Skateboarding pioneer Jay Adams dies in Mexico

ByColin Bane ESPN logo
Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jay Adams, a skateboarding pioneer and one of the original members of the Zephyr skate team, died in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, early Friday morning. He was 53.

Adams' manager, Susan Ferris, says the Skateboarding Hall of Famer died of a heart attack. A full report from the Puerto Escondido medical examiner's office is pending.

Adams had been on an extended surf vacation in Mexico with his wife and friends, including Solo Scott and Allen Sarlo. He had been surfing across the point earlier Thursday and came in feeling sick, then began having chest pains around midnight, according to Scott.

"His wife called us over in the middle of the night and we administered CPR until we could get an ambulance, and they kept working on him the whole way but he never revived," Scott told

"The important thing is he went out peacefully in his sleep, during the best surf trip of his life. He'd been down here for three months surfing every day, and he was in great shape and really good spirits. I've never seen him so happy and content and at peace."

Adams was known for bringing his aggressive surf style to skateboarding, first on the sidewalks of Venice, California, and eventually into the area's empty backyard pools. He was the first to air above the lip in a pool on a skateboard and the first to try handplants and other tricks that since have become staples.

"I've had the good fortune of spending decades in this sport, and he was the purest form of skateboarder that I've ever seen," Stacy Peralta, another original member of the Z-Boys team and director of the documentary film "Dogtown and Z-Boys," told "He was literally skateboarding incarnate, and the genius of it was he wasn't the best at anything, he just was it. I've said before that he was the original virus that got so many people hooked on skateboarding. Now the original spore is gone, but that virus lives on in so many others. Jay's passing reminds all of us and reaffirms that we're connected. We're all rolling down the sidewalk together."

Adams was the youngest member of the original Zephyr skate team when it first formed in 1975, according to Zephyr Surf Shop owner and co-founder Jeff Ho.

"I first met Jay in the water when he was a little kid on a borrowed surfboard, even before he was the little kid on a skateboard everybody's seen pictures of," Ho told "You could tell even then that he was something special. Once the first photos of what he was doing on a skateboard came out, he was an instant icon. He was so creative in his skating that he was just so, so far beyond his time. He lived his life the way he wanted to live it, and, you know, he was surfing some mean sick barrels at Puerto and getting great shots with the boys right up until just before he passed away, still doing what he wanted to do."

Jim Muir, another member of the original Dogtown Z-Boys skate team, added: "Everyone involved in skateboarding needs to thank Jay for who he was and what he made our sport. He was one of a kind, and there will never be anyone else like him."

Adams will be remembered as much for his sneer and for flipping off the camera as for his brazen skateboarding prowess. When skateboarding got competitive and corporate and some of his peers became celebrities, he mostly opted out.

"Wearing uniforms? That wasn't me," he wrote in an essay for "My Rules," a forthcoming book by photographer Glen E. Friedman.

Friedman's first published image for Skateboarder Magazine was a shot of Adams airing above the lip in a pool for the first time. Adams was just 15 at the time; Friedman was 14. The image rocked the skateboarding world with new possibilities, even though Friedman admits Adams "was clearly not [landing the trick]."

Even Adams' accidents could be inspirational.

"When you look at Jay, you have to think of the personification of all the Dogtown stories that Craig Stecyk wrote and all the Dogtown photos that I took: All we were trying to do was capture Jay Adams' essence," Friedman told "He was really f---ed up, and he was really incredibly great, all at the same time. For so many, he was the inspiration, he was the seed. He was one of the originators, and he didn't do any of it on purpose. He was as spontaneous as they come, and because of that he was one of the sport's great revolutionaries."

Friedman shared an excerpt of Adams' "My Rules" essay with

"I always skate for the love of it, the feeling that is like nothing else. Doing the thing I did, that some people after the fact look back and say it was so progressive and pushed the limits, that's cool but I wasn't thinking doing that. I just acted spontaneously and did stuff, see what happens and hope not to get hurt. I wouldn't think about it until afterwards, if at all. Style was a motivator at times, but honestly it just came naturally to me, and although it meant everything at times, who's to say the kook with horrible style isn't having more fun than you? Having fun is what really matters in the end, unless you're just out to impress others."