With last night went James Lindsay, aka Jamer; one of the greatest, most naturally gifted skateboarders and artists of his generation in British Columbia.
We first met while at a summer party on Willows Beach at some point in the mid-80’s. We were both 13 or 14 years old and part of a crew of about 10 to 15 kids who were more interested in skateboarding than anything else. Jamer was the wildest among us, and the most talented by far. I can still vividly remember his skateboard being an absolute piece of chipped up, water-logged shit (he was nicknamed “Jamer” because the graphic on the bottom of it said “Jammer”), but of course it didn’t matter. He could have been riding a donkey and his style still would have eclipsed ours. He was one of a kind in that respect.
For the rest of my adolescence (and a few years beyond), I would spend most of my waking hours with him and the likes of Dave Knight, Jason Greenwood, Rennie Foster, Hanz Fear, Clay Rivard, Jake Warren, Judah Oakes, Mike Freestyle, my brother Alex, and the rest of the town’s original crop of skaters. If any group was to blame for making skateboarding a crime in Victoria, it was us, with Jamer in the lead. For him, mischief was more a way of life than a collection of misdemeanours, and with it he became legend.
It’s doubtful that any teenager has ever been more universally (if pettily) loathed by the Victoria Police Department before or since, and therefore more responsible for getting the city’s first skatepark (Vic West) built. And he ripped it like no other, tearing clean lines across its smooth concrete with a beautiful effortlessness that made everyone stop and watch…
It was all play and resourcefulness with Jamer, even at the worst of times and there were some terrible times). Though I have a hundred stories about him, my favourite reminds me of how good he was at making the best of a bad situation. In the summer of 1989 (when we were 17 years old), he and I ran away to Vancouver for a few days with Hanz Fear, sleeping in a tent across the river from the North Shore’s ancient skatepark (Seylynn Bowl). It was a big deal for us, a real adventure at the time.
On the drive out to Swartz Bay, Jamer revealed that he didn’t have any money for gas, food, or the ferry. He decied to hide in the trunk of my ’73 Dodge Dart so as to avoid the fare. While on board the Queen of Whatever, Hanz and I stayed below to split a banana in the car, while Jamer went upstairs to smoke. He snuck into the buffet instead, coming down a short while later with bread rolls stuffed in his pants (and not a few sausages), which he kindly shared.
He had an awful case of rot gut when we finally made it to the bowl (which was like arriving at Shangri-La to us), and he was farting, puking and projectile pooping so much that – great friends though we were – Hanz and I abandoned him outside the tent and went skating all day.
When we came back to our makeshift camp at sunset, we found him feeling better and determined that we should all go back and skate before the light failed completely. But it was already pitch dark when we arrived across the river, and we could barely make out the lines of the transitions. Sensing our disappointment at the waste of time but not wallowing in his own, Jamer raided a couple of nearby newspaper boxes, returning with 50+ copies of the North Shore News (sorry Deana). He crumpled these up in the flat spots and hip tops until there were a dozen or so piles going down the snake run and into the bowl. Hanz and I watched as he loped up from the bowl, stooping to light each one on fire as he went. “Let’s go!” he said, the park before us now alight with flame. And so we went, cruising fast over the hips in a blurry chain of three, carving around the bowl tight and then pumping up over the embers of the quickly dying fires until we got to the top again leaving several clouds of smoke and countless paper cinders in our wake. The fires were out, but we’d gotten the run in, and Jamer was the happiest I would ever see him. The next morning, all the local skaters were understandably super pissed at all the debris and scorch marks in their prized park. “Whoever did this is a fucking dead man,” they said. “Totally,” Jamer deadpanned back with that face of his, holding it for a second while Hanz and I “tried to hold” (as the expression went) and not burst out laughing. By far and large, it was the most exhilarating 20 seconds of my life. I still look back on it more fondly than I do of any memory of skateboarding, with the darkness lit by fire and the sound of the river over our wheels still spinning as we walked back to the bridge. I had left beers sitting in the cold water of the river by our camp, and I was very glad to share them.
But Jamer was much more than just a skateboarder. He was also a gifted artist, as well known in Vancouver as he was in Victoria. It is through his art that I think most people will remember him, and remember him they will. While the old school will always think of him as the first to boardslide the handrails at the Library and the guy who could bust the hugest, most jaw-dropping frontside tucked-knee airs, many of his other, more recent friends have the greater fortune of being able to permanently remember him through the ink that he tattooed under their flesh. From paper to canvas and wall to skin, Jamer’s artistic abilities came as naturally as backside tailslides.
He also had a wicked sense of humour fronted by an infectious smile. It would be impossible to be in a room with him and not want to share in whatever secret was making his eyes go so wide. His laugh was one of his best qualities, right up there with his rare sincerity as a listener (every girl who was lucky enough to count him as a friend will happily attest to that). Truly, I can’t compare him to anyone else I’ve ever known. It’s as if he was conjured by Charles Dickens, like a modern day stand-in for the “Artful Dodger” in Oliver Twist:
He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment–and would have done so, very often, if the wearer had not had a knack of every now and then giving his head a sudden twitch, which brought it back to its old place again […] He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six.
That was Jamer – if a little taller, and a friend to all. If his Facebook account is any measure (it has been flooded today with condolences), he had thousands of friends.
For my part, I lost track of him after I went away to University. I’d heard that he was having trouble battling drug addiction. It was around that time that Hanz took his own life, which was as tragic a loss as the one today. I think he righted himself as 2000 approached, swearing off all the drugs, save nicotine (he still owes me about 10000 smokes). I’ve heard tell that he helped others with their addictions, too, which I don’t doubt on account of his incredibly generous nature. A chance meeting on Bloor St. in Toronto during the winter of 2002 found him happy and seemingly clean. I couldn’t linger long, as the birth of my first son was a week overdue, and I was hurrying home from some shopping. “Good luck, asshole! Make sure you call him James,” he called after me as I trudged westward in the snow. The next morning, James Morrison was born.
Busy with family and living in another city, I didn’t stay in touch with him after that except through the internet. I was very relieved to see him doing so well. Whenever I was in Victoria, I made sure to pop by Sailor Jerry’s on Government St. where he’d become even more of a local legend as a tattoo artist. We’d share a smoke outside and talk about old times. The last time I saw him was 11 months ago on Main St. at Antisocial, where he was putting on an art show. He looked well and pleased with himself (which seemed always to be the case in public situations), and as my wife and I finally made to leave, he gave me a big hug and pinched my ass. It was as good a final parting as I could have hoped for.
From what I’ve pieced together from old friends today (some of whom I hadn’t spoken to in years), Jamer went off everyone’s radar shortly before Christmas. He was found last night, his addiction having caught up and overtaken him. This morning was a rush of emotion. It’s hard to believe that someone so talented, so endowed with natural grace, is gone. It’s still too soon to think of Victoria without Hanz Fear, let alone Jamer. It’s as if a whole section of the city has fallen into the sea with a resounding crash, and it’s all I can do not to yell at the noise: “Not you, too!”
My condolences to his family and his home town. I can’t imagine either ever being the same again.