When you spend most of your time living on the road, traveling the world, you're guaranteed to pick up some insights into different cultures, skate communities and the inner workings of the world as a whole, not to mention stacking a healthy amount footage along the way. We caught up with Walker Ryan to hear about his current worldly travels, conspiracy theories, his new Thunder video part, and why sneaking onto an island with a board in your backpack is sometimes necessary to get the trick.
So, Nate filled me in a little bit about how you go the trick for your Thunder ad, it sounded like quite the mission. What’s the story on it?
So, the story is that for the last year or so I've been scoping that spot from Manhattan. It's on Roosevelt Island in between Manhattan and Queens and the bank is so massive you can see it from miles away. A few people have skated it but it's a super quick bust. The spot you hit sits directly in front of the security booth, so no matter what you only get a few tries skating it before they obstruct your path and kick you out. Also, they don’t let you walk in with skateboards so I had to hide my board in my backpack and wait for the filmers and photographer to be ready before I went for it. Frankie Spears rolled with me and we both got lucky and had enough time to get our tricks back to back. We were hyped when we rolled away!
That is so sick! It seems like these days you spend some time in New York and some time on the West Coast, but aren't anywhere for too long. What is your living/travel life like these days? Is there a home base? How do you keep it all straight?
For the last four years or so I've been pretty much living on the road without a real home of my own. I have my stuff in a storage shed in my mom's backyard and a few other belongings that I keep in my car. My girlfriend lives in New York so I try to make NYC my main home base when I can. I just keep saying yes to so many trips that getting my own place hasn't made any sense. In California I have many gracious friends who let me crash, along with my mom's house in Napa which is where I keep my mail going and where I leave my car if I'm going to be out of the country or in New York. But I'm planning to move to LA with my girlfriend in a few months, so I'm looking forward to that.
Everyone views skateboarding and life in general very differently around the world. Is there a particular culture you really admire and why? Would you ever want to move there?
There have only been a few countries I've visited where I really felt like I could live there. I've always found Thailand very appealing. They have a very warm, accepting culture that I feel is extremely unique. I’m in Japan right now and I feel like this country is one of the most trusting and safest societies I've ever experienced. There's this feeling like people just really aren’t trying to get one over on each other, and that's really refreshing. I could probably live in Copenhagen. Everything there just seems to just work. More than live and settle down, there are definitely a number of places I would like to spend three to six months really getting to know. Brazil, Cuba, Lebanon, Jordan, and Spain are my top five.
As someone who has spent a lot of their life traveling to various different countries to skate and witnessing the worldwide community it creates. Do you think skateboarding being in the Olympics will eventually start creating divisions/rivalries among countries & skaters or do you think Skateboarding will ignore the country allegiances for the most part?
If there's any rivalry, I expect it will all be for fun. Who knows what will happen in the decades to come, but I think that for the upcoming Olympics, any country-to-country rivalry will all be in a joking spirit. Skateboarders are one tribe, regardless of what country you come from and it will be fun to see which countries "do better" than others in skateboarding, but just like it is now, it's still just going to be about the individuals. But what will be cool for some of the international skateboarders will be the recognition they get as "Olympic Athletes" in their countries. Even in the USA the perception will change for the skaters who are in there. I'm curious to see how that will happen. But I was actually just talking about it with my friend Phil Zwijsen from Belgium, if he gets on the "Olympic Team," there will be a bunch of positive perks for him and the other skaters. It will be super interesting to see in four years which countries host the most competitive skateboarders. But no, I don’t think there will be any serious rivalry.
The past couple years in skating it's fairly common for super talented, respected pros like yourself and others to not have a board sponsor. Do you think it will continue and board sponsors won’t be as crucial as they once were or do you think it’s just a short stint we're currently in?
I still think it’s important to have a board sponsor and to have your name on the bottom of a skateboard. But now, versus five or ten years ago, I don’t think it’s vital to a pro career to have a board sponsor, and that’s probably going to stay the same for a while. Skateboarders now have their own platform through social media and the Internet to reach their fan base or audience, so their dependence on the old fashioned outlet for exposure is no longer as crucial. I think through the Internet, there’s a new DIY opportunity for skateboarders to market themselves. I think what will continue to happen is there will be more smaller board brands with two or three pro rider teams. Board brands will continue to become more individualized. I’m not sure how that will be sustained, but that’s my bet.
What do you think is the root of why it's happening? Any Theories?
I think the influx of small board brands has made it more difficult for traditionally bigger board brands to pay for big pro teams. There is only so much room on the skate shop walls, so the market is just a little over saturated. I don't think it’s a bad thing, it just changes the landscape. Not every pro wants to start their own company, so it becomes tricky figuring out who you want to ride for, where you fit in, etc.
Speaking of theories, can you explain the 'who pulled seven' tattoo you have?
I have "Who Pulled Seven?" tattoo'd on my ankle as a tribute to my late father and a reminder to myself to question things that we may be told that simply don't make logical sense. My father was very passionate about uncovering what really happened on 9/11, because there are countless holes in the story we are told to believe. "Who Pulled Seven?" refers to World Trade Center Building Seven which completely collapsed over seven hours after the two towers came down. No one was in the building, so no one was killed, and the destruction of the building was kind of swept under the rug and the explanation for it coming down was due to fire. The building was 47 stories tall and it’s the only steel skyscaper in history to collapse completely "due to a fire." We'll probably never know what happened or why, but there are things that happened on 9/11 that were definitely covered up. My tattoo is a reminder to myself to never stop questioning.
Are you generally into conspiracy theories or just that one? I personally love to hear them, any other good ones you've heard or lean towards?
My friends and I are pretty sure Apple makes their chargers white so they're easier to lose. Haha, I'm just kidding. Generally I'm not super into conspiracy theories. I find some very interesting, but I don't consume too much of my time looking into them. The pursuit of the conspiracy is a frustrating one. Most questions that spark conspiracy theories are so daunting and scary, unless you’re going to dedicate your life to uncovering them, you’re probably not going to get anything positive out of looking into them. Much of what happened on September 11th that doesn’t make sense will probably always remain a mystery. And for all the families that suffered loss from that tragedy, I think that is super sad. More than being into conspiracies, I just like to remain aware. Read, research, and always try to see both sides to an issue.
You just got welcomed to DVS, how'd that come about? Any other future plans you guys have in the works for the next year?
I’m super psyched to be welcomed to DVS! The brand has a long, awesome history in skateboarding and it’s great to be included in the company’s legacy. There's talk of a video, which I think would be good seeing as the team is almost completely revamped. We might be going to Dubai in the next couple of months to begin filming for it.
How long has Old Friends been going now? Have you enjoyed having your own brand? Is it harder or easier than you imagined?
So, October marks the one-year anniversary of the sale of our first hat! I've been really enjoying starting my own brand and working with one of my best friends in doing so. It’s been such great learning experience and it's been thrilling putting something out there that is fully my own. There are definitely some huge challenges that have come with growing. I've always worked for companies that produce hats and clothing and accessories, so now being on the other end I’m gaining a whole new perspective of what it takes to run a brand. It’s not easy, but it's a lot of fun.
Is it something you would want to do as a full time gig one day?
I would love to see Old Friends grow to become something Chris and I get to do as a full time gig. There are few dreams I have right now bigger than that! I would love to be able to hire my friends and support skateboarders who I think are rad. I hope to continue to collaborate and work with brands and people in skateboarding who I admire and respect. Ultimately of course, I'd love to be able to give back to some cause through our company, much like the Deluxe brands are able to do. I think it’s one of the coolest things a skateboarding brand can do.
As a skater who has a college degree, do you think you view skateboarding as a 'career' and its longevity differently than other pros that didn’t pursue higher education? Or do you think everyone who skates for a living is in a similar boat?
Going into professional skateboarding, I was completely aware that this is a short term gig. I'm super fortunate to have even made it to five years as a professional skateboarder! I'm so grateful to all the companies who’ve made this possible for me. I'd like to think having a college degree will help with the transition into the real world work force after I can’t make a living as a pro, but we'll see. It might not make a difference. Especially in the skateboarding industry, getting a job working in skateboarding usually comes from having a good social network and work experience more than having a college degree.
It seems like throughout your life you’ve always been compelled to create things. From local videos, zines, or writing articles for magazines. Have you always been that way or is it something skateboarding brought out in you?
I think being in the skateboarding world encourages creativity. You see so many skateboarders who pursue other interests and put things out there, be it photography, art, video or brands. Seeing skateboarding work out as a career has encouraged me to pursue creating other things. Skateboarding was the childhood experiment of turning a pipe dream into a reality. Seeing that through has made me want to continue trying to pursue other creative interests, inside and outside of skateboarding. But I also come from a pretty creative family. My grandmother is a novelist and pretty much everyone else in my family has some kind of creative hobby, whether it be writing, painting, or making things. Before I started skating I was obsessed with drawing. I've always loved writing and making videos, so I'll probably just always continue doing that alongside skateboarding.
Do you still have different Trucks for different types of skating? How do the set ups work?
I’ve mellowed out about rolling with different sized trucks. For a while I would skate with one 8.5 board with 149 trucks and a 8.1 board with 147’s. There was even a point where I had two of the exact same 8.5 set ups in my car and a couple 147 set ups, depending what I wanted to skate. I even went as small as 7.9 for getting really tech. But these days I just stick with the 147s and ride a 8.18 board. I'm meeting in the middle.
Any last thoughts?
This past year was definitely one where I wasn't sure how I’d be able to sustain a skateboarding career, so I want to thank everyone who has helped me keep the dream alive, especially DVS and Imperial Motion. I also really want to thank Deluxe for all the support during this period of sponsorship uncertainty. Everyone has been so great! I'm really excited to have this Thunder part come out! Thank you for everything!