Goodbye, ‘Jay Boy’

Date Published: 
August 22, 2014

Just weeks after the surfing and skateboarding world was stunned by the loss of Shogo Kubo, one of its legendary originals, the time came to say goodbye to the original, as Dogtown’s tow-headed golden child Jay Adams passed away in his sleep last week from an apparent heart attack.

An original member of the “Z-Boys,” the skateboarding team credited as the catalyst that sparked the sport’s revolution, Adams’ natural and aggressive style stood out amongst not only his peers but amongst the world as skateboarding continued to develop.

His original love of surfing showed in his skating, as — like many of his founding cohorts — he looked to emulate what he could do on his surfboard while skating the streets and empty pools of Venice, Calif.

While there were certainly many of the Z-Boys that stuck out and gained notoriety as the sport progressed, Adams was different. He didn’t have to try or practice or compete. His skating flowed out of him naturally, as he unintentionally began to push pool-riding forward and attempt maneuvers no one else had even thought of yet.

“The original seed.” “The archetype of modern-day skateboarding.” “100% Skateboarder.” Plenty of terms and nicknames and claims were made about Adams’ unprecedented impact on the skateboarding world long before his death, but for me, the most defining statement describing his style and mindset came from Craig Stecyk — who was there to document much of Dogtown’s skateboarding revolution in the 1970s.

In the 2001 documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” Stecyk said: “That’s why Jay’s so great, because nothin’s ever the same before or since. Jay doesn’t practice, he doesn’t redo it, he doesn’t do it twice, he doesn’t do it three times, he doesn’t even do it one time — he’s over it before it happens.”

Even before his death, those who knew him well in the skateboarding industry would talk about him like he was a ghost. In part because, even with all of his natural talent, he refused to conform to industry standards, robbing himself of what was sure to be an illustrious career. As the sport began to commercialize and opportunities to make money arose, Adams’ renegade attitude took hold.

“He should have had it all,” said director and former Zephyr teammate Stacey Peralta in the same documentary. “Jay should have had it all, and it makes me so sad that he didn’t, because he was better than all of us.”

As fellow pioneers including Tony Alva were cast into the skateboarding spotlight, Adams turned to drugs and partying. He got in trouble with the law and started using heroin in the late ’90s after losing both of his parents, his brother and his grandmother, all in the same year.

After a few stints in prison, however, Adams got clean and again entered the public eye, thanks to the release of the documentary that would eventually inspire a 2005 Hollywood film. It was after the film’s release that he began speaking to children at local schools about the choices that he had made.

Through it all, however, he continued to surf and skate, until his death last week while on a surf trip in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, with his wife — charging a hefty swell on what would be his final session.

His son, Seven Adams, helped orchestrate a paddle-out honoring his father last Sunday, and kind words and support from both those who had never met Adams and those who knew him well flooded the Internet last week.

Despite all of his past mistakes and wrongdoings, it’s clear that Adams was doing something right. Not only did he impact the people that he knew but the ones that he didn’t, as well.

I never met Jay Adams but, growing up, I was introduced to his skateboarding and tried to emulate his style, as his style tried to emulate surfing. I watched all the documentaries and the old footage, read all the articles, and I even saw the movie. Through it all, I began to feel like I did know him and developed an appreciation for what he did for the sport and how he lived his life.

Adams made mistakes, like everyone typically does, but unlike everyone else, he always seemed to make things right and try to be better moving forward. He did his time, fixed what could be fixed, salvaged what could be salvaged, and moved on to again, doing what he loved.

The 53 years that he spent on this earth all went full circle. When his father, who was a heroin addict, was imprisoned when Adams’ was a baby, he eventually took to surfing under the influence of his step-father — only to eventually return to the ocean once again to cleanse himself of his own struggles with addiction.

There are many lessons to be learned from a life like Jay Adams’: Natural talent doesn’t always equate success. Life certainly does not go the way you may have planned, and there are always better ways to cope with loss and hardship. However, the most imposing thing that I will take from his journey is that it’s never too late to start over and get back on the right path.

While I try to appreciate that fact, for now I’ll have to say goodbye and thank you to a friend that I never even met.

Thanks, Jay, for inspiring me to skate like I still do today, for changing the sport forever, for giving everyone who has ever needed a fresh start the hope that one will eventually be around the corner. Thank you for doing things your own way and proving to everyone that we can, too. Thanks for showing us the importance of staying true to yourself and for creating a legendary persona that will never die. Thank you for showing us, both in skateboarding and in life, how it’s done.