Whether you met him for 20 minutes, or knew him for 20 years, you invariably have a great story to tell about Jay Adams. On August 14th 2014, the surf/skate community lost an idol. I heard someone recently describe him accurately as the Godfather of Skateboarding. I like that. It has a pretty nice ring to it, and I have a feeling that would have brought a smile to his face, that is, if he didn’t already know it.
I met Jay Adams about 15 years ago, in Honolulu. I had just moved back there and didn’t have a car. I bought a stolen bike from some guy, a beach cruiser…green. I was rather fond of that stolen bike, best $50 I’d spent! The day I met Jay, I was cruising over by The House of Flys store, when up rode this guy…covered in tattoos, wearing a white wife beater shirt, long dark blue shorts, and socks all the way up his calves. He was riding this dark blue, super shiny, super clean, lowrider bicycle. I was in awe. Instantly he rode right up to me and said “nice bike”. I said “fuck Brah, that’s a super sick bike you got there! Wanna trade?” He started laughing and said “Sure!” And it was just like that, we became fast friends. We spent that entire evening riding around Waikiki, talking and laughing as if we had known each other our entire lives.
Until the passing of Jay, I always thought I had a unique experience with him. I had found a kismet friendship! The day he died, I spend the entire day crying and pouring over Facebook and all of the admirers, friends and fans that felt the exact same way I felt when Jay came into their lives. I was overwhelmed by the torrent flow of love and gratitude for Jay. Each one of these people had a story, like mine, with pictures of times they spent together. There were (and still are) thousands of people mourning the passing of a legend, a friend, an idol, an innovator, a husband, a father, and fucking bad ass dude!
That afternoon, I wiped the tears from my eyes and decided I needed to see my friend alive just one more time. In my life I have lost a few friends, and many of them I’ll never be able to see again, in any capacity. I have no photos of them, no videos, nothing but my memories that I pray will never go away. But not Jay. Jay, I can see anytime I want. I need only have access to the internet, and there are movies, and pictures, and interviews. So I spent my afternoon watching Dogtown and Z-Boys. It brought a smile to my face, because I remember when it came out, Jay invited me to the premier in Hawaii where we all sat and watched it together for the first time. I remember when the segment about Jay was over and the words faded from the screen to black, Jay yelled out “I’m not dead yet!!” and we all laughed and cheered.
That was the day I realized just how massive Jay was. He and I had been friends for months, and I didn’t even know he skated. We just hung out, talked story and did things we probably shouldn’t have (non sexual). But no skating, no surfing. One day he invited me to where he was staying, and brought out a giant photo album. It was filled with clippings of articles, and photos, and magazine covers with Jay on them. I was shocked!! It actually took me a few minutes to figure out who the young man in the pictures was. Mind you, he had face tattoos by this time. I remember asking him “So are you like fucking famous?!” He just smiled and said “Yeah.” And then just like that he took the photo album and put it away, and we watched a movie. We didn’t even really speak about it again, until that movie, almost a year later.
But that was the Jay I knew. He wasn’t caught up in being famous, or being rich. The way he described his fame was almost as if it were a bit of a hassle that he couldn’t really be bothered with. He only wanted what he needed, enough money to have fun and be comfortable. He never bragged about being one of the originators of modern day skateboarding. He never name dropped, or showed off. He just wanted to be happy and have fun. The times we spent together he would occasionally tell me stories about famous people he met or knew, but there was always a funny punch line at the end. The best way that I can describe spending time with Jay, was like being 8 years old again. That’s how he made me feel, like a kid. That little boy that I saw in those photos, he was always there, he never left! The man got older, but that wild child like abandon was always just below the surface, and that was beautiful.
I’m not going to tell you about all of his accomplishments, because there’s Wikipedia for that, and it’s all very well documented. I’m not going to talk about all of the troubles he had, because who among us hasn’t had them? If you get lucky enough to do as much living as Jay did, you’re bound to have a few missteps. But I will say this: Every now and then a person comes along who touches every person they meet, influences a generation, makes everyone smile, and makes every person who knows them feel special without much effort at all. You know when you’ve met a person like this, because when they leave, that absence if felt like a shockwave.
I thought at first that you were taken from us too soon, Jay. And maybe you had a lot more living to do, as we all do. But I think you did exactly what you were put on this earth for. And you were so blessed! God was walking with you when you didn’t even know he was there! I am SO glad that before you left you married a woman who made you happy, you got to travel the world doing what you loved, and that every time I saw you, you were happy joyous and free! You will always be in my heart, Jay! You are burned there for life! I thank God or whoever made it possible for you and me to be friends. I know that you are in heaven, because you were born an angel!