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New Rip City Skates Documentary Looks Into Survival of Santa Monica’s Oldest Skate Shop

It's "one of the only places in Santa Monica that hasn’t been rearranged and decimated,” Dogtown legend Tony Alva says in ‘Kinda Crazy,’ a new short documentary film exploring the legacy of Rip City Skates and the cousins responsible for the iconic skate shop.

Photo by Lexis-Olivier Ray

As entire blocks of the city fall to the whims of developers, old-school Santa Monica survives inside one of the world’s oldest skate shops.

Opened on April Fools Day in 1978 by two polar-opposite cousins, Rip City Skates has ridden the various waves of modern skateboarding in Los Angeles since the early days of skating.

From the time that they sold their first skateboard to now, the skate industry has evolved tremendously and so has Santa Monica.

But against all odds, Rip City has remained the same.

Today, nearly every inch of the walls in this shack-like store are plastered with skateboards, photos, and other skateboard memorabilia, some of which is as old as the shop itself.

It’s “one of the only places in Santa Monica that hasn’t been rearranged and decimated,” Dogtown legend Tony Alva says in ‘Kinda Crazy,’ a new short documentary film exploring the legacy of Rip City Skates and their owners, Jim McDowell and Bill Poncher. The film was directed by music video director and documentary filmmaker Daniel Pappas.

“It hasn’t changed,” Alva says in the film, referring to Rip City’s old charm. “Like the cracks in the pavement are still the same. This is Santa Monica.”

“The store has always been basically the same,” legendary skateboard pioneer and artist Steve Olson told L.A. TACO in 2020. “Just different gear from the different generations it has survived.”

“When you take someone here, it’s like you’re taking them back in time,” Santa Monica native and Birdhouse pro skater Lizzie Armanto says in ‘Kinda Crazy.” “It’s like you’re taking them back in time to this gathering place where skateboarding started.”

On any given day you might run into a skateboard deity at Rip City or a mother shopping for their kid’s first skateboard. It’s a place that attracts more than just skaters.

“To me, Rip City [is like] a bar without alcohol,” Jordan Schwartz says in the film.’ “And Jim and Bill were the bartenders.”

Jim is the quiet family man who likes to fish and recently retired. Bill is the wild long-haired surfer. Together, the unlikely pair have found success in an industry that is built more on passion than profits. 

While almost everything is drastically more expensive than it was ten years ago, the price of a skateboard deck has remained relatively flat for decades (around $60-$80). Add to that increased competition from corporate giants like Walmart, Zumiez and Target and it’s easy to see why there are more skate shops closing than shops crossing the 45 year mark. 

“The longer you’re here and people come in that have been here as children, they can’t believe that you’re still here,” Jim says in ‘Kinda Crazy.’ “And it still looks the same… and I also get this ‘it still smells the same.’”

Despite keeping the wheels rolling for nearly 50 years, Rip City’s long term future is uncertain, since neither Jim nor Bill own the storefront property that Rip City operates out of.

During the pandemic in 2020, Rip City nearly closed their doors at 2709 Santa Monica Boulevard when their landlord sought to demolish the tiny building this skate shop has called home for nearly half a century. 

The news sparked worldwide outrage, resulting in a petition that garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Plans to demolish the building ultimately fell through, but Rip City’s future remains on shaky ground.

“When your lease expires and you're on a month-to-month, you don’t know when the plug is going to get pulled,” co-owner Bill Poncher says in ‘Kinda Crazy.’

For now, Rip City is safe, according to the film’s producer, Chris Candy, who confirmed as much in mid-November.

Candy’s motivation for making the first-of-its-kind short film came from almost losing the store he loves. “If the doors were to fully close, I felt it would be a huge loss to not have a film like this.”

“The store has played a huge role in my life, and I could see that was apparent for a lot of other people,” Candy told L.A. TACO. “I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to document that impact.”

‘Kinda Crazy’ is a 12-minute short documentary film directed by Daniel Pappas featuring skateboard pioneers Tony Alva, Mark Gonzales, and Eric Dressen as well as pro skater Lizzie Armanto and a host of Rip City affiliates. Watch the film now on below. 

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