Sk8er Girl in Z-Boy Land

Director Catherine Hardwicke on being the Lady of Dogtown

Catherine Hardwicke grew up poor on a farm in South Texas near the Mexico border, and, well, Christmas took some improvising on her dad's part.

"He grew carrots, right," Hardwicke says in a slow, quiet drawl that betrays her roots despite the Hollywood makeover and the trim, athletic body with which she will soon present herself to an international media junket. "So one Christmas he got a bunch of that raw, rich dirt that clings to the carrots, and he had the driver bring the truck over and dump it in our backyard. Our present was a mountain of carrot dirt, and it was the most bitchin' present, because we were like, 'What the fuck is this, Dad?' And he said, 'You gotta make something of it. You gotta dig things, make tunnels, make mountains. You gotta get sticks and wood and turn them into buildings and forests.' "

So Hardwicke did, building an entire mountain village, complete with tunnels for her cat, towns, a graveyard, forests. She even composed a theme song to go with it.

"If I got one of those plastic Barbie things with a home already made, or a video game, I don't think I'd be where I am right now," she laughs.

Where she is right now is on a stretch of the Sony lot done up to look like a downtown Manhattan block, although with a storefront full of Z-Boy memorabilia in case the foreign press forgets what they're here for. Buzzing around is Tony "Mad Dog" Alva, one of the original Z-Boys, who went on to be the first world skateboarding champ, and Skip Engblom, co-proprietor of the eponymous Zephyr Surf Shop and the Fagin of the delinquent gang of pubescent skaters who used the shop as their home away from broken homes. Of course, in the mid-'70s, Alva, Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta and the other lost boys running wild around the streets of Dogtown (the blighted stretch of Venice around the crumbling Pacific Ocean Park Pier they claimed as their surfing and skating turf) would change skateboarding from a languid hobby for idle surfers into the aggro, punk-adjacent, multibillion-dollar industry/lifestyle it is today.

To say the Z-Boys were seminal is an understatement, and their exploits have been documented (most notably in Peralta's award-winning 2001 doc, DogtownandZ-Boys)and dissected to the point where the Z-Boys are cult heroes and Dogtown is part of the X-Games generation's lexicon.

Yet it is the Hardwicke-directed LordsofDogtown,a film that's gone through a series of misfires, including one by David Fincher, that Sony hopes will capture the imaginations and allowance money of teenagers across the land, thereby elevating the Z-Boys from cult figures to household names. A lot of people have stakes in this enterprise, emotional or otherwise. Aside from the Z-Boys themselves, there is the hardcore and hard-to-please skate-and-surf crowd, for whom the legacy of Dogtown is sacred and whose approval will be important to the film's word of mouth. All those hopes pinned on a package with a PG-13 rating.

Hardwicke may be a long way from South Texas, and her hair might look like it came straight out of a Beverly Hills boutique, but even with the sheen, and her Dogtown print T-shirt, her strong, thick hands still look made for picking potatoes, or for carrying the expectations of Z-Boy-ophiles everywhere. She told the story about the carrot-dirt Christmas present to illuminate a theme in the movie, and in the real lives of the Z-Boys, which is doing something with what's handed to you, even if it doesn't look like much.

"One of the reasons we're attracted to these guys, I think, is because they lived authentically," says Hardwicke. "They rode their skateboards, and their jeans were fucked up because they could only afford one pair. They weren't sitting there watching TV, they were doing shit they loved, you know, and they cared about it and felt it vibrantly, and that's why I think people are attracted to Tony and Jay [perhaps the most spontaneous, creative and troubled of the Z-Boys]. You can't help but be attracted to them because they lived by their instincts."

"But," says Hardwicke, who made her directorial debut with 2003's Thirteen,a heartbreaking movie about overmatched teenage girls going wild, "I've always been about making something rather than thinking about how it's going to affect others. I'm just more about making it and crafting and feeling and breathing it, and then other people who are smarter than me can interpret it." She laughs and then says, "Seriously, I'm more intuitive."

Following is a conversation about where the lady steward of Dogtown's intuitions led her.

OCWeekly:Whatdrewyoutothematerial?

CatherineHardwicke:I moved here from Texas in the late '80s, and I met Stacy in acting class, and I saw this guy slapping stickers on his skateboard, doing his monologue, and I was like, "Who is that? What's going on?" I wanted to know this guy. And so we got to be friends, and he introduced me to Stecyk [Craig Stecyk, Los Angeles artist and original documenter of the Z-Boys' exploits]. I went to some of the BonesBrigadespremieres [seminal skateboarding videos done by Stecyk and Peralta, some featuring a young Tony Hawk], and I started looking at his work and thought it was really interesting.

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