Those Dogtown Days of Summer
Ask any Southern California native what they think of when they hear the words Dogtown, or Z-boys and the responses you get might vary. For a newer generation it may automatically bring up thoughts of Skateboarding, drops, vert-skating, surfing, ripping, shredding and the like. For Generation X, people born between the 1960s-1980s, it may spark a similar, but more aged, choice of words such as; "local’s only," bad boys, aggressive skating, drained out pools, Pacific Ocean Park Pier, surfing the pilings, Jeff Ho Surfboards, and so on. On August 14th, 2014, one of the original Z-boys and a Dogtown legend, who was primarily know for his skateboarding logistics, Jay Adams, suffered a massive heart attack and lost his life at the age of 53. Jay was on an extended surfing vacation in Mexico with close friends and his wife Tracy Adams when his life was cut short. Jay is survived by his wife and two children, a daughter Venice and his son Seven.
I spoke with Jay’s son Seven and asked if he had a specific fond memory of his fathers surfing and/or skating days; “I can't really say I just have one. We had some good surf sessions over on the north shore of Oahu this year. We spent some good times together just surfing and having fun, just really loving life, just cruising with his wife Tracy and my girlfriend Annabelle. Good times with my dad.” I also asked Seven if his own passion for surfing stemmed from growing up with a Father who had a passion for the same. “Yes. It was something he did so I always kind of had that want to do it too.”
Jay Adams gained massive popularity when the 2001 Documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys” directed by Stacy Peralta, revamped the history of the Z-boy skate crew that originated on the beachside boundaries of Venice and Santa Monica, CA. in the early 1970’s. Later, in 2005, another movie, “Lords of Dogtown”, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Stacy Peralta, yet again sparked the interest of a whole new generation of skaters and surfers worldwide.
Meta Zimmerman, who is a Venice local and grew up there in the 1970’s, shared her memories of her friend Jay. “I met Jay Adams at Marina Skate Park in 1978 when I was 13. He was a young super star and all the boys wanted to be him. Competing wasn't for Jay, even though he did do it, he was a little kid that just wanted to play and skate without anyone keeping score”.
Throughout the years, time would go by and they would run into each other every now and then. At one point Meta had moved to Hawaii and Jay was living there as well. Though they didn’t see each other during their time there, Meta would always hear stories of his well being from mutual friends, even though at times she had also heard he had not been doing so well.
In more recent years, back out in California, Meta ran into him at Venice Boardwalk. As Jay skated up to Meta, the two caught up on their lives over the years. “What really blew me away”, explains Meta, “was when I walked up to the skate park on the boardwalk and was watching Jay sign autographs for his fans. I grabbed him and hugged him and I said, look at this man, those are your fans! Its amazing Jay, you deserve all of this. I’m so proud of you! His smile was surreal. He knew what I meant. We came from a time when it wasn't so cool to be from Venice”.
With all the sentiments and emotions that have been spinning before my eyes these past few days on Jay Adams, I woke up the next morning after learning of his death, and a wave of memories came rushing back to me, and my connection with the Dogtown scene of the early 1970’s. Rewind to when I was about 5 years old, circa 1972. My sister Marla was into the Venice/Santa Monica surfing scene as it was the craze back then.
Marla was dating one of the cool surfer guys of his time, Bill Urbany. Bill was part of the original Dogtown-Zephyr era and began working and shaping surfboards for an upcoming legend by the name of Jeff Ho. Jeff would show Bill the ropes on making surfboards, and it was eventually Jeff Ho that formed the Zephyr (Z-Boy) skate crew as well.
I can still remember as if it was yesterday. My childhood home and garage became the surfboard storage and work shop. The strong smell of resin saturated the room, as the duo wore face masks to protect them from it all, while I was inhaling the fumes and not bothered by it one bit, I enjoyed it actually, and can still remember the smell. As short boards were shaped, waxed, and stood along my garage walls, they were then laid out in my front yard when orders became too large.
Even now I can remember sitting among some of the greats back in those days of the early 70’s; Jeff Sibley, Mark Amos, and of course Bill Urbany and Jeff Ho, to name a few. Little did I know, as a 5 year old kid, that those who were surrounding me were those who would pave the way to a surfing/skating phenomenon.
On many occasions I would tote along side with my big sister Marla as her and Bill would head to Santa Monica beach to surf. I would sit there and watch, and being so young I recall being petrified as the large dominant waves would at times swallow my sister and her boyfriend. Riding in and out of the pilings of the torn apart Pacific Ocean Park Pier, I was always worried for my sister and Bill that they might crash into the pilings. Luckily, that never happened.
Even though I was so young at the time, all the surfers were so kind to me and never minded me hanging around, I was Bill Urbany’s girlfriends’ little sister after all , so they welcomed me with open arms. As time would tell, eventually the young couple Marla and Bill would part ways as most young lovers do in those awkward teenage years.
So as I sit here reeling in the aftermath of the fallen Z-boy superstar, Jay Adams, I can't help but feel sentimental and reminiscent of the times I was around them all and watched them surf and skate, or watch them come over with wetsuits full of ocean water and sand that they would lay on our lawn to dry out, or over our shower or the back gate. Those guys who would spend all their days and nights engulfed in their world, at the beach, in their territory, their local domain. The place they called home. The place they called, Dogtown.