Like Hells Angels on Skateboards
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because chaos is a lot more than just a theory.
By Eugene S. Robinson
The hills in the Berkeley Hills of Berkeley, California, when not aflame with devastating brush fires, are monsters: hard to walk up, sometimes hard to walk down. So when you hear screams and hard-core music and someone with a Mohawk waves you out of the way right before a string of vest-wearing skateboarders bombs by, totally absent spotters at the stop signs they’re blasting through, you’d not be wrong in wondering WTF?
TF: JAK’S Team.
Tommy Tatonga, Tony Alva — the guy who is to skating what Johnny Rotten was to punk rock — and a handful of other associates skated with or near JAK’S Team, the cats with the denim vests emblazoned with an eyeball logo with a musical note, the legend “Absolute Music” and a 43 percent scribble. The 43 percent denoting lots of stuff numerically speaking but mostly how much energy and attention they give non-skate-related stuff.
Coleman is 67 and still going and he’s all about the now. Or the right now. That, and extreme speed.
“Even when it first started as something surfers did when they were bored, skateboarding was full of ‘fuck-shit-up’ guys, numerous hell spawn of skate street urchins summarily bequeathed with scrabbled denim vests proclaiming ’80s malt liquor and/or law enforcement patches,” says Matt Etheridge, drummer for the once and future skatecore band the Drunk Injuns and former Thrasher photog, as near as you’re going to get to a skate bible. “So the pirates prevail. Not that big of a surprise, I guess.”
Not now, and probably not back in 1979, up in Petaluma, where they started, according to team member Bruce Felchington, from a long line of felching Felchingtons, under the watchful, hell-raising eyes of Jon Marsh (the original JAK, now RIP), Kevin O’Connor, Biff Warden and another guy “who almost immediately drifted away.” To become a member you have to be petitioned by members of your local chapter, get other people to sign on, literally, as members and do a bunch of initiation stuff.
“At first I wasn’t into it,” says Dave Chavez, bass player extraordinaire for such bands as Verbal Abuse and seminal skateband Code of Honor. “It wasn’t even clear that they were very into skating. Lots of drugs and drinking. But later, they got real good at finding great spots to skate. Weird spots.” And with the appearance of Cliff Coleman, a sort of Dude for JAK’S, the whole philosophy changed. It became downright metaphysical. “Coleman is 67 and still going and he’s all about the now. Or the right now. That, and extreme speed,” says Chavez.
With current worldwide membership running at about 200 and the club’s charter as random as random could be — there are gay JAK’S, drunken JAK’S, sober JAK’s — there is at least one rule. Echoing the Hells Angels’ credo of “no drug burns,” JAK’S Team requires those flying the flag to “be honest.” Well, that, and you have to skate. Which leaves a lot of leeway, since you could just be lots of things that piss people off.
“I remember them being pretty obnoxious and shitty,” says skater, musician and studio owner Monte Vallier. “Especially to women. There were a few guys that I truly hated and they colored the whole team negatively; they’d come to parties and ruin the vibe and we’d leave when they showed up anywhere.” There was also an anti-JAK’S team called JERK’S Team whose members couldn’t really skate and which existed for one reason only: to make JAK’S miserable. Because why the hell not?
Music and partying hard and skating the kind of skating — 50 miles per hour down the Berkeley Hills, around blind corners, for example — that’d make BASE jumpers go “damn.”
“We’re a weird little group,” says Brandon Jak Cruz, who’s noteworthy not only for being a JAK since 1985 but also for his time in a variety of punk bands of some repute, as well as for starring in the hit TV series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. JAK’S could boast of a partnered woman’s skate team called the Deadly Sparks and had “den moms” with names like Spike or Shalom, snapping whips when whips needed to be snapped. “We like women,” says Cruz.
And music and partying hard and skating the kind of skating — 50 miles per hour down the Berkeley Hills, around blind corners, for example — that’d make BASE jumpers go “damn.” A high-risk lifestyle that you think would have claimed more lives until you note that member Bill Halen is a professor, Tom Scott works for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, Pat Black and the aforementioned Tony Alva are pro skaters, Boom King works at Lennon Rehearsal Studios with JAK’S known associate Jimmy Crucifix, and dozens of others are still around bike messengering, doing toy drives with bike messengers and generally “wrecking shit.”
“If someone is totally down for what they’re totally down for and it’s not some canned, controlled, bullshit version of normal?” asks Sam McBride, tattoo shop owner and singer for punk notables Fang, whose book of crazy could fill shelves. “Who could hate that? But you’re either a skater or a fucking mark. JAKS for life!”