A ragtag bunch of teenagers who, in the mid-1970s, used an empty swimming pool to revolutionize skateboarding. Their talent for soaring aerials, grinds, spins established the sport’s extreme vocabulary, made some of them millions of dollars, and defines extreme-sports culture to this day.

The Origin of the Species: The Moment the Z-Boys took Skateboarding Airborne

Compared to modern tricks, these moves rank as fairly primitive (the technology had something to do with it, too). But that’s precisely the point. Skill circuits build slowly. From a deep-practice point of view, what’s happening here is exactly the same thing that happened to the Brönte sisters.

  • At 30 seconds: watch how they wipe out every single time. It’s not especially pretty, but it’s crucial: as with all deep practice, mistakes are the royal road to skill.
  • At 40 seconds: they get into a groove, repeating the motion over and over, following and mimicking each other—a perfect hothouse for building and honing skill circuits.
  • At 55 seconds: they are going higher and higher, making better mistakes each time. The “eureka” moment of liftoff is made possible by a thousand smaller moments, each one the firing of a circuit, the earning of a tiny bit of new skill. Mistakes aren’t really mistakes: they’re proof of growing skill circuits, as they scaffold themselves to ever-higher ability.
  • At 1:40: Watch Jay Adams (whom many regard as the true originator of modern skateboarding): he’s constantly pushing himself to the edge of his (not-yet-so-great) abilities.
  • At 2:40: You can see the surfing connection clearly here, as Adams is using skills (firing circuits) that he developed in the ocean and bringing them to the street. (Unfortunately, Adams developed other skills too—he ended up spending much of his adult life in and out of prison.)


While it’s tempting to attribute the Z-Boys’ success to their appealingly renegade personalities, the truth is that it has far more to do with their discovery of the perfect deep-practice tool: an empty swimming pool. Like the Brontes (link), the pools allowed them to:

  • Locate the sweet spot of learning-the uncomfortable edge of their abilities, where real learning takes place.
  • Provide immediate, vivid (and, in this case, painful) feedback.
  • Repeat endlessly, circling, firing their skill circuits, failing productively, and firing them again. Skill circuits don’t care who you are-they care about what you do.

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9 Responses to “The Z-Boys Skateboarders, Los Angeles, California”

  1. […] find simple, intense, player-invented games. Venice Beach skateboarders riding inside an empty swimming pool, Brazilian soccer players on the futbol de salao court, cricketer Don Bradman learning to hit by […]

  2. ann phelan says:

    A talent hotbed that models this is on the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire. The windsurf team is a perfect example of practice and practice and perfection. The team’s style is to sail together, make mistakes do it again and cheer each other on. It is a polite competition and a true team approach with deep practice 360 days a year. 5 have gone pro and more are to come.

  3. Dwayne says:

    Heya just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let
    you know a few of the images aren’t loading properly. I’m not
    sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

  4. djcoyle says:

    Thanks, Dwayne – I really appreciate that

  5. Linden says:

    Does anyone know the name of the particular model of swimming pool that was most highly sought by these skateboarders? I am certain I saw a movie about this maybe 20 years ago and I cannot remember the name of the pool and it is slowly driving me insane. Any relief would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Wes says:

    Skateboarding provides the quickest most vivid feedback possible. Just like you wrote in “The Little Book of Talent.” I know also because I am a 22 year old skateboarder and I fall all the time to progress and learn tricks.

    I’m also an engineer student and recently took a course in electromagnetism, it’s electricity in our brain! Insulation = quicker, stronger signals (more Myelin).

    I want to thank you for your work, the golf trick is absolute proof, 3 minutes a day! Are you kidding me? The Talent Code is amazing. I want to grow as much Myelin as possible and according to your website, I’m in my prime to grow it at 22!

    It is because of you and this book that I am inspired to strive for my absolute best for the rest of my life in everything I do. Whether it be at school in physics class with Accelerated Learning Techniques to get a new concept, or at the park trying to fire the correct signal to learn a new trick, The Talent Code is the answer to greatness and success.

    I am determined to prove your points and tips through my learning process to become as good as I can be at everything I do; Skating, Surfing, Kitesurfing, Roller Hockey w/my Dad, Spearfishing, breath holds… ANYTHING. I will show video proof of the process, and can’t wait.

    This also goes for my friends and people around me, I’ve been spreading this stuff like wildfire (giving you credit of course) and people love it!! people overhear me and my friends talking at school about anything being possible and electric signals in our brain, and THEY are inspired seeing us as the next generation.

    If you need a connection to the young generation coming out of Santa Cruz CA, please contact me. I continue to chant about this everyday and I am determined to meet you one day to personally shake your hand and say thank you again.

    Anything is possible. What fires, wires. Send the signal!

    Here’s me skating today: (I’m the redhead)

    I’m dedicating the next entire part of my life to progressing and I will keep you updated, sorry but I’m determined to meet you, to learn more about our brains, neuroscience, neuromuscular training for athletes, physics, nutrition, positive mind set….everything there is to know about getting to the next level in ANYTHING.

    Thank you for the inspiration.
    I’d like to say I’m pretty fired up these days.


  7. Yes! Finally something about guitar hero 4.

  8. Rachel says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Soccer

  9. SKATER6 19 says:

    I love skateboarding and this article see the passion others have for the sport, it helps me when I get injured and tells me to keep pushing

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