After Lords of Dogtown came out in 2005, I was curious about a whole bunch of things. Allen Sarlo and I had been caught in the same massive traffic jam trying to get to the premiere of Lords of Dogtown at Mann’s Chinese Theater. I barely saw the movie, but I came out of there with a lot of questions. Sarlo lives in Malibu and surfs First Point as much as I do, and it wasn’t too hard to get him talking about the movie, and the documentary and the books, and the myths, legends, rumors and lies of· the Z Boys/Dogtown myths.
This is the long version of the interview, part of which appeared on www.surfermag.com in 2005. Sarlo has gotten his swimming pool very expensively fixed since then, and it’s a good place for a party –especially if you invite a harem of belly dancers to dance around it.
Ironically, Allen Sarlo is now the owner of an empty, skateable swimming pool. It is attached to his house, up in the Malibu hills, at his house overlooking the ocean. Doubly ironically, where the empty pools of Lords of Dogtown were from the drought, Sarlo’s pool was damaged and had to be emptied because of the monsoonal rains of the winter of 2004/2005, which turned his hillside to liquid mud and caved in half of his house.
Thirty years ago, Sarlo probably would have invited the whole team to his house for a pool party, blasting AC/DC and Ted Nugent until the neighbors complained. But that was then. Thirty years ago, Sarlo was a teenager at Venice High – in the same class as Nathan Pratt and Stacy Peralta – and a member of the Zephyr team, a young surfer sponsored by Skip Engblom and Jeff Ho. Where some of the Zephyr team were frustrated surf stars who turned to skating, Sarlo concentrated on the surf star bit and had a good run of it as a competitor, traveler and big-wave surfer.
Now, Sarlo is a hard-working, harder surfing father of two. He has a successful real estate business in that golden strip from Marina del Rey to Malibu, and he surfs more than humanly possible – flying to Tahiti or Indo or Hawaii or Mexico at the slightest wisp of swell. During the week of May 22, Sarlo took a limo with his daughter Sophie and Skip Engblom to see the Hollywood premiere of Lords of Dogtown and then the next night, he took his son Colton to the cast and crew showing of the movie in Westwood.
Sarlo is never short on words, and he had some stories to tell on how he saw Lords of Dogtown from someone who was there.
How is your pool?
We’re getting there. It’s coming.
Here is the million-dollar question: If a bunch of kids snuck up the road and tried to skate your pool, what would you do?
I’d chase them out. Vals go home!
Hey I don’t want to get sued. I got enough problems back there.
So you’ve seen the movie twice now. That’s your life up there, sort of. What did you think?
I thought it was really really good. I thought it was insane. I think my daughter Sophie summed it up best. What did you think of the movie, Sophie?
Sophie Sarlo: I thought the skateboarding stunts were incredible! I thought it was a lot better than Blue Crush! Hopefully all the people who got into surfing because of Blue Crush will get into skateboarding and this summer won’t be so crowded.
Allen Sarlo: That’s my girl.
Nathan Pratt was at the cast and crew show. He came out teary-eyed, but at some point I heard him say he thought the skateboarding was a little weak.
You’ve got to remember that the skateboarders that were skating were actors and you can’t compare them to Tony Alva and Jay Adams and Stacy. Those guys were magic.
Those were the actors going over the light in some of the pool scenes.
Yeah, they learned how to do it so that was pretty good, but they’re not Jay and Tony and Stacy.
You knew these guys very very well, so was that actor like Stacy and where those actors like Jay and Tony?
Yeah, I thought the actor did a really good job with Jay.
Because in the movie Jay kind of goes through a Darth Vader transformation from Anakin Skywalker to the dark side. Is that pretty accurate?
Yeah Jay got heavy into punk rock and going to Hollywood and partying but he was a hardcore surfer. We used to get up every morning and go over to his house and Philaine would take us to the beach or we would ride our bikes to the beach or we would walk to the beach.
Philaine is Jay’s mom…
Yeah, Philaine would drive us to Topanga…
So was Jay’s mom as whacked out as Rebecca de Mornay portrayed her to be?
Jay’s mom was the sweetest lady in the world. She wasn’t high like that all the time. She took us to the beach and fed us and laughed and she was like part of the boys.
Were they really that poor?
Yeah they rented the house for like 250 bucks and Jay’s stepdad Kent, he glassed for Dave Sweet and he had a big background in surfboard making and that’s how he came up with the fiberglass Zephyr skateboards you know – out of the mold.
Did Tony Alva really have a hot sister?
Yeah. She was definitely hot.
What about the actor who portrayed Tony Alva?
Tony… that is how Tony was. It was all about him all the time and he had a huge ego. It was fun being around him because you were on the Tony show.· Stacy was quiet and responsible and a nice guy.
What about Stacy’s family?
Stacy’s dad was a hard-working guy and his mom was a housewife. They lived in Venice – Mar Vista.
They owned the house?
Stacy’s mom still lives in the house and I believe Stacy’s dad passed away.
Did Stacy ever get in fights?
No he avoided that whole…
Was Stacy that good of a skateboarder?
In the beginning you know Stacy wasn’t that good but Nathan and I told Stacy he should be doing 360s. He was always practicing his 360s at lunchtime and after school he’d go, “Allen! Nathan! Come here! Let me how you how many 60s I can do!” Like he did like five 360s with his hair spinning around. And then we go, “Hey man we gotta get you in front of Skipper to do that,” and that is how he got on the skateboard team.
Did you all go to the same high school?
To Venice High School.
Same year in high school?
Stacy and Jay and Tony.
No, Stacy, me and Nathan were the same age. Tony was a year younger and I think Jay was like three or four years younger.
Alva’s dad wasn’t around much and they lived in sort of Santa Monica like on 26th Street and we all hung out at Jay’s house or we hung out at the shop. Jay lived in Ocean Park and it was all about surfing and skating and… having fun.
The Sid character was for real?
Sid was somebody that wanted to hang out with the Zephyr team and he had cancer so his dad let him drain the pool so the Zephyr team could come skate. In the movie Sid is the shop guy but back in the day I think the shop guy was Nathan. I think Sid was two characters, Nathan and the shop guy.
Was Sid that good friends with everyone?
I think he was friends with the pool skaters.
Sid is the rich kid in the movie, with a nice house and maids and a big pool. Where were they from?
They were north of Montana, in Santa Monica.
Do you see those guys often?
I see Jay all the time on the North Shore. I surf with him all the time. He just got married to a 24-year-old, beautiful girl who is a hot skateboarder.
So he’s still there and he still surfs?
He surfs so good. Still super-stoked.
So he is that good of a surfer?
He is a really good surfer. Always has been. Back then we would walk or ride our bikes to Santa Monica or Venice Jetty. Jay was always the inspirational surfer… we used to laugh because when he surfed he looked like BK and Larry Bertlemann, you know. He had the BK takeoff and bottom turn and then he would go right into the Larry Bertlemann cutback. And then he went to Hawaii with his mom, after the whole Dogtown thing and became really good on the North Shore.
Did Jay make that much money?
No, because you see his step-father Kent made the Zephyr skateboards. He made the molds and he was popping them out. So when Tony went to Sims first and Stacy went to G& S, Jay felt a lot of pressure to stay with Kent. Jay could have made a lot more money if he had left Zephyr, but his step-father was really cool. He helped Jay out when he was growing up, so he felt loyal and didn’t want to leave the whole stepfather, Zephyr thing.
Why did people leave Zephyr?
There weren’t that many skateboarders in LA. It was more of a San Diego, San Clemente thing and those were the… I mean, LA? Who was skateboarding in LA? Not that many people. There were way more surfers in Huntington and San Clemente and San Diego and that is where all the big skateboard companies were.
So where is Allen Sarlo in this movie? You were one of the boys. You had a Zephyr team shirt.
It was really weird. That summer… the summer of ’75 when all this went down I was really focused on surfing the WSA contests and winning the Malibu AAAA contest. I used to skateboard Bicknell but when those guys got into the pools they would come back hurt, with broken ankles and broken wrists… I was into surfing.
You didn’t want to get hurt.
I didn’t want to get hurt. It’s hard to surf after you have a big raspberry, you know? Your heat is starting and you’re trying to put on your Body Glove jacket with a broken wrist.
Those 70s wetsuits were hard enough to get on.
Did you win the Malibu AAAA?
I did. Youngest ever.
And that was pretty hotly contested, no?
Oh my god yeah. It was Mike Purpus, Kevin Reed, Mark Levy, Chris O’Rourke.
Tom Stone was the only Hawaiian who came over for it, but who was the guy on the G&S team? Tony Staples. They all showed up at Malibu and the waves were perfect, like four or five feet.
First or Third Point?
Third Point and it was really good. Nathan Pratt got a wave that was so long from Third to First, they stopped judging him while he was still going. I guess if they could have judged the wave they would have scored him higher. As it was Nathan and I were like… and Jay Adams and Tony was a really good surfer who dominated…
Was Stacy a good surfer?
Stacy was a really good surfer, he was a goofyfoot, he was really smooth. Like we had the surf contest against the ET Surf Team. Stacy was up against Derek Levy· and did some backside radical upside down off the lip on like a 7’ 4” Zephyr single fin and we were like “Oh my God!”
Is that movie pretty much one summer?
It was one summer. Everything happened in one summer. I mean the skateboard team was an idea of Jeff Ho’s and Skipper, because they were going to have the contest at Del Mar and so that is why we started the skateboard team. So they had the contest at Del Mar and everything just blew up because by the next summer the shop was gone.
Why did the shop only last a year?
They were really good at making surfboards and skateboards but they weren’t that good at business. And back then surfing wasn’t… there weren’t that many surfers so you couldn’t sell that many surfboards and there wasn’t that many skaters. We had the product and it was ahead of its time but there wasn’t a big market. Jeff was definitely ahead with the surfboards and Kent and Skipper and CR were ahead of the time with skateboards. We had a product that was light-years ahead… but it wasn’t really catching on. They could have paced themselves a little bit more but everyone wanted to do things right away.
That was the summer the urethane wheels came in?
Kids these days don’t realize what a big deal that was. Cadillac wheels. Gregg Weaver.
I know before that you were getting stubbed on every pebble. Your skateboard was doing big Brodie’s on every pebble, with clay wheels.
They were horrible. You know Herbie Fletcher has a photo of himself skating a pool on clay wheels.
I skated pools a little bit but I was so heavy into surfing and all the surf contests were in the summer and we had a summer drought. Everyone was skating pools but Malibu was going off and so I ended up surfing Malibu more than I skated, you know. It was like, are you going to surf Malibu or are you going to skate pools?
Couldn’t do both.
Were you working in the summer?
No but I also was playing football.
You didn’t want to get hurt so you played football?
Hey, I saw a lot more people get hurt skateboarding than playing football. This was before wrist guards and kneepads and all that. People were just learning how to fall.
What else grabbed you from the movie where you thought, “They got that right.”
Like skating down the streets in Dogtown – that brought back a lot of memories. The Zephyr parties, the parties we had. The greatest thing about those parties is that back in the 70s there was basically no cops. There was a handful of police officers on the force.
Your dad was one of them?
No my dad worked for the Culver City police force and we lived in Venice but the cops didn’t show up to the parties. They would show up at like 1:00 in the morning. They wouldn’t show up at 10:00 so the parties didn’t get busted like they do now.
In the movie the guy Topher Burke, he’s walking out of the party where Skip Engblom is up on the roof destroying surfboards and he says, “Zephyr has the best parties!” Was that a real guy, Topher Burke?
I didn’t really remember him. I think he’s the guy who owns Sims skateboards or something.
So it’s a play on that. Like Sims Skateboards or something.
Sophie Sarlo: I thought that was Kid Rock at first, but it was that Johnny Knoxville guy. And I thought Heath Ledger was Val Kilmer, at first. I thought Heath Ledger really nailed Skipper.
Yeah, he did a really really good job with Skip. He must have watched movies of him or something. Well he hung out with Skip before he made it, yeah But Skip now is not Skip then.
Well they had those pictures and stuff, because the way he talked and… Skipper ate more burritos back then. He liked Mexican food. He didn’t like hamburgers as much, like in the movie he is eating a hamburger in every scene. Back then it was more Mexican food.
Was Jeff Ho a part of Zephyr, or a different deal?
Jeff Ho and Skipper were Zephyr Surf Shop. It was Jeff Ho surfboards and Zephyr Surf Shop. It was really… there were two surfboards, there were Jeff Ho surfboards and Zephyr surfboards. Zephyr was like a B surfboard and a Jeff Ho as like an A surfboard but it was the same thing. It was two models, basically. It was Jeff Ho and Zephyr. Jeff Ho/Zephyr, Zephyr/Jeff Ho.
Did someone really punch Tony Alva in the eye at a contest?
I don’t think that was accurate. If anyone had punched Tony Alva the whole Zephyr team would have jumped on and gang-banged the guy, so no one punched… if anybody touched anybody on the Zephyr team the whole Zephyr team would have ganged up and beat them up.
Did that happen?
Well what would happen is those guys would get in a lot of trouble and then call me in and go “Sarlo! Come and straighten this situation out.” I was like the backup guy. I was on the football team and I was bigger than these guys so they’d call me and you know… If I was around everything went pretty smooth.
How often did they call you?
We got in more mischief than we got in fights. We’d throw rocks at the bus and pull people’s wigs off. Old lady’s wigs, we used to pull them off. And like Muir broke a window outside the Zephyr shop and almost got kicked off the Zephyr team.
That was in the movie, breaking a window.
So, we were just mischiefy.
Who was the enemy? Vato guys? Valley guys?
Oh definitely Vals and the north of Wilshire guys. I think they thought we were the enemy – the north of Wilshire guys. We used to go up and invade on Malibu and start taking over. Terry Lucoff was the owner of Natural Progression shop. Lucoff and Jay Riddle would go, “Oh my God! It’s the Zephyr team! And the Mad Chinaman!”
Jeff Ho was the mad Chinaman?
Of the people who aren’t really included in the movie – there is no Nathan Pratt, no Jeff Ho and no Allen Sarlo.
They just gave Peggy a little spot, right? Wentzle, Biniak got a little spot. Paul Constantineau, um…
But you aren’t even represented there, at all.
Nope. Lords of Dogtown is a movie about skateboarding. If they do another movie about surfing, and how radical the surf team was, I’ll be in that one.
Were you a skater at all?
I skated in the Del Mar contest and I got like sixth place or fourth place in the slalom. I beat Ty Page in the slalom. I actually ran over the cone. I was so determined to beat him and a he was a little bit ahead of me so like the last cone I had to run over like skiing.
It didn’t stop me and made it and everyone was laughing, “Sarlo ran the cone over.” But you know the great thing about the Del Mar contest is we all went down in my van, and the surf was six foot and perfect at Seaside Reef and… Cardiff by the Sea. It was six foot and perfect so we surfed that morning – the whole Zephyr Team – and then we showed up at the contest at like 9:30.
Think that made a difference?
Aw we were all so high – aw man the surf was so good – and then we ended up like surfing on the piece of plywood they had there.
Did Skip really punch someone out at the Del Mar Contest?
Aw, no, there was like a heated conversation because Jay wasn’t getting scored like he should have been getting scored and Tony… They never saw what we were doing before you know so it was obviously not getting scored.
Where did that kind of skateboarding coming from?
Well it came from surfing and… the summer before that, Larry Bertlemann was in the magazines and he and Ben Aipa came over to the Zephyr shop and a lot of the boards had a serious Ben Aipa influence: Stingers and swallowtails. We were like idolizing Larry Bertlemann, Terry Fitzgerald and Gerry Lopez. So the surf skate thing came from that along with the drought and the pools being available and skating down Bicknell Hill.
Would Tony Alva really shoot it like he did in the movie – time the light so it turned green just in time so he didn’t get squished.
Yeah there’s a lot of hills at Ocean Park area the Marina Hill and the Navy Hill. We skated all those hills and missed cars.
Anyone ever get killed?
Nope. Close though. Like here’s a great story. I had this old Chevy surfer van that we took to the Del Mar contest. You know the off ramps how they go around and they have ramps on it? We did an off the lip on the ramp with everybody in the car because everyone is in the car screaming “Do an off the lip! Do an off the lip!” So I did an off the lip in my van on the ramp and we kept driving and we got to the Del Mar contest and the wheel fell off. I had my dad’s credit card so I had it towed to the gas station.
You must have hit a pebble.
The wheel came off my van. They left that part out.
Story By Ben Marcus from The Good, The Rad, and The Gnarly
Photos by Lucia Griggi