As a kid I had a skateboard, but we never screwed around with them in creative ways like the legendary Dogtown boys clear on the other side of LA did. They were the arbiters inventing the modern-day phenomenon and big biz it is today. Which is to say that while I liked skateboarding, I didn't love it. Basketball and football were my things.
Some years later I discovered that movies could be "different" after plunking down in my 10th grade English class late and loaded, right in the middle of Nichols', Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Thereafter I went on a tear, and in my consumption I came across Bruce Brown's, On Any Sunday.
Why mention OAS in a piece on Jay Adams when I'm not even crazy about skateboarding? Well, for one, I've always had a fascination with people who really got into what they were doing, almost irrespective of the pursuit. That's where OAS comes in, because it gets into motorcycles and the men who ride them from many different angles and digs deep.
It is also full to overflowing with affection, and conveys the unique freedom that riders feel. In its own way, On Any Sunday is a very moving film. When I saw Stacy Peralta's, Dogtown and Z Boys, a few years back I remember thinking that it evoked the same feeling that On Any Sunday does.
So it is we come to Jay Adams, virtually a consensus lock for the most creative and free spirit to have skateboarded back in the formative days.
The following article first appeared in that legendary melding of street, punk, sport, and art known as Thrasher Magazine. I remember picking up Thrasher back in the day and riffing through it to find stuff on Black Flag, the Jerks, X, et al, and, even though I wasn't a skater, admiring the aesthetic. Corporate Amerikkka had no place there.
The article - in excerpt - is written by another of Jay's fellow Z Boys, Stacy Peralta, said director of Dogtown and Z Boys. Reading what he has to say about Jay, some thirty years later, reminds me of what Michael Bloomfield said about seeing and hearing Jimi the first time, how revelatory and transcendent it was. Peralta's words convey staggering admiration, and, yes, deep affection.
Maybe even love.
Here's something about Jay Adams: Jay was not the greatest pool skater, nor was he the greatest bank skater, or the greatest slalom skater or the greatest freestyler. The fact is, Jay Adams' contribution to skateboarding defies description or category. Jay Adams is probably not the greatest skater of all time, but I can say without fear of being wrong that he is clearly the archetype of modern-day skateboarding. Archetype defined means an original pattern or model, a prototype. Prototype defined means the first thing or being of its kind. He's the real thing, an original seed, the original virus that infected all of us. He was beyond comparison. To this day I haven't witnessed any skater more vital, more dynamic, more fun to watch, more unpredictable, and more spontaneous in his approach than Jay. There are not enough superlatives to describe him.
In contests, Jay was simply the most exciting skater to watch. He never skated the same run the same way twice. His routines were wickedly random yet exceedingly tight and beautiful to watch: he even invented tricks during his runs. I've never seen any skater destroy convention and expectation better. Watching him skate was something new every second: he was "skate and destroy" personified.
I believe this photo of Jay is the most stunning and strikingly clear representation, of any photo ever taken, of modern skateboarding. It contains all the elements that make up what modern-day skateboarding has become: awesome aggression and style, power and fury, wild abandon, destruction of all fear, untamed individualism, and a free-spirited determination to tear, shred, and rip relentlessly.
Jay Adams may not have been the world's best skater, but he was the man, the real deal, the original, the first. He is the archetype of our shared heritage.