It was 80 degrees, the seas were calm and glassy, and a nice leftover south swell was gently rolling in. It was the kickoff to a three-day holiday weekend. But the vibe was bittersweet because a homie wasn't there to share it with his friends and loved ones.
The crowd at Venice Pier on Saturday instead celebrated the life of skateboarder and surfer Jay Adams through testimonials and a memorial paddle-out. Adams died of a heart attack August 14. He was 53. The Venice legend, part of a skateboarding team made famous by the 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, was on a surfing vacation in Mexico when he passed. At his paddle-out, so many people gathered that police seemed caught off-guard. Three cruisers from LAPD zipped to the pier to keep an eye on the leathery, tatted-up surfers crowding the beach in a cloud of marijuana smoke.
Friends, some of whom came from as far away as Hawaii and Puerto Escondido, Mexico, said Adams had never been happier than in his last days, catching big Pacific waves with friends Solo Scott and Allen Sarlo, local surfing legends. Famous friends in the crowd or giving testimonials included Jeff Ho, Christian Hosoi, Shane Borland, Max Perlich, Dave Duncan, Steve Olson, Brian Cullen, Eric Tuma Britton and Cesario “Block” Montano.
His grown son, Seven, said: “I'm happy he's in a good place … but I miss him.”
Though Adams had a rough life, including stints in prison for drug-related crime, one speaker said he died “a Christian, sober man in love.”
Pastor and friend Sumo Sato said that in the end, “Jay made his path straight. He was right with God.”
Adams had moved to San Clemente, purchased a Toyota truck with which to chase waves and dedicated much of his time to Christianity, friends said. The one-time hell-raiser with tattoos on his face had become a missionary man.
Still, he didn't hold back when he hit the waves. Adams, his friends said, would only be happy when the surf was, as he put it, “triple firing!” And friends said that was the case during his last session in Mexico. “He got a triple barrel!” Sarlo said.
Josh “Bagel” Klassman said he grew up across the street from Adams and that, from the time he was a boy, he wanted to surf and skate like Adams and “emulate” his punk-rock, go-for-it attitude. But watching Adams' last years, he said, “Now I want to emulate him being happy.”
Added Solo Scott, “He was next to the love of his life. He surfed, he was sober, and he was next to loved ones.”
Allen Sarlo was choked up when he said that Adams had invited him to come down to Mexico to “celebrate that we're still here.”
Most of the speakers lamented that it was the second memorial paddle-out for a member of the famed Zephyr skate team in a month. Shogo Kubo died in June in Hawaii, found unresponsive in the water by surfers at a surf spot known as Seconds.
Like others, skate star Christian Hosoi referred to Adams as “Jay Boy.” He said the two had planned to travel and take Jesus' word to the surfing world. They wanted to “change people's lives,” he said.
The paddle-out, scheduled for 9 a.m., didn't happen until after 10 a.m., or “skater time,” as one speaker put it. Dozens of surfers, some of whom admittedly hadn't been in the water in decades, headed out almost to the end of the pier. They formed a dense circle and placed a board covered in flowers in the middle.
In an official nod to Adams, an L.A. County Lifeguard boat sprayed water on the surfers as they splashed and spread flowers into the Pacific.