Tony Alva Story, The (2019): Streaming

Dec 03, 2020

This documentary has a bit of a backstory. It first was put together for an episode of Loveletters to Skateboarding—a great show on Youtube hosted by skateboarder Jeff Grosso. The filmmakers (Buddy Nichols and Rick Charnoski) wanted to do an episode for legendary skateboarder Tony Alva’s sixtieth birthday. As they kept getting footage and speakers, the episode kept getting longer. They decided they should make a documentary about Tony Alva with the footage they compiled. It premiered a year ago and was finally released for home consumption in September 2020.

Tony Alva was one of the original members of the influential Zephyr skate team in the mid-’70s. He went on to be a well-known face in skateboarding, making TV appearances and showing up in films like Skateboard: The Movie and Thrashin’ (“Beat it, ya Val’ jerk!”). Alva started his own skateboard company Alva in 1979 and has been at that for over forty years.

The film starts at Alva’s not-so-humble beginnings rolling with the Z-Boys and accomplishing one of the first frontside airs in a pool. Alva’s skill and aggressive style were impressive but inflated his ego. He was one of the best at vert competitions and he acted like it.

As the documentary steps into the ’80s, we see that things weren’t so hot for Alva since the initial skateboarding boom had died down. But he kept pushing on. He restarted the Alva brand from scratch, designing boards in a garage and forming a team of black jean jacket-wearing punks with the occasional over-the-top goth makeup. Then onto another downward slope with drugs, alcohol, and a wild-looking clothing line.

Throughout the fifty-four minute documentary, the ongoing theme is that when he gets hit hard, Alva always picks himself up and gets back on the board. With all his ups and downs he kept skating and at sixty-two years old, Tony is still dropping into empty pools.

It features the talking heads of famous skaters young and old, past members of the leather-clad Alva team, Josh Brolin (Thrashin’ lead), a stoked Henry Rollins, and of course, an appearance by Ian MacKaye. Seriously, MacKaye has been in seventy-five percent of the documentaries I’ve seen in the past three years and he’s always a welcome addition.

It is by no means eye-opening, earth-shattering, or opinion changing. It’s just a quick documentary covering Alva’s triumphs and blunders (clothing line) that blazes by a lot of little details. I wish it dove much deeper like the other Nichols/Charnoski skateboarding documentary, Deathbowl to Downtown.

The real star of this documentary is the late Jeff Grosso. He was the sour heart and soul of Loveletters to Skateboarding and such an important voice. He has a beautiful intro to the doc and a tear-inducing spot in the end credits that overshadows Tony Alva’s inspirational yet corny outro. The movie is a wonderful ending to the Loveletters series even if it is lacking content.

Now put down the magazine, dust off your skateboard, and go skating with your friends (eight feet apart while wearing a face covering). –Rick V. (

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