INTERVIEW BY DAN LEVY
INTRODUCTION BY DAN LEVY
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY
Why not build a launch ramp, put it on the front of a U-Haul truck and then build a wedge ramp and put it on the back of the truck and then drive it towards Ryan so he can ollie onto the roof and then off the roof on to the wedge. Oh yeah. Ryan did just that on the David Letterman show recently. You may recognize him from his work with Steve-O from Jackass and Dr. Steve-O or you may have skated a park with him and said, ‘Who is that dude ripping the entire place apart?’ Ryan skates trees, moving cars, pools, pipes, stairs, coffee tables and whatever else he can think of. He is the type of person who will help an old lady across the street, while listening to Slayer on his iPod. He’s a very talented video editor and is always down to skate at the drop of a hat. Skateboarding is the driving force in Ryan’s life and Juice Magazine is stoked to bring you this interview with the one and only Simonetti.“I’M STANDING ON TOP OF A PORTA-POTTIE, IN A GRAVEL PARKING LOT, WAITING FOR A VAN TO DRIVE FULL SPEED INTO IT AS I JUMP ONTO THE ROOF OF THE MOVING VAN. I’VE PUT MY LIFE IN JEOPARDY A LOT.”
Let’s start at the beginning.
Okay, let’s get to the real beginning. I was conceived in Fairfield, California, just to the northeast of San Francisco. My parents wanted to get out of California, so right before I was born they packed up and moved to Montana. I think my mom was a little scared that I was going pop out on the road, but I was born in Great Falls, Montana at the Deconis Hospital. Boom. I lived 30 miles north of Great Falls on Bootlegger Trail for the first four years of my life. I grew up on a farm, so I’m an original farm boy.
[Laughs] What’s Bootlegger Trail?
The Bootlegger Trail goes from Great Falls to Canada and they used it to smuggle the alcohol right up to Canada. They smuggled it in their boots, which is why flasks are curved, so they fit right in your boot. That’s a little piece of trivia you pick up when you live on Bootlegger’s Trail.
[Laughs] So you’re living on the farm and crawling around with horses and what else?
There were horses, but it was a wheat and barley farm. When I was five, we moved to Great Falls, so I could start kindergarten. That’s where I learned how to skateboard.
What was your first skateboard?
My first skateboard was the Variflex Eliminator. It was black and neon blue. I had the rails color coordinated with the neon blue. I skated that thing to school one day and locked it up with a cable to the bike rack and somebody took my trucks apart and stole it. I was devastated, man. I went to the principal’s office and was like ‘My board got stolen’. I was 10 or 11.
What did the principal say?
He actually got on the intercom and said, ‘A Variflex Eliminator has been stolen’. He actually tried, but that made it so I could get my Santa Cruz Roskopp board.
Did your parents buy you a new board?
No, I bought my first board and my second board. I saved up my Christmas money for the Variflex and then after that got stolen, I saved up my money for the Santa Cruz Roskopp.
Was anybody else skating with you?
At first, it was my friends from my elementary school and then we started to meet the cross-town kids. In Great Falls, if you saw a skateboarder that you hadn’t met, you would go right up to them and be like, ‘What’s up dude?’
What were the first skate videos you saw or were you getting into the magazines?
The grocery store that my parents went to carried Thrasher, so I’d go check them out. There was a sporting goods store at the mall in Great Falls that would sell skateboarding stuff and they starting carrying the Bones Brigade videos so I got the Bones Brigade Video Show, Future Primitive and Animal Chin.
When I was a kid, I remember looking at Thrasher and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do that. How did he do that?’
I thought the same thing. I was blown away, especially when you’re in Montana and you haven’t been exposed to anything like that. To see a picture of a wall ride by Natas was amazing. We were still trying to ollie up a curb and do a kickflip and then we saw all these crazy pictures.
Were you one of the better skaters in your crew?
At first, we were all the same and then a few people fell off after a couple of years and a few of us stuck with it. I guess I was a little bit ahead at the time. The first time I ollied up a curb, I was hooked. I was like, ‘This is life.’
What did your parents think of skateboarding?
My parents were awesome. They always supported skateboarding. They never told me I shouldn’t be doing it. My mom even let me build a half pipe in the backyard.
You had a half pipe?
At that point, I did.
Did you build your own ramps?
Yeah. My first ramp was a quarter pipe. I looked at the Thrasher ramp plans and showed them to my dad and my dad was already building that thing. He’s a construction guy and mechanic, so he’s like, ‘All right, we can do this.’ He helped me build my first quarter pipe. I put a huge Santa Cruz logo right in the center of it. That thing got me through the first couple of years. Then after begging and pleading with my mom for a half pipe, she was like, ‘Okay, if you make it look like the house, you can build it.’ So we built a half pipe and had to stain it the same color as the house. Then we added a PVC pipe cut in half for the coping.
Were there a lot of street skating spots going on?
Great Falls had some pretty good street spots for a small town. I would just push from one end of town to the other. There were some other little mini ramps around town that came up, but the majority of my early years of skateboarding was street skating.
What was the first skate trip that you took outside of your local area?
My friends Dem Kotynski, Chris Lamb and I went to Portland. It was funny because my friend Chris was like, ‘I met this dude Neil Heddings out in Portland. He let me stay at his house and he’s cool. He told us to come back sometime. So we drove to Portland and crashed on Neil Heddings’ floor. We skated Burnside when it was just getting built. They were still building it.
What was there to skate?
They had the spine, the wall and the bowl. It was already on its way. Burnside had a huge effect on me.
How old were you at that point?
I was 16.
What was it like to see other skateboarders in their scene in Portland?
Burnside had a big influence on me, because the skateboarders, for the most part, were dirty. I was like that’s so fucking cool. Ever since then, I thought I was kind of a dirt bag. I would dress scummy and just loved it. I loved being dirty after Portland.
Portland made you dirty?
I had some skate footage on a tape, so I showed it to Neil and he’s like, ‘Oh, cool. Check out mine.’ For some reason we swapped, so he had always had a tape of my footage and I always had a tape of his footage. That was my first skate trip. Before that, I went to Canada and saw my first skatepark. I saw my very first vert ramp and I was amazed.
Were there people that were just killing it?
There was. They were stoked on me too because I was doing shit that they had never seen. I remember doing frontside 360s over the spine and everyone was blown away. Dropping in on that vert ramp blew me away. I was just looking down at two feet of vert and not seeing it all. You’re thinking you’re going freefall to the tranny. I remember overcoming the fear, and then I was hooked on that too.
I can’t classify you as a street skater or a vert skater or a pool skater. You’re an all around skateboarder.
Thank you. The people in the skateboard world that I admire the most are Danny Way, John Cardiel and Chany Jeanguenin because they can skate everything. I’ve always had this desire to be well-rounded with everything I do. It’s also like a desire and a frustration like, ‘I’m not as good at this, so I’m going to keep doing it until I get better at it.’ There’s nothing like the vibration of asphalt or brick under you. I love it. It sounds cool and feels good. You really appreciate it growing up in Montana where you have over six months of the year that you can’t skateboard due to cold weather and snow. All we had was our basements and all of our parking garages lined up.
Let’s talk about the parking garage sessions. We’re talking like 20 degrees maybe?
Sometimes it was a lot colder. It would get so damn cold that you would break your trucks. You would ollie off the dock and your truck would break just because it’s zero degrees outside. It was so harsh, but I wouldn’t trade those times in for anything. Those are some of the best memories ever. You just have to try harder when you live in a northern place.
Did you ever get into snowboarding?
The first 18 years of my life, I spent every winter on the mountain. Before snowboarding was invented, we would bring skateboards and take our trucks and wheels off and put nylon straps on them. We were mobbing down hills on skateboards, before we had ever heard of snowboarding. I think snowboarding gave me a feel for what it is to go really fast and go switch stance. It helped me with skateboarding a lot. You go way bigger, so you don’t get as scared on a skateboard if you have a huge drop-in or a huge ramp.
What did you do after you graduated?
I graduated high school and I was a dirt. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m out of here.’ As soon as I graduated, I took off. I jumped in the car with my friends Dem and Chris, and we headed to New York. Dem’s mother was in Chicago at the time so we were like, ‘We’ll go to Chicago, chill, skate, and then we’ll go to New York and do the East Coast thing.
Did you know anyone in New York?
My friend Chris had an aunt there, so we stayed at her house. Then he ran out of money and he had the car. He was like, ‘I’m going home.’ Dem and I were like, ‘All right. We’re going to hang out in New York, homeless in the city.’
What year was this?
1994. We left Montana, went to Chicago and skated a bunch and loved it. There are great influences in Chicago. Then we went to New York and got dropped off, basically. We only stayed there for a week and then we didn’t have anywhere to go, so we hopped on a train. I had a relative in Philadelphia, so we took the train to Philly and skated Love Park and the city. Then it just so happened that Dem’s father was in Washington, DC on a journalism job, so we went there skated in DC and had a nice hotel. Then we left DC on the bus because we had a friend in Florida. We wanted to learn how to surf, so we decided to go to Florida and learn how to surf with my friend Tony Walsh. We go to Tony’s and he lives in Tallahassee. That’s not the beach. That’s like northern land lock area, so surfing wasn’t working out too well for us. We made it to Daytona Beach and Panama City a few times, but it never worked out. What did work out was that some of the guys had a skate park there in Tallahassee. They wanted out of it and we needed a place to live so we’re like, ‘We’ll take over this skate park deal.’
What was the name of that skatepark?
What did they have there?
It was a little indoor warehouse with a mini ramp with a spine, quarter bowl, wall ride and pyramid.
So they wanted out of the business?
They wanted out of it because he wanted to go to college. They didn’t necessarily want to sell it to us. They just wanted to get out of it, so we took it over. We just inherited the skatepark and lived there. We took over the lease, paid the rent and ran the skatepark.
That’s crazy. How old were you then?
I was 18. I already owned a skate park with a skate shop and started my skateboard company at the age of 18. I started ordering boards from Prattville, Alabama.
What was the name of your first company?
Evolve Skateboards. I started the board company first and then I started the skatepark called Evolve.
How did Evolve Skateboards come about?
Well, they already had the contact to get the boards because they were doing shop boards in the skate shop at the skatepark. I got that guy’s contact and started ordering boards. Then I started putting logos on them.
So you had your own skateboard company and you inherited a skate park. How long did this last?
That only lasted six months. We were over it. We were dirty. We were living in a warehouse. We would go to parties, get wasted and ask to use the shower. We were just living however we could. I worked at Subway to help pay the rent. Dem worked at Pizza Hut. We would trade off. He would watch the park when I worked and I would watch the park when he worked.
So the park wasn’t bringing in any money?
We were just barely getting by, so that ended. We were over it. I had a girlfriend that lived in Albuquerque, so I moved to Albuquerque on the first day of ’95.
What happened to the skatepark? Did you give it to someone else?
We just picked up and left. I paid the last month’s rent and told the guy we were done. I moved to Albuquerque and my first job was a telemarketing job. I hated that. Then I got a construction job and I hated that. The day I quit my construction job I was driving down Route 66 and I saw what used to be a reggae record store that was for rent. I was like, ‘I need to open up another shop.’ So I got that location and started another small shop. It grew and then I started another skatepark.
What was the name of your shop?
It was called the Stunt Man Skate Shop. Everybody started calling me ‘Stuntman’ and I hated it. Then I moved on to a bigger location and changed the name of the shop to Soul Ride. I didn’t want to be called ‘Stuntman’ anymore.
So you did well with your first shop?
I was able to pay my rent and feed myself. I didn’t make much money, except to pay off my credit card bill.
That’s good. How long did Soul Ride last?
I had that shop for nine years, which is hard. Albuquerque is one of the most territorial spots. The localism there is hardcore, especially if you’re a white person. As soon as I opened my shop, people were breaking my windows out. They were breaking into my car and stealing my stereo just because I was a dude from out of town that moved there and opened up a store. There were all these local skaters there that didn’t know who I was and hated on me, but my shop did good. Later on, I met all of the dudes and now they’re all pretty much cool with me. It took a few years to become part of the scene.
Were there other skateparks in the area?
There was Dan’s, the Beach Zone, Skate City and Concrete Wave. There’s always a little bit of beef between scenes. It’s hard, man. Most people don’t make it past the first year or two. I started with like $3,000. That’s all I had. My first shop was pathetic. I just had a few boards on the wall.
But you were doing it.
Luckily, I was responsible when I was younger. On the farm during the summers, I would save my money. It feels good at the end of the day when you do something by yourself and you didn’t ask for help along the way. At the same time, it was a blessing. I’m grateful for everything that I had in Albuquerque.
What made you decide to give it up after nine years?
The city decided to open up a public park and I didn’t want to see my skatepark struggle, so I got prepared before the public skatepark was ever built. I just wanted to get out with my head above water. A year before the public park opened, I got rid of the park, saved a lot of product and started another small shop. I let that grow until I was able to get another Route 66 location in Albuquerque. Then I opened a skate shop called Anomaly.
What year was that?
That was 2000 to 2003. Anomaly was a great shop. It did well. I was able to sell that store and pay off my credit card. By that point, Steve-O was already living in Hollywood. He’d call and say, ‘You gotta live out here, bro. It’s awesome.’ So I sold my shop and moved to Hollywood.
How did you know Steve-o?
I met Steve-o in Albuquerque. Steve-o walked into Evolve Skatepark and was like, ‘Check me out, dude. Check out my video.’ I watched Steve-O’s video and I was like, ‘Here’s my video.’ He loved it. We were both into jumping off roofs into pools. We were both into doing stunts, so we just clicked and started working together right off the bat. I was filming him blowing fire and jumping off buildings and he was filming me doing skateboarding stunts. Then we started to incorporate fire with skateboarding. We’ve been doing crazy shit our whole lives. We became friends and started partying and working together. Then he went on to Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College and then he worked on a cruise line ship. Then he moved to Hollywood after Jackass got started. We were working together the whole time. I was driving out to Hollywood while I was living in Albuquerque.
Why did you decide to move to Hollywood?
Actually, the truth is because Steve was like, ‘It’s working for me out here and I think we can work well together out here.’ I was like, ‘I’m always stoked to go to Hollywood.’ Steve had a place for me to crash, so I went. Steve’s been evicted a few times since then.
[Laughs] Were you working for Steve directly?
I guess. When I sold my shop, I paid off my credit card and had $2,000 left, so I bought a VX1000 video camera and a laptop. That was my investment. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to do what do I love. I love to video and skateboard and I like editing. When I moved out here, that enabled me to start shooting skate footage that I could edit with Steve-O and all his craziness.
So you went from a successful skate shop to hitting the couch pretty much?
[Laughs] Yeah. I went from a dirt to having nothing solid to having a pretty solid life to letting it all go again.
[Laughs] What happened when you got here?
I finally figured out where the apartment was. The first spot was on the top of La Brea in the hills. It was a pad with four guys. There was one bedroom with four guys, so I was living in a living room with three people. It was party central every night. Our house was the after party compound.
How was that for you?
At first, it was rad just because I was two blocks from Hollywood Blvd. All I had to do was step on my skateboard and bomb a hill two blocks to the walk of stars. That got me through the first year I was here. Skating the stars everyday was my favorite thing to do. I really didn’t know many people beyond who I was living with and half of them weren’t skaters. I was just trying to remain focused on myself and my skateboarding and trying to learn how to edit.
Were you trying to get sponsors or anything?
My first sponsor was Focus Skateboards, which was run by Hosoi, Duncan and Reategui in Huntington. Hosoi was going off the deep end at that time. Then I was doing my own independent thing. Now I ride for War Effort. They’re a real small underground company. The truth is I love the underground side of skateboarding. I hate the mainstream side of skateboarding.
Tell me about the underground of skateboarding.
It’s the roots of skateboarding. Skateboarding is like punk rock to me. I love everything punk rock and I love skateboarding. I’ve never wanted to be a part of something that everyone else is doing. I hate the status quo and the mainstream. That’s what led me to skateboarding. I’m never going to give up on that, even though, right now skateboarding is blowing up everywhere you look. It’s on television, in the movies and on commercials. It’s not that I hate it, because it makes our industry more solid. I just love everything skateboarding represents on the underground.
There seems to be a new status quo in skateboarding that’s mainstream. I don’t understand it.
I don’t either. For us that are over 30, we were pushed around, kicked around and made fun of by every one of those assholes that’s wearing skate shoes now. All the jocks and jerks that used to make fun of us are now wearing skate shoes and clothes. There’s going to be resentment. It puts a bad taste in your mouth. It all comes down to profitability and marketability. I just have distaste for a lot of the stuff that’s going on.
You’re known for skateboarding on Jackass and Dr. Steve-O and all of these TV shows and movies, but you’re still an underground skateboarder.
Yeah. It’s hard, because I think my name has kind of become synonymous with MTV or Jackass or Dr. Steve-O and I don’t like that, but at the same time I want to make something of myself, so I’m going to go with it. I’m going to pursue it 100%. As long as you uphold your beliefs, it’s okay.
Okay, so you moved to Hollywood and you’re at the after party crash pad. You’re living the full Hollywood lifestyle. You’ve seen the dark side of Hollywood as a first hand experience.
Yeah, right up front. At that point, it was cool, but I had to watch out for all the vampires that have no values, no ethics and no morals. There are evil, lifeless, blood-sucking creatures that will suck the life out of you in Hollywood. They have no accountability whatsoever. They don’t care. Hollywood is a weird place. At the same time, it’s the land of opportunity. There’s way more opportunity here than anywhere.
Let’s talk about skating out here, because it’s a different kind of skateboarding in California then where we were raised.
There are way more pools out here. I love the pools. When you go street skating in Los Angeles, you have to sit in traffic, drive and then sit in traffic some more. That sucks. At the same time, here in Hollywood, there are local spots all right next to each other. Los Angeles is spread out and you have to deal with the traffic and everything, but the spots out here are amazing.
Let’s talk about skateparks, because growing up you had your own skate park. That’s pretty rare. Now there are a million skate parks and there are so many places to skate.
I love it. I love all the parks. I love Washington St. I love San Pedro. I love those kinds of skateparks, built by skaters and made for skaters. You don’t have to deal with the bullshit. You don’t have to see the moms. You don’t have to see the little kids on rollerblades. When I went to Burnside, I loved it. I just respect that, and it feels way more comfortable there.
So what are you doing now?
I’m skateboarding, filming and editing. I’m still a freelance guy. I’m still editing for Steve-O. He puts out so much footage that he needs somebody to help him with it. We’re brainstorming on new ideas all the time. We just think of crazy stuff and then we actually do it instead of just talking about it. If it means we’ve got to build a ramp all day long, we do it. I’ve spent all day building ramps and then skated them that night because I had to. You have no energy left, but you have to skate. I’m just trying to focus on editing, skateboarding and learning things. I always want to be involved in skateboarding, in some way, shape or form. I’m just going to keep skating and see what happens. Skateboarding is an open, welcoming family. That’s the thing I love about it.