Jay Adams: the freestyle and vert skateboarding pioneer

August 10, 2021 | Skateboarding
Jay Adams: the influential skateboarder from Venice Beach revolutionized the sport | Photo: Glen E. Friedman/DogTown - The Legend of the Z-Boys

Bold, explosive, agile, ultra-talented, and larger than life - Jay Adams started changing skateboarding forever in the mid-1970s.

The American freestyle skateboarding pioneer was influenced and inspired by surfing, bringing elements of wave riding into modern skating.

Adams was a naturally gifted, hardcore skateboarder who brought the concept of sidewalk surfing to its most literal sense.

With his low body positioning, looseness, hand placement, and aggressive body motion, Jay set the standard for the way skateboarding should look.

As time passed by, the influential skateboarder became known for his aggressive, radical, and extreme vertical skate tricks.

Jay Adams: he brought surfing into the bowl and started the vertical skateboarding revolution | Photo: Glen E. Friedman/DogTown: The Legend of the Z-Boys

Early Days at Venice Beach

Jay J. Adams was born on February 3, 1961, in Venice, California.

He was the only son of Philaine Romero and Robert Adams.

Sadly, he never knew his father, a heroin addict who went to prison when his son was still a baby and later committed suicide after knowing he had cancer.

So, Adams was raised by his mother and stepfather, Kent Sherwood, who educated him like a son.

The young Southern Californian started skateboarding and surfing at only four years old. He was introduced to the sports by Sherwood, who worked at Dave Sweet's surf shop.

Kent shaped Adams his first surfboard.

Surfer and skateboarder Larry Bertlemann was one of the main influences on Jay's early riding style.

Before completing his 10th anniversary, Adams lived on North Venice Boulevard, just three houses away from the beach - the sand and the asphalt were his playgrounds.

Nearby, there was an alley with three driveways.

One of them was steep, so Jay named it Pipeline; the alley itself was Waimea Bay, and another one down, Sunset.

"You've got to remember that, back then, skateboarding was all about copying surfing," the skater once said.

Jay Adams would spend several hours pretending he was Jeff Hackman, Gerry Lopez, or Wayne Lynch, his childhood heroes.

The POP pier felt was almost like a second home.

The young sidewalk surfer was also a fan of Miki Dora, so he copied his surf Nazi style and put a swastika on his surfboard, even though he didn't know what the symbol meant.

"Skaterdater," the world's first skateboard movie, inspired Adams to become a better rider and to learn how to jump off curbs.

"It changed my outlook on skateboarding. They knew how to do little tic-tacs," Jay revealed later.

Jay Adams: a bold character with an aggressive skateboarding style

The Star of Z-Boys

But the first trick he remembers learning was a wheelie on the ground.

In 1974, Jay Adams became the youngest member of the restricted skateboard club Z-Boys, the crew who put an end to "skateboarding as gymnastics."

Adams was the first of the Z-Boys to compete in the 1975 Bahne/Cadillac National Skateboard Championships and finished third on the junior men's freestyle division.

Also, in 1975, Jay won the freestyle and cross country divisions at the Hang Ten World Pro-Am Skateboard Championships.

His favorite riding spot was Marina Del Rey Skatepark and The Dog Bowl.

Adams and the Z-Boys were the first to ride empty California swimming pools and to spread the seeds for the vertical skateboarding revolution.

Bowl skating eventually led to aerial skateboarding tricks and maneuvers, with Jay Adams at the forefront of the movement.

Jay's rise to stardom was fueled by the "Dogtown Chronicles," a series of articles and photos published by Craig Stecyk on Skateboarder magazine.

"There would have been no Dogtown if it weren't for Stecyk," Adams later concluded.

The lens of Glen E. Friedman captured some of the most beautiful pictures of Jay attacking the California bowls and skateparks.

Friedman and Stecyk later teamed up to produce "DogTown: The Legend of the Z-Boys," a stunning book featuring never before seen archive images from skateboarding's golden era.

With the break up of Z-Boys, also known as the Zephyr Competition Team, Adams and his stepfather founded EZ Ryder, a brand (and team) that was renamed Z-Flex six months later.

Stacy Peralta, one of the Z-Boys, once described Jay as "the archetype of modern-day skateboarding."

His longtime friend Allen Sarlo said Adams was "the James Dean of skateboarding."

Jay Adams: a skateboarder with a timeless style

Drugs and Prison

Adams struggled with drug addiction throughout his life and career, especially when the skateboarding fever faded in the 1980s.

His sponsorships deals were no longer enough to make a living out of the sport.

In 1982, Jay Adams served six months in prison after being convicted of assault following a fight he was involved in, in Los Angeles. In the attack, a man was killed.

He landed the cover of Thrasher magazine in January 1989.

But the talented skater began using heroin after the death of his mother, father, grandmother and the murder of his brother. They all died in 1996.

Jay Adams is one of the stars of the 2001 documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys."

When the documentary was launched, the Venice skater was in Hawaii serving two-and-a-half years on drug charges. He was released in 2002.

Jay was able to earn his high school diploma while in prison.

In 2005, Adams was drug-free and promoting healthy habits to school children.

But at the end of the year, he was arrested after being caught on a wiretap, setting a deal between a buyer and seller of crystal methamphetamine.

Jay Adams: he landed the cover of Thrasher magazine on January 1989

Dogtown Renaissance

In July 2008, Adams was released to a halfway house and completed his probation in January 2014.

By this time, Jay was a Christian.

Emile Hirsch played Jay Adams in the 2005 movie "Lords of Dogtown," written by Catherine Hardwicke and Stacy Peralta.

The Venice Beach surfer-skater was featured in "The Westsiders," a 2010 surfing documentary by Joshua Pomer.

In 2012, Jay Adams was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.

Adams had a son, Seven, from a relationship with Samantha Baglioni and a daughter, Venice, from his first marriage with Alisha.

In 2011, he married Tracy Hubbard, with whom he had no children.

Jay Adams passed away after suffering a heart attack on August 15, 2014, in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. One day before his death, after a surf session, he complained about chest pain.

The legendary skater was getting healthy, reading The Bible every morning before surfing, and reconnecting with life.

Adams had many tattoos.

He tattoed the word "Dogtown" over his right eyebrow and a crucifix under the crow's feet of his left eye.

He also had the words "100% Skateboarder" inked on his chest, a zipper on his head, and many other tattoos on his neck and arms.

Before passing away, Jay told his friend Allen Sarlo that he was enjoying the best surf trip of his life in Mexico.

Jay Adams: the legendary skater had many tattoos

The Original Seed

Two murals pay tribute to Jay Adams.

One of them can be seen on the building site of the original Zephyr skate shop in Santa Monica; the other was painted on Venice Beach Skatepark's bowl.

The man who created foundational skateboarding tricks and maneuvers was known for shouting "get radical" to everyone around.

Adams won several surfing and skateboarding contests but always refused to sell out by getting involved with large corporations.

For instance, the regular-footed skater rejected a very lucrative Band-Aid television advertisement and stayed true to his ethics.

The punk rock surfer-skater never wanted anything with the X Games and the Olympic Games.

As a result, Adams' iconic status only grew more and more throughout the decades.

His favorite bowl skater was Steve Caballero.

Jay Adams's most famous nicknames are "The Original Seed," "The Pure Seed," and "The Chosen One.

Today, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential skaters of all time.