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Documentary Review: The Tony Alva Story

By Valentina Diaz
V. Diaz, a journalist and passionate skateboarder is a full-time writer for SHIT®️ Magazine.

 

This documentary was hosted by pro skateboarder Jeff Grosso who turned pro in 1986 and for 10 years was making a skate show called “Loveletters to Skateboarding." Grosso has interviewed skaters like Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Sam Hitz, Rick Blackhart, Lance Mountain and many more.

All the stories that Grosso shows in the program starts with Alva, for him it was important to honor the guy who gave skateboarding a name and identity. To Jeff “He’s just the ‘fuck you’ behind skateboarding, he is kind of our king,” Jeff said.

When we’re thinking about who was the first pro skateboarder in history we can with confidence say that it was Tony Alva. Alva did things that no one did before, he skated each modality and invented tricks that weren't even thinkable in that time, he changed the way skateboarding was seen.

This iconic guy was the 19th-century skateboarding king and began to skate when boards were getting popular at the end of the 60s, "I was just a straight-up sidewalk surfer," Alva said.

The documentary's beginning shows the transition from surfing and its relevancy. It also spoke about how skateboarding was a complementary discipline that helped these guys explore new things when the waves weren't good enough.

During the 60s and 70s, there were great surfer-skateboarders who represented skateboarding like Torger Johnson, Stacy Peralta; and teams like the Hobie Skate Team (1966), 360° Sportswear Team (1978). Imagine that! A team and uniforms in skateboarding? Well yes, that's what it looked like.

 

Skateboarding History Through Tony Alva’s Life

 

He was part of the Zephyr, a known team consisting of Tony Alva and Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta and 11 others. Alva gave himself an identity, his own style, behaviors and personality, besides this he was a gifted skateboarder.

He fell in love with skateboarding and together with his board he got to be the best rider in freestyle, slalom, downhill, the barrel and high jump.

"Jay and I took it to the next level, 'cause we started going low and were just slamming and sliding and pivoting and doing 540 slides. It took us to the schoolyards, the concrete waves and actually taking those moves onto the banks, which was not easy," explained Tony about that part of history.

 

At the end of the 70s skateboarding could be very "flashy", but for Tony skateboarding wasn't that type of sport. While people were skating with uniforms and costumes, Tony was going down the slopes of the streets.

Until pools came in! Skateboarding was divided between those who did freestyle and those who were going to the abandoned pools and learning how to do it, Tony was a pioneer of pools and pipes incorporated to skate.

"Nobody could skate the pools like we could because of the fact that we were surfers and we rode those empty pools just like they were a shore break or like they're the concrete wave," Tony said in the documentary.

 

This modality became an important eye into skateboarding and all the magazines were talking about it, those who had cameras wanted to take a picture of them skating the pools.

"I wanted to take pictures 'cause people like Tony were truly inspiring. I wanted to take a picture of him 'cause I think I was seeing something that I hadn't seen anywhere else before," Glen E Friedman stated.

Tony was taking up first place, the skateboard was evolving and becoming better as he was passing through his 20s, he had Bunker as his coach and he prepared Alva to be a star. Since skateboarding started, it has been good entertainment for everyone, especially if we talk about vertical, so Tony when wasn't competing but was showing his talent through this kind of displays.

 

A Pro Skateboarder Into the Industry With His Own Trademark

Recognition gave Tony Alva his own industry and everyone wanted something from him. "We kind of looked at this like let's create this body of work where the product can stand on its own but this stuff is really cool, it's like art," creative visionary Pete Zennder said.

Pete looked for Eric Monson to design Alva's trademark. Monson creates a font with his name that could be read as if it was signed by Alva and so it was. Alva started to be identified by it.

Skateboarding is respected thanks to those skaters who made it look cool, easy and who captured that on a picture while they were flying. I believe it is incredible. Thanks to guys like Tony and vertical ramps people learned what skateboarding was about and started to skate.

"We did Sweden, we did England and we did France. One day we're just in Paris, Tony gets out of the car and starts skating and these kids are like 'oh my god Tony Alva'. Next thing you know they flooded the place and autographs," Pete says during the documentary.

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In the 1980 skateboarding almost died, it lost the popularity that it had. But it was something that provided this sport a new way to see and live it. And those who were passionate about skateboarding kept rolling even if they had to do it on the streets.

Punk Rock revived skateboarding because it was connected with the same ideas of enjoying that kind of music: friends, party, noise, crazy, real. "It was the beginning of my idea of freedom, cause you could be radical and play the music loud," the Black Flag singer said. To punk musicians, meeting Tony was a big honor. It was the perfect place to receive skateboarding and link it with music.

Unfortunately Tony went from "being at the top of his game, selling hundreds of thousands of skateboards to have nothing," Eric Groff explains.

Alva even started to study to be a dentist, but skateboarding motivated him to confront this critical point in his life, so after selling boards from others he decided to take charge of his trademark and be the owner of his brand.

“Well my plans for the future are to travel a lot and promote Alva products to become the number one skateboarding product in the world, as well as maybe use my Alva logo to promote other products that have my name on them,” Tony Alva said at Vibracao, Brazilian TV of that time.

Tony tried so many things with the Alva brand and in some way it worked out. His partners, team and crew were part of something huge and it was because Alva believed in it. So much so that he could live each skateboarding decade and stay among the best skaters.

 

But years don't come alone, frustration and excesses are always going to be part of the freedom that we chose to live. When you are alone, thinking about how your life has turned out, well sometimes we just let us fall and, as all his friends said, he just stopped.

However, about this episode of his life he concludes that, "In 2006 I just got totally fed up with everything including myself and decided to just turn it over, just go clean and sober."

Skateboarding again saved his life and now he is a professional skateboarder who has lived the whole skateboarding history and is still here to talk about it and go out to skate.

This amazing film will let you see how skateboarding evolved through the years and how Tony lived it, being one of the few who could live this dream in a moment when no one expected anything from skateboarding.



Read also: Skate Documentary Review: Shanghai 6

Read also: Review: Underexposed - A Women's Skateboarding Documentary

   

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