I can’t believe I just interviewed Jason Adams.
He’s not just a skate legend, he’s like a demigod in my purview. Up until we spoke, part of me failed to believe he actually existed.
My reference points for Skateboarding are far skewed from most of our own audience these days. As a ’90s teen, I was fed on 15-minute VHS skate videos, baggy mustard pants, and Alien Workshop. Skateboarding was fun and independent those days, far outside the scope of corporate America and contest point systems. It was also broke and wheezing. I mean, it was really for the love and rebellion. Not for sport or profit.
Jason Adams embodied all of this to me. He was punk and defiant. His style was improvisational and fast. Like the way an artist thinks, but out loud, and the street is his canvas. To me, the skateboard isn’t like a baseball bat or a tennis racquet. It’s a weapon and The Kid wielded it appropriately.
We are both a little older now. Jason Adams and myself. And so I wanted to get his perspective on how his career played out, how skateboarding feels today, and his second (or third, or fourth) birth as an artist.
It was an honor, Jason. Thank you for your time.
Me: Let’s give the readers a rundown of your career in skate.
Jason Adams: Well, I turned pro during the whole early ’90s street fad. I was just a shy kid that just loved skateboarding, was horrible in school, and really had nothing else going on. I just loved skating. I was fortunate enough to be best friends with Salman Agah, who was very confident, very mature, and a go-getter – and I was his sidekick. He was the guy that had the car and the motivation and I just followed him around. That’s where I got my foot in the door and met people.
I turned pro in 1992 actually. It was February 1992 when my first board came out on Think Skateboards. It was crazy back then because I had like two photos in the magazine before that. I had done nothing. They wanted young kids that skated street because they couldn’t sell these old vert guys’ boards anymore. So I just kinda got shoved into pro skating, not knowing what the hell it was or what the hell I was supposed to do.
How old were you?
I was 18 when my first board came out. I graduated the summer before – from high school. So I was 18, and I’m 40 now.
I turned pro for Think, and then – that was basically a tiny little non-existent company – at this point I was so gung-ho punk rocker and I couldn’t even handle it, you know what I mean?
Yeah, I remember that period of Think.
They had like rave flyers with Think sponsors on them and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” So I had the opportunity – around that time all the dudes from SMA split from NHS to Consolidated – so they had to rebuild the team and I had the opportunity to be on SMA – which I jumped on because Santa Cruz and NHS products were my favorite as a kid. Especially being from San Jose, that’s what was going on.
That’s when I met Russ Pope, as being the brand manager of SMA. And then from there Russ started Creature for NHS – I went and did that – Russ left to do Scarecrow – I kinda followed Russ because he and I became really good friends.
But really I nothing picked up for me until I got on Black Label. And it was because where skateboarding was. It was like, “if you weren’t part of a trend then you’re pretty much ass out” mentality. I’d always work with people, other than Russ, that would kind of back me but not really get what I was all about at the same time. It just wasn’t what the magazines wanted or whatever, you know?
When I got on Black Label, Lucero was just like, “Dude, get weird.” He didn’t even want me to bring in normal stuff. He wanted me to do a Miller flip over an electrical box. So that’s where I got my confidence, working with Lucero and him just going “Do it.” Fortunately, between the timing of Black Label and where skateboarding was at, it luckily hit and that’s where I feel like I actually had some sort of – I don’t like to use the word but – skateboard “career.”
Since then, I’ve just kept going. I don’t really understand why. Maybe I’m too retarded to do anything else [laughs]. I’m just a skate punk that never grew up… and just loves skateboarding and keep doing it and I question myself everyday, “Why?”
Are you still involved in Black Label?
No. That’s a long story too. I’m now working with Elephant Skateboards with Mike Vallely.
Oh, I didn’t know that.
When the economy hit, I was done. I went from making a decent living and being the breadwinner to making zero in three months. And I was just like, maybe I’m just gone, maybe I’m burned. I’ve been doing this for so long. So I kinda accepted it. I always knew ever since the age of 18: this day is gonna come. I just thought it would come a lot sooner. I was like, “By 25 I’m gonna be done.” I thought I was done before I got on Black Label. Then I got on Black Label and it was this whole resurgence and then the economy hit and then it was like, okay I’m done. Then I got on Elephant and it made skateboarding fun again. After all the years of being pro, being in skateboarding situations, and constantly under the scrutiny of your sponsors and things like that… I missed it.
Mike hit me up and was like, “There’s no pressure, do whatever you want, what you don’t want, anything you want, I’ll back it.” So after all those years of being a pro skater, the videos and the photos it all becomes part of it, you enjoy that part of it as well. I kinda missed it. And he was like, “We’re gonna do all that but you can do whatever you want so there’s no judgment. You’re never gonna be too old,” you know what I mean? “So do what you want.”
So how do you feel about the skateboarding industry now?
I think the world’s changed a lot. I always see similarities with skateboarding and just what’s going on within the world and the economy in general. There’s always two sides to every story. I think there’s a lot of rad stuff going on and I think there’s a lot of stuff that I just can’t even relate to and don’t even get. I swore I’d never be that old guy complaining. I would never be the guy that was like, “Oh back in the good ‘ol days.” I’m not gonna be that guy. Everything changes. I accept it before it even changes.
The one thing that’s rad about skateboarding now is everything’s cool. And you know from coming up from skateboarding in the ’90s or on in the 2000s, it was so trend, so clique-y: what’s hot is hot and what’s not is not. And I think a lot of that change is because of the Internet. Anyone can post anything. Magazines are not dictating what skateboarding is.
But at the same time all this new information is taking the work out of everything. And that’s just the world in general. That’s just youth in general right now.
It is kinda weird. Within the opinion of a pro skateboarder or an ex-pro skater or (I don’t know what the fuck I am but) it was cool to be a part of something. I was a middle-class pro skater, a working class pro-skater. I could make a decent living at it, you know what I mean? And now it seems like – the upper crust of the elite – and you make a million plus dollars a year or you don’t make a god damn thing. And I think that’s another thing that mirrors the economy. That’s a bummer. I’m not complaining about me because I feel fortunate to have had the long run that I’ve had. I’m just thinking of people like me that are coming up now…
At the same time I’m seeing all these companies start to grow more and more and more. Because for a while, just like 5 years ago, it seemed like you had to be associated to Monster or Element or something or you were just a part of this garage company. I’m being a little extreme or maybe overexaggerating but it was just weird for a little while. The way I viewed the industry was gone, that’s all I knew, and I didn’t understand the way that things were working anymore.
So there’s good and bad in everything, you know? For me, I loved the ’80s.
That was your favorite period of skating?
Well, ‘cause that’s when I was a kid. I was one of the skaters in the ’90s but when I was a kid and when I got into it and when I fell in love with it, that was the ’80s. That was the Bones Brigade, you know what I mean? That was Jeff Grosso and Jason Jessee and all that kind of stuff. That’s what I loved. And I’ve never stopped, I never stopped loving that. All my friends just accepted the modern times and went with it and I was like, “Yeah I accept the modern times. I love Guy Mariano, but mother fucker, Jason Jessee was the best.”
That’s how I always kinda thought and so that’s what I always tried to do. To never let go of the ’80s. To try and apply it to the now.
Yeah, I like that. That makes a lot of sense.
That’s just what I like. I can’t change. Skateboarding and punk rock. San Jose. I’m still punk rock San Jose. And you know, I’ll never not be.
Let’s talk about your art. So have you always been inclined towards the arts and did you grow up drawing or painting?
No! My wife calls me an accidental artist.
So what happened?
As a kid I’d always been into making art and in school I always loved art class. It was always my favorite stuff. But I never showed any talent at your traditional style of art, which you’re taught in school. You’re taught about the great artists from Van Gogh or whatever and you’re taught to draw and to paint and stuff. I was never that good at it to the point where it was just frustrating for me ‘cause I wanted to be.
But then I got to skating and that kind of just took over. After my first daughter was born, I hurt my ankle really bad and I’d be at home with her and I couldn’t skate at all. So I was like, I’m just gonna start trying to make stuff ‘cause I really want to do my own board graphics. And I love punk rock imagery and zines. So I just started messing around, really conceptualizing a brand but for no reason other than for an art project for myself. I was like, maybe I’ll make T-shirts or something just to keep me busy ‘cause I’m getting older and I’m not always out skating all the time. And at this point I’m like 27 or 28. I just started messing around with doing Xerox crap. I wanted to make this punk rock meets vintage country look. I’d wanna do central lettering like all the punk rock records and stuff but I would want them to have a western font and shit like that.
I just started doing that and then I eventually moved down to work at Black Label (because I didn’t know the second rehype of my career was gonna happen). John Lucero saw what I was doing. He would just start having me make little pieces and bring them in and do board graphics. That’s how it all started. I just enjoyed doing it. It was really relaxing to me to focus for hours on these intricate little things. From there it just kind of progressed. I’ve always wanted to be able to make something decent enough to hang on my wall or something. But with stencil work, I thought, “This isn’t even real or respectable.”
But then I came across this book. I had no idea what was going on with the whole world of stencil art, street art, anything. This is 2001 I think. I saw a bunch of dudes like Logan Hicks, Shepard Fairey. I had seen Obey stickers and stuff like that around but I hadn’t seen pieces. So that just changed my whole outlook. I was like, I wanna make shit like this. Now, I wanna push it. And then I just started doing it.
I was late in the game, really, when I started making paintings. I was, like, 30 years old.
Yeah, but that doesn’t mean much right? Some of the greatest geniuses didn’t find public success until they were, like, in their 50s. Like Cormac McCarthy…
Yeah, it was just one of those things like skateboarding. I became addicted, you know? I think I started to go down as a skater and was just about to have another child. Skateboarding turned into my job with pressure and everything, so then this was my outlet. I needed that sort of oulet to have some freedom. But of course I would go and try to turn that into a job [laughs].
I was gonna say, isn’t that becoming somewhat of a job now as well, because your repertoire is growing in art?
Well sure, and then for a while I focused on that and then skateboarding turned into my little outlet again. I would just go out and have absolutely no expectations, didn’t care, I might’ve rode for one little board company. But in the last couple years I’ve been trying to rebuild a bit of a veteran skateboarding career and an art career. I posted a photo on Instagram (I swore I’d never post a photo of myself) but I did it one day and I got 5 times the amount of Likes and I was like, “Oh, I guess people still wanna see me skate.”
Yeah they do!
I was like, “Dude, I’m done.” I’m like that old guy. No one wants to talk to me. They don’t wanna look me in the eye. That’s why I was like, alright, I’m done. And then I started getting a response. People want to see it so I’m like, well, I wanna do it. I wanna start putting it out there and maybe I can pull something off like Jeff Grosso or whoever. So that’s where I’m at now.
Yeah. I think you’re selling yourself short Jason, I mean there’s a whole –
Well, that’s what people are telling me but – it’s easy for someone to go, I respect what you do – it’s a total ‘nother story to sit down with someone and be like, “Yeah lets get a contract going [laughs]. Like no, no, no, no, no [laughs]. You’re a businessman. You know how that goes.
You got a point there. What is a typical day like for Jason Adams now?
It’s kind of random. It depends on what commitments I have. Get up and get the kids to school. I usually pick up my youngest daughter at 2 everyday so my days are limited when it comes to trying to be a skateboarder. But I try to get some sort of exercise every day, whether it’s a bike ride, whether it’s my exercise bike, whatever. Days are mostly art stuff. It fits with my lifestyle. And then I have a few days at night I go skate in the evening with my buddy J.J. Rogers. It’s pretty consistent but not totally consistent. I don’t have a normal job so it’s like, is there an art show? Is there these little commissions I’m doing? Is it board graphics? It just depends on what projects I have lined up. It’s pretty skateboarding and art. It sounds killer but I’m so fucking broke I’m just like always going, “God what am I doing with myself?”
But it’s amazing you’ve gotten this far without having a traditional job or a normal career/desk job.
Well, luckily my wife has a decent job – definitely not enough to support both of us – I gotta come up with half the shit. I just keep saying, “I should just go get a real job,” but then I’m going like, “You’ve come this far!” Then every time I’m about ready to throw in the towel, something cool will happen, something that kind of gives me a little bit of hope. Every time. Like, “Dude what’re you doing? What’re you doing!?” Looking at the bills and going, “Fuck, what’re you doing?!?” Then something will happen. Like Thomas Campbell will come visit me and he’ll be like, “Dude, I dig what you’re doing.” And I’ll just be like, “AHHH FUCK.”
Right. That would definitely influence your decision!
Yeah, so I just keep going and hope for the best. Trust me, I feel like a child a lot of the time because I am a married father of two and I’m not a total selfish asshole. I don’t know, I just keep going.
I know in your art you focus a lot on character studies or different subjects. How do you choose the individuals that you’re painting?
Well when it started, it was anything that would inspire me at the moment. I would just cut a stencil out of it. That simple. It’s not much different now, but I definitely have this thing that’s kind of like, decaying Americana. I’ve come to that point where I’ve learned my tools and now I’m starting to get comfortable into what I like to try and say or put out there. Not that I’m really trying to say anything. I’m definitely more of a feeling kind of person, not much of a talker. So there’s definitely a vibe I’m always going for, and then whatever image that I find at the time that fits in my mind I just roll with it.
But I’ve definitely been into kinda, the decaying Americana vibe.
Yeah I like that a lot.
That’s where I’m starting to really find comfort. To where I really don’t care about doing skateboard stuff. I think I’m just kinda finding the groove after all these years.
It seems like you’ve led 10 different lifetimes.
I think a lot of artists and skateboarders are like this. I never really look at what I’ve done. I look at what I haven’t done. Nothing’s ever good enough. It’s only finished because I have a deadline. But I think that’s probably the majority of people that start to get somewhat good at anything. You’re never satisfied.
I think all artists are like that. We’re all unhappy and never satisfied. The world’s never good enough. Isn’t that why we became artists? The world isn’t good enough so we think we can make it look better?
Or I can just find something I love and just kind of create a sort of comfort in my life. It’s more like that Bukowski quote: “Find something you love and let it kill you.”
Follow the legend on Instagram: instagram.com/kidadams