In 1975, Jay Adams and his crew, the Z-Boys, breathed new life into a dying California pastime: skateboarding. They introduced radical, surf-inspired moves, a new style, and most important, a new attitude.
When pictures of the Z-Boys skating in empty swimming pools and in the graffiti covered wastelands of Venice started appearing in magazines worldwide, every kid with a rebellious bone in his/her body wanted to copy what they were doing. As skateboarding spread out of California and reached the farthest corners of the planet, a message travelled along with it: no matter where you live, go out and make the most out of your environment. If it’s dead, resurrect it. If it’s occupied, take it back. Make your presence felt.
In the late nineties, when my friends and I were teenagers, this message was still resounding loud and clear. Each year, at the end of the summer, we all took part to an event called Grafiskate. It was a celebration of all the things that meant the world to us at the time: music, skateboarding, inline skating, graffiti, and breakdancing. It may have been different in other parts of the world, but for us these elements were all connected to what we saw as street culture – which really just meant being outside, doing things, moving, creating, as opposed to sitting at home or simply hanging around, wasting time.
In those years we used to ride our skateboards with a folded piece of cardboard under our arm and a boom box in the other hand. Once we found a suitable spot we would lay the cardboard over the concrete – a smoother surface that allowed for more advanced breakdancing moves – and fire up the boom box. We would dance to break beats and funk and skate to Pennywise and NOFX and Wu-Tang Clan. When the cops came to chase us away we would simply pick up our stuff and move somewhere else.
Jay Adams was part of a group of people that sparked a revolution. It wasn’t just about skateboarding, it was about how to make the most out of your surroundings, wherever you lived, no matter how boring it was or how hard authority wanted to shut you down: with skills and imagination you could turn concrete into waves, turn a couple of benches into a skate park, a wall into a canvas, a piece of cardboard into a dance floor. And why not? What else was there to do? Summers where long and hot and all we wanted to do was to be outside. We stayed outside day and night, skating, dancing, listening to music.
Thanks to people like Jay Adams and their legacy, we never wanted to go home.
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