Post Perpetual Motion thoughts, cops being down with Matt Hensley and Brazil’s self-sustained skating scene. Walker Ryan is an open-minded individual who seemingly wants to live his life in every sense of the phrase. Find out for yourself, enjoy –
Interview by Stephen Cox and Graham Watson
Photos by Dave Chami
Let’s start off with the standard.
I was born in Santa Rosa, California. I grew up in St Helena until I was eighteen before I moved to San Diego. It was a small town in the Napa valley, about five thousand people, it was like a little village.
What was the skating scene like there?
The skating scene was pretty non-existent. Getting going, I would sometimes try and force my friends to learn to skate with me and there were a few older guys that I skated with rather infrequently until middle school and then we started getting a crew going. For the most part there wasn’t much of a skating scene. There was a little skatepark with a few regulars and wooden ramps that were falling apart. The good thing about growing up there was that it was really close to the Bay area. When I got my license I would just drive out to Oakland or San Francisco to go skate and get involved in the scene.
How do you rate San Francisco?
It’s the best city in the world. I love it. But I only got to live there for about ten months just last year. It was the city closest to where I grew up. I always felt like a bit of a tourist there.
Are you any closer to deciding where you are going to live? I understand you’re between places at the moment.
I’m no closer. I’m in New York right now with my girlfriend. She actually just decided that she will be moving to Switzerland for the summer so that will be even more of a reason to delay plus I’ll probably end up in Europe for a good portion of the summer which I’m really excited about. I don’t know what I’ll do, but until August or September I have so many trips lined up.
Having traveled between so many different cities and living in different cities in The States, what differences do you notice in the skating scenes?
You can skate in Oakland and have the best response from the people that you are skating around and then you can go to San Fransisco and then just have the worst experience from people. It all depends. I have a good time skating in New York. I think skating there you always run into people that are always supportive and are entertained by what you are doing. southern California is pretty much what you hear about it, you’re skating, getting kicked out. I think that has something to do with it being self-prevalent and it being so popular there other than anywhere else. It’s sort of ironic because you would think that with skateboarding having such a presence in the culture, there would be more acceptance. That’s one of the paradoxes I find. We got kicked out during filming for the Transworld video though, a cop showed up at the spot because he was called there by the security guard and it turned out he wanted to watch some footage we got. He told us about skaters he grew up skating with and getting Matt Hensley to skate his ramp when he was a kid. He was just psyched on meeting some skaters. He said anytime professional skaters had to be kicked out, he takes the call so he can just go and side with them. There’s that too, where there’s enough people that used to skate back in the day. But you can’t really generalize you know? There are differences when you go to a place like China where they have never even seen it before so they’re just trying to figure out what’s going on. I wouldn’t even call it acceptance as much as I would curiosity: “what the hell are they doing?
I had a look on your Instagram and saw that you’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird.
Is it the first time you have read it?
No I read it in high school. I’m in this phase where I’m going back to a lot of classics that I had to read in school because I don’t really remember them or maybe didn’t appreciate them at the time. I think I read it in the twelfth grade.
How important is education to you?
I grew up in family that placed a very high value in education. It was at a certain early age that there wasn’t really any question when it came to going to college, it’s just something that you have got to do. I just think that a college education at this point is just the basic. Generations ago it’s the equivalent to a high school diploma. It’s the necessary step in finding out what you’re going to do with your life
Is it something that can be neglected by professional skaters?
I don’t know. It’s tough because I feel there are several industries where it’s not something that is really…I don’t want to say necessary but I just understand from the perspective of a skater who gets the chance at a young age, factoring in a college education is really difficult. It becomes neglected but the process just sort of becomes something that is impossible to accomplish. Some of these kids, they get going at sixteen. They’re going on a world tour and I understand both sides. I value education, I think anyone who is given the opportunity should take it but there are also plenty people who go out there in the world and they have their passion that’s driving them and have applied their minds to something that is positive for them. College isn’t for everybody. For people working in skateboarding it isn’t necessarily the same.
Let’s talk about Perpetual Motion. How did the whole process begin?
It was started with a text message from Chris Thiessen who asked me if I would be available. He got the job with Jon Holland for the video. I don’t know the exact details of how they picked the line up but they asked me and there was no question.
How did you feel about getting first part?
It’s a huge honor. First part is incredible. It really just comes down to Jon and Chris, it wasn’t clear how the lineup was going to work out. Everyone was working so hard and everyone was doing such good stuff. I feel like a lot factors in: music choice, skating tricks, standing out from the different skaters but I really liked the way they lined it up. It’s cool because it’s one thing Jon and Chris kept a secret throughout the whole filming and editing process. There was no mention beforehand. You just have to wait until the premiere.
What’s your personal favorite Transworld video?
I think about this a lot. I feel like I have to answer that in categories of who Jon Holland worked with. Sight Unseen is probably my all time favorite but The Reason at the time that I watched it I think was the most influential. It was probably the first one I watched. The videos that Jon did with Jason Hernandez were so sick. I watched First Love from start to finish the other day. It’s incredible. But it’s because of the times that I watched them; what I liked as a kid or I liked as a peer, as a coming of age older skater. It’s hard to pick. Then there’s Modus. I love Modus. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on. It’s like asking someone who their favorite skater is.
Who is your favorite skater?
You mixed up your skating really well. I remember reading about the frustrations you have post filming in terms of what you could have done better. Are you pleased this time around?
I don’t know. I think I am. You’re never really pleased. My initial reaction was being super hyped and I was so nervous. Then you watch it a couple of times and notice this or that. Just tricks I should have done. Something I’m psyched about: the switch bigspin down the gap. It was kind of gross the way I did it, my hands touched and I was super bummed. After I got the one I landed I tried for another hour and a half until I was dead and couldn’t walk. It was always in my mind that I had to go back to that but I saw on Instagram yesterday that they made that spot totally unskateable [laughs]. So that kind of put my mind at ease. I’m able to get that one off my chest. But it’s cool because I’m already working on another one.
What are you working on?
On Sunday I’m going to go out to China for a month. I’m going to meet up with Patrick Wallner and we’re going to work on a video for my shoe that’s coming out. It could be a commercial but I’m hoping to make a whole other video part. I’ll be meeting up with him in Europe over the summer too.
I saw how much effort went into the switch 360 flip in terms of the photo with Dave Chami. Does this happen more often than we would think?
That was something that Dave Chami really wanted to accomplish. It was his first time doing it so he was really trying to make that work. It was an experimental thing. I think it does happen more than you would think. Working with Chami, he always has these really weird ideas that are great. You end up going back a lot of the time even if you have landed it. The tricks I’m happiest with are the spontaneous ones.
Are you the sort of person who would go online and get some feedback about your skating?
No I never think to do that. I think it’s cool though; the comment feeds, what people are saying. It’s not something I would think of doing. I would probably rather just not know. It’s cool if you stumble upon it. I think the positive or negative feedback is cool online.
There’s the temporary team that goes on with Transworld videos as well.
I love it from a fan perspective viewing all these guys skate together. I never had chance to go on a trip with Silas. This particular video was great because a lot of us were already friends. Josh and I are super comfortable with each other, Tom and I have known each other for years because we did the Shuffl video together. Jimmy and I both come from San Diego. Julien I’d never actually gone on a skate trip with. It just felt natural right away. Even though a lot of videos are put out by companies where the majority of a team’s time is spent with the same group, in my experience I haven’t filmed as part of a team project. I’m always with random people all the time. It didn’t feel too different for me because that’s my program anyway.
Traveling is a big passion of yours. Perfect trip: who would be involved and where would you go?
One thing that I wish was still an option for skaters that I used to see from the 411 videos back in the day was the Euro contest circuit. It seemed the coolest thing. You have all these skaters coming out from the US to Europe for a month and a half period and everyone is going to different contests in Europe by train. The feeling of being in a new country that you have never been to before with all of your friends and they’re all there on their own program, I just think is the coolest. It’s not even about the contests; it’s about getting everyone in the same place at the same time, knowing you’re going to see them a few days later. As a skate trip on my own, I would love to go all around South America. That’s on my list, with a bunch of people that are open-minded.
Does the passion result in you following other skate cultures after leaving the place you have been to?
When I was seventeen I went on a trip with my friends Kyle and David. We went to Thailand for ten days and ever since then I have kept in relatively close contact with the people that I met. I follow their scene and feel that it’s opened up the opportunity to go back to Thailand so many times. That’s just an example of how when I meet someone in another country, we’re friends for life. Either they are going to visit me or I’m going to go back out there.
What places have you been to that have brought the most surprises in terms of skateboarding?
I would say the Southeast Asia trip. India and Bangladesh. I imagined India as one of the more prospering nations. I know it is super impoverished. I just thought it would be closer to China in terms of development and that it would work for skateboarding, but I didn’t see that at all. It was really hard to find any good spots. There was no working around security guards. India was super hard. I thought Brazil as far as a skate culture was incredible. There wasn’t necessarily spots to skate and I don’t know if this is a fact but I heard that in Brazil skating is the second most popular “sport” next to soccer. That’s what everyone was saying when we were there and you can really see it. Everyone that skates there has a good understanding of it. You can see it because of the surfing culture there. Skateboarding infects the whole country because it’s pretty acceptable and Brazil is one of these countries that sort of said “we don’t need your American companies, we’re just going to start all our own.” They have their own magazines, their own shoes companies, and their own board companies. There’s just a vibrant scene. A lot of the Brazilian skaters make careers in the US because that’s the place to go, but they can sustain themselves.
In what ways do you keep up with what’s going on in skateboarding and how important is it for you to do so?
I’m a super nerd. I check all the websites every single day and it’s pretty addictive because I’m rather obsessed with skating and seeing what’s going on. I’m hooked. It’s good and bad because it kills the purity of going skating. Going to Hellaclips can be the most depressing thing ever. In one day there are forty videos that come out and it makes you feel sort of insignificant as a pro. At the same time, there are videos that come out that are super inspiring where you see kids do things that have never been done before. Or a videographer making something that is just unbelievable. That pushes you more and it’s good to know what people are doing and that you’re not just copying everyone.
What about the frustration of someone having this idea that they’re copying someone when they’re actually not?
You can be innocent in that situation but some people are just going to think that isn’t true. You can’t really help it.
Let’s talk about the tricks you can’t do.
Oh man. There are so many I want to truly understand. The transition ones. I don’t think I have dedicated enough time to them to say that I’m learning them. I don’t focus enough on them but I should. There are so many flip tricks and slide tricks that I wish I did better and more frequently. I wish I was really determined to do balanced grind tricks on flatbars and handrails. That’s where I’m most limited. I don’t feel confident just going up to some ten stair.
I got the impression from your part that you’re quite tall.
How important is height do you think?
[Laughs] it’s the only activity where you wish you were shorter. I never thought that being short would be an advantage. You break boards more, it hurts more to hit the ground you can’t ninja bail out as easily. The majority of pro skaters seem to be around five-seven or five-nine. A lot of the best dudes are over six though.
I’m about six but I just got the impression you were a lot taller.
It’s those new HD cameras [laughs].
How has your setup changed over the years in terms of size?
I’ve become a total nut job when it comes to board size. I’m gong on this trip, I’m bringing a 7.9, an 8.06, three 8.1’s and three 8.5’s. I always ride fifty-millimeter wheels. I always change board size depending on what I’m skating. I’ll bring out two setups in case there’s some weird tech manual trick that I want to do. It will feel so easy if I drop down the eight inch. If there is something that I want to jump down, skating an eight-five just feels so comfortable, it feels like you’re on a boat [laughs]
How do you assess your own progression?
Oh man. Stair count when it comes to stairs [laughs]. No I don’t feel that is progression though. I probably did the biggest switch flip when I was eighteen so that’s not really progress. It’s more bringing a trick to something new. Look at Torey Pudwill and Guy Mariano. They bring their tricks to something new. I don’t feel like I’ve done that so well. I want to bring new tricks to the table when it comes to technical skating. I try to progress in my own little ways, doing tricks at different spots. That’s hard one to answer.
Do you feel you are living comfortably?
I think about that a lot because we’re experiencing a shift in the pro skater generally being able to make a decent living and now there are very few skaters who can make a ridiculous living. When you break it down a lot of people aren’t making very much. I haven’t really been around long enough to see that shit form the inside. I don’t know what my perception was when I was younger either. I don’t think I ever really had a gauge on that. I was too obsessed with what tricks people were doing. Skating is so young and hasn’t even been around that long but there’s a shift and I hope it comes back around so that pro skaters aren’t left out without income. But it tends to happen. I hope there are ways for skaters to retire and make a living, even get it unionized [laughs].
Should skaters get health insurance?
Hell yeah. Definitely. The companies should have their backs.
Let’s finish up with a quote.
“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you aren’t doing anything very innovative.” – Woody Allen
Special thanks – Oliver Barton, Dave Chami, Graham Watson
Check out Walker Ryan’s blog where he likes to filter the over-saturation of clips down to a single video a day: Undersaturtion
Follow Walker Ryan on Twitter: @WalkerCRyan
Follow Walker Ryan on Instagram: @WalkerRyan
Follow Stephen Cox on Twitter: @stephen_coxy