The Death of a Sports Pioneer

A lot was going on last week. The world mourned the death of both Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. The world then turned its horrified eyes to Ferguson, MO and witnessed shocking events unfolding in real time. Lost among those very important stories was the passing of a true sports pioneer. Jay Adams died last week at the far-too young age of 53. He was a true trailblazer in a sport that many consider to be a fad, a hobby, or simply a waste of time. Jay Adams did more for skateboarding in the 70s than most people realize.

Before Adams and his friends announced their arrival at a skateboard competition in Del Mar, CA in 1975, skateboarding was deemed a niche hobby. The competitions were similar to figure skating, filled with turns, whirls, spins, and skating "pirouettes." Jay Adams, skating for the infamous Zephyr Skate Team, shredded the notion of what skating was and could be. This clip only touches the surface of what Adams could do. He was among the first group of skaters to push the limits of gravity and physics. Nobody got true vertical air before Adams and the Zephyr team did. Jay Adams directly influenced the skaters I read about as a kid.

Adams, Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, and others demonstrated to young kids what could be done on a skateboard. Friends and I would read Thrasher magazine and read all about Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, and my favorite, Rodney Mullen. I could never, never do the tricks that they could do, but I enjoyed reading about them and watching them on various Bones Brigade videos. I would never have heard of them if they hadn't been directly influenced by Jay Adams and the Zephyr team.

Adams was the product of a broken home in a rough part of Venice, CA. When he took his love (and incredible, natural, God-given talent) of surfing and applied it to skating, he elevated what was possible. The dreams were beginning to become reality. He was fortunate to have a step-father at the time who encouraged Adams to surf and skate. Adams was fortunate to meet Jeff Ho, the owner of the Zephyr surf shop who sponsored skaters. Adams was fortunate to be the right guy at the right time, when skateboarding was experiencing a renaissance. Unfortunately, that good fortune wouldn't last too long.

When the Zephyr team eventually fragmented, most of the young skaters found sponsors willing to pay them for their services. This meant these kids would travel the world and skate for others, and get paid to do it. Adams refused to do this. On the one hand, it demonstrated his thirst for loyalty. On the other, it meant he'd never leave, either physically or spiritually, Venice for any long stretches of time. Some poor choices led to drug addiction and prison time, but Adams eventually straightened his life out. Adams was convicted in the felony assault of Dan Bradbury, a gay man, in Los Angeles in 1982. For that heinous crime he served his sentence in the 1980s. Later, he was featured in Stacy Peralta's incredible documentary Dogtown & Z-Boys. Even if you don't like skating, at least give the trailer a look and maybe check out the film. It's streaming on Netflix right now, and can also be found in its entirety on Youtube.

Jay Adams was doing what he loved before he died. He was surfing in Mexico. Jay Adams was happy, right up until he had a heart attack last Friday morning. He had been clean and sober for a few years. The lessons had been learned, and Adams was finally at peace. There are very few people in the world of whom it could be said that they were pioneers in their chosen field. Jay Adams was a true pioneer in the world of skateboarding.