FROM A STATISTICAL STANDPOINT. . .It's a safe bet to say that Tony Hawk is the world's greatest "competitive skater" now, and who knows, maybe of all time. It's also probably safe to say that another Tony, Tony Alva, is the world's greatest "natural skater" perhaps of all time. Most people who were there, back then, would probably agree with this assessment. Perhaps by coincidence or fate, I was there with both of these skaters.
Tony Alva and I grew up skating the same banked schools and empty swimming pools of the Dogtown era. Heralding from the same skateboard team, the Zephyr team, we skated together quite a bit. This was during skateboarding's formative years, a time when skateboarding existed as a non-institution, as a freeform activity, without any promise or future. If you skated you did it because you loved it. Because, unlike today, there wasn't anything other than love to be gained from it.
I also spent ten terrific years of my life involved with Tony Hawk. I watched him grow from a scrawny little thirteen-year-old skater into the world champion he has become.
Let me get to the point of this article, which is this: if Tony Alva is the greatest natural skater of all time, then where does that put Jay Adams? Because Jay Adams could also-in fact, should also-be considered the world's greatest natural skater. In fact, some might say I'm leaving out other skaters who should be in contention, most notable Steve Caballero and Christian Hosoi. Both of these skaters were world-class greats. But Caballero and Hosoi had something that skaters like Alva, Adams, and I never had. They came into the sport with a precedent established: when they began skating they knew it was possible to carve a swimming pool, they knew a frontside grind on vertical was possible, and they knew that aerials were possible. This is not to say that things were easier for them, but that many doors had been blown open by the time they arrived.
Case in point: The year was late 1975, if my memory holds, Alva, Bob Biniak, and I, and perhaps a few others were skating the infamous Keyhole pool in Beverly Hills. Biniak and I got into a fiery debate over whether or not it was possible to do a frontside kickturn in a pool. Even though I couldn't do it, I told him it was possible. He vehemently disagreed with me, put his foot down, and said it was impossible. And he wouldn't budge from his opinion.
Right now you're thinking to yourself, how could anything be simpler than a frontside kickturn? What's the big deal? Well, it was a big deal because we'd never seen anyone do a frontside kickturn on vertical and we knew no one in the world had ever done it. We weren't even sure the human body could move in that direction when ascending a vertical well. In fact, we weren't the only ones who thought it was impossible. Outsiders who would show up at these sessions and watch us would spend most of the time telling us what we were doing was impossible. We'd carve coping or edge coping with one of our back wheels, and onlookers would respond with comments like, "that's impossible," "That can't be done," and "You can't do that." Well, we were doing it.
Two days later, Biniak, Alva, and I were skating the same pool, the Keyhole, after having spent the morning surfing a big six-foot swell out of the southern hemi. Biniak and I picked up on the same unresolved conversation. He'd given it some thought and still maintained that it was impossible to do a frontside kickturn on vertical. I decided to challenge him. I got out of the pool and stood on the coping above the deep end. I egged him on to do a frontside kickturn. Something in me told me he could do it. He got up his nerve and finally tried it and failed. I challenged him on, again. He tried it again, failed, but got closer. On the third try, probably a foot or two below the tile (the Keyhole was a deep pool), he finally made it. Suddenly something clicked in his brain as well as everyone else's at the session. Bob returned to the shallow end, thought for a moment, pushed off, and connected, again. By the end of that day he was hitting frontside kickturns on tile. This was a total breakthrough-an absolutely mind-blowing event. We went to the keyhole that day for a session, just to skate, and Biniak ended up opening a new door. It became the topic of conversation that week.
Cut to a few months later. Alva, Adams, Biniak, Jim Muir, and I were skating the Devonshire pool deep in the San Fernando Valley. Another debate was raging-specifically, whether or not it was possible to do frontside forevers, i.e. to sustain frontside kickturns perpetually, tile to tile. Remember, none of this had been done before, ever. There was no precedent. It was all new, and barriers were being broken on a daily and weekly basis.
On my next run, I pushed off from the shallow end, barreled into a frontside carve over the light, and then began hitting the side walls with perpetual frontside kickturns, tile to tile. When I finished I returned to the shallow end, stoked out of my mind. Jim Muir looked at me and said facetiously, "You're an asshole." The point is not to take anything away from Caballero or Hosoi or any other skaters who have followed, but to state that many barriers were already broken when they entered the arena. Of course, both of these skaters as well as many others went on to break countless barriers for further generations. In fact, the reason I mention Caballero and Hosoi in the same breath as Alva and Adams is because these four skaters have something that very few possess: they skate with the least amount of resistance. Watching Alva or Adams skate years ago was simply amazing. They resisted nothing. They were like water. Skaters like these make skating look effortless and easy, almost timeless, on any terrain.
Here's something about Jay Adams: Jay was not the greatest pool skater, nor was he the greatest bank skater, or the greatest slalom skater or the greatest freestyler. The fact is, Jay Adams' contribution to skateboarding defies description or category. Jay Adams is probably not the greatest skater of all time, but I can say without fear of being wrong that he is clearly the archetype of modern-day skateboarding. Archetype defined means an original pattern or model, a prototype. Prototype defined means the first thing or being of its kind. He's the real thing, an original seed, the original virus that infected all of us. He was beyond comparison. To this day I haven't witnessed any skater more vital, more dynamic, more fun to watch, more unpredictable, and more spontaneous in his approach than Jay. There are not enough superlatives to describe him.
In contests, Jay was simply the most exciting skater to watch. He never skated the same run the same way twice. His routines were wickedly random yet exceedingly tight and beautiful to watch: he even invented tricks during his runs. I've never seen any skater destroy convention and expectation better. Watching him skate was something new every second: he was "skate and destroy" personified.
I believe this photo of Jay is the most stunning and strikingly clear representation, of any photo ever taken, of modern skateboarding. It contains all the elements that make up what modern-day skateboarding has become: awesome aggression and style, power and fury, wild abandon, destruction of all fear, untamed individualism, and a free-spirited determination to tear, shred, and rip relentlessly.
Jay Adams may not have been the world's best skater, but he was the man, the real deal, the original, the first. He is the archetype of our shared heritage.