Interview by Nick Shields. Photos by Kevin Marquez
Gabe Ryan is the San Diego skate scene’s most lovable goofball. Always cracking jokes and overall bringing light-hearted joy to any session, Gabe is always having fun. He currently lives in Escondido with his lovely wife Hanni Ryan, enjoying the homeowner life. Though before that, Gabe grew up always being encouraged to follow his passions of skateboarding and art by his parents, Mike and Cindy Ryan. At a young age his dad opened a surf and skate shop Just Boards, one of the first in San Diego and Gabe was surrounded by the culture, gravitating to the early-grab jump ramp era of the late ‘80s. Soon hit the small wheels flip-in flip-out tech era of the ‘90s and Gabe adjusted just as well landing himself a spot on multiple teams and parts in some staple SD videos like Composure and Blitzkrieg. In early 2000 the Ocean Beach skatepark opened up after years of his dad, Mike Ryan, advocating at town council meetings. About a year later Gabe started working at the park where a whole new generation of SD skaters got to know him. This is where Just Skateboards, Gabe’s small board brand named after his father’s shop, came to fruition.
This was around the time I met Gabe, at twelve years old, my friends and I started skating, and we soon started venturing to the local skatepark. In time, we got to know the guy behind the counter, usually wearing some sunglasses and spray painting kids’ griptape. Gabe was there to give us trick advice, gab about skate culture, sell you a cheap Just board when you snapped yours, or call your mom when you broke your hand (the latter definitely happened to me). Gabe has been in my life as long as my most beloved passion, skateboarding. To me the two go hand in hand in my life, without skateboarding there would be no Gabe Ryan and without Gabe Ryan there would be no skateboarding. For a lot of kids like me he had a huge impact on our skating at a time where you really start to develop your style and trick selection and overall attitude. This interview means a lot to me and Shieldless co-founder Reuben Barrack and we are excited to present to you Dropping In with Gabe Ryan.
First off, how are you doing dude?
I’m doing good man! Just working, skating, and still filming stuff here and there.
Nice, how’s the married homeowner life?
Dude, it’s sick man. It’s a trip living here in Escondido. We’re gonna get a skatepark here pretty soon, so that’s gonna be the new dope thing.
Halloween just passed, that’s your favorite holiday right?
Yeah definitely, I would say that’s my favorite holiday because we’re all into horror films and stuff like that.
What got you into all those horror movies, I see you going to conventions for stuff like that right?
It goes back to me and my pops watching scary movies when I was a little kid, and him just telling me, “this is just fake you know? It’s just a movie.” We’d watch Creepshow together, that was the first scary movie I ever saw.
When Hanni was working night’s I would just watch all the classics and get to figure out why they’re classics. My mom would hook us up for Comic-Con and we got to go for like ten years straight! From there we went to Monsterpalooza up in Pasadena, which is a smaller convention, we don’t even do Comic-Con any more.
Sick man! Alright let’s get into your history a little bit. First off, how old are you?
I’m 39! About to turn 40 in a month dude, it’s gnarly.
And still killin’ it! How long have you been skating?
Thank you man, appreciate it. I’ve been skating since I was about five. So what is that, like 30 years or something, 35 years? I think I was like five or six and my pops was selling surfboards out of our garage and he had one “action sports” board. It was a Kamikaze, like fully generic. I bugged him for it and he finally gave it to me and I was just rolling down the driveway, taking slams.
Your dad ran a skateshop back in the day in Ocean Beach right?
Yeah, actually first it was Just Boards and that was over by Point Loma High School.
What was that like, growing up in a skate and surf shop?
Dude it was insane, it was so sick. There was a huge skate scene because The Search For Animal Chin had just came out. Everyone in the neighborhood skated and there were just launch ramp jams going on all the time. It was insane, it was overwhelming as a kid, I was so hyped!
Did he start the shop because you were into skateboarding, or what came first?
Well it was Just Boards Surf & Skate because he was already selling surfboards. I have heard him say that he saw I was passionate about skating so he wanted to incorporate that with the shop.
Anything memorable happen in that shop?
Dude, this is a trip, I want to throw this out there so if anybody reads this and can shed some light on it. I talked to my pops, he’s claiming that he’s the first one to grind the griptape before you cut it, and sand it with the extra piece. Dude I asked him and he’s like, “Yeah, yeah I’m the one who invented that. I’ve got the wrench!” Now I have the wrench, he found it yesterday in a box because they’re moving some stuff. The wrench is all grinded like he used it as a file. I’m like, “It could be man, like Dad for real, it could be because your shop opened up in ‘87!” Skate shops were still out of hobby stores back then, there wasn’t like a real surf and skate shop back then, I think, I don’t know.
Well we’ll have to put that out there and see if anyone’s got any evidence against it. Is there anybody still around the San Diego skate scene who you still see around today that you saw back then in your dad’s shop?
Probably your closest ones would be like Kanten Russell and Oscar Jordan. Because there was such a scene in Point Loma it was like those were the best skaters in town. It was funny too, there was a goth freestyler in Point Loma too who was dope! He was like our closest thing to Rodney Mullen. Think about that, a goth freestyler, we were like “hell yeah!” he was apart of the crew [laughs]. But I was definitely a grom getting tortured, I had to pay my dues.
“I was definitely a grom getting tortured, I had to pay my dues.”
When did you start getting hooked up as a kid?
It was a launch ramp skate jam. It was an unorganized contest, and there was this one pro for Blockhead named Mark Partain there. I guess I won the contest or something, I was super little and I was obsessed with launch ramps, doing early grab judos and stuff. From then on, I was getting Blockhead mini Mark Partain boards. I think I only got like four boards out of the whole thing. I got a lifetime supply of stickers and I was super little and I couldn’t believe it.
How old were you around that time?
I wanna say like ten maybe? It was crazy because I was trying to get on the Just Skate team. They were just about to move the shop to OB and that’s right when I got on the team and stuff. I was actually really trying to take it seriously.
Jumping around a little bit, when did the shop close down?
Shoot I think I was like twelve or thirteen. It had to be like ‘92 or something, so that’d be like twelve years old.
Did you start skating for another shop right away?
No, I remember Jim [Ruonala] from Pacific Drive gave me a hat and a shirt and was like “Hey man, you can always come here and I’ll help you out.” That was really cool, I thought that was awesome that he did that.
Then I just kept skating and Clairemont Skatepark opened up over on Friars Road. I skated there a bunch and met two of my homies who skated for Soul Grind skate shop. So it was just a natural transition from my dad’s shop going out of business, and then Clairemont Skatepark opening up.
So after Blockhead and the shop, who else started hooking you up back in those days?
So I was still doing CASL contests and stuff but I was also doing little kid shit like little league. So I wasn’t really getting sponsored after the Blockhead thing. But I had a mini ramp in my backyard so that really helped me to keep skating and being comfortable on my board while I was doing school stuff or little league or going to camps and stuff like that. It wasn’t until middle school when I started getting another shop sponsor basically.
Is there any company that you rode for that you’re really stoked on?
Probably Osiris. Skipping forward, when Soul Grind did their second video I was able to use that part to get factory flow. I remember getting something like twelve pairs of shoes in one day. They hooked me up with the full walk through the offices and the warehouse. It felt really official, I was like “This is insane!” It was right after The Storm too, they were blowing up. They gave me like twenty shirts too! It was a box that couldn’t fit through the door, they’re like “You have to go through the back.” It was hilarious, it was like some Chevy Chase’s family vacation or something like that. [Laughs]
What was the name of that Soul Grind video?
It was Composure. It was a really sick time, I had first part and Danny Wallace had last part, Falco [Baltys] was right there in the middle too jumping down stuff.
So when did you make the shift from Soul Grind to Sun Diego?
After the video Composure everyone kind of moved on after that. I think the filmer moved and went back to the east coast. It was like, after the video the whole thing just felt complete so everyone went and did their own thing.
They [Sun Diego] just didn’t really have a team so what happened was Paul Kobriger moved over to Sun Diego and then he was like, “Hey I’m putting together a team.” I went over there and he gave me a bunch of cool stuff right off the bat, like I got a couple decks, some crazy sick windbreaker jacket, a pair of Sun Diego pants and stickers, I was like, “Wow this is dope!”
Was it hard leaving Soul Grind?
Pablo [Smith] from Soul Grind was like another dad to us. He’d let us take his van and drive to contests in Long Beach. I owe a lot to Soul Grind, I love those guys. I couldn’t have done anything without those guys, paying our contest fees and the free boards and everything. After the second video it wasn’t like a bad beef everybody was just moving on to the next chapter and Sun Diego just happened to be a perfect fit because Paul was there.
Then you had a part in the Blitzkrieg video, do people bring that up a lot?
At the time yeah. There were rumors that it did good in Japan. [laughs] I was like, “Yeah sick! Let’s do a Japan tour!”
Which part would you say you’ve gotten the most response from?
I’d say the Soul Grind Composure part. It’s only like a minute and a half but it was just the right place at the right time. The filmer would pick us up and buy us food and just believed in us like, “Yeah dude you got it, you can skate this rail!” Every one of my video parts I’m super stoked on, but I was fresh out of high school and I was pretty focused and taking it pretty seriously, but at the same time still partying I guess? [Laughs]
Was it soon after that your dad started helping get the OB park built?
Yeah exactly, around 2001. But I mean he had been working on it for like ten years. From the early ‘90s he was doing these huge meetings and stuff and he stuck with it. That was pretty amazing that he stuck with it because I went to a handful of meetings but he went to every single meeting and really fought for it.
What was it like when that park finally opened?
It was like a Christmas morning feeling when you’re a little kid. Pretty much that’s it, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was like you guaranteed that I’d be there forever, every single day. I was like, ‘This is where I’m gonna skate for the rest of my life, this is all I need.’
“This is where I’m gonna skate for the rest of my life, this is all I need.”
Do you remember opening day?
Opening day was insane dude! It was like a gigantic festival. They had a huge stage with bands and stuff. It was incredible, they had booths and vendors, food and everything and there were like a million people. They gave out colored wristbands and there were so many skaters that you could only skate if your colored wristband was being called over some loud speaker, can you believe that? They’re like, [mimicking mega phone] “Okay everyone with a neon pink, it’s your time to skate!” and you’re like, “Come on dude, me on yellow still wants to land this!” [mega phone voice] “Nope sorry!”
You know how everybody rolls in on the left hand side? They roll in from the small and pump that one hip and then they go over the banked hip with the curb on it and then it spits you perfectly frontside into the tranny hip right there, right? I think it was the grand opening Peter Hewitt did that, that’s like the Peter Hewitt line, and everybody figured out like, “oh that’s how you get to that hip.” I don’t think he gets credit for it or if he’s even aware of it but I remember it was like a light switch turned on when everybody saw him.
Woah that’s awesome, you’re probably like the only person who would know that! So then when did you start working at the park?
I think it was open for like a year. I was like twenty three when I got hired over there. I worked there for about eight years. I wanted to be the center director there for the park, and we didn’t think they would open it to the public but we’re stoked that it happened.
Was it kind of bittersweet?
Yeah, but at the same time it was cool because it was time for me to try something different, I had already been there for a while.
So while you were working at the park were you still trying to build a skate career at the same time?
Yeah at the same time I was always trying to stay sponsored or try to keep filming. I skated for Sun Diego and we did some more videos after Blitzkrieg and we did a bunch of tours which was really sick. After Sun Diego, Z-flex skateboards did a street program for a year and that just fell into place because I had some footage leftover from Sun Diego. That was cool to do Z-flex with Dallas Rockvam and some really gnarly dudes were on the team too. We actually did a video for Z-flex and they hooked me up with an ad in Slap which was insane. This was during the whole time I was working at Robb Field.
Was there ever a moment where you thought that maybe the chance to go pro and have a full blown skate career wasn’t going to happen for you?
That’s a good question because I feel like I never really thought about getting paid. I always thought that it’d be cool to turn pro but actually getting paid was never really something that crossed my mind. My goal was always to get a bunch of free product and then see where it goes from there. I think that I had a pretty solid amateur career I guess you could say. There was never a time where I was bummed that it was “not happening.”
Going back to working at the park what was a highlight of that time, looking back now?
Probably the early Adrian Mallory and Shuriken [Shannon] days. Those dudes got all the nbds, they got all the first stuff. Shuriken and Adrian did it, everything has been done by one of them.
Also, it was cool to see the next generation of dudes killing it like Micah [Christina], you, and Reuben [Barrack]. I think that was dope to see you guys go from just local kids to these are the dudes who rip here.
I don’t know if I’d put myself in that category of ripping but I definitely grew up with those dudes. It must be cool to see dudes like Lefty, Micah, and Reuben go from little kids to full blown adults now.
Yeah I’m super stoked that I was able to be like, “Alright cool, these guys turned out alright.” Maybe we did our job by keeping an eye on you dudes, because you’re all good dudes and we love you guys.
People are still there everyday killing that place.
Yeah and it’s crazy because it is like a family thing too since my pops kind of got the park there. It’s cool because my pops got it there and I got to work there. It’s like it’s a part of my DNA or something.
“I think having my own board company, at that time, was more fulfilling than me ever turning pro for somebody else”
While you were working there you revamped Just Skates into a deck company, what was that like?
It was something that I always wanted to do. As a kid I used to have sketchbooks of drawings of board graphics and stuff. More than turning pro for somebody, I think having my own board company, at that time, was more fulfilling than me ever turning pro for somebody else. Subconsciously I didn’t even know how big of a check mark that’d be, it was like from here on out I don’t even have to worry about anything. I hit some mental lottery where I was like “I’m good for the rest of my life.”
It was an homage to my dad’s thing too because it was like what am I gonna call it? Obviously I’m gonna call it Just because it was still a little bit relevant where the dudes my age were like, “Oh yeah, like your dad’s shop!” It was cool too because I was introduced to a wood manufacturer where if I made the simplest board, like no stained veneers, no top graphic, and just a couple colors then I could get a board that was reasonably priced so I could sell boards to people a little bit cheaper.
Did you draw the logo too?
Yeah I drew all the graphics myself!
Who were you hooking up with Just boards at the time?
Matt Lonergan, Kurt Hodge, Doug Valdez, Reuben Barrack, Kevin Marquez was on the team too! Joey Castillo was on there! Derm Collins, right before I stopped making boards I was gonna try and get Derm on there too.
It was cool it just worked out. I want to thank Hurvey Haskins for helping me out with that too. I couldn’t have done it without Hurvey. He was the one who put all the ducks in a row like, “Okay bring your graphics over here, we’ll put them in the computer, we’ll put them in the palette, we’ll email them to the board company.” He made it possible basically.
What was it like seeing the skateboard community buy your stuff and want to support you?
That was amazing for sure! I was stoked because I believed in it too. I think that was the selling point for me because it was cool for me to see other people riding what I believe in and I wouldn’t sell you a board that was not something I would ride.
It was dope, I remember the first time I bought 75 boards there was was like ten boxes of seven boards or something all in my living room like Christmas. I was like, “Wow I just want to ride all these boards!” Then I was like, “Wait I’ve gotta try and sell them cuz this is like 1,000 bucks worth of boards right here.” [Laughs]
That was a funny time to have a small brand because I feel like the smaller brands kind of run the market nowadays.
Yeah I was thinking about that too. It was before Instagram so I wasn’t able to build a little self promotion page or something.
I remember somebody said, “Dude, you should just start a cabinet company!” [Laughs] I was like, “No I wanna start a skateboard company!” and they’d say, “Nah you should do cabinets.” I’m like, “I don’t know anything about cabinets!” [Laughs]
What brought Just Skateboard Company to an end?
Basically, when the skatepark opened up to the public I wasn’t able to sell boards. Because I would hang out after my shift and skate, or before my shift, and if someone needed a board I could always get them one. Since it opened to the public I wasn’t there all the time, I had to move to a different site.
Also what happened was, it wasn’t so much that, it was more that I had already sold boards to all my homies enough. The next step was, I had to get into shops. I think more than anything that was it, it wasn’t just the fact that I couldn’t sell a board here or there to my homies. You know the shops wouldn’t touch a board that didn’t have stained veneers and a top graphic. It’s just kind of how it works. If I was gonna do it again I would definitely do stained veneers, top graphic, throw some stickers in there or something to really beef up that board that they’re buying.
Once we realized getting into shops wasn’t going to be an option we were like, “Okay, it ran it’s course.” We did it for fun, everybody was moving on. It wasn’t a devastating thing like, “Oh man, we failed.” It was like, “That was sick! We did it man, what’s next?”
“I went from Just to Dust!”
A few years later you were riding Dust Skateboards right?
Yeah one in a million! I went from Just to Dust! [Laughs]
And you had a pro board!
Yeah it was amazing he [Ken Prouty] did like the whole surprise thing too. He was like, “I brought you some boards,” and I said, “I don’t see them!” and he actually put the boards in the bushes, it was so random and then I looked and I’m like, “This is amazing! You’re kidding me right?” It was totally cool.
He knew that I was into sci-fi horror so he made a cool graphic that was a skeleton in an astronaut suit. I was like, “This is perfect!”
What was it like riding boards with your name on it?
That was magical, it was like every board was good! That’s seriously how I felt, like I’d set it up and it’s like no matter what, I can’t believe my name is on this board so today’s gonna be the best day of skating ever. [Laughs]
I remember you were always painting kids’ grip at the park, or your own grip, and you had a couple canvases up at your house. Is art something you’ve always been interested in?
Yeah absolutely! I’ve been doing paintings and stuff almost as long as I’ve been skating. I’ve done art shows and stuff and I’ve sold my paintings here and there. Nothing too major, but I think I sold a handful of paintings that I was really stoked on.
Right now I’m doing a lot of mixed media, a lot of spray paint and paint pen type stuff and a lot of little characters. ‘Spastic art’ is what I call my style, something I could just paint to get distracted for a little and then when you’re done you kinda stand back and be like, “Alright cool. I like that.”
You’ve been skating and filming with Kevin Marquez since the Animal Style days, what was it like filming with that crew?
Yeah man with the Animal Style crew and Getbarld [Kevin], it’s been a blessing to be a part of that whole thing and being able to make videos with those dudes. We filmed like four or five videos so it almost felt like a board sponsor. Every dude who was in any of those videos, when we run into them it’s like family again. We all had blood, sweat, and tears for those days. I want to thank everybody, like Cano Cardenas for sure, it couldn’t have been done without him, he’s the man.
What’s it been like filming with Kev from then until now, it seems like you guys skate together almost every week?
To be able to film with your homie is just a natural thing, you never have to worry if he’s gonna film it weird or it’s gonna be filmed bad or anything. We’re into the same type of things too, the same type of music, art, we both play drums. It’s been a really dope relationship, I’m super hyped on the whole thing.
So what’s up with this new video project Cat Boys?
With Cat Boys, it started because we have this other homie Dom [Parlavecchio] he’s just like me and Kev, he’s into the same stuff. We were thinking [the name] Cat Boys because Dom has a bunch of cats, and then Kevin’s got three cats and then our mascot over here is Bob, he’s our number one cat. So it was kind of a joke and it just happened naturally that Dom had a full part, Kevin’s got a full part and then I’ve pretty much got a full part right now. It just kind of fell into place.
Can’t wait to see it man. Well to wrap it up, do you have any big goals at the moment?
You know dude I’m just turning 40 next month which is kind of crazy but I basically want to keep doing the same thing. Just keep filming, keep skating, I’m working right now, I’m chilling with my wife, we’re just up here in Escondido. They’re supposed to get a skatepark up here pretty soon, looking forward to that. Hopefully just the same old, I just want to keep it going. To quote Sam Hitz, “I’m just trying to keep the hamster in the wheel rollin’!”
Anything else you want to say, anything you want to end it on?
I did remember one thing that Shockus said and it really helped me at a time I was in one of those transition phases. I felt like I was getting coverage and then all of a sudden I stopped getting coverage and all of a sudden I was thinking like this or that. I remember talking to Shockus and he said, “Remember it’s not about coverage, it’s about having fun.” He said it really quick and easy but it had a huge impact. I think at that time that really helped my whole situation. You know Shockus Day is because his influence on us and how he helped us out. With Network Skate and all the stuff he did behind the scenes for everybody too. Each aspect is legendary so I think that’s what makes him such an iconic, legendary dude and that was why we loved him so much. I think that when he said that it helped my skating and it helped my trick selection. When he said that I was like [to myself], “Oh yeah dude you’re not even skating for the right reasons again! Hello, duh, what are you doing? Go do a 50-50 boneless out right now!”
Keep up with Gabe Ryan on Instagram.
Follow Kevin Marquez on Instagram for more sick photos and edits.
Stay Tuned for that Cat Boys video coming soon.