*If anyone is qualified to be the cultural ambassador of skateboarding, it’s Walker Ryan. The young man immerses himself in not only the culture of skateboarding, but cultures throughout the world. The Next New Wave needs someone skateboarding can hang their cultural hat on. So when I hopped on the phone to interview Walker about Old Friends and their first trip to Thailand, it was no surprise the narrative he provided was as insightful and illustrative as Hemingway himself, soundly unveiling one of Asia’s strongest skate scenes, while nurturing the blossoming of his new brand. Combining the drives of a professional skateboarder with his cerebral nature, Walker speaks on his reality of the freedom of co-founding a new brand against the uncertainty of parting ways with two of his main sponsors. After finding himself in Bangkok surrounded by the very friends he began skating with, Walker speaks on what the trip meant to him as a skateboarder and a company owner, and what exactly lies ahead for Walker Ryan and Old Friends. *
So, this was the first unofficial-official Old Friends trip?
Yeah, that’s exactly what it was, the unofficial-official first Old Friends trip, [laughs].
It’s my understanding you’ve been to Thailand before?
The first trip I ever went on for skateboarding was to Bangkok when I was 17 with Kyle Brown and David Cole–who I went back with this year. That first trip was a real eye-opening experience for me as a young man and as a skateboarder. It was my first time in an Asian country and if anyone who has ever been, that’s when you really feel the vast cultural differences as a Westerner. Our Thailand trip this year was really a reunion of sorts.
I was going to say your Thailand Video really feels like everyone involved is actually Old Friends…
Totally, these are my oldest friends in skateboarding. It was a real homie trip that turned into a proper skate trip. It was David Cole, Kyle Brown, Nick Klein, Chris Collins, Cody Hermann, and myself. We initially planned to go to the islands and do the touristy things, but we just couldn’t stop skating–we were on a mission.
The trip must have been pretty meaningful to yourself and to Old Friends?
Well, it was a proper jumpstart for Old Friends to include some of my best and oldest friends I grew up skating with. It was super meaningful to make the trip about that, and you know it really sets the bar for future trips. If you’re going to kick it off with Thailand, you can’t putt-around and just do the standard skate trip to Arizona. You got to keep it interesting, but even more than that the trip was meaningful because I had a pretty-rough 2015. I lost two of my main sponsors. So truthfully, it was a risk.
The trip almost didn’t go down?
At first, my friend Kyle [Brown] wanted to go and I initially said no way. This is not a good time for me to go on a trip to Thailand with my friends. I need to focus on my skating, my career and what I’m doing next with my sponsors; but it was the perfect way to you know, remember skating is about fun, it’s about skating with my friends and these are the experiences that really mean something. To tie it all in with starting Old Friends, it couldn’t have worked out at a better time. My friends killed it and I’m glad they convinced me to just say fuck-it and make it happen.
What were the filming missions like?
I feel like Thailand is different than other Asian countries like China or Korea, where there’s a lot of rapid development. It’s not just marble plazas everywhere but instead there’s a ton of crusty spots. It made filming a mission which was a lot of fun. Bangkok has all these canals running through the city connecting different parts of town, so you get around by these water-taxis. We hardly ever took the subway or the skytrain, we just took water-taxis to skate.
I hear the Thai skate scene is one of the strongest in Asia?
There’s something special about Bangkok, most cities have a few parks and spots to meet up, but that’s the beautiful thing about Thailand, they keep the scene strong and do their own thing. I feel like Thailand is different from other Asian countries in the sense they really have their own scene, their own companies and stuff–so shout out to all the homies keeping the scene strong. It was awesome, the guys who took us around this year in 2016 were the same guys who took us around in 2006. They took care of us in 2006 and they took care of us in 2016; they’re all still skating with the same amount of passion and dedication keeping their skate scene strong. Their company is called Preduce Skateboards. Actually, before I left we arranged for me to have a guest board with them. I am super stoked on that, having a guest board for a Thai company.
Any cultural incidents on the trip?
Everything went pretty smooth, but if there’s one thing about Thailand that makes it a little off-putting, it’s that there are so many Western tourists. Even though that’s essentially who we are as travelers, I don’t like being thrown into that category. Luckily as skateboarders we always have a little camouflage and can quickly befriend local skaters to help us break that mold.
Must have been pretty wild staying in the heart of Bangkok?
Thailand is a pretty wild place. There’s a lot that goes on that’s super normal in Thailand that’s really shocking to people out in the U.S. There’s a lot packed in, you have elevated 21st century skytrains next to the old-town Buddhist temples and it’s a monarchy still, so you also have signs and statues everywhere honoring the king. Then you have these grimy brothel streets or crazy bars and strip clubs. It’s really wild to see all of this mixed into downtown where we were staying, but I love the Buddhist culture and everything else that comes with visiting Thailand. All of the skateboarders I’ve befriended in Thailand are some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. The locals are gracious and friendly and there seems to be an amazing tolerance and acceptance for people being whoever they want to be. Like hey, you want to change your sex? Cool, go for it.
I heard you edited the video yourself?
Cody Herman filmed, he’s an old friend of ours from Napa who was down to come out. It was kind of nerve-wracking because we just basically filmed with the VX1000 and didn’t watch the footage until the end of the trip. Cody killed it though, then I logged all the tapes and have just been messing around with Premiere. Yeah, I love editing. It was super fun and when you find a song that captures the energy you had when you were skating, the whole thing really comes together.
Was that a Denny Pham clip we saw?
Yeah Denny was out there, Thailand’s a hub, everyone passes through there. Denny was there, my friend Patrik Wallner was there, Eric Kirkwood my skate camp-counselor from when I was like 12-years old just happened to be there. Yeah people are always passing through Bangkok.
No Walker Ryan video is complete without your patented switch 360 flip. Can you talk about that last clip?
Thanks man, good looks [laughs]. You know sometimes I’ll spend hours trying to film a silly little clip for Instagram that won’t even make the video, but somehow I can switch tre a pretty big set of stairs like fourth or fifth try [laughs]. That’s one of the funny things about going on trips and skating in general, you can spend hours exhausting yourself to land a clip for social media, but the trick that’s actually meaningful to you that you’ve been thinking about– like all I could think about in Thailand was skating that four block – and sometimes it’ll just work out. You don’t even get a real skate-session because you got it so fast. Your just like wow, things work out sometimes.
Your board could have went in the water?
Yeah I know! It’s disgusting water too. I mean, it reeks of sewer and locals told us there’s crocodiles in the water, so if your board goes in there–you’re leaving it there. That spot is like an hour outside of Bangkok too, so you’re not just grabbing another board. Session is pretty much over.
Are these amazing 35mm photographs what we can expect in an Old Friends Zine?
It’s cool because Nick Klein and Cody Herman were both shooting film photos the whole time we were there, and I didn’t really know what to expect. They were shooting panoramic photos and stuff, so they got their photos back and they came out awesome. So we just figured, let’s make a little zine. It’s been one of the goals of mine in starting the company Old Friends, to put out zines with photos from trips I’ve been on and stories about them. Because I’ll often go on a trip and write an article for a magazine or for myself, and if it gets in a magazine it’s condensed, or if I write it for myself I don’t do anything with it [laughs]. And so I sort of just wanted a platform to put out writing of mine and photos that my friends took. So, this is the first issue, we’re just going to make a few and periodically we’re going to release some more photos and stories from trips. So yeah, I’m really excited.
If you want to shout people out now’s the time.
Shout out to everyone who made this happen, to all the skaters who went and all the Thai homies who made it all happen: Preduce, Peter, Janchai, Geng, Tao, Aod, Simon, Patrik, TRK and Bluetooth–they took good care of us and I’m really grateful. Shout out to everyone in Thailand keeping the scene strong.
What’s next for Old Friends?
We’re hoping to keep interesting video content coming out, I’m especially looking forward to that on the skating level. But yeah, we’ve got a bunch of stuff happening for Old Friends. We got the zines coming out, we got a part with John Lupfer and another part with Nick Klein coming out. Super stoked on everything.
Intro & Interview by Zane Foley
Photos by Cody Hermann & Nick Klein
Participants: Walker Ryan