Walker Ryan's Last Pro Interview?
Walker Ryan’s been around. You know him. He went pro for Organika over a decade ago and since then he’s burned the candle at both ends, traveling the world, filming parts, starting a physical therapy podcast and recently writing novels. I thought this deep into his career it would be all Greek vacations and summer sojourns in “The Med,” as I affectionately heard him call it. Being pro without a solid shoe contract requires a lot of hustle and shit ton of grit, hence the nonstop output. On the heels of his career-topping Textures part, I called up my old friend to see if this is the end of the road, what are his fitness secrets and what the hell is in these books.
From the Mediterranean to the big city, Walker triumphs in his heaviest part to date
Hey, thanks for doin’ this. I'm actually going to start with skate shit, and we're going to end with book stuff. First off right, congratulations, dude! How long did the part take to make?
I'd say about two years. It was mostly compiled in 2021 and 2022 when I got on some sick sessions in New York and Italy with Patrik Wallner.
I noticed you opened it up with tourist women speaking Italian. How did the inception of the skit come about?
It was a lot of beer between me, Patrik Wallner and our wives in Greece. We were just thinking it would be so fun to film an entire edit that made it seem like our wives were filming us. Patrik is one of these people, who if you get an idea in his head, is going to see it through—no matter how silly. He needs to have a project to work on. The first time we went on vacation with our wives, he brought a few rolls of 16-millimeter film and was like, “Yo, what's the short film we're gonna make?” I thought he was joking. But then we sort of pitched a couple little plot ideas and then it became like a production trip. It was like, Okay, ladies, make sure you have the same outfits for continuity when we go to the beach. That was his thing. He was like, I never got to make a college film. So this was his chance. We made one where I pick up these hitchhikers who murder me. And then the next year, since we couldn't do like a full conceptualized edit, it was just the wives filming the skaters. It also made our vacation kind of stressful because we didn't get the opening shot where they're walking through the store until about an hour before our flights left out of Italy. It was a vacation, but we still had to get these shots. I’ve traveled all over the world with Patrik since 2010 with the VisualTraveling years. But we’re in our 30s now and have our wives. We still can’t not skate and have our little ideas, though. The last thing that we added was my cousins. They're the Italian girls added as a voiceover and we just thought, Let's just give this one added layer of silliness and have some dubbed Italian.
Were the subtitles real?
Yeah, that is what they were saying. I got in on writing the script and making sure my cousin Lucia translated it. Again, it’s something like turning a silly concept into sort of a serious production. Like, Oh my God, it's gotta be accurate. There's gonna be like five Italians who see this and will check it.
He's from Napa, but he's been known to toss a grasser Photo: Wallner
That's funny that your Italian cousin's name is Lucia. There's a very famous Lucia in pop culture from Sicily.
That’s another funny thing—as I was writing the script, I made it all about the Sicilian vases, which we'd learned about because we were just in Sicily. There’s different versions of the stories with them. One is a crazy story about this woman that was so in love with this guy, but he had a wife. So she cut his head off and put flowers in his skull, that way she’d have him forever. And then that week, White Lotus comes out and includes that as a little part of their story. But there's a timestamp in the intro. You can see that we shot ours in July 2022.
The filmmaker at work Photo: Wallner
You're not an old man, but you're also not a young man in this game. You’ve worked a long time; you’ve done incredible feats of academic and artistic rigor, but when you travel the world with your wife, you’re still making silly vids and skating. Is it time to grow up?
I know! That's what we ask ourselves all the time. She definitely grew up and she got the serious corporate job. I’m partly looking for it. I'm ready for it, though. She had kind of an alternative upbringing, in that she traveled constantly. She grew up on Martha's Vineyard and her mom would go down to the Caribbean to work on boats every winter. So it's kind of amazing that I got to marry somebody who is even more aggressive about making sure we travel than I am. She’s alright with just picking up and moving, so that’s been our M.O., just trying to work remote and going to different places. I probably would say I'm a little more keen to like settle down. But she's like, So where are we going next month? Our compromise is that she plans the beach and then squeezes in the city so I can find skating to do. She loves it, though.
Switch tré into the Courthouse, watch the credits to see the A-list audience Photo: Wallner
She's a good sport in that she’s willing to still be in your guys’ funny videos when she could be lounging on the beach. On social media, you show off some idyllic places and you’ll be just hanging by the Mediterranean on a Tuesday. Then on the flip side, you come back to a sixth-floor apartment while you film in New York. Why even come back? You could be a boat guy!
You can't have too much of one thing. We both love New York. We met in New York. Her work is based there, so there’s always a reason to be there. Don’t let the footage fool you. Some of those islands have a spot or two, but there's not much skating to be had on the average Greek island. I'm still 100 percent consumed by skateboarding in my head, and New York is the greatest skate city in the world.
Don't let it fool you... Photo: Wallner
Hard agree. You did a hell of a job here. At the most mature stage of your career, you’re jumping as good as ever. That mop-up job at Brick Nine is insane. The stairs ain’t paying what they used to, so why go through the pain?
I need the rush, dude. I need the rush of flying through the air, kicking your board out when you know you're not gonna land and then the tuck and roll. There's something empowering about being 34 years old and being able to jump comfortably down a nine stair for three hours. I don't know what it is. Even though most of the time it’s absolute misery when you're not rolling away, which I experienced with the final trick. It was hell. But before that, I never nollie big flipped a set before. So when that works out, it’s the best.
What was the first trick you got there?
I was with Spencer Hamilton and he big flipped over the eight rail the hard way. Then I did switch big flip down the nine. So it was a bigflip day. We’ve been skating since we were 18 or 19 and he’s still one of the most impressive skaters I’ve seen in person. So he gave me that push. Then I had been thinking about nollie frontside 360 kickflip down a set and that seemed perfect. Then it became, Now, I gotta put all these pieces together and eventually the switch 360 kickflip has to happen. So switch bigflip, nollie frontside 360 kickflip and then a year of going back for the switch backside 360 flip.
And you did the line with 180 then switch biggie.
That was towards the end. I can’t remember when. I wanted two minutes of footage there. I also did 180 then switch backside flip, but one day I met up at Labor with Carl Aikens and was talkin’ to him saying, “You’re back in the city. Have you been skating?” And he’s like, “Yeah, check this trick I got for Instagram.” And it was the same line. I was like, Ah, I was holdin’ that for my video part. But it’s all good. There are so many options at that spot, I just couldn’t fit them all in.
You didn’t wanna jump the Bryce Golder and Tyshawn gap? I think you did a great service by filming the ride up to show how sketchy it is.
I looked at that part of the spot every time I went back. There were rumors of him trying to tré flip it. I honestly thought they were unfounded. I was like, There's no way—kickflip, maybe. When it was confirmed, I was like, People are not going to know how scary this is. So I filmed it. I didn’t wanna make a whole post or anything to try to include myself in it. I just wanted to show it. It had nothin’ to do with me.
Well, it was good context.
Yeah, and I have a fear of heights. With skinny ledges, you can scrape and fall backside into the deathdrop.
A new appreciation for Joe Valdez
You did it on a one-footer in your part.
That was the worst. I've never had a really good slam in a part. So that was a bittersweet session, because it was literally at a ferry stop, and we had a short window to try to skate it. I wasn't able to get anything the first or second time. So I go back and do the line really easily. Then I think, Let’s clean it up. Next thing, I just took the most devastating fall. It looks like I got impaled, but it was just a really bad charlie horse in my leg muscle. It felt like my femur cracked. But afterward, I was hyped, like, Damn, I have a slam I can use in a part. Because normally I’m of those people who falls very safely. I somehow make hard falls look lame.
In terms of just straight rippage, and the place that you're at in your career, this is maybe the best, most interesting part that you've put out. But, you've also been kind of famously underwritten. So what is the hope here? Is it, I'm going to be skating good no matter, or is it to say, I've got gas in the tank and I'm in free agency?
We’re using “career” in heavy quotes. I currently make zero money from skateboarding brands. Ever since I lost the DVS deal, there hasn't even been significant money from sponsors. But it is not going to stop me from wanting to push myself as hard as I can. That's the funny thing about skating when it starts to become a—I hate to say this word—job.
Well, it’s labor you sell.
It’s labor, but it wasn’t when I was in high school and not getting paid. So it still feels like if I have an idea of something I can potentially do with my body, then I need to see that through. I need to see if it's possible. I want to make sure I don't lose these years of my life where I know I'm capable of doing something, just because I'm not calling it my career or job. I love it too much to not do it. I feel different ways about calling skating work, even to this day.
Bucket-list banger, switch back 360 flip to cap off a decade on the hunt
That mentality is what has led a lot of people to get ripped off.
And I do resent that about this industry. I see it all over the place. I'm not gonna disagree there, but I’m saying that if a company doesn't want to pay me to do it, then my pride isn't too stiff to just not do it. That’s the harsh reality of this weird industry. I’m gonna do it anyway. Pros are some of the first influencers. And there's always going to be someone who's just going to do it because they love it. But how are you going to tell me to not go try a switch backside 360 kickflip just because I'm not getting paid? I want to switch backside 360 flip before I die.
Oh, my God, that's perfect. I don't know if you feel this, but I think there's a certain liberation in your position—where you’re not relying on skating to pay for everything and you have a two-income household, so maybe you don’t have to just ride for anyone that will have you. You don't need to ride for something that doesn't contribute to your vision, maybe?
I wish I could say I was that comfortable to turn down little scraps, little checks here and there, but I'm not. And I've never been able to be that choosey in the last 15 years of being sponsored by companies. I've had to make hard decisions. I have to decide, This is probably better short term, not long term. But I need a little bit of money right now to keep calling this a skate career. I do like a model of a skate career where I make money or am supported by skateboarders but not necessarily skateboarding brands. I've kind of been able to scratch through the last couple of years doing that—selling books, selling subscriptions to the fitness content I create with Dr. Kyle Brown, but I do have to every now and then be like, Maybe I should take one of these paid post things because I'll get 1,000 bucks. Some of those things are pretty cringe. I don’t love the process, but it's kind of what you have to do in this weird hustle economy. I would much rather take free money and be able to just endorse a brand and go along with their marketing plan, but I haven't been blessed with those opportunities the last few years. I've just had to make it work. It's not ideal. So there is something a little liberating about being completely detached, but also completely isolating and horrible and it fucks with me and doesn’t make me feel good at all. So it’s a weird mixture. I would like to be financially secure enough to completely not have to worry about who I'm representing, what I'm wearing and all that stuff, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care. But back to putting out videos and clips on Instagram, our time with our legs is limited, so I’m just going to do it regardless.
The arc of the wallride mark is faint, but it bends towards 50-50 Photo: Becker
I think that's really beautiful. And we're seeing the generation before us give a reasonable expectation of what a body can take. Reynolds is ten years older than us, but shows if you cut out the drugs and eat some fruit and take care of your body, you can still jump in your 40s.
That's all it takes! But actually, that's what I've been trying to do with the Old Friends fitness stuff with Kyle, is just to help that information be available to prolong your skating. Jumping is what I love most about skating. It's not what I'm always going to love, but right now, and since I was 10 years old, it pretty much is. I think Reynolds for the record is kind of a freak of nature. There's something special about the way his legs take impact.
I think you’re right. He’s like a Michael Phelps but for skating.
His strength and his body configuration are just different. I think Miles Silvas is another like him. It’s just like, Whoa, there's just something perfect about the way you take impact. But if you’re not them, what does it take to do that? It turns out that just a basic regimen of strength training is pretty damn helpful. There’s a host of things you can do as well, and I don't think that information was really known to me when I was 22 or 23. But now, I’m 34 and I'm not like the fitness guy—I've never even been inside a gym. But I do enough to maintain and continue to do this.
I don't think it's unreasonable for you to expect that in ten years you could still ollie a nine stair pretty comfortably. So I actually just read a story about a pro skater that’s kind of figuring out some waning contracts and adult life. The premise of this new book Off Clark centers on a pro skater, Mo Khoury, who's kind of at a crossroads in his career and his personal life. He’s torn between the material reality of a waning skate career and struggling to evolve into a real-deal adult that’s also in love. How much of the book is Walker Ryan?
Yeah, with the new novel, one of the protagonists is an aging skater who's basically been told from this fictional shoe company, “Your shoe contract isn't going to be renewed, so you're gonna have to figure it out.” I made the character kind of a modern-day Kenny Reed meets like Wes Kremer—no social media and traveling constantly. That’s just to say he’s an anomaly. He's more aloof, and he's a little bit more free-spirited than I am, for sure. All those thoughts and takes on the skate industry, they're definitely coming from somewhere in my experience base or my peers’. That's what's been fun about these books is exploring those thoughts.
He's never been in a gym, but his noseblunts are jacked Photo: Shafer
If the CIA doesn't kill you, the skate companies might. You have a full breakdown of what a pro skater reasonably expects to make from each sponsor. That info is still pretty hard to come by.
You really think so?
I don’t see hard numbers often. So do you feel like part of branching out into novel writing is to pull back the curtain to show the conditions of a pro?
I could go out and write an exposé, but I think this a really fun way to explore and discuss some of those aspects. It just seems like a fun way to decompress or something. The question is: Is there an audience big enough who’s interested in these sorts of questions to get really heady with it in the book form? And I don't think there is. But I don't see a reason why I shouldn't just add little tidbits of stuff that I've picked up in ten years working in the skate industry. Anyway, my goal isn't to expose the industry, really. It’s just because it's a weird industry, and I think there's people out there who'd be interested to read about it.
You've developed a world in which this pro has a paranoid best-friend filmer. I’m sophisticated enough to know it’s not a direct analog, but I do know some filmers who got too deep into YouTube rabbit holes. What is that?
The filmer is not based on any filmers specifically. I feel like it's sort of the time that we live in. This is the funny thing with the books, people seeking and guessing who the characters are. And even Patrik reading it, he's like, Oh, is it about me? I have to say, No, dude, this is not you as a character at all. Don't even start reading it with that in mind, because then you'll be really disappointed. But, some of the stories were sparked through all of the trips I went on with Patrik. I got to meet all these people, so there's inspiration from those experiences. One goal with Off Clark was to draw out the traveling skate experiences that come about. We've never gotten into something quite as interesting as this book entails, but Michaël Mackrodt, who I’ve spent some time traveling with has a little bit. In Chicago, he was confronted by a CIA agent who suspected him of being more than just a traveling pro skater. He was really cool with me writing about it, and he gave me some really good notes when he read it. So that’s part of the initial jumping-off point for the plot. I just thought, What if that got way crazier?
I'm assuming that you know that the CIA has been responsible for undermining multiple democratic movements, whether in Iran or Chile, etc. To put it lightly, it's a pretty messy American institution. How did you feel about framing the CIA? Sometimes the image we had in our heads from growing up gets a little muddier when we look closer.
I have this inner conflict about Michi’s real-life experience with the CIA, because there's this mix of, Whoa, it's good to know they're looking into even someone who's definitely not a threat, just to cover security bases. But, I also think it’s an example of how far-reaching they can be. And their main operations exist outside of the United States, so that is an entirely different conversation to go into about what the US influence has been abroad. But I am not an expert in global diplomacy. I’m sure there’s been some overstepping and mistakes that have been made.
That’s a fine diplomatic answer! The other half of the book centers around the love interest in Chicago: Nina. After having trouble getting ahold of him, she has to track him down. The trouble is, she is a fine, good liberal that has taken her commitment to reduce her carbon footprint extremely seriously. So cars and planes are often off the table. Do you think about your footprint as a pro skater?
I was on a trip to Jordan around 2015 on a VisualTraveling trip. I hung out with this crew who had a nonprofit. One of them casually mentioned how one of their friends would love to be a part of it, but he's committed to never flying in an airplane again because of its CO2 emissions. It’s basically one of the worst things you can do on that front. But until that conversation, I had never considered that. I thought flying was great! I don't know why; it just wasn't even on my radar. And so I was like, Holy shit, what a giant hypocrite. I'm flying every month, all the time, but I’ll scowl at someone who owns a Hummer. That sort of opened up in my head a question of like, What's my deal? So I kind of wanted to explore the most extreme version of that through this character Nina. And also there's a certain amount of silliness to it.
Taking flight without the carbon footprint, Walker kickflips over a SoHo sidewalk Photo: Taketomo
I was immersed in the narrative. I thought you did a completely adequate job as a novelist in crafting the world and driving the plot from the inciting incident along with character developments. You did it all spot on. You're not a trained novelist. How did you learn how to structure a plot and to introduce things and to wrap them up 200 pages later? That’s not a natural skill.
How did you learn to frontside half-Cab flip a stair set?
By doing it a shit ton of times. But you haven’t done it that much! You haven’t written 100 short stories, as far as I know.
That's where I just think it's a lot to do with observing. I am not the most avid reader. I think I could read way more. But there was a moment in time when I decided I wanted to try to write fiction. And I feel like my experience of reading just changed, and my experience of watching movies switched. You're just sort of taking those mental notes of how things work and when they don't, or what you liked and what you don't like. It's the same way with watching skating. You watch 1,000 skate videos and there's certain tricks where you're like, Oh, how the fuck do you do that? Then also there’s two versions of practicing. First, I started a blog just to have something to write every day. That wasn’t really fiction, though. Then the process of writing fiction for me was really just in my head, working on a story. Like for an hour before I go to bed, or for an hour when I'm driving or when there's any downtime, that’s all happening when you're just in your head. I'm not physically cranking out a novel A to B. That’s sort of the tweaking around with foot placement and throwing a trick off a stair set just to see how it feels in the air. So with the book, it takes years, because I only get small windows of actually writing it. I'm just thinking about it constantly, though. And it helps mentally, too. If I'm just left alone with my thoughts, I'm just gonna go crazy and hate myself. But if I can just sort of think about this fictional story that needs work, and that is actually something I can resolve, change and figure out, then I can go to sleep easier. I think of it like video parts, where in my first parts I got a sense of tricks and how to put lines together. With the books, I’m getting a sense of structuring a plot, getting some decent prose or figuring out character development. I'm just gonna keep doing it because it's fun, and hopefully, in a few years, they'll be getting better.
Whether he's got a stack of sponsors or just doin' it for the soul, as long as he's still jumpin', we're gonna watch. Nosegrind nollie flip before the knobs ruined the Zuccotti party Photo: Taketomo
You did a really good job, dude. I was fully in it. The story is a lot of fun. There are pathologies in every character which I and others can identify with and relate to, whether it's being the less-attractive sibling or the guy who's fried his mind on YouTube. I think you should be proud of yourself. What is next?
What is next is the question. I’ve had a few lingering projects hanging over me. For Old Friends fitness, I wanted to turn all the content we've been turning out on Patreon into an easily-digestible subscription-based website, where almost any injury in skating is covered by Dr. Kyle Brown. You’d hear him explain in detail how you can rehab back from it and learn how he treats them. I feel like I've finally finished that, and I'll be releasing it later next month. This book has been a huge experiment because my first book sold pretty well. I wasn't sure if people were buying it as a novelty, or if they were readers who are going to be an actual audience I have. So this is the experiment I'm seeing through this month, if it’s sustainable or not. Not like I am going to live off selling books right now, but if it continues, there is a substantial supplementary income there. With Top of Mason, I was happy to get about 2,500 books out into the world in some form or another. And now I’m just waiting to see if this next one will do alright, and that will dictate how much I can commit to these going forward. I’m like a third of the way through the next one. Then skating is the big thing. I wanted to put out a part I was really proud of. Matt Schleyer put in the brunt of the legwork in New York City and Pat really got behind the vision and saw it through. So many other filmers to thank, Greg Navarro and Brian Scott. Jack Fardell came through with some good angles, and then RB came through and there are more. I don't know how much time I can honestly give myself filming video parts anymore. That's sort of the big question for the future. It’s like, Alright, this felt very much like a passion project that I was just super happy to see through. But you know, the real world’s comin’. I don't want my wife to feel like she has to work to hold down our health insurance. I probably wanna get a more serious job. Maybe in the skate industry, probably outside. Sponsors don't exist and my dream of being a self-sufficient “influencer” isn’t there. That’s a cringey way to put it, but that’s what you are; you’re paid to post. Some people get good cushy contracts and some don’t. I'm never going to stop wanting to film. I'm never going to stop wanting to write, but who knows how much I can really dedicate in the coming years. So we shall see.
Thank you, man. I'm really glad we did this.
Photo: Whitney Ryan
Below is an excerpt from WALKER RYAN’S SECOND NOVEL OFF CLARK
Mo compared the end of a pro skateboarder’s career to a cliff.
MK: Sometimes, there’s a gondola at the top, and you get in and it drops you off comfortably at the bottom. Other times, there’s a slide to carry you down, a steep, scary one, but secure nonetheless. Like this one time we went to the Great Wall of China, and we took a wild, twisty-turny slide down from the top of the wall to the bottom of the mountain it sits on. So a slide like that. But most of the time, you just slip and fall down that bloody cliff, tumbling and rolling, with no idea where the fuck you’ll turn up.
Mo’s career was approaching that same cliff. He hadn’t said as much, but after reading a journal he left behind before his disappearance, I learned he was about to lose his primary source of income, and he didn’t know what he was going to do next.
From the age of sixteen, the big athletic brand Lissé had been Mo’s primary sponsor. His first contract was for €12,000 per year, which had doubled by the time he was eighteen. At twenty, he signed a four-year contract for €50,000 per year, which also included a nearly unlimited travel budget. At twenty-four, when that contract ended, they dropped his pay in the next contract to €30,000 per year and capped his travel budget at €10,000. Now, at twenty-eight, those four years were up, and he’d been notified that they would not be re-signing him. This was partially due, he admits in the journal, to his lack of interest in any competitions, along with his refusal to take part in any of the California-centric skateboarding content that is traditionally expected of professional skateboarders. Here’s an entry from two days before he disappeared:
I haven’t told Richie that this is probably our last trip, which is sad. I told him I got Lissé to pay for this one, just so he wouldn’t feel bad. But this trip is mostly out of my own pocket. I don’t know how to tell him, for some reason. I know it’s denial. I don’t want to ruin the vibe. He can feel so guilty about things. I don’t want him to feel that way for this one. But after this trip, I’m just going to have to find some work in a pub or something. Maybe some set design work, hit up the blokes I know doing that sort of stuff. Funny how it seems to be the go-to skater gig in every major city. Could be good to use my hands, do some manual labor. Just for the time being, whilst I figure something out. It won’t be too bad, I guess. Pub gig would be the best though. I’ve always wanted to tend bar. I just have to accept that there’s nothing I can do about it. The gravy train is over. Time to move on.
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