One of the first articles I wrote for Suite101 in 2010, about the untimely death of OG skater and one of the Dogtown crew, Bob Biniak
Skateboarding pioneer Bob Biniak, dubbed “The Bullet” in his youth by his fellow skaters because of his speed, passed away on Thursday, February 25, 2010 at Baptist Beaches Medical Center in Jacksonville Beach, FL four days after suffering a heart attack. He was only 51 years old.
Z Boys– Lords of Dogtown
Back in the 1970s when skateboarding was having a resurgence in popularity – largely because of the new polyurethane wheels making it possible to skate without a harrowing wheel-grinding halt from any random crack or pebble in the sidewalk – the Venice, CA Zephyr Surf Shop kids revolutionized skateboarding. Bob Biniak was one of those kids and he, along with Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, Allen Sarlo, Peggy Oki, Jim Muir, and a few select others, skated for the team Zephyr assembled with skaters that hung out at the surf shop and skated around Dogtown.
The Z- Boys, as they came to be called, competed for the Zephyr team at the Del Mar Nationals in 1975 and amazed the other skaters and the spectators with their radically innovative skills. That was a significant event in the history of the sport; the Z-Boys redefined skateboarding by pushing the limits from sidewalk surfing and elementary freestyle moves into the realm of extreme sports. The Z-Boys wanted to skate the way legendary surfer Larry Bertelman merged himself with the waves aggressively and fluidly and they succeeded in translating his technique on the pavement. Their style and their swagger have influenced the sport of skateboarding and the skate culture indelibly.
Style is Everything
That was certainly a credo of the Z-Boys crew and in the 1970s, Biniak’s image was featured frequently in SkateBoarder magazine, his trademark blond hair flowing, accentuating his incredible style. The photographs of him are iconic in the sport, many of them shot by Glen E. Friedman, who was also a teenager at the time. Friedman eventually wrote the book DogTown – the Legend of the Z-Boys with Zephyr shop owner and skating mentor and writer, Craig Stecyk.
The drought in 1976-1977 created the availability of dry swimming pools that became the perfect spots to skate, forever changing the sport. Biniak was an innovator in the realm of pool-riding – carving the vertical walls, reaching the lip, ultimately grinding or pivoting on the pool coping. As Bob said in the Vans/ Sony Pictures documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, “Basically a half pipe is what a swimming pool was but we just hadn’t figured out how to build a half pipe back then yet.” He and other California skaters went on to ride the interiors of the massive cement pipes used in the Central Arizona Project also documented by Friedman, Stecyk, and Warren Bolster.
In October of 1976, SkateBoarder magazine did a feature on pool riding, “Pool Riding Symposium” in which skaters were interviewed about various points relevant to skating pools. Biniak related how the “free-falling sensation” was similar to surfing and was his favorite thing about pool riding. As Biniak continued skating after the Zephyr team went their separate ways, he was on the Sims team and also the Logan Earth Ski team before he finally stopped skateboarding professionally in 1980. He applied his focus in any endeavor he began.
The Z-Boy Moved On
Bob eventually went to Mission College and tried out for the golf team and was an outstanding player. He toured as a professional golfer in Florida, California, South Africa and Europe for seven years until he finally quit to start a business that exported golf equipment to Japan. He headed a sports apparel business and enjoyed fly-fishing and surfing in his spare time. Biniak is survived by his wife, Charlene, daughter Brianna, age five and many friends and fans. He was a legend and he will be missed, but his contributions to the sport of skateboarding are everlasting. He was one of the first professionals in skateboarding, insisting on compensation not only for his skills but also for the use of his image. His impact on the sport he enjoyed so much in his youth will live forever.