Jay Adams dies: Examining the legacy of ‘Dogtown and Z-Boys’


To skateboarding aficionados, the late Jay Adams was known as the “original seed,” one of the most influential skaters in history. But Adams, who died of an apparent heart attack at age 53 on Thursday, also transcended the world of skateboarding by way of the silver screen.

Growing up in a sketchy corner of Venice in the 1970s, Adams became one of the original members of the pioneering Zephyr skateboarding team whose story was chronicled in the documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys” in 2001 and the biopic “Lords of Dogtown” in 2005.

Directed by fellow Z-Boy Stacy Peralta, “Dogtown and Z-Boys” recounts how he, Adams and their pals helped put skateboarding on the map with stylish, fluid, surfing-inspired moves honed in the banked playgrounds and empty pools of drought-stricken Southern California.


“Dogtown” emerged as a breakout hit at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the audience and director’s awards. The documentary opened to strong reviews (with a “92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), grossed a solid $1.3 million at the domestic box office, and illuminated an intriguing but relatively unknown period of Los Angeles and sporting history.

As it has with subcultures from spelling bees to backup singers, the documentary format helped put skater culture on the map for a mainstream that might have forgotten or not known about it. In a measured but positive review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “‘Dogtown’ is at its dramatic best with mini-profiles of its two biggest names, Adams and [Tony] Alva. The Adams segment especially, which shows the most naturally gifted of the Z-Boys regretful about the bad choices he made in his life, provides the kind of thoughtful introspection this film could have used a lot more of.”

Peralta would revisit the story of the Z-Boys as the screenwriter of “Lords of Dogtown,” a narrative film directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Emile Hirsch gave a well-regarded performance as Adams, but unlike its documentary predecessor, “Lords” met with mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office.

Shortly after Adams died, Hirsch tweeted: “We lost a true wild man with the passing of Jayboy. Jay Adams was a legend who will be missed.”

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