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Bob Biniak dies at 51; skateboarder was one of the original Dogtown Z-Boys

Known as 'the Bullet,' a nod to his affinity for speed, Biniak displayed a daring, innovative style that helped revitalize skateboarding in the 1970s. He later became a professional golfer.

March 04, 2010|Valerie J. Nelson
  • Warren Bolster / Courtesy Concrete Wave Editions' "The Legacy of Warren Bolster"
Warren Bolster / Courtesy Concrete Wave Editions' "The Legacy… (kyq0tdnc.jpg )

Bob Biniak, whose daring and innovative skateboarding style as one of the original Dogtown Z-Boys helped revitalize the pursuit in the 1970s, has died. He was 51.

Biniak died at Baptist Beaches Medical Center in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., on Feb. 25, four days after having a heart attack, said his wife, Charlene.

To his fellow Z-Boys -- a ragtag group from Dogtown, a rough beachfront area wedged between Venice and Santa Monica -- Biniak was simply "the Bullet," a nickname that saluted his affinity for speed.

"Bob Biniak was a major legend," said Michael Brooke, publisher of Concrete Wave magazine. "He was absolutely one of the key Dogtowners . . . and really set the stage for aggressive skateboarding. He was fierce."

As he pioneered vertical skateboarding in the then-new terrain of empty swimming pools, Biniak's favorite spot in the mid-1970s was a pool behind a Beverly Hills mansion that was called keyhole, for its shape. It was one of dozens the skaters essentially commandeered.

"He was very cool and really fun to be with," said Stacy Peralta, a filmmaker and fellow Z-Boy who chronicled their exploits in the 2001 documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”

Their skateboarding "was an extension of surfing, and because it was so new, we certainly wanted to see what we could do," Peralta said. "We were all driven by wanting to be the best."

In the film, Biniak put it more bluntly: "We were all punk kids, we were tough kids, and we wanted to be something."

Robert Edward Biniak was born June 2, 1958, in Chicago and moved to Santa Monica with his mother after his parents separated when he was young. His mother owned the Billiard Inn on Venice Boulevard.

Already a surfer, he started "skating seriously," he later recalled, in 1974 with the Z-Boys, as the team put together by Santa Monica's Zephyr surf shop came to be known.

When they debuted in 1975 at the major skateboarding contest Del Mar Nationals, the Z-Boys -- which included one girl -- and their revolutionary riding style clashed with the status quo.

In the documentary, Biniak described it as "like a hockey team going into a figure skating match."

The resulting fame was unexpected, and Biniak was never entirely comfortable with it. He got out of skateboarding "kind of early," Peralta said, and pursued a career as a professional golfer.

"Turned out he was pretty good," his wife said.

As a golfer, Biniak toured South Africa and Europe, according to his wife, and as recently as 2008 played in the sectional qualifying round of the U.S. Senior Open.

Since the 1990s, he had been a salesman and at one point owned his own business, which sold golf equipment to companies in Asia.

When the 2005 feature film “Lords of Dogtown” fictionalized the Z-Boys' tale, Biniak appeared as a restaurant manager.

In 2007, he moved from Santa Monica to Benicia in the Bay Area, partly to escape the skating scene, his wife said.

He liked to say he never lived more than six blocks from the beach, and in his bathroom the irreverent Biniak hung these words by Thoreau: "My life is like a stroll on the beach . . . as near to the edge as I can go."

In addition to his wife of 12 years, Charlene Capitolo-Biniak, his survivors include his daughter Brianna, 5; mother Dolores Levy of Encinitas; and two sisters, Mary Ellen Barnett and Kathy Higgs.

A celebration of Biniak's life will be held at sunset March 27 at Venice Beach Skate Plaza, 1800 Ocean Front Walk.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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