Having a career as a professional skateboarder is a fleeting thing, and people come and go within a blink of an eye. But it’s not everyday that someone still well-respected by the skate world quietly recedes into the shadows, especially when they still seem to be skating as strongly as ever. But that’s what happened to Johnny Layton. When he first exposed himself to the world as the greatest switch 360 flipper ever in Toy Machine’s 2004 video “Good and Evil,” he was looking like the next big thing, but a few parts and a decade or so later the slightly beefier but still ripping 30 year-old Johnny quietly vanished from the pro ranks. Rumors were rampant, but we never really got the full story on what went down and how J.Lay’s living these days.
We caught up with Johnny to get the retrospective scoop on his transition, to see how he’s hanging in there in his new role on the marketing/promotions side over at Vans, and to figure out what happened to all the footage he filmed over the past 5 years. (It wasn’t all used in that heavy part put out last year – we have a mini bonus part dropping tomorrow)
What’s up man? Skateboarding hasn’t heard much from you in a while. What have you been up to the last couple months?
Last couple months… Just been working for Vans, doing events and promotions for them. Being a father.. being a husband and trying to skate as much as I can.
How often are you skating these days?
There’s not a day where I don’t step on my board but at the Vans office we have a ramp there, so I’ll skate the ramp at lunch or take a 5 minute little run. But most of the time, if I get home early on a Friday or something I’ll skate with all the homies for a bit. Usually one day on the weekend I’ll get a full sesh and go out and try to get a clip.
Everyone thought you were going to be in the Vans video, Propeller. What happened?
I was on trips and filming at home non-stop for the video. Then it was about a year and a half before the actual drop of the video… they kind of stopped taking me on trips, they kind of just started phasing me out in a way where I was a little bit concerned. But whatever, I felt like I had good footage and I was working hard… I guess they just didn’t see the final product as something they wanted in the video, so six months out from Propeller they approached me and said, “Yo, your contract’s up. We just want to let you know you’re not going to be part of this video…”
They did it the most professional way they could have. I understand that business is business. They cut me a 6 month contract / severance pay kind of to get me going and figure out what I was gonna do. They also offered that if I was gonna go to another brand or if I was going to find a job, I could have my footage. Greg Hunt gave me the whole hard drive with all my footage on it and they pretty much were really sorry about how it all happened, but that’s how it is.
Were you still riding for Toy Machine at this time too?
It’s crazy…. so, I got off Vans literally two days before Toy Machine hit me up. Ed Templeton called me and let me know we had to have a talk. I kind of had been given warnings from Mike Sinclair [Toy Machine Team Manager], saying that if I wasn’t doing more that I would be off the team. But it’s Toy Machine you know, we’re all family and good friends and I’ve been there for so long that I kind of knew it, but at the same time I didn’t want to believe it.
When that time came I sat down with Ed and Kevin Barnett [the Toy Machine former filmer]. They said they had a budget crisis and I wasn’t doing enough, not getting stuff in the mag, not getting enough footage. I was off the team.
They have dudes on the team that are ripping, and I agree man. Blake Carpenter had just turned pro and they were turning Jeremy Leabres pro, so I’m sure it was just them trying to free up space to pay these guys according for what they’re putting out.
”I’d skate for Toy Machine purely out of the love for Ed
and for the brand and what it stood for.”
So where’d your unused footage go? To the Berrics part you put out a while ago?
Yeah, I was almost like, fuck it, I’m just going to edit it myself and put it on YouTube or something. I just wanted to get it out there so people weren’t like, “Fuck Johnny, this dude said he was filming a Propeller part and never put anything out.” When The Berrics put it out, I got so many responses from that, it was weird. Comments like, “Respect… sorry what you’re going through…” like all these different opinions coming at me, but at the end it was always, “Dude, this was your best video part of your career.” That’s what killed me.
Have you been hit up by any companies since?
Well, not too long ago I started getting boards from Welcome, they were giving me boards just to ride, and I never rode shaped boards in my life. They were cool enough to send me boards and it’s been rad, but I don’t ride for them. If I need boards from someone or whatever product, I can get it, but it’s the fact that I’m just not part of a team anymore that breaks my heart. Not being part of a family like Toy, I think that hurts the most. I mean, cut my pay… I’d skate for Toy Machine purely out of the love for Ed and for the brand and what it stood for.
Do you think you were slacking at all or not doing your job?
I mean you can take a look at my video part and you can gauge it off that. My wife was pregnant so the last 9 months leading up to all this, obviously I wasn’t skating as much cause I was trying to be a husband and a father, so maybe those last 9 months they saw my productivity drop. But I don’t know, footage kind of speaks for itself and if you watch that part, you’ll realize I wasn’t just sitting at home on the couch. I was getting photos, the photos just weren’t getting run. And I’m still sitting on extra footage that the world hasn’t seen. I’m about to put that out soon. It is what it is. Skateboarding can be ruthless. It brings you in and takes you amazing places and does amazing things for you but it will spit you right the fuck out as soon as it wants to or as soon as that decision is made by someone else calling the shots.
You work at Vans now? What do you do there?
It was almost up to the day that my temporary contract ended with them for skating when I got approached by Steve Van Doren’s team. They kind of proposed this job that I could be a good fit for. They brought me back in and I’ve been a part of the events and promotions staff of Vans with Van Doren and Chopper Dave and a bunch of our other staff.
It was either take the job or I go ride for whatever board company and whatever shoe company, if I could even get on, and then I get paid for the next 2 – 5 years but then it’s the same shit again. So I was like, I’m gonna try and go back to loving skateboarding for what it is and work a normal job that’s still in skateboarding where I can support my family and not stress about how long I can be a pro skateboarder for.
From 18 years old until a year ago, skateboarding was just everything. I graduated high school but I didn’t go to college. I had nothing to back up what comes after skateboarding. In the position that I’m in now, I have longevity and a stable environment with a consistent check that comes in and it’s still in skateboarding. I don’t know any other company that would have a pro on their team, let them go and then 6 months later turn around and hire that guy as a corporate employee.
I was definitely lucky enough to land this position. I could be in such a worse place right now. It’s still skateboarding so I’m happy. I get to enjoy skateboarding for what it is and I cherish the times that I get to skate now because this job is heavy and it’s non-fucking stop.
Are you still skating at the same level? Do people hit you up to skate still?
A lot of people hit me up, like, “Let’s go skate!” and it’s like, I could probably squeeze in Cherry Park for 30 minutes between work and getting home and being a father and trying to be a husband and trying to make sure all the bills are paid…
I could still go out and fuckin’ switch tre something and still hold my own. I still roll into a skatepark or a spot and people are like, “Look it’s J Lay!” It messes with my head. It’s torturous when you work in skateboarding and still skate at that level. It’s a weird feeling when you’re running an event in skateboarding but you’re the dude that’s running around making sure everything is running smooth and all you wanna do is just be on your board. I’m still just such a skateboarder at heart and I will go fucking crazy if I don’t at least put my board on the ground and push every day.
Do you think your dick pic cursed your skate career?
[Laughs] Maybe the fact that my naked photo was all over the internet and people lost their minds over that, maybe that’s why people just looked at me as like, “Oh he’s this naked in the shower guy…” Maybe that messed up my image and rubbed people the wrong way but Ed Templeton has been showing his damn dick for his whole career. We’re all dudes, we’re all horny, we’re all the same way. There’s no way you’re telling me nobody else has sent a photo with their dick and their face. Maybe that’s what brought this to happening, but I don’t think it was that.
”I could still go out and fuckin’ switch tre something and still hold my own.”
Did any girls or guys hit on you after the dick pic went viral on the net?
Nah dude…[laughs] I’ve had some weird conversations with people. It’s always weird when someone starts a conversation with that, like “So dude, that photo…” Immediately I’m going to walk away. Like, I’ll openly admit, yeah it was a stupid fucking decision, but it is what it is. This week we were doing something and I saw Don Brown, and he comes up to me like, “Hey Johnny, I almost didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” and it’s like god damn it, it’s still out there. I’m gonna get over it, but I just gotta take it as comedy. They say people forget, but god damn, they aren’t forgetting about the photo at all… [laughs]
Your parents obviously found out right?
Yeah, I had to tell them before anyone else could. My mom was like, “Oh my god, oh no” My dad was just like, “Fuck, how stupid can you be?” I don’t think my grandma ever found out or anything like that. I think that would have crushed me the most.
When you were sponsored did you get tired of people calling you “Big Boy” and focus on how you’re a bigger skater?
Yeah, I think I was more bummed on that than the dick photo. If you see me, I’m not fat, and it’s funny because I don’t think I was ever fat. My weight fluctuates, I’m 200 pounds but I look like I’m 175. I got Mike Piazza thighs, and I look like god damn catcher. I’m not the average build skateboarder so you gotta just roll with the punches and pretty much just tell people to go fuck themselves. Can you fuckin’ switch tre this? Nope? Alright, then fuck off.
I’m just curious because in skating you get a tag line and people just beat it to death.
Yeah, it’s like, oh new nickname for the next 10 years! I got Beefcake, I got Big Boy and I got Shower Scene. This year I got Rad Dad. It’s like, ooh the one thing that happened to him this year, he had a kid… he’s Rad Dad now!
In your Berrics part, you landed hard on your junk in the last trick. How bad was it?
I got gashed but not deep enough to have to go get stitches. I just jumped straight onto my tailbone and my asshole, but I missed my gooch and balls. It’s funny because I landed it and rolled away the try before that, but I wanted to get another one. The next try my pop fucked up and my sack got pinched on the rail and when I got to my knees to sit up, I immediately just had uncontrollable bowels. Open butthole just straight shitting. I just shit my pants.
So I took off running because I was embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to film it. I just booked it to somewhere where I could pull my pants down and look at myself and make sure that it wasn’t ripped in half and I had to shit into a bag the rest of my life.
I took my shirt off, wiped my ass with it and it was green and red. It was really bad, like a lot of blood and a lot of weird poop. I was like fuck! Dan Lu, Gilbert, please… just look. I’m sorry you have to look at this, but I need to know, am I pouring blood? Am I just dripping? And they’re like, you’re good. When we got to the hotel I just showered and did a full bend over in front of the mirror and looked at myself. I was like alright, I think I’m okay.
When I got home I went and saw my regular doctor and he went full glove finger in the ass feeling around to see if I ruptured anything, and he was like, “I don’t know what you did, but you are so lucky. You didn’t rip anything, you didn’t rupture anything. You could have torn your urethra. I don’t know how you got away with just shitting your pants.” The only thing I did do was I cracked my tailbone, so I had to sit on a donut for like a good 3 months.
”It took a while for me to be able to take a slam
and not worry about shitting my pants”
Have you shit your pants since?
The first time back on my board going to Cherry Park, I remember doing a tre flip and looping out, and the split second between looping out and hitting the ground, I already thought I was going to shit my pants. I was terrified. I didn’t shit my pants but my tailbone was hurt. I was like, well alright, I’m getting back to normal.
It took a while for me to be able to take a slam and not worry about shitting my pants. It was kind of a traumatic experience, such a brutal slam and beating to my asshole, but everything works good now. Everything is proper and I don’t have to shit into a bag the rest of my life, thank god.
Well at least now working an office job you must be thankful you don’t have to beat your body up like that anymore..
I’m kind of a masochist though, so I don’t mind taking a big fucking slam if thats what it takes to get a trick. That’s part of it all. You’re going to fucking slam, it’s going to suck, but then you’re going to ride away. It’s the best feeling you’ll ever have.
Sounds like you still really miss being a pro.
Someone was looking out for me and I ended up in the position I’m at now and I couldn’t be happier. But at the same time that skateboarder inside of me is eating away at me. Just because I’m not a pro doesn’t mean that I’m not skating like that. I still want to film another video part. Do I have that much free time to do it? Maybe not. But it’s eating away at me from the inside out and the only way I can keep my sanity is just to keep skating and try not to worry about kissing an entire 10-year career goodbye. It’s hard to let go.