Walker Ryan will never stop skateboarding
Walker Ryan has seen a lot in his years of skateboarding. He has 25 years of experience under his belt, and it gives him quite the perspective on skating. We can all benefit from his knowledge, which he was nice enough to share with us in a lengthy interview. Not everybody who is experienced with something is necessarily good at talking about it. Have you ever heard one of those great athletes that have nothing to say when interviewed? Fortunately, Ryan isn’t like that at all. Here are some of Walker’s insights on skating, which feel particularly poignant during these uncertain times.
Hi Walker! New York is crazy now, isn’t it?!
Yeah, well it’s definitely the “epicenter” right now in the States. We just moved to the city in November, we’re living in Manhattan, and we left March 21st or 22nd. We’ve been staying at my wife Withney's mother’s house in Massachusetts. It’s a little island called Martha’s Vineyard.
It’s probably a good place to be at the minute, isn’t it? Just away from the city… and people.
Yeah, we’re in the middle of the woods, quite a contrast.
Nice! And are there places you can skate?
Yeah, there’s a really nice skatepark on the island which is lucky but at this time I just go down to the road where there’s a smooth patch.
That’s alright then! Right, so can you tell us a little about Old Friends and how it started?
Yeah, so I started Old Friends with a really good friend who I grew up with, Chris Collins. He’s an artist and came up with a little doodle and I thought it was awesome and thought we should put it on some hats. It was pretty much as simple as that! He also had an idea for a skate shop called Old Friends that he wanted to do but wasn’t in the mood to do it then, this was about 5 and a half years ago, so I suggested that we just turn it into a little company.
I’d been wanting to start something on my own, a hat company, ‘cause I’d lost my hat sponsor. What was funny was the hat sponsor had actually turned into a company that just manufactures for other brands. I think they weren’t doing as well as they wanted to like their own brand but they had a really good product, so they started making hats for basically all the main brands in skateboarding. Everyone, Thrasher, you name it, they make their hats.
I thought it would be a nice little experiment to start a company and yeah, we’ve definitely a sort of changed, as far as what sort of products we’re hoping to put out. I’d like to say that we’re definitely becoming more of a fitness brand which I’m psyched about because I think it’s much more interesting than hats and apparel. As of this year, we’re going to start launching a Patreon account that’s gonna have instructional physical therapy videos and podcasts. So yeah we’ve definitely changed over the last five years since we started. But we’re still making hats and we’re still making shirts! it’s a fun progression!
When was skateboarding introduced into your life?
Skateboarding was probably first introduced into my life via the Ninja Turtles when I was five, but it wasn’t really something I tried to do until I was six. My friend’s older brother had a board and my friend Ely and I would steal it and play with it. It was really my seventh birthday when I got my first skateboard and when it properly became part of my life. So introduced around five or six but from seven onwards it’s been an all-out addiction, obsession, you name it!
Awesome! So have you ever had periods in your life where you’ve not skated or had you just always skated?
I’ve always skated! Yeah, actually that’s a good question ‘cause I received my first board for my seventh birthday, so that was April, and at the time my father was part of a joint venture winery in Georgia. We would go to Tbilisi in the summer and that year I left my skateboard with the local kids. It was a weird time, it was the early 90s, and Tbilisi was kind of sketchy and very depressed. I shared my board with the whole apartment complex of Georgian kids. So yeah I just left it with them, then I don’t think I had another one for a few months. That’s weird to think about ‘cause it was this gap of time and I wonder how I was able to deal with that ‘cause I was so obsessed with skating that whole summer and then it was probably like Christmas that I got a new one! So yeah there was a slight gap but other than that, no I’ve always skated apart from when I’ve been injured.
The worst injury I’ve had was a bad ankle sprain. I tore my meniscus which took me out for like a month and a half, but even though it’s a knee injury that recovery was pretty quick. After surgery, I was working two days later and started rolling around like a month and a half later so that really wasn’t that long but it was the ankle that took me out for like two months! So in 25 years of skating I’ve been pretty lucky!
That’s crazy! You haven’t broken anything!?
Well, I broke my wrist but you put in a hard cast and then you’re skating again! So just a lot of minor injuries.
Wow, you really are lucky! Sprained ankles are the worst, rolling the ankle hurts so much!
Yeah, they really are the common plague of the skateboarder!
So is there anything skateboarding gives you that nothing else can?
Um, I’m a pretty lazy exerciser (laughs), so I feel like it really just gives me that nice sweat, not necessarily a cardio workout but it’s some kind of workout. I just don’t know if it wasn't for skateboarding if I would exercise (laughs). I probably would, but it’s all I’ve ever really used for exercise so I feel like that’s one.
Then it definitely gives me a way to make a daily goal for myself, every time I go out, work hard for it, maybe get it, maybe don’t, but hopefully do! So it’s that sense of goal. I also don’t think I would have the community or the friend network that I do if it wasn’t for skating. As I’m sure you know, it brings together all sorts of different people that I probably wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to.
I like the sense of goal, that’s a good answer! You’ve been skating for 25 years, I’m sure the world of skateboarding has changed since you started, are there any ways primarily that you see it’s changed?
Do you mean the industry?
I guess with the rise of social media, I mean, when you started skating 25 years ago, there wasn't Instagram, there wasn’t YouTube. The only way you’d know a famous skater was if they were on TV. So I don't know if you've seen it change in that way?
eah, I mean I'd say there are several different ways it's changed. There are fewer gatekeepers because of social media and there’s more access to watching skateboarding, obviously. What that's done is exponentially increased the progression of skateboarding. When I started the only access you had to watch skateboarding was through VHS tapes and, later, DVDs and that's when you saw pros and the best skateboarders in the world, doing what they do. Today you can see the best skateboarders in the world doing what they did that day and you can set that as the new norm and go out and do it as well. So it’s kind of changed how progression happens and it's sped it up rapidly.
From my own experience with “working in the industry” for the last 10 to 12 years, I think a lot has changed for what the potential longevity of a career is. It's much shorter now, on one hand, you can maintain your influence through social media but it's also opened the floodgates for so much talent. So it's much harder to get in, where you can make money from skateboarding and then remain. I'm glad to see that big shoe brands are embracing women skateboarding more and setting aside a budget for it and making it a priority, I think that's something that's really changed. There were always women who skated and popped up in videos but they were few and far between, just sort of a novelty! Now it's becoming much more of a norm which is awesome to see.
I also think as an industry it’s judged as a free-for-all and we always called it like a ‘cowboy industry’ where everyone’s just kinda out for themselves and everyone gets what they can when they can and brands and companies don’t really care about the people they’re sponsoring and I feel like that has not evolved and that’s just the reality of it. That’s just the nature of the game and I don’t think there’s any protection for the athletes, there’s not any sort of help or union.
I mean sponsored skaters are just basically models trying to get in where they can. I don’t know, it’s changed and it hasn’t. There’s been a lot of progress in what skaters can do on their skateboards in that sense and progress as far as bringing in more diversity in who the sponsored skaters are but it’s still a shit-show in my opinion! (laughs)
Nicely put! So do you ever think about what you would do once you’re done with skating if you ever decide that you want to be done with it or do you think that you’ll just keep skating until you physically can’t?
I don’t think it would be possible for me to just hang up the skateboard and never use it if I’m physically able. It’s not something I’ve ever thought about. As I said, it’s an addiction and an obsession and I don’t think I’ll hang it up. But do you mean as far as the industry I’m working in is concerned?
No, just skating in general.
Oh no, I’ll always skate, there’s just something about the feeling of rolling around. If it’s just a typical day and I’m not sick or hurt and the Sun is out, I’m gonna go somewhere and push around. Even if I can’t kickflip or whatever for some reason, I’ll still wanna figure out some way to go out and roll.
Awesome. So where’s your favorite place to skate in the world?
I would probably say New York City. It’s not necessarily the best for skate spots, for that I would probably say China, Chinese cities, Barcelona, or somewhere that’s kind of accidentally built skateparks everywhere. But I like skateboarding in New York the most ‘cause you can just push around and see people. There are so much eye contact and interaction with people. The satisfaction of filming something in New York City is really high. If you get something and you’re happy with it when you’re filming for a video, it’s just the best.
So with your filming, you post a lot of your skate videos on Instagram, is that just a practical matter of self-promotion or is creatively fulfilling in its own way?
Yeah I mean I think there’s something very creatively fulfilling with posting videos on social media. Now there’s IGTV so you can post longer videos but I like the idea of a minute-long video, what can you do with it? How can you make a song fit in the minute timeline and pack a bunch of skating in it? I’ve always loved the process of filming video parts. It’s grueling, but it’s very rewarding and usually takes like a year.
But with Instagram, you can make a video part in a day at a skatepark with music. So in that sense, it’s very fulfilling, but I definitely use it for self-promotion there are actually paid partnerships you can do now so that’s like a very straightforward exchange. You’re hoping to stay relevant even though it’s very much showing off, kinda, when you’re posting videos of yourself skating, you want to make sure your followers are enjoying watching you skate.
For sure, and also I think inspiring other people to pick up a board and go outside, that must be a nice feeling knowing that you’re promoting something that’s healthy in a way?
Yeah, you’re promoting something that’s healthy and sooo accessible now that you’re able to just film yourself with a phone. You can set it up and film yourself accomplishing something. There’s a lot to that and it’s really relatable. Whenever you’re watching your favorite pro do some crazy fantastic trick, they’re doing it in a way that you could do it if you’re just getting started. Even at a beginning stage of skateboarding you can still kind of mimic that and there’s something really special to that.
That’s lovely. So apart from obviously skating and Old Friends, do you have any other passions at the moment or other things you’re involved in?
Part of my obsession with skateboarding has to do with making videos, so that’s always been a passion of mine. I really like that process, whether it’s editing, filming it, being the subject, acting and contributing, I really like that. I also really like to write, I’ve written a little novel that takes place in the skating world that I’m hoping to put out in the next couple of months. I like fiction writing and if not fiction, kind of essay forms. I like to put together stories from travels I’ve had through skateboarding. I like writing about skateboarding and skateboarders.
Ahh nice, and do you have anything published we could take a look at?
I have some on my website from articles that were in magazines that I’ve made readable online.
Awesome! So one final question. How would you sum up the ethos of skating in one sentence?
Hmm, the ethos of skateboarding…
What I’ve realized from this quarantine is that skateboarding is best done with friends and I really think that is what’s so vital. Thinking about my own life as a skateboarder, anytime I’ve progressed it’s been in the company of people I’m skating with. In the last month, I’ve just been skating alone, I just feel like that’s less interesting to me which is weird because I think of myself as someone who likes to skate by himself but I guess I really don’t! I don’t really know if that’s the ‘ethos’ of skating but yeah…
Nah that’s a really great answer man, I 100% agree with you there! I progress much quicker with people and especially with people who are better than me, that drives me to realize I can achieve more than I currently am.
Exactly, and that’s what you need! You need someone around who’s always pushing you and the beauty of skateboarding is that ‘better’ is such a subjective word. Everyone’s always ‘better’ than someone else at something else. There’s no one wholly better than someone else. That’s why it works so well. Community-based activity. It’s different than a sport. I could have 20 years on you as a skateboarder but you might be able to do a trick that’s hard or something I’ve never learned and I could get that push from you, you know?
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