For all the diversity people tout about skateboarding today, it can still feel really tightly controlled. Ryan Lay stands out because he doesn’t do what’s merely expected or even necessarily popular. He enjoys learning, eating vegan, and meshing skateboarding with school, but he doesn’t define himself by those or any other singular hobbies, even skating. He’s not interested in feeling either more humble or superior than you. Ryan simply cares about what he does, whether that’s teaching kids to skate in an after school program or taping portable flat bars to handrails, he truly does things his way.
I noticed Mango, Jesse Alba, and others are absent from the Welcome team page. What’s going on over there?
Three people weren’t pursuing skateboarding anymore, they are either a dad or work full time, and I think they just felt like they didn’t wanna be sponsored skateboarders anymore. I know with Logan [Lara], he got offered a job with another company and left on really good terms with everyone. With the others, I don’t know, I guess they just wanted to pursue other opportunities. I know at least with Mango and Jesse [Alba] they have been skating in New York with Alex [Olson] and I think they feel like that’s their crew now and they just wanted to do something different.
I’m really good friends with the owner, Jason [Celaya], and he had another job where he was able to run Welcome for several years using money from his other job, and in the last 6 months, he has exclusively been working for Welcome. So maybe they felt like there was a little more pressure or expectation to support the brand. Obviously Welcome is much bigger now than when they first got on. Like, if you are into a band and suddenly that band gains some notoriety, you can either be happy for them that they are making a living off of it, or you can listen to something else [laughs]. I’m really happy with everyone involved right now and the direction of the company.
Does Welcome have pros?
There are no pros right now. Jason [Celaya] didn’t start the brand with any seasoned pros, so everyone’s just kind of growing into that role. He wants everyone to get dialed in with other sponsors so it can be a real pro team and not something thrown together haphazardly. Chris Miller has a board, but he’s not on the team page. Jordan Sanchez is definitely turning pro soon. I always felt like you should want people to be asking about your pro board. It shouldn’t just be like, “That guy’s pro because that small company turned him pro.”
When will you get yours?
Sometime in the next year, probably after I finish the part I’m working on. We’re working on a video project that should be out around Winter or Spring. Financially it won’t make much of a difference, but it’s definitely good to do for your ten year-old self. Even if it’s just something to put on the wall and show your grandkids.
What’s with this fucked up edit you just sent us?
[Laughs] I gave it to my friend Gene Belanger [Ssquirted] who is this really great video maker from Chicago. It just happened to be stuff I accumulated from trips over a year or two and I didn’t feel like it was a well rounded part, it wasn’t really indicative of how I skate. So I decided I would just give it to them and give them full creative control. It’s really stiff HD footage that I never really wanted to put out before, but now I’m happy with it, I think it’s interesting. My childhood friend Rick Alvin made the song for it. It’s an experiment… I’m working on a full part that’s gonna come out in a month or two as well.
You studied at the San Francisco Art Institute right? How did that work, were you sponsored then?
I wasn’t much of a sponsored skater, at that point I was pretty burnt out on skating. I had been sponsored since I was fourteen, and I was just kinda over everything. When you’re immersed in an industry in your youth and then start to grow into yourself as an adult, you get a little disillusioned and realize there’s way more out there and you’ve been hyper focused on this really insular world. It’s the only thing that matters to you and it’s great, but there is a world outside of it.
The skateboard industry is incredibly fickle. Companies grow and shrink and you’re kind of just along for the ride. I felt a lot of weight because there’s this expectation to perform at a really high level, and I felt like I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. Like most people who leave a small town, you just want to get out and go to college and meet new people, and in doing that I found my way back to skateboarding and started enjoying it more.
”The skateboard industry is incredibly fickle. Companies grow and shrink and you’re kind of just along for the ride.”
Why did you return to the clutches of sponsorship?
I got to a crossroads between skateboarding and school where I was having to take out student loans, and I had some opportunities with Rasa Libre and iPath, and I was like, I’m going to give this a shot, try and skate full time. My parents weren’t too happy about it, but I saved myself $60k of debt.
I was gonna give it a couple years then go back to school, but a couple of years goes by really quickly. I was making a little bit of money, I rode for a few companies after Rasa dissolved, and then stuff with Enjoi worked out. I was traveling a lot at that time, often staying in New York with Jack Sabback, then decided to move there. I lived there for a couple years on and off. I came back to Arizona, lost all my sponsors pretty much, and decided to finish my undergrad. I feel like I’d be really burnt out on skating now had I not left and pursued other things. I’ve done that a couple times. I think it’s good to recharge your batteries.
How much do you think the average pro skater makes? A dude with a shoe, board and apparel sponsor.
Probably like… $24,000 a year. Maybe around a $1000 a month from a shoe company, on the good side of things. Then maybe $500 from a board, and $500 to $1000 from a clothing company. Probably ends up being about $24,000 to $30,000 a year, but then you have to pay taxes.
I used to really trip on that, but now coming back to making a living off of skating, I’ve realized it’s pretty awesome because I really enjoy skating, and I’ve worked out the situation with my sponsors where they trust me and I can kind of do what I want to do. Social media has really helped with that. I go to school full time and have my own business ventures I’m working on, and no one seems to mind that. I can kind of travel and skate whenever I want, and still have this opportunity to put out video parts.
”Probably like… $24,000 a year”
Yeah, but maybe you are just good at keeping up and getting footage out there. Maybe not everyone could juggle school and being a skateboarder?
Yeah, but if you are at the level of being a sponsored skateboarder and you have a certain following, and you film just 1 trick a week… that’s 52 tricks in a year, and that’s well over a three and half minute video part. It’s like, if you skate a couple of other times of the week, and go on some trips, you are producing more than most pros out there I’d say.
You think that’s the standard these days? If you can do 1 part a year you’re sitting okay?
I think so. It’s kind of moving from full length videos to edits. If you are putting out your standard 3 minute video part once a year and are active on whatever social media platforms you use like Instagram or Youtube, I think that’s enough to stay relevant, you know? Like Jordan Sanchez as an example. He puts out a really cool video part once a year and works a full time job and has a kid. He’s like a civil engineer. He has a real desk job.
Taking a step back, as former iPath teammates, did Fred Gall ever almost get you killed?
Definitely. We were in Argentina and one night Fred went on a crazy bender. He came in at six in the morning, on Lord knows what, and started fucking with me. I had fallen asleep with this really thick book, and was still fully asleep, but I grabbed the book and hit him across the face as hard as I could. Fucking nailed him. He just looked at me like, “What the fuck, I’m gonna fucking kill you.”
Matt Price gets him to calm down, but he takes our keys to the hostel, throws them down the toilet, and runs out of the room to grab the team manager to get his permission to kill me. He’s like, “I’m gonna fucking kill the kid! He just hit me across the face with a book!” Price grabs the keys out of the toilet, locks the door, Fred comes back, pounds on it for ten minutes, and I’m just scared shitless. I’m gonna die. Fred Gall’s gonna kill me in Argentina.
I go back to sleep, and when I woke up I had this horrible, overwhelming sense of dread. When Fred wakes up, he’s fucking stoked. In that scenario he wants to get a rise out of you. I’m this sheltered kid from the suburbs and I just lost my composure, and he wins. Also he has this big black eye to show for it. I think he had cornrows on that trip too.
I also crashed a scooter with him on an island in Thailand. We were trying to get to a beach house and he was hammered on the back of my scooter, blasting Bad Brains on a portable speaker into my ear. I’m like, “What is my life, I left school for this? The best!”
What are you doing in school now?
I’m going into my last semester for public administration at Northern Arizona University. We have this non-profit I help run, Skate After School, which provides after school programming to at-risk youth, so my schooling complements that really well.
How does Skate After School work?
The main function is to keep kids in a safe environment after school when they don’t have parents home. We’ve got kids that live at the homeless shelter and a significant amount of refugee kids as well. It’s awesome getting to show them your passion and help open that door. You can give a kid a skateboard who has next to nothing, and as long as he’s got a patch of cement and a board, he can progress. This kid who is a Somalian refugee was telling me, “I skate every day, six hours a day. I got a Pretty Sweet board – no griptape though!” I was like, “You don’t have griptape?” He said, “Nah, it doesn’t matter.” I got him a sheet of grip the next week ‘cause he’s so rad that he skates six hours a day with no griptape.
We’ve also got around twenty volunteers who really make it all possible. A lot of them go to school still, so the kids know skateboarding doesn’t have to be this bad kid thing.
There can be good and bad crowds in skating.
That’s the thing I love about skateboarding. There are people in skateboarding whose views and backgrounds differ from mine, but I appreciate that they’re a part of it because that’s what keeps skating so diverse and not just some homogenized bullshit. More opinions, more girls, more homosexuality, more global representation. All different types of kids appreciate and love skating. The role models available to them, however, aren’t incredibly diverse. And I realize the paradox, speaking as a skinny white guy.
Do you think living in Arizona makes it hard to have a skate career?
I think the old belief used to be that you had to live in California to make it as a skater. Now, I think it’s almost an advantage to be a part of a local scene somewhere. It almost seems like people care more about what’s going on in different localized scenes than where the majority of the industry is located. There are guys in Canada, France, New York, Australia, and Sweden, just to name a few, that are doing exciting things, and the internet has totally leveled the playing field for them. You saw Gilbert Crockett’s new part, right? There’s this different aesthetic people are relating to when they watch him skate his home town.
You ever get any backlash for talking about how you got kicked off of Enjoi and Huf in this old interview?
Not really. I mean at that point I had really removed myself from skating, and I was working and going to school full time. I’m sure those dudes were probably bummed that I addressed it…
This professional skateboarding thing is just like a wild ride. Unless you happen to be one of those dudes who is fortunate enough to ride for Nike or any one of those companies, then that’s really cool. Their skate programs are thriving, so I think they will continue to keep people on and keep it going.
The lesson I learned with everything that happened with Enjoi and Huf is that you should live your life like you aren’t going to have any sponsors tomorrow. Anything that happens is basically a bonus.