Jay Adams: Colourful skateboarder who helped bring global success to his sport but also had several brushes with the law


Click to follow

With his hair-raising stunts and an outsized personality, Jay Adams helped transform skateboarding from a simple street pastime into one of the world's most spectacular sports.

Distinguished by his flowing, sun-bleached hair, explosive skating style and ebullient personality, he became one of the sport's most influential figures during the years that it moved from empty garden swimming pools to international competition. "He was like the original viral spore that created skateboarding," said his fellow skateboarder and documentary film-maker Stacy Peralta. "He was it."

But at the height of his fame in the early 1980s, Adams was convicted of assault, launching a string of prison stints. The member of the Skateboarding Hall of Fame blamed his troubles in part on the sport's early years, when any outrageous behaviour was tolerated. "We were wild and acting crazy," he said after leaving prison for the last time, in 2008.

He shot to fame as a teenager, a founding member of the Zephyr Skate Team, a group of surfers turned skateboarders who came together in a rundown neighbourhood known as Dogtown that straddles Los Angeles' Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Peralta, another member, would memorialise the group in his 2001 documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys.

"Watching him when he was 14, 15, 16 was pure entertainment," Peralta recalled. "It was like watching energy itself evolve. You never knew what he was going to do, and no matter how great he was at something, he never repeated it."

His energy and surf-like moves characterised the Z-Boys and contrasted with the traditional style based on tricks from the '60s. Although he was not technically the best skater, Peralta said, his influence was as great as Tony Hawks'. But Adams never became quite the same household name, perhaps in part because of brushes with the law. When Dogtown And Z Boys opened in 2001 he was in jail on a drugs charge, and when the 2005 feature film Lords Of Dogtown was released, Adams was being busted. Upon his release he vowed to stay out of trouble.

Peralta last saw Adams at a dinner six weeks before his death: "He was the first person to show up at the dinner table, which was remarkable, and he was drinking hot tea, which was even more remarkable. He had really turned a corner." Adams died of a heart attack on a surfing holiday in Mexico.


Jay Adams, skateboarder: born Venice, California 3 February 1961; married Tracy (two children); died Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico 14 August 2014.