Biniak died at Baptist Medical Center Beaches four days after having a heart attack, said his wife, Charlene Capitolo.
Until moving to Benicia, in Northern California, two years ago, Biniak lived most of his life near the Santa Monica-Venice Beach neighborhood called Dogtown. Growing up there during the ’70s, he and other members of the Zephyr team — operating out of the Zephyr surf shop in Santa Monica and known as the Z-Boys — began by treating skateboarding as a cross-training activity for surfing.
“We all started skating at Bicknell hill, trying to get real low,” Biniak said in “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” a well-received 2001 documentary that had a wide theatrical release. “We would be like looking at the surf and riding this hill and dropping in and sliding like we were riding a wave.”
Biniak was known as Bullet for his fast, fearless approach to skating.
“The basis of his strength was to go as fast as you could, and do it with grace,” said Tony Alva, a Z-Boy and world champion in skateboarding.
But Biniak also cultivated a reputation as a tough customer.
“He wasn’t somebody you would want to come up against in any kind of competition,” Alva said. “He could be very intimidating.”
When the Z-Boys entered their first formal competition, the 1975 Del Mar Nationals, skateboarding was based on a 1960s model that was gymnastically oriented with a standup style. With their low-slung approach and ripped jeans, the Z-Boys caused an uproar among competitors.
“It was like a hockey team going to a figure skating contest,” Biniak said in “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”
A nationwide resurgence in skateboarding catapulted the Z-Boys into the spotlight. They popularized riding in empty swimming pools and invented many of the maneuvers that laid the foundation for modern vertical skateboarding, a discipline performed in pools and on ramps.
Biniak pioneered professionalism in the sport.
“He was the first skateboarder to demand compensation for his image,” said Skip Engblom, a co-owner of the Zephyr shop.
By 1980, skateboarding had plummeted in popularity, and Biniak drifted out of the scene and began golfing, playing in tournaments in Europe and South Africa, his wife said. He had worked as a salesman since the 1990s. When he turned 50, he tried to qualify for the United States Senior Open golf tournament.
Robert Edward Biniak was born June 2, 1958, in Chicago and moved to Santa Monica as a child with his mother and sisters. In addition to his wife of 12 years, Biniak is survived by a daughter, Brianna, 5; his mother, Dolores Levy; and his sisters, Mary Ellen Barnett and Kathy Higgs.
In the 2005 Hollywood film “Lords of Dogtown,” a fictional treatment of the Z-Boys, Biniak appeared as a restaurant manager. In the documentary, he played a more prominent role, recalling his teenage exploits.
“If you look at some of the still shots from back then, you’ll see that I’m on the wall, with nothing on,” he said about not wearing pads or a helmet. “If you fall then, you’re going to get hurt.
“We didn’t care,” Biniak said. “We just wanted to get radical.”
--Taken from the NY Times by Matt Higgins
--March 7, 2010