Jay Adams‘ fellow Z-Boys regarded him as the soul of the Dogtown movement. He skated with a natural combination of aggression, talent and disregard for convention that made him the archetype of the modern skateboarder. His peers likened him to Mozart and Hendrix.
“Jay was a natural. He would do things that you would think incomprehensible,” says Jeff Ho, owner of the legendary Zephyr surf shop. “He would do things that would look like they were going to be a disaster, and he would turn it into artwork. He would fucking flow.”
Adams has a tattoo on the back of his neck that says “100% Skateboarder 4 Life,” the same way he signs this correspondence, as if it’s a prison sentence. In some ways it has been. He first did time for felony assault in 1982, when he got into a fight that tragically turned deadly after others got involved. Currently he resides in Waiawa Correctional Facility in Pearl City, Hawaii. From there, he tries to warn young skaters who might look up to him about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Following are his responses from prison — edited where necessary for spelling — to questions that were mailed to him.
L.A. WEEKLY: Do you remember going down to the 1975 Del Mar Nationals with a particular mindset?
adams: Well, we definitely wanted to show the souther boys that we knew how to skate. But for me, I was just a kid stoked to be around so many other people who were into doing the same thing as me. Our attitude was: Skate Destroy SurfSlash Style.
From reading interviews with you in the late ‘70s and early ’80s, you seemed to be disillusioned with the whole thing, the hype, the commerce.
By the time I started getting interviewed for mags, I was over the whole professional wannabe thing. I saw how people‘s egos were getting outta hand and I didn’t want people to think of me that way. Skateboarder magazine, Pepsi and a whole lot of other companies wanted to make li‘l dream teams outta skateboarders, kinda like a baseball team or something, and at that time in my life I wasn’t into some lame-ass bastards telling me how to dress, how to act and how to skate. The hype got outta hand, and the whole scene started to look sorta gay. So, I‘m glad I took a step back and decided to only do it for fun and not be a part of their gay parade.
Did disillusionment fuel the punk-rock lifestyle you started living or the violence that you got involved in?
I was 19 years old. Punk was new, fun and exciting. What kids don’t look for excuses to rebel against what their parents thought was cool? Punk just happened to be about violence and acting crazy. Before I got into punk rock, I used to hang around the cholo guys in Venice. So that‘s how the whole Suicidal [Tendencies], Venice-style look developed (cholo-style punk rock).
Do you have regrets?
Well, using drugs has wasted a lot of years, but you gotta understand when I grew up, in the ’60s and ‘70s and even the ’80s, everybody I knew used some sort of drugs. And most of the people I knew and hung around never let them get outta hand. We partied, we surfed and we skated, and it didn‘t seem to be a problem. But later in life, drugs finally took their toll and got to the point where they were a very big problem. Kids nowadays are lucky cuz they know getting high will take you down in the long run. And I don’t think that‘s considered cool nowadays.
How badly did the assault beef affect you?
It didn’t affect me much at all. During that time I was into L.A. punk rock. Life was filled with violence. In order for me to have a good night, somebody else had to have a very bad night. Now that I‘m older, I know that shit ain’t right, but at the time it was all fun and games.
Is all this renewed interest in the Z-Boys gratifying, or does it mean little to you?
Well, of course it‘s cool to know that people thought what we did was cool. It’s kinda like the flame on our candle hasn‘t completely died out yet.
Had you been aware of your and the Z-Boys’ legacy?
Not really, but people keep telling me about it. I believe we paved the road people are going down right now. Somebody‘s always gotta be the first ones. We just got a li’l bit radical and rowdy before anybody else.
What is your attitude toward skateboarding right now?
I love skateboarding, always have and always will. I have fun riding down a hill with a girl or fuckin‘ shit up in a pool with the boys. SK8ing will always be a part of my life and a part of anybody’s I hang out with. I get the same feeling now as I did when I was a seven-year-old boy. Skateboarding rules. 100% SKATEBOARDER 4 LIFE.
What are some of the things you look forward to?
I‘m looking forward to being a father to my son again. To watch him grow up and see his smiling face. I’m looking forward to eating good food again, making my own decisions, living a sober lifestyle, taking advantage of everything life has to offer. I‘m looking forward to setting a good example for others to follow.
Kids who are lost in a world of drug abuse, it’s never too late to turn your life around and start living again. No matter how far gone you are, you can turn it around. I‘m a living example cuz I let heroin control my life, and now that I’m clean again, life is a whole lot better. (Believe me, I know)
Any words for the Z-Boys?
Can‘t keep a good dog down. See y’all next year. Stay strong and I‘ll be back.