DOWNTOWN — The Dogtown family has lost one of its founding fathers.
Chris Cahill, one of the original Dogtown Z-Boys who revolutionized skateboarding with their sharp-turns and faster, more aggressive low-slung surf style, has died. He was 54.
Cahill, an accomplished kneeboard surfer and artist who learned how to skate on the streets of Santa Monica and Venice, was found June 24 at his Los Angeles home. A cause of death has not been determined and tests are ongoing, according to a spokesman with the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.
Friends at yovenice.com reported that Cahill had succumbed to a long battle with cancer.
The Z-Boys, who included Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva and Jay Adams, were formed in the 1970s at the Zephyr Surfshop on Main Street in Santa Monica. The surf shop became a home away from home for Cahill and the rough and tumble group of teens in Dogtown, which referred to a coastal area of south Santa Monica and Venice where Cahill and friends would often “bomb” down steep hills or surf at the old Ocean Park Pier.
Friends remember Cahill as a fiery but fun guy who wasn’t as interested in fame and fortune, or competitions, as he was the pure enjoyment of skating and surfing.
“He had a real unique sense of humor. We did so many shenanigans and hijinks in our teenage years,” said Nathan Pratt, a friend of Cahill’s for more than 40 years and a former Zephyr team member who once hired Cahill to shape surfboards at his Horizon’s West shop in Santa Monica. “He’s always been an art guy. His whole life he was drawing or painting something.”
Pratt said friends are planning a memorial “paddle out” for Cahill this weekend, a tradition amongst surfers.
Cahill became known for his airbrush work, creating distinctly retro designs that featured bright neon colors and crashing waves. He created the trademark three bars and “Dogtown” in a cross logos, and would later experiment with brushes, laying down thick layers of paint to create high-relief images that popped off the canvas.
In 1974, Cahill and Adams joined a surf team sponsored by Zephyr Surfshop. A year later, Cahill hustled his way onto the 12-member skateboarding crew which stormed the 1975 Del Mar National Skateboard competition and catapulted the Z-Boys into overnight stardom. Skateboarding would never be the same.
Cahill was disinterested in the hype, attention and competition. On his website, cahillunderground.com, he wrote, “Underground was formed to remind skaters and surfers not to fall into the commercial, ‘everyone looks the same’ pop world.”
Surfing, not skating, was Cahill’s first love. In an interview with Juice magazine, Cahill said he never aspired to be featured in skate magazines. His biggest accomplishment was landing a spread in Surfer magazine.
“All I wanted to do was get into Surfer,” Cahill told Juice. “When I got my interview in Surfer and my two-page photo at Pipeline, that’s where it was at for me. We all started skating because of surfing.”
In his adult years he traveled extensively, spending time in Hawaii and Mexico at surf spot Todos Santos. He kept a pretty low profile and was never featured in the acclaimed 2001 Sundance documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” or the Hollywood hit “Lords of Dogtown.”
Friends said Cahill was no poser nor was he focused solely on making money. He preferred to spend time working on his craft instead of promoting himself. In his last days, Cahill was working as a shaper at Marina del Rey’s Aqua Tech Glassing and sold T-shirts and hats featuring his artwork.
He was a true rebel, never one to follow the pack.
On his website, Cahill writes, “I was a soldier of misfortune, when I read one of the film reviews in the magazines; it made me look like a fugitive. I thought, ‘well, that’s not totally untrue.’ But I wasn’t a fugitive. Of anyone on the team, I was the most rebellious, I don’t conform to anything that society expects me to do.”