BEFORE the Z-Boys exploded from Dogtown's dirty alleys and torturous waves to recharge skateboarding with raw style and cocky attitude, their reluctant leader, a skinny blond kid named Jay Adams, lived the innocent and bronzed existence of a true California beach boy. He cut barefoot across cracked driveways on a clay-wheeled plank, carved comfortably along waves peeling off Malibu Point and piled into the family wagon for safaris through Baja, Mexico.
Last summer, the now legendary surfer-skater immersed himself in those images as he sat in a cell in Santa Ana Jail, awaiting sentencing after having signed a plea agreement on federal drug-related charges. He drew on memories of his childhood freedom to write the captions for "Jay Boy," a new book of 82 photographs taken by his stepfather, Kent Sherwood.
The stark black-and-white images show Adams and his childhood friends -- including Dogtowners Tony Alva, Wentzle Ruml and Shogo Kubo -- at play along the empty streets and beaches of a rundown Venice and Santa Monica, places now marked by bustling promenades and overcrowded surf breaks. Nostalgia ranks high among the emotions that the collection evokes.
"As a kid, Jay was always a free spirit," Sherwood said recently. "But he started getting in trouble later on. I don't know why."
A self-taught photographer who made a hobby of shooting, developing and printing voluminously, Sherwood was always lugging around a beat-up Russian-made 35-millimeter single-lens reflex and a medium-format Roloflex. Along with Adams' late mother, Philaine Romero, to whom the book is dedicated, Sherwood raised Adams from early on -- just after the boy lost his heroin-addict father to prison -- and introduced him to surfing and skating.
Sherwood, 65, was as surprised as anyone that a bunch of "old dusty family photos" could become a book. "I was just lucky I had a very good subject," he said, speaking from his Inglewood factory, Foam Matrix, where he taps years of surfboard-building experience to craft state-of-the-art rocket fins and wings. "Jay was very photogenic, and he was always moving, so I had to be ready."
"Jay Boy" is a selection from several hundred color and black-and-white negatives and prints Sherwood gave to Adams and his bride, Alisha, on their wedding day, May 14, 2005. A few months later, Adams approached old friend and New York-based photographer Glen E. Friedman, whose mid-'70s SkateBoarder magazine images, along with the photojournalism of C.R. Stecyk III, helped canonize Dogtown's Z-Boys. With their aggressive, flowing surf style, the boys rewrote the rules of skateboarding across the Southland's wide-open schoolyards and bone-dry swimming pools.
"Jay called me and said, 'I got all these photos, can you help me make a book?' " Friedman explained. He also worked on the award-winning "Dogtown and Z-Boys" documentary, but he's better known for his own photo books that chronicled emerging punk rock, hip-hop and skate scenes. "Honestly, I didn't have that much confidence in the idea -- doing a book is not easy and everybody thinks that their photos are better than they really are. But I told him, 'Send me everything, and I'll take a look.' "
The fading past
FRIEDMAN said he was instantly captivated by Sherwood's shots of a golden boy from a vanished era. With Adams' nod, Friedman assumed control of the project, editing and designing the book as his Burning Flags Press teamed up with Concrete Wave Editions and Pool King Publications to release 3,000 copies on Oct. 31. Friedman added that all the interested parties -- most of whom are surfers and skaters themselves -- were so honored to be part of a book about one of their heroes that they worked at cut rates and agreed to donate 100% of the profit, plus $1 per book sold, to Adams' family: his wife and their baby girl, Venice, who was born May 6.
Alisha Adams expects that the modest windfall will help her chip away at mounting legal bills and recharge her husband's books while he awaits sentencing.
"I'm just thankful that people love Jay the way they do," she said recently, her voice trailing off. "I'm just praying that he just gets time served."
On the wrong side of the glass in the jailhouse visitors' booth last month, Adams, 45, looked nothing like the pure and playful shaggy blond surf grommet in the photos. He seemed believable as a criminal: khaki jumpsuit bathed in artificial light, brown hair slicked back, goatee well-trimmed and arms sleeved in tattoos -- including punk-rock Black Flag bars, a portrait of Charles Manson and a small but conspicuous swastika -- that run to each wrist. More indelible black ink across his knuckles: "TEAM PAIN."