The Z-Girl in the Skateboard History Books
“Dogtown and Z-Boys,” the recent hit documentary chronicling the skateboard revolution launched by surf-rat teens in Venice and Santa Monica during the mid-1970s, was an all-boys nostalgia session with one exception: Peggy Oki. Growing up on Westside beaches, Oki surfed and skated from an early age and joined the Zephyr skateboard team at its inception. Alongside such Dogtown legends as Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta, Oki invaded Santa Monica’s steeply banked schoolyards and empty swimming pools and bagged trophies at competitions. Oki, 46, now makes her way as a freelance graphic designer and fine artist (www.peggy-oki.com), but she still carves up the concrete at the skate park near her Santa Barbara home and chases warm-water waves on surf safaris in the tropics.
What got you started with skateboarding?
My father bought my brother and me our own Black Knight skateboards from a department store. That was back in the Fred Flintstone [clay] wheel days. A few years later, my brother was taking wood shop at school, and Cadillac [urethane] wheels had just come out, so he made some skateboards, including one for me. I have a great brother.
How did you get on the Zephyr team?
I had just started to learn to surf. It seemed like skating would be helpful to my surfing when there wasn’t a swell. One day I was skating on Bicknell Hill and I was asked by one of the boys--I think it was Jay [Adams]--on the Zephyr team if I’d be interested in skating on a team. Jay told me to go to the Zephyr surf shop, and I was signed on.
You were a Z-Girl when girls were few and far between in the skateboard and surf milieus. Why you?
I was a tomboy all along. I used to get into rock-throwing fights with boys, and climbed trees to play. I had raced motocross in the two years before I took up surfing.
It’s evened up a bit, but girls are still a minority in the skate and surf worlds. Why do you think this is?
I couldn’t say, other than change is slow in some cases. With the increased numbers of female surfers and skaters, there is a growing gender-based support. There are peers, magazines, clubs, [but] I have not been closely following this topic.
The Z-Boys’ impact on skateboarding was in large part a matter of attitude and style. What is your definition of style?
It represents the way an individual expresses themselves in their own personal dance. Style comes through in the physicality of skating or surfing, just as it does in painting. It is interesting to me how in a group of 30 people, everyone can paint the same exact subject or object, yet you can see a unique style in each person’s representation. It’s the same with surfing and skating.
The “Dogtown” of the film was a ghostly, rundown Venice/Santa Monica that’s long gone. How has the area changed?
This is the general course in a capitalist society, to “develop,” especially coastal lands. I suppose to some, it would be seen as an improvement. To me, what it was like 25 years ago has been wiped away. If I were to see that the development in the area was one that brought sustainable environmental, socially conscious change, I would say it was an improvement. But I have not seen that.
Could a cheeky tribe of mainly working- and lower-middle-class kids start a creative movement there today?
If there are still some living there.
There was a sad undertone as the film tracked the Z-Boys over the years--some flourished, some didn’t. What made the difference for you?
We all come to our own awarenesses in our own time. I was fortunate to realize my choices relatively early in my life. My first travel experience as an adult was about 24 years ago, when I went to Maui for two months. I realized that I enjoy travel and the experiences it brings. I am thankful for having seen so many places, and for all that I have learned in my lifetime.
Have you taken any tough slams lately?
On May 4, I took a hard fall in the big bowl [at Skater’s Point skate park in Santa Barbara]. That really hurt! Fractured my wrist in three places. With a 50% chance of requiring surgery, I convinced the doctor to let me face the odds. I powered out on homeopathics and had heaps of acupuncture, positive thinking, and I lucked out. A cast for six weeks, and I was back to surfing a month later.