Turns out the back porch of the Cayucos Vets Hall is the perfect place to interview Stacy Peralta.
A few feet to the West, mild waves are breaking near the pier. Meanwhile, a few feet to the east, kids are clunkily trying out their moves at the Cayucos Skatepark.
When he was their age — before he reinvented himself as a filmmaker — Peralta was a young surfer, who also skated. Except he was more than just a skater — he was a No. 1-ranked skater, who would take the sport to a new level and then discover the ones who’d take it to an even higher level.
“I started coming here in my skateboarding days,” says Peralta, now 55. “When I was like 18 or 19. Because I’d pass through here on the way to San Francisco to a contest or something. But I have this really vivid memory of stopping for gas one night, getting out of the car to fill up and literally going, ‘Where am I?’ I was shocked. Something about this place felt like home, and I didn’t even know where I was.”
Never miss a local story.
As he noted in his award-winning film “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” Peralta grew up in Southern California, where he achieved his fame. But in 2008, he and his girlfriend got a house in Cayucos.
“We originally got the place thinking it would be a getaway,” he said. “But it’s now becoming our full-time place, where Santa Monica is only where we go in and do business strikes.”
Business like his upcoming movie “The Bones Brigade,” which takes him back to skateboarding, which is where Peralta’s story begins.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see people of various ages riding a skateboard at a park, on a road or in a parking lot. But it wasn’t that way when Peralta got started.
“When we were young, growing up and surfing, skateboarding didn’t even exist,” he said, his eyes hidden behind a pair of Ray-Ban shades. “There weren’t skateboard stores, and there certainly weren’t skateboard parks — and there never had been. If you wanted to buy a board, you had to go to a thrift store and make it by cutting up roller skates.”
The whole point of skating — as told in “Dogtown and Z-Boys” — was to simulate surfing when the surf was no good.
“We all wanted to be professional surfers — that’s what we were shooting for,” he said. “We didn’t realize that the skateboard under our feet was going to be the vehicle that was going to take us all around the world.”
At 15, he was one of the Z-Boys, a group of sponsored skaters who developed never-seen-before tricks, thanks in part to new skateboard technology and a drought. Because of the lack of water, many pools in the area were drained — and the skaters found that those pools made for great skating bowls.
“Los Angeles has the type of swimming pools that you don’t see anywhere in the world,” said Peralta, who said he’s skated about 160 pools. “It had the glamour pools of the 1940s and 1950s that the actors and actresses had in their backyards. So there was a certain voluptuous shape that they made in California, especially Los Angeles, to cater to the Hollywood elite.”
Not everyone liked their tricks — actor Peter Graves used to call the police on them — but their swimming pool stunts were soon noticed.
“All of the sudden skateboarding was becoming so popular and skateboarding business started mushrooming, and they were looking for professionals. Well, we had been doing it so long we were the first guys in line.”
Graves would have been surprised.
“We were suddenly being offered money to do something that we were always arrested for doing,” Peralta said.
Even though Peralta was one of the faces of skateboarding, he knew it wouldn’t last forever. So he joined forces with mechanical engineer George Powell in 1978 to form the Powell Peralta skateboard company. “And within that skateboard company, I wanted to create a great skateboarding team, which led me to create what’s called the Bones Brigade.”
The Bones Brigade included the next generation of great skaters, including Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero and the most famous skater, Tony Hawk. To sell Powell Peralta products, Peralta decided to have films made of the Bones Brigade team. So a crew from Hollywood was brought in.
“I went out with them on the first day of the shoot, and I felt they didn’t respect my wishes, so I eventually fired them and took it over myself,” Peralta said.
At 23, it was the beginning of yet another career path.
The first film, “The Bones Brigade Video Show,” premiered in the living room at Hawk’s parents’ home. At the time, Peralta said, he figured they’d sell maybe a thousand copies of it. “We ended up selling close to 30,000.”
Peralta made a film a year. Meanwhile, he was the coach, mentor and friend to the Bones Brigade crew.
“We all became very close because I was with them at a time in their lives when they were very, very young,” Peralta said. “Some of them didn’t have fathers. And they hadn’t had a person like myself in their life before.”
Thanks to Peralta’s movies, the Bones Brigade crew became celebrities, touring the world. Eventually, Peralta left the skateboard business — which sold 70,000 boards a month at its peak — to concentrate on making films. His first feature — about his Z-Boys crew — garnered him the award for documentary directing at the Sundance Film Festival. Three years later, in 2004, he released “Riding Giants,” a film about big wave surfing. His next documentary — “Crips and Bloods: Made in America” — was his third to screen at Sundance.
In between, he made commercials, wrote the screenplay to “Lords of Dogtown” and co-wrote a yet-to-be-filmed screenplay for Sean Penn with his buddy Sam George, whom he met while George was hitchhiking along Los Osos Valley Road in the 1970s.
When members of the Bones Brigade asked him to make a film about them 10 years ago, Peralta initially resisted.
“The reason I kept saying no to the guys was because I wasn’t comfortable playing the role of director and character in the film again, because I created the Bones Brigade,” he said. “But I just decided, damn it, I’ll just do it.”
The movie, which received five standing ovations at this year’s Sundance festival, opened to a small theatrical run this fall and will release digitally Nov. 2 through the film’s website.
When he’s not busy promoting that, Peralta might be found skating the Los Osos Skatepark, where kids recently approached him for autographs. Or he might be surfing on a standup paddle board near his Cayucos home.
Even though the Central Coast isn’t well known for surf, Peralta’s a big fan.
“I think one of the best things about this place is there isn’t some visible world-class point break,” he said, the ocean reflected in his sunglasses. “If there was a Rincon or a Malibu here, this place would be ruined. The fact that the ‘seminal wave’ here is average but it’s hidden enables this place to retain its value because otherwise it’d be trampled.”