INTERVIEW BY HEIDI FITZGERALD
PHOTO COURTESY OF JAY ADAMS
If you know anything about skateboarding, then you know one name that’s withstood the test of time is Jay Adams. Raised by surfers on the Santa Monica Pier, Jay was one of the first Dogtown boys to pave the way with his distinctive surfing style of skateboarding. Jay’s style is legendary in surfing and skating, from his home town of Venice to his casa on the North Shore. Skating with him at the Hickem Air Force Base Bowl left a lasting mark on my heart. It was one of the best sessions of my life. Jay’s style of skating was gnarlier than ever. I saw him do insane slides and grinds all over the bowl showing that, no matter what, it’s all about having fun. His views on life show his experience and wisdom, learning about addiction the hard way and remaining determined to prevail.
“Punk rock means fuckin’ just tearin’ shit up, not following anybody’s rules and doing what you want to do.”
Where did you grow up and how did that influence your surfing and skating?
I grew up in Venice and when I was four years old, my step father owned a beach rental place. He rented surfboards and surf mats under Pacific Ocean Park. P.O.P. was like an amusement park right on the border of Venice and Santa Monica. All of the surfers used to hang out at the shop and they’re the ones who introduced me to skateboarding. My earliest skateboard influence, was fully surfing. I mean, I grew up surfing and skating at the same time and skating was always something to do when you weren’t surfing. Back then, you were a skater and you copied surfing. Skateboarding was just surfing on the land. It’s totally different from now. Now, it’s like skateboarding is skateboarding. And my other influences were the ‘60s guys like Torger Johnson and Danny Bearer and the L.A. Hobie Skateboard Team guys. But my main influence was surfer guys like Larry Bertlemann. In the early days, it was all about copying surfing.
Who did you skate with growing up?
I grew up with Tony Alva, Shogo Kubo, when he was around and well, there are guys way before that too. My earliest memories of life were riding a skateboard. When I was a little kid, we would steal tricycles and turn them upside down and make little lowrider bikes out of them and pretend we were biker guys. We used to ride those and then skateboard during the summer. I had little seasons for things that I did, but that’s when I was a little kid, I’m talking seven, eight years old. My step dad used to drive me around to the different schools. One of them was called Pali High School; it had a hill that just went down. It was famous for The Hobie Skateboard Team and I used to go there. This was before I started hanging out with Tony Alva and skating all the banks like Paul Revere, Bellagio and Kenter. That’s where we did a lot of early bank skating.
When did you start skating?
When I was four years old. One of my earliest memories was my Mom telling me how I’d come home with a scraped up face or knee or something.
What was it like skating with Tony Alva?
He was like an older brother. He was somebody I really looked up to in skating. In my opinion, he was the best, at one time, on the banks and in the early days in pools. At first, it was just kids having fun then it started getting popular and, all of a sudden, we were like famous. It was kind of weird to deal with.
What does skating mean to you?
Skating means life. It means that I’m doing something right in my life because I’m not too fucked up not to want to do it. It just makes me feel good. It’s a lot different than it used to be. It used to be a big deal to go and try to be the best guy or something and now it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s actually more satisfying and less stressful now, than it was as a kid, like when you used to go to a skatepark and have four guys following you all day trying to out do you. Now, it’s all about having fun and just participating.
How do you define style?
There are different kinds of style. Style can be really casual and smooth or it can be radical and fuckin’ hectic. I like guys that can get radical and be smooth at the same time. To me, style is something that’s pleasurable to watch. It makes me stoked. Someone like Christian Hosoi, who I thought was an ultimate stylist in skateboarding was just really fluid and cool to watch. Style is like pool riding. That to me, is more stylish than ramp riding.
What inspired you to skate pools?
Well, pools were just the funnest thing that I ever did, riding vert and carving. It was more like surfing than skating down the road, but than it became skateboarding, its own trip. Pool riding was always my favorite type of skating. There’s a lot of fun different things to skate though.
What was it like the first time you skated a backyard pool?
[laughing] Kind of scary! Hell yeah, I was a little kid. The first time I skated a pool I was like thirteen years old. It was scary fuckin’ gnarly. Just to be able to carve around the bowl was hard. I have pictures of Tony at home that was even before going over the lights and shit. It was scary, exciting and just new. It was something really cool.
Tell us about Zephyr, Z-Flex and SMA.
Zephyr was really fun because we were just kids having fun. We got to change the way people rode skateboards. Skateboarding to me was freestyle like headstands and one eighty tick-tack things. We all just totally skated. We put our hands on the ground and did turns and slides and shit. That was cool. I liked that part of skating. The Z-Flex days were cool because I was sixteen-years-old and I was making money, not a whole lot, but enough to think I was a pro skater and quit school. That was alright too, but it got weird. Financially, things weren’t right. I always got taken advantage of by people. I hated being pro. I always hated talking about skating pretty much. I used to think all the pro shit was really stupid. It used to embarrass me. I would walk into a 7-11 when I had the cover of a magazine and people would ask me about it. Skating was kind of big for a while and it would embarrass me and I’d be like, ‘I’m not that guy’. It just got worse and worse later on. The SMA thing was in those days just after the whole pro trip.
What was it like skating when Dogtown was blowin’ up?
It was pretty cool actually. We’d go to skateparks and everybody would either stop riding and watch, or they’d follow you around and try to out do you. It was really competitive, but to me it was all just a big game. It was one big party for me. I tried to not take it too seriously and just have fun and not worry about everything. It was kind of stressful getting burned by people and people making money off you and promising things that they never came through with, but that’s probably my own fault too. I was too busy getting whatever little money I could and splitting and going surfing or something. I’d always bail, I was a surfer too.
What were your favorite skateparks?
Cherry Hill Skatepark was a good one and Marina Skatepark was good. Cherry Hill had a perfect little mini bowl. I kind of like smaller things better. Upland was kind of gnarly. That’s just because I like smaller pools. There were a lot of good parks in the ‘70s.
What does punk rock mean to you?
[laughing] Punk rock means fuckin’ just tearin’ shit up, not following anybody’s rules and doing what you want to do. Now it’s a lot different then it used to be, I don’t have to go out and ruin someone’s night to have a good time myself. In the old days it used to be total violence to me, I had to come home with a black eye, bruised up or bleeding somehow to have a good night. But those were the early days and I did a lot of things that I shouldn’t have. Me and Mike Muir and a bunch of guys gave punk rock a bad name in L.A. during the fuckin’ heaviest times. And punk rock to me was just an extension of hanging out with vatos, being a gangbanger-like-white boy hanging out with Mexicans trying to be like a lowrider. That’s how punk rock was then and it could get even crazier. Nowadays punk rock is softer than it used to be, but I like the music. The music is still good. I don’t think it’s all about violence. I don’t have to wake up and hate everybody all day and hate every other kind of music anymore like I used to. I was pretty brainwashed by it in the early ‘80s. I was pretty pissed off at everything for no reason, just so I could go out and start fights with people and beat guys up and have my friends beat them up. I started a fight where a guy died and I went to jail for murder, but I got convicted of assault. It was after a show at the Starwood, we went to a place called the Okiedogs and two homosexual guys walked by and I started a fight. That’s just how every fuckin’ night was for me back then. I used to go out and start shit with people. That was my job. I was the instigator. We used to have a gang of about forty guys backin’ us up, all Suicidal Boys. Punk rock to me used to be violence and fuckin’ shit up, but now it’s something I put on to get amped out from the music.
Did skateboarding stop being fun for you?
Skateboarding itself has never stopped being fun, but things that went with it did. Like getting burned by people, taken advantage of and being promised things. That almost killed it, but not ever killed it completely because I’ve always skated and I’ve never stopped. I still enjoy it just as much as I ever did. To me, it’s just a way of being healthy. It’s just as fun today as when I was a little kid, but some of the things that came with it sucked, like in the ‘70s, people trying to tell you how to act, what to do and just being lame, trying to control you. I hope it doesn’t get too professional in the future for the kids. Once it becomes a job it’s not as fun. It’s cool to get paid and shit, but you shouldn’t have to change how you wanna act. Don’t candy-coat your ass to be on the Pepsi Team.
What is your involvement with the Dogtown movie?
I guess I’m just one of the main guys they’re doing this thing about.
What did it mean to you to be from Dogtown?
Dogtown to me didn’t mean shit when I was a kid. I mean, it was cool. It’s kind of cooler, now that I think about it, than when I was living it. It used to be fun to have a big group of guys go and take over pools. That was fun. We had a good strong skate scene. The Venice movement after Dogtown was pretty strong too with Hosoi, Scott Oster, Aaron Murray and all those guys, Jesse Martinez, so that was a little extension. Dogtown, to me, was like me, Alva, Stacy Peralta, Lorenzo Reynolds and Bob Biniak in the early pool days.
What is your opinion of Stacy Peralta and what he’s done for skateboarding?
[laughing] During the early Dogtown days, Stacy was a big part of it, but he wasn’t one of the boys like me and Alva, Hoffman, Biniak and Wentzl. We all used to hang out, get drunk, get high together and Stacy was one of the good boys. He wasn’t one of the little ragers that used to go off. He ended up making Powell Peralta, which I think is great. He did a lot for the sport and he was part of the Dogtown thing, but he wasn’t really one of the hardcore boys. But what he did after that for skateboarding was unreal, having the Powell Team and stuff. He did a lot for skating and I hope he’s still skating now.
What do you think about the new explosion of skateboarding on ESPN and its commercial acceptance?
Like I said before, I hope it doesn’t get too controlled. I don’t know though, it looks really cool. I like it. I like the skating that they’re doing and the fact that vert guys are actually cool again. I always thought that vert skating was the ultimate trip. I like that the street stuff is rad too, but I enjoy watching the vert guys and I like the fact that they’re becoming the main part.
What influences you more, surfing or skating?
I’ve lived in Hawaii for the last two years, so I’ve done a lot more surfing than skating, but to me they’re both equally fun. You need good terrain to skate and we don’t have a whole lot of that here, like all the skateparks in California. I could drive around in a car all summer to different skateparks and have just as much fun as I could surfing a perfect wave in Bali or Tahiti or something. I can’t decide what influences me more. I have fun doing both.
Who is the gnarliest pool skater?
That could be anyone from like Steve Caballero to Steve Alba and someone like John Swope was really good. Of course, Hosoi was always one of my favorite guys because he had style and Caballero, too.
What’s the sickest place you’ve ever been?
I’d say surfing in Indonesia. Cruising with my chick down the reef and having a whole village of people come out and just touch her. Just weird things like that. When I used go to Bali, I’d ride my motorbike down by the school and a hundred kids would come running out and just say hello. Just stoked to see white people and amazed by it. That was kind of weird. I’d surf the most perfect waves. It was the sickest place. So, I have to say Bali a long time ago. And there’s a pretty unreal place here, a secret spot on the North Shore.
What was the best pool you ever skated?
It’s hard to say, but maybe one of the little pools at Cherry Hill, because it was so absolutely perfect and smooth and just everything was perfect. Me and John Swope had a pool called The Perfect Pool in Beverly Hills, but we only got to skate it a couple of times, but it was pretty fuckin’ perfect. There was the Dog Bowl which I thought was a good, big, wide, open pool. It was like the ultimate backyard pool, definitely a ten. What’s so great about pools is that they’re all different. As long as they’re not too kinky, I like them.
Tell us five people you’d want to skate a session with?
In a pool, Tony Alva, Hosoi, Steve Alba, Jason Jesse and Jesse Martinez, but I could go on and name at least twenty people, Dave Hackett, Aaron Murray, Scott Oster. . . There are so many more that five would be really unfair. I would say Alva, Steve Alba, Hosoi, Jesse Martinez and probably Jason Jessee, because those are the guys I’ve had fun with and I like. I’m sure we’d have a really fun session even today.
Remember the flight to Japan when you were drinking and partying, Schroeder was projectile vomiting and Craig Johnson made the stewardess cry?
That flight me and Dave Hackett got hired to be judges in Japan. There were like thirty skateboarders on this flight and we had big bottles of Bacardi. We drank all the beer on the plane, first of all. It was Craig Johnson and Jeff Grosso. . . fuck! It was the craziest flight I’ve ever been on. At one point I had this ghetto blaster and we were playing it too loud. I think Craig Johnson was holding it and the stewardess was grabbing the thing and he’s pulling it back, like a tug-o-war. We were playing it too loud and we were drinking fifths of alcohol. They wouldn’t serve us any beer. I ended up sneaking up front to first class and having some girl order me beers. It was just nuts! It was one of the craziest flights I’d ever been on and somebody made the stewardess cry. Ben Schroeder drank too much and he was talking and, all of a sudden, he just threw up! Wa!!!!! It projectiled out. I don’t think I helped any either.
Tell us about your time in Tokyo?
Well, I was staying with Mofo in a hotel and we partied every night. It all became a blur. The day of the contest I remember staying up all night the night before. It was getting light, so I drank this tea shit to wake up and it gave me some kind of anxiety attack. I thought I was having a heart attack during the contest, so I made the Japanese guys take me to the hospital. I thought I was going to die of a heart attack. It was just an anxiety attack or something where you can’t breath properly. That was the first time that ever happened to me. I thought I was going to die in Japan. I went all the way there and I ended up going to the hospital, I was raging every night.
What’s the best fight you’ve ever been in?
The best fight is like the fight against addiction of heroin. That’s a gnarly fight because I let the shit take me over for a while and it became the main thing I wanted to do. It’s a fight to not want to do it. That’s a real fight to try and stay sober. As far as beating people up and shit, there’s nothing cool about that. I used to think it was cool to go to a party and have people fear me and just be a crazy guy and usually that was alcohol-induced or drug-induced shit. It’s not cool to go and ruin peoples’ nights and try to make them bleed. Maybe I’m older now or something.
What inspired the zipperhead tattoo?
My friend Mike Cassel, who owned Bronze Age, inspired the tattoo on my head. He said something like “Why don’t you put a zipper on your head and I’ll pay for the tattoo?” I said “Alright.” That’s how it happened – real spontaneous.
Why did you move to Hawaii?
Basically, because of surfing. I’d been coming to Hawaii ever since I was twelve years old.
What was it like hanging out with Jesse Martinez and who’s a better fighter you or Jesse?
Jesse Martinez was one of the wildest skateboarders I’d ever met in my life. He came five years after we were all pro guys at Marina Skatepark and I used to tell him ‘Jesse, you’re like five years too late.’ Actually, he was like five years before the next surge of skaters, which was the street guys. Jesse was the most amped out skater, just so amped to do whatever punk rock, fall down, eat shit, get back up and keep doing it. He inspired Team Pain, me and him together. As far as Jesse’s fighting goes, fuck, we’re lovers not fighters (laughing). He’s a guy I really respect and dig, and would never think about fighting him. He’s a really good friend of mine.
Are you still skating?
Yeah, every now and then, not too much. Now that there’s a place to skate here, yeah. I’m a skateboarder for life, so even if I quit for a year or two, I haven’t quit, I just took a little break.
Are you inspired to ride the new concrete parks?
Definitely. I look at pictures in magazines and get really stoked! One of my goals is to rent a mobile home and just drive around the United States for two or three months and visit all the skateparks. I’d like to do that. Pretty much I’ve only gone on surf trips for a couple of months every summer. I think it’d be fun to travel around and skate all those parks from Canada to New York, and go everywhere and visit every state park. I’d like to do a mini mobile home trip and just cruise around, so that’s one of my little goals.
What is your opinion of modern day street skating?
I really don’t know anything about it. I see it in magazines and they’re kickflipping everything. It looks cool. To me, it’s just an extension of freestyle. I like the vert guys better, pool riding and vert stuff. But guys on the street are pretty gnarly jumping big gaps, stairs and shit, I think that’s pretty rad. They’ve definitely progressed to some unreal skateboarding, but I like watching the pool and ramp guys better.
Have you been traveling over the last few years? What have you been doing?
Traveling? No. I was stuck doing heroin and self-destructing for a little while. This last year and a half or so I didn’t travel. This is the first time in a long time I didn’t. I let drugs take over and control my life and bring me down to some lows I didn’t even know existed. Mainly, it was heroin and I suggest you don’t do the shit because you just might like it. I didn’t ever stick a needle in my arm until I was thirty-six and I always was against the shit. Then after I did it, I let it become my number one thing to do, where that’s what I thought about when I woke up. I really let it fuckin’ become a big thing in my life, which it shouldn’t be. I’m just saying that drugs are fuckin’ gnarly and they’ll take you down. Drugs are just bad. They’ve got no part in surfing or skating. I kinda mean more like hard drugs. I’ve never heard of some chick sucking a dog’s dick for a bong hit and going and ruining their life over smoking weed. Crack, heroin and shit are fuckin’ gnarly. I’m not saying to kids go out and smoke weed because for me it’s just all or nothing. I’m pretty stoked on the way kids are now days. When I was a kid, if you didn’t smoke weed and do drugs you were lame and now a lot of kids don’t do drugs and it’s cool not to do drugs. I just hope they don’t have to go through all the shit that guys from my generation did with addictions to drugs because it did absolutely no good for me as far as skating and surfing goes. Even alcohol, a lot of kids think it’s cool to drink beer and skate and I think it’s just really stupid. It does absolutely no good for you.
Any interest in getting back into the industry?
Sometimes I daydream about it, but we’ll see what happens. It’d be kind of nice to be able to make money off skateboarding somehow, if it’s right.
What do you think the future is for skateboarding?
I’m just really hoping that it doesn’t become too cool and lame and get over exposed. I hope skateboarding can be a thing that rebellious guys do forever and not the thing that your Mom and Dad want you to do. I hope it doesn’t become a bubble gum sport. Skateboarding is raw, but the people involved with creating the image can fuck shit up. In the 70’s, they tried to make little dream team skateboard teams and it was fuckin’ lame. With all the skateparks and stuff, I know you gotta control yourself and obey rules, but to me skateboarding has always been no rules. Do it how I wanna do it and fuckin’ don’t tell me what to do. The future of skating, I think, looks really good. Guys are actually making money now and it’s cool. I’m stoked for pros now.
What do you think of all the girls skating now?
I think the girls are great, it’s so hot. I was really stoked today watching them. Your scene is really cool. I mean there has always been girls that skated. In the 70’s, there were lots of girls that skated. The whole sport has progressed so much. It’s cool to see little girls get involved. Skateboarding can be a family-oriented sport too. Mom and Dad take the kids to the skatepark and that’s cool, but it can also be where the boys get together and turn the music up loud and do it with the girls too nowadays.
How are you coping with your brother’s death and all the tragedy in your life?
I think I just kind of put it back on the shelf and never really dealt with it. I’m hoping one of the main reasons I did drugs was to kill the pain of thinking about grief issues, just get high and everything’s alright. Since I went to this little rehab thing they kind of brought that shit out. Shit that I never really dealt with like my brother got murdered and my dad died, then my grandma died and then my mom died and that was all in like a one year period of time. Then I had a girlfriend that I really loved and I caught her in bed with another guy. That one hurt more actually than the other things. My brother was really a surprise and was really dramatic and just fucked, a fucked thing to deal with. Some people killing your brother for $60,000 and a kilo of cocaine. It really sucked. I didn’t really know my Dad, but it sucked to me that he took his own life with pills because he didn’t want to deal with the pain of cancer and I thought that he was lame to do that. I thought he should have suffered it out to the end and not taken his own life, but who am I to say that. I don’t know what pain he was going through. My mom, it was pretty gnarly dealing with her. She was a really good friend of mine and I really miss my mom a lot. I miss my brother too. But my mom was my good friend I used to tell her everything and to watch her in six months or eight months wither down and die and have to change her diapers and carry her to the toilet. I was relieved when she died. I was prepared for her death and I was thankful when it came because of the suffering that she was going through. I’m kind of hoping that was the main cause of me doing drugs. I’m trying to analyze what I was doing and make an excuse for it. Like why would I start injecting drugs into my body and trying to kill myself, not intentionally, but that’s what I was doing. I’ve never done that before, I’ve always been against gnarly drugs. Maybe I can make an excuse like that’s why I did it, because I wasn’t dealing with the pain of all this other shit. It sounds weak to say that. Like pain, fuck that’s what life’s about. We live, we die and we go on. My best friend Sal died last year also. My mom was a junkie and so was my brother and my dad. I come from a highly addictive background and my grandma and grandpa were both alcoholics. I have a highly addictive personality to whatever I do. I used to think I was doomed because the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, but my mom, my dad and my brother all had like fifteen or twenty years clean from doing drugs. My brother had twenty-one and my mother had like twenty-five or thirty years before she died. Maybe I can follow their footsteps and be a guy who’s done a lot of drugs and then stopped doing drugs and be an example for other people. Hopefully, I can stop some other people from getting involved in shooting drugs or whatever, by letting them know just what happened to me. Hard drugs are fuckin’ no joke. They will take you down big time. I don’t care who you are.