Dogtown Skates

“Dogtown” is quite the buzzword these days. Kind of interesting, considering it’s been about 25 years since it was last a household name. But many of the folks anticipating the release of Stacy Peralta’s and Craig Stecyk’s Dogtown and Z-Boys movie this month aren’t talking about the same Dogtown skaters did in the late 70s.

Dogtown the place spawned a movement in skateboarding at the time, as depicted in the film, but skaters of that era who weren’t part of it knew Dogtown better as a brand. While the Z-Boys (who ruled the schoolyards and pools of South Santa Monica and Venice, California) created the aggressive style that skaters the world over would follow, Dogtown the brand offered hands-on devices for carrying out their craft.

The Dogtown film ends where this story begins-when members of the original Zephyr skateboard team were catapulted into the limelight in the mid 70s and the commercial forces swarming into the sport began prying them apart. By the end of 1975, the core of the Zephyr squad had left to pursue more lucrative opportunities or to just get out from under the spotlight.

Some, like Jim Muir, found themselves shifting from one sponsor to the next, never quite comfortable with any of them. Eventually, Tony Alva started his own namesake brand, Stacy Peralta teamed up with George Powell to establish Powell Peralta, Jay Adams joined his stepfather to form Z-Flex, and Muir hooked up with longtime friend Wes Humpston to build boards in their backyards. It wasn’t an outright commercial venture, but for a couple teens still living at home, selling decks for fifteen or twenty bucks to kids at local spots earned them more than enough to get by. Pool skating was fast coming into fashion, and boards were getting battered and split in one or two sessions. The two figured it was a pretty good business. “When you’re a nineteen-year-old kid, and for six hours’ work you’re making 300 or 400 bucks-back then that was really good money,” says Muir. “It was almost like free money. It was like selling drugs without the consequence.”

Since Humpston had a knack for drawing, Muir left the graphics to him. Some of the original hand-cut Dogtown skateboards featured hand-drawn logos and artwork that would become iconic to Dogtown enthusiasts, both then and now. Unfortunately for the eBay collectors who’ve recently been paying thousands of dollars for later production Dogtown boards, few of the original handmade decks remain, and maybe only a couple are still intact.

Pool skating in the mid 70s required specialized equipment that major manufacturers weren’t producing-namely, wider boards. With most production boards measuring in the six- to seven-inch range, Muir and Humpston were building boards upward of eight inches-and growing. “It’s not like we were trying to do a pinpointed blueprint reproduction,” says Muir. “So the boards would oftentimes grow like a quarter inch at a time because we were using our old board as the template. Then we’d add a little more here and a little more there, and in a period of about four or five months, the boards went from seven inches up to eight-and-a-half or nine inches. We just realized that wider and wider was way better for what we were doing back then.”

Beginning in 1975, Muir and Humpston experimented heavily with board shapes, materials, tail angles, and even began grinding wheel wells and beveling the rails for lightness. Humpston recalls that the uniqueness of every pool they skated required a slightly different board, and that drove them to keep looking for new solutions to evolving problems. They used oak, maple, and ash, they hand-beveled their rails and ground out deep wheel wells for lightness, and once even stumbled upon some “defective” warped planks that they instinctively knew would create a foot-gripping concave surface. “Anybody who rode those boards was freaking out,” says Humpston. “When I would let somebody borrow my boards, they’d disapar. I’d never give somebody my board at a skatepark because I’d never get it back. At least in a pool, you could jump them in the shallow end.”

Their reputation for building pool-specific decks spread, and one day during the drive to a San Fernando Valley pool, Muir, Humpston, and mentor/photographer Craig Stecyk discussed branding the boards. As other skaters were launching companies, Muir and Humpston decided they should come up with a name for the boards they were building for local pool skaters. As Humpston recalls it, Stecyk sat in the front seat and listened intently: “He’d been doing these (magazine) articles about Dogtown, and we were making these pool boards. And we were thinking, ‘These are the boards of Dogtown-these are the Dogtown skates.’ And Stecyk kinda went like, ‘Yeah, cool. Sounds good to me.’ So we just went with it.”

That day in 1976, on the way to that San Fernando Valley pool, Humpston wrote the initials “DTS” on the bottom of Muir’s board, and Stecyk later shot the photos that would introduce skaters the world over to the new brand.

By 1976, Muir and Humpston had adopted the now famous Dogtown cross logo from graffitied walls around Los Angeles. Muir believes it was the insignia of a local Hispanic gang, but whatever its true origins, it became a symbol of the South Santa Monica/Venice Beach area, and Humpston’s stylized versions of it would become the company trademark. Most of the original Dogtown-area skaters had nicknames like Mad Dog (Alva), Red Dog (Muir), and Bulldog (Humpston), so the company name seemed natural. Each handmade-board graphic would begin with the cross penned across the center, then Humpston would add unique detail and colors to each one: “I was putting in a lot of time drawing. It was just kind of a groove I fell into.”

As skateboarding continued to grow, and their boards were becoming famous through coverage in magazines, Muir received an invaluable piece of advice. Kent Sherwood, Jay Adams’ stepfather, convinced the teenage Muir to register the Dogtown trademark. “Sure enough, within two or three months after that we had these unscrupulous-type businessmen come in and try to take the name,” says Muir. “These guys were like middle-age mustache guys who realized that skateboarding was about to blow up.”

Muir and Humpston eventually signed a deal with the owners of a local Santa Monica skate shop. With partners to handle the day-to-day business, Muir was free to design boards and skate, and Humpston continued to develop board designs and graphics. By 1978, mass production of Dogtown Skates had begun, and a public hungry for skateboards began to devour everything emblazoned with the Dogtown Skates logos. “I was in the right place at the right time,” says Muir of the company’s success. “And somehow, from some experience that I had had-or something I had read-I just had the instincts to do the right thing.”

He and Humpston worked with the partners for three years, a time during which the company continued to pioneer new board designs, like the Shogo Kubo Airbeam with its full-board top graphic, the concave Muir Triplane, and the unprecedented twelve-inch-wide Wes Humpston Big Foot model. Dogtown also began amending its star-studded pro team with a new crop of talented young ams, Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi among them.

By the time the skateboard market began to falter in the late 70s, so did Muir’s and Humpston’s paychecks. Their partners were still selling equipment, but the company’s founders say they weren’t seeing any of it. Muir began to long for the backyard-board-building days when he and Humpston had complete control of their company. “One thing that I did back then was put a clause in the contract that said if these guys no longer had anything to do with skateboarding, that the trademarks would revert back into my name,” he says. “Of course, in the early 80s when skateboarding died suddenly and they had nothing to do with it, I proceeded to put all the paperwork together to put it back into my name.”

In the early 80s, Muir’s brother Mike was realizing some success with his band Suicidal Tendencies. When Jim felt ready to reenter the skateboard market, few companies remained. Humpston had married, started a family, and moved on to find regular work in the printing industry. So Muir decided to go it alone and began with a series of decks under the Suicidal Skates brand name. They were initially sold through the band’s mail-order business, which the entire Muir family was involved with, and in 1983 Jim released two Dogtown logo boards to ease his way back into the market and began building a team. “With Eric D. (Dressen), Scott Oster, Aaron Murray, and Micke Alba, I pretty much mirrored what Jeff Ho and Skipper (Skip Engblom) did with the (Zephyr) surf and skate teams,” he says. “I picked the best kids around here and started driving them to contests, and I’d sell T-shirts out the trunk of my ’64 Falcon.”

Muir, who had been skating since the steel-wheel days of the early 60s, found that even in the down market of the early 80s, he was once again having fun. And with some helpful advice from old friends still in the industry, Muir was able to rebuild the brand as the new generation of skateboarders made the sport popular once again. “In ’85 we were pretty much up and running with the team,” he says. “They were all amateur guys, though. So I started building up to the full-page black-and-whites (ads). And I was running everything out of my parents’ house. There was shit stacked up in the hallway and throughout the whole living room. The money was coming fast because there was no overhead.”

As skateboarding grew in the 80s, street arose as the dominant form, and Dogtowners like Dressen, Oster, and Murray became well-known for their fast, furious, and smooth styles-much like the 70s team had for their pool skating. Dressen won several street contests, topped the charts with overall points in the late 80s, and several new skaters on the team contributed to its renewed high profile. “We were going head up with the Bones Brigade at all these contests,” says Muir. “We were the bad boys-we’d just go there and didn’t give a fuck. We’d party, then show up at the contest. Those guys were our friends, pretty much, but they had been doing it longer, and they were ‘the athletes.’ It was a healthy rivalry.”

Muir also tapped into the company’s legacy by commissioning Humpston to create new graphics. For these new wide decks he drew full-board designs that were centered around the Dogtown cross, but personalized for each pro.

The business soon moved out of Mom and Dad’s house, and Muir found himself with a staff and overhead to pay and manage. While the company continued to grow, recycling its profits wasn’t enough to expand its product lines and hire extra help. Like many small brands at the time, Muir had to turn down a lot of business. “I just never had the capital,” he says. “I was always working off last month’s money. When I started doing this again in ’83, my brother gave me 12,000 dollars, and from that 12,000 dollars we rolled. You know the old adage, it takes money to make money.”

By the late 80s, he was looking for solutions to this dilemma when he had an offer to join a new operation in San Francisco that could help Dogtown Skates finance its growth. Just as he was settling in with his new partners and adjusting to the NorCal environment, the skateboard market suddenly dropped out. “You’re over a million or two-million dollars, and all of a sudden, the economy takes a big hit, and your company drops 40 or 50 percent,” he says. “That’s substantial, and no one saw it coming. Everyone really hurt back then, but for us to drop that quick with the amount of money that was involved, it was really tough. So we lost Eric Dressen to Santa Cruz, who was a big chunk of our board sales. We were doing what we could to survive.”

With the skateboard market suddenly much more paperwork together to put it back into my name.”

In the early 80s, Muir’s brother Mike was realizing some success with his band Suicidal Tendencies. When Jim felt ready to reenter the skateboard market, few companies remained. Humpston had married, started a family, and moved on to find regular work in the printing industry. So Muir decided to go it alone and began with a series of decks under the Suicidal Skates brand name. They were initially sold through the band’s mail-order business, which the entire Muir family was involved with, and in 1983 Jim released two Dogtown logo boards to ease his way back into the market and began building a team. “With Eric D. (Dressen), Scott Oster, Aaron Murray, and Micke Alba, I pretty much mirrored what Jeff Ho and Skipper (Skip Engblom) did with the (Zephyr) surf and skate teams,” he says. “I picked the best kids around here and started driving them to contests, and I’d sell T-shirts out the trunk of my ’64 Falcon.”

Muir, who had been skating since the steel-wheel days of the early 60s, found that even in the down market of the early 80s, he was once again having fun. And with some helpful advice from old friends still in the industry, Muir was able to rebuild the brand as the new generation of skateboarders made the sport popular once again. “In ’85 we were pretty much up and running with the team,” he says. “They were all amateur guys, though. So I started building up to the full-page black-and-whites (ads). And I was running everything out of my parents’ house. There was shit stacked up in the hallway and throughout the whole living room. The money was coming fast because there was no overhead.”

As skateboarding grew in the 80s, street arose as the dominant form, and Dogtowners like Dressen, Oster, and Murray became well-known for their fast, furious, and smooth styles-much like the 70s team had for their pool skating. Dressen won several street contests, topped the charts with overall points in the late 80s, and several new skaters on the team contributed to its renewed high profile. “We were going head up with the Bones Brigade at all these contests,” says Muir. “We were the bad boys-we’d just go there and didn’t give a fuck. We’d party, then show up at the contest. Those guys were our friends, pretty much, but they had been doing it longer, and they were ‘the athletes.’ It was a healthy rivalry.”

Muir also tapped into the company’s legacy by commissioning Humpston to create new graphics. For these new wide decks he drew full-board designs that were centered around the Dogtown cross, but personalized for each pro.

The business soon moved out of Mom and Dad’s house, and Muir found himself with a staff and overhead to pay and manage. While the company continued to grow, recycling its profits wasn’t enough to expand its product lines and hire extra help. Like many small brands at the time, Muir had to turn down a lot of business. “I just never had the capital,” he says. “I was always working off last month’s money. When I started doing this again in ’83, my brother gave me 12,000 dollars, and from that 12,000 dollars we rolled. You know the old adage, it takes money to make money.”

By the late 80s, he was looking for solutions to this dilemma when he had an offer to join a new operation in San Francisco that could help Dogtown Skates finance its growth. Just as he was settling in with his new partners and adjusting to the NorCal environment, the skateboard market suddenly dropped out. “You’re over a million or two-million dollars, and all of a sudden, the economy takes a big hit, and your company drops 40 or 50 percent,” he says. “That’s substantial, and no one saw it coming. Everyone really hurt back then, but for us to drop that quick with the amount of money that was involved, it was really tough. So we lost Eric Dressen to Santa Cruz, who was a big chunk of our board sales. We were doing what we could to survive.”

With the skateboard market suddenly much more focused on the new hardcore street skater, Muir and his partners created a sister brand to help address the changing demands of the market. Think Skateboards was successfully launched in 1990, and with Dogtown stuck in a limited market, Muir soon felt homesick for Santa Monica. By the end of the year, he had traded his interest in Think for his partners’ interest in Dogtown, and moved his new wife and their infant son to Santa Monica, where he hoped to again reconnect the brand with its roots.

Back where it all began, Muir went though a couple more partnerships that ultimately failed, the last one in the mid 90s when Dogtown fell into the snowboard quagmire. Muir and his partners had done well selling Dogtown Snowboards to Japanese distributors, and when the snowboard market as a whole took a hit, they were left with most of their money tied up in inventory. “I kept telling them, ‘You can’t count on one market. You’ve got to have a strong presence domestically,’” says Muir. “And as soon as the Japanese market started to slow down, they freaked out. That was the same year that it didn’t snow here until March, and Japan had no winter whatsoever, and there were like two-million snowboards left over in Japan from the winter. Just all kinds of nightmare stories-all the skateboard shops that had bought snowboard gear couldn’t sell it, and they therefore couldn’t buy skateboard shit. It was just a whole backlash of things like that. We ended up paying like 150 bucks for these boards, and we had 2,500 left that we ended up selling for 70 dollars apiece.”

In 1998, after skateboarding had recovered from its early 90s lull, Muir reopened the family business, recruiting his dad and brother, and released four new Dogtown decks, two hats, and ten T-shirts. He worked with Dressen again for a short time, but found it difficult to develop a group of riders with the same chemistry that previous Dogtown teams had. “It was tough because every time the company shut down I lost a generation of kids,” he says. “So here you are trying to build the name back up with kids who are cartoon-oriented-they don’t know anything about the history, and what you’ve done for the sport and developments. The cool thing about skateboarding now is that it does have a history. I’m just really proud to be a part of something that so many people love to do, even if they don’t know a damn thing about why they skateboard now.”

Muir credits his mentors and caretakers at Zephyr for teaching him an honest no-bullshit approach to life and business. “Jeff Ho, Skip, and Stecyk were all partners, and they all were relatively equal influences-each in a different way,” he says. “Skipper took me under his wing, and he gave me the breaks-he looked out for me. Stecyk was this guy who had an eye for talent-the guy just saw something and was able to lay a path down. Jeff-the guy had the hairstyle, he had the fashion style. Everything was flash with this guy-he was Hollywood in the ghetto. These guys were my influences. Hopefully the intellectual and artistic part from Stecyk came in a little bit, I’ve had some flashier times, and now I’m looking out for my son, and I’m still responsible for my riders, and I try and do everything I can for them.”

Peralta and Stecyk’s film may help to educate today’s generation about some of the key individuals and events in skateboarding’s past, but Muir believes that the spontaneity and mystery that made it so intriguing then don’t exist today-despite the resurgence of pool skating and the hardcore trend that’s sweeping the market. “In skateboarding, there’s nothing that’s original now-everything is rehashed in one way or another,” he says. “And when things get really boring, what happened in history starts to matter suddenly. From a purist standpoint, it used to be a subculture, and a ‘core activity. A lot of the energy that’s portrayed in the movie-that’s just not out there anymore. For a lot of people, it’s just something to do.

“They ssay everything comes full circle, and fashion comes back around, and it’s gonna happen in skateboarding, maybe. And I might be right where I’m supposed to be one more time again-the right place at the right time.”

With a new team led by pros Laban Pheidias and Wee Man, Muir has once again managed to redevelop the brand into a grassroots club for skate-minded and eclectic individuals who seem unaffected by the tides of trendiness. It may not be the most profitable way to manage a brand, but Muir’s content in his self-reliance, and comfortable with the company he keeps.

“I’m either stupid or stubborn, and most likely it’s both,” he suggests to explain why he manages the company, handles sales, works with the team, ships product, answers his own phone, and personally shoulders the company’s financial responsibility himself. “It’s a grassroots way of doing things-an old-school way of doing things. I have a lot of good relationships with guys who have had shops for ten, fifteen, twenty years. They know me, and somehow I’ve managed to keep my integrity through all this. No one out there is gonna say that I fuckin’ burned ‘em. If you do those kinds of things, you can answer your own phone, too.”

Dogtown Skates Alumni
Just a few names to pass through the DTS threshold.
Jason Adams
Micke Alba
Bob Biniak
John Cardiel
Paul Constantineau
Eric Dressen
Tony Hawk
Frankie Hill
Christian Hosoi
Wes Humpston
Shogo Kubo
Kris Markovich
Jim Muir
Aaron Murray
Scott Oster
Duane Peters
Laban Pheidias
JJ Rogers
Mike Santarossa
Ben Schroeder
Mike Smith
Karma Tsocheff
Karl Watson
Wee Man
used on the new hardcore street skater, Muir and his partners created a sister brand to help address the changing demands of the market. Think Skateboards was successfully launched in 1990, and with Dogtown stuck in a limited market, Muir soon felt homesick for Santa Monica. By the end of the year, he had traded his interest in Think for his partners’ interest in Dogtown, and moved his new wife and their infant son to Santa Monica, where he hoped to again reconnect the brand with its roots.

Back where it all began, Muir went though a couple more partnerships that ultimately failed, the last one in the mid 90s when Dogtown fell into the snowboard quagmire. Muir and his partners had done well selling Dogtown Snowboards to Japanese distributors, and when the snowboard market as a whole took a hit, they were left with most of their money tied up in inventory. “I kept telling them, ‘You can’t count on one market. You’ve got to have a strong presence domestically,’” says Muir. “And as soon as the Japanese market started to slow down, they freaked out. That was the same year that it didn’t snow here until March, and Japan had no winter whatsoever, and there were like two-million snowboards left over in Japan from the winter. Just all kinds of nightmare stories-all the skateboard shops that had bought snowboard gear couldn’t sell it, and they therefore couldn’t buy skateboard shit. It was just a whole backlash of things like that. We ended up paying like 150 bucks for these boards, and we had 2,500 left that we ended up selling for 70 dollars apiece.”

In 1998, after skateboarding had recovered from its early 90s lull, Muir reopened the family business, recruiting his dad and brother, and released four new Dogtown decks, two hats, and ten T-shirts. He worked with Dressen again for a short time, but found it difficult to develop a group of riders with the same chemistry that previous Dogtown teams had. “It was tough because every time the company shut down I lost a generation of kids,” he says. “So here you are trying to build the name back up with kids who are cartoon-oriented-they don’t know anything about the history, and what you’ve done for the sport and developments. The cool thing about skateboarding now is that it does have a history. I’m just really proud to be a part of something that so many people love to do, even if they don’t know a damn thing about why they skateboard now.”

Muir credits his mentors and caretakers at Zephyr for teaching him an honest no-bullshit approach to life and business. “Jeff Ho, Skip, and Stecyk were all partners, and they all were relatively equal influences-each in a different way,” he says. “Skipper took me under his wing, and he gave me the breaks-he looked out for me. Stecyk was this guy who had an eye for talent-the guy just saw something and was able to lay a path down. Jeff-the guy had the hairstyle, he had the fashion style. Everything was flash with this guy-he was Hollywood in the ghetto. These guys were my influences. Hopefully the intellectual and artistic part from Stecyk came in a little bit, I’ve had some flashier times, and now I’m looking out for my son, and I’m still responsible for my riders, and I try and do everything I can for them.”

Peralta and Stecyk’s film may help to educate today’s generation about some of the key individuals and events in skateboarding’s past, but Muir believes that the spontaneity and mystery that made it so intriguing then don’t exist today-despite the resurgence of pool skating and the hardcore trend that’s sweeping the market. “In skateboarding, there’s nothing that’s original now-everything is rehashed in one way or another,” he says. “And when things get really boring, what happened in history starts to matter suddenly. From a purist standpoint, it used to be a subculture, and a ‘core activity. A lot of the energy that’s portrayed in the movie-that’s just not out there anymore. For a lot of people, it’s just something to do.

“They say everything comes full circle, and fashion comes back around, and it’s gonna happen in skateboarding, maybe. And I might be right where I’m supposed to be one more time again-the right place at the right time.”

With a new team led by pros Laban Pheidias and Wee Man, Muir has once again managed to redevelop the brand into a grassroots club for skate-minded and eclectic individuals who seem unaffected by the tides of trendiness. It may not be the most profitable way to manage a brand, but Muir’s content in his self-reliance, and comfortable with the company he keeps.

“I’m either stupid or stubborn, and most likely it’s both,” he suggests to explain why he manages the company, handles sales, works with the team, ships product, answers his own phone, and personally shoulders the company’s financial responsibility himself. “It’s a grassroots way of doing things-an old-school way of doing things. I have a lot of good relationships with guys who have had shops for ten, fifteen, twenty years. They know me, and somehow I’ve managed to keep my integrity through all this. No one out there is gonna say that I fuckin’ burned ‘em. If you do those kinds of things, you can answer your own phone, too.”

Dogtown Skates Alumni
Just a few names to pass through the DTS threshold.
Jason Adams
Micke Alba
Bob Biniak
John Cardiel
Paul Constantineau
Eric Dressen
Tony Hawk
Frankie Hill
Christian Hosoi
Wes Humpston
Shogo Kubo
Kris Markovich
Jim Muir
Aaron Murray
Scott Oster
Duane Peters
Laban Pheidias
JJ Rogers
Mike Santarossa
Ben Schroeder
Mike Smith
Karma Tsocheff
Karl Watson
Wee Man
>”They say everything comes full circle, and fashion comes back around, and it’s gonna happen in skateboarding, maybe. And I might be right where I’m supposed to be one more time again-the right place at the right time.”

With a new team led by pros Laban Pheidias and Wee Man, Muir has once again managed to redevelop the brand into a grassroots club for skate-minded and eclectic individuals who seem unaffected by the tides of trendiness. It may not be the most profitable way to manage a brand, but Muir’s content in his self-reliance, and comfortable with the company he keeps.

“I’m either stupid or stubborn, and most likely it’s both,” he suggests to explain why he manages the company, handles sales, works with the team, ships product, answers his own phone, and personally shoulders the company’s financial responsibility himself. “It’s a grassroots way of doing things-an old-school way of doing things. I have a lot of good relationships with guys who have had shops for ten, fifteen, twenty years. They know me, and somehow I’ve managed to keep my integrity through all this. No one out there is gonna say that I fuckin’ burned ‘em. If you do those kinds of things, you can answer your own phone, too.”

Dogtown Skates Alumni
Just a few names to pass through the DTS threshold.
Jason Adams
Micke Alba
Bob Biniak
John Cardiel
Paul Constantineau
Eric Dressen
Tony Hawk
Frankie Hill
Christian Hosoi
Wes Humpston
Shogo Kubo
Kris Markovich
Jim Muir
Aaron Murray
Scott Oster
Duane Peters
Laban Pheidias
JJ Rogers
Mike Santarossa
Ben Schroeder
Mike Smith
Karma Tsocheff
Karl Watson
Wee Man

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