa Monica Pier, which is home to a roller coaster and other amusement park rides, much like the original POP (and, in a nod to the past, is called Pacific Park).

Directions: From points east, take the 10 Freeway West to fourth street and head south. Turn right on Pico Boulevard. and left on Main Street. Follow Main south to Pier Avenue. Turn right and follow Pier two blocks to the beach. To see Venice's modern-day pier surfers, follow the boardwalk south to Washington Boulevard, which intersects with the Venice pier. A long walk north to Colorado Avenue will take to to the Santa Monica Pier.

Visitor Info: The Santa Monica beach and former site of the Ocean Park Pier is closed to the public nightly from midnight to 5AM. The Santa Monica Pier is free to visitors and open 24 hours a day, all year long. The Venice pier is open daily from 6AM to midnight. Parking for both piers is available on site.
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