Q&A with Ryan Sheckler
Skateboarding star, now approaching 20, discusses his life as a teenage prodigy
Sheckler says he is fully recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery
Sheckler has sights set on more gold at the X Games before calling it a career
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Ryan Sheckler can't sit still. He paces back and forth inside the Roosevelt Hotel before sitting down for a moment and then getting back up.
A part of him wants to get on his skateboard nestled against the wall and a part of him wants to rest but he can't do either at the moment.
"I keep getting these back spasms," says Sheckler, squinting as he talks. "You get used to it but at the end of the day I want to be at the skate park."
Sheckler has been one of the most recognizable skateboarders since exploding onto the scene six years ago when at 14 years old he won gold at the X Games as well as winning at the Gravity Games, Vans Triple Crown and Slam City Jam. It was the coming-out party for a skating prodigy who taught himself how to push around his dad's old skateboard using one knee when he was 18 months old and later spent 22 hours a week from the age of 6 practicing tricks in his very own backyard skate park.
It's hard for Sheckler to believe that it's been six years since the first time he won gold at the X Games and that with his 20th birthday around the corner, the once teenage prodigy is almost all grown up.
"It's insane to think that it's been that long," he says. "It's absolutely insane. It's crazy to think how big skateboarding has become in that time."
I caught up with Sheckler over some cheeseburgers and fries in Hollywood during the X Games to talk to him about winning another X Games gold medal, acting with "The Rock" and becoming a sex symbol.
SI.com: First off all, you look like you're in constant pain. How are you feeling right now?
Sheckler: Well, about 17 weeks ago I got full reconstructive elbow surgery on my right elbow. They took all the ligaments out of my wrist, rewired through my elbow tied it all together and screwed it down. It's absolutely 100 percent right now and healed way faster than I thought it would. I got all these other scars from skating, but it's my life, dude. I absolutely love it. I am always hurt but what are you going to do? I have to skate.
SI.com: You don't look like the toughest guy from across the room but you're coming back from some injuries that football players wouldn't...
Sheckler: Dude, I say this to everyone. That [stuff] pisses me off. Yeah they take big hits and they fall hard but they don't do what we do. C'mon. They got pads on and helmets. We're falling down 16 stairs of concrete 20 times in a row trying to beat the next dude that's doing the same [darn] thing. We don't sit on the ground. I don't grab my ankle and roll around the ground like a dramatic freak basketball or soccer player. We all have our hard jobs, but if you're going to get hurt, make sure you're really hurt before you complain about that [stuff].
SI.com: I would guess the biggest difference between other sports like football, basketball and soccer and what you do, is that skating isn't just a sport to you, right?
Sheckler: No, it's a lifestyle. It's my life. Skateboarding is so awesome to me because it's an individual sport. Yeah, you have teammates and people you hang out with but they don't do tricks for you. They don't determine the way your tricks look, they don't do anything. At the end of the day, when you're a skateboarder you're learning at your own pace and doing the tricks you want to do. No one can tell you what to do. No one can tell me what to do on my skateboard. My skateboard is my safe spot. I can learn tricks, I can have fun, I can do whatever I want on my skateboard. That's what people don't understand and that's what the kids today now are realizing.
SI.com: Did you ever play a team sport growing up?
Sheckler: I played baseball but I don't like depending on people. I don't like depending on anyone. No one can throw the ball like I can throw it, no one can catch like I can or run like I can. I was just over it. Baseball was just not for me.
SI.com: You taught yourself how to skateboard and learned how to ride in your back yard. With the success you had at an early age, it seems like more kids are getting into skating at a younger age, is that good a good thing?
Sheckler: You see that's what's good about skating; you learn at your own pace and do what you want to do. If you get hurt and you think you can't skate or can't do that trick, back up a little, take a step back and try another trick, a smaller trick and work your way up. A lot of these kids try to go out hard and their parents are pushing them to be the best skateboarder on the planet, and that's not how you do it. You do it because you love it and that's when you get the best. You have to relate to it and I've always been able to 100 percent relate to skateboarding. That's why I love it.
SI.com: Like you said, some parents try too hard push their kids into being the next Ryan Sheckler or Tony Hawk. Your parents didn't necessarily do that, but they were more supportive than most, building a backyard skate park and getting you whatever you needed from the time you could walk.
Sheckler: They're the only reason I'm here today and doing what I'm doing. My parents could have done a million things with their lives. My mom was a dentist and had a great job, and my dad runs two companies and he worked all the time so that we were able to travel. We weren't poor by any means but we weren't filthy rich, so it was awesome growing up in my house with a supportive family. When I was eight I won my first contest, and when I was nine I was traveling with my mom all over the country and skating with these teens, and that's when I realized this is a big deal and I could do something with this and I started getting followers. Tony Hawk also had a huge role in my life in showing me the right path and making sure I got to where I am today.
SI.com: We're here for the 15th X Games, and I think this was the event six years ago that the world was introduced to you. Do you think that was the turning point in your life and your career?
Sheckler: Yeah, when I was 13 and I won the X Games. That was big. I had just turned pro at 13 and I went to my first contest in Canada, Slam City Jam and that was at the beginning of the year and I won my first pro contest. I was so excited about that and then I won the Gravity Games, so I won the first two pro contests I was in. So, I was like, "Cool, I'm going to the X Games, maybe I'll win that too." I just remember everyone talking about how young I was and I just felt on fire. I skated my heart out and left everything out there on the course and I won. That's what changed everything. It changed the way I looked at skating because I knew I could hang with the big boys and I could skate.
SI.com: You've gone on to do a lot outside of skateboarding and have proven yourself as a skateboarder; going into the X Games and other competitions, how much do these contests and where you place still mean to you?
Sheckler: It means a lot to me. I like the competition because it keeps me mentally focused on something besides learning a trick or linking tricks together. I'm always trying to figure out ways to one up everyone and that's what I love about competitions. I love challenging myself and pushing the envelope. Sometimes I challenge myself so hard that I end up losing the contest, but I do that to push myself to see where my boundaries are. I still don't know my boundaries and I've been skating professionally since I was 13.
SI.com: How do you want people to remember you as a skateboarder when you finally retire from competitive skating?
Sheckler: I don't really care if they remember me so much as if I can give 100 skate parks from now until I'm done skateboarding. If I can contribute to some kid's life who decides to becomes a skateboarder because of me. I just want to help skateboarding. I don't care about me. I'm not in it for me. At the end of the day I want to help skateboarding grow.
SI.com: You've helped to do that with a lot of stuff you've done outside of skateboarding. A lot of people outside the sport know you from your reality show on MTV, Life of Ryan, which wrapped up its third and final season this year. How did that change things for you?
Sheckler: Well, it wasn't that hard to film the show. Some days it got pretty irritating and I got fed up and just left. Peace out. I would just leave the whole set and everyone, but I've been in front of a camera since I can remember, so it wasn't hard for me it was harder for my friends to get comfortable together. So it changed things a little but I tried to keep things normal. The toughest part is that there were always, always, always people around. There was never a time when it was just me. I couldn't even think or talk to myself because I was always hooked up to a microphone. I got caught a lot of times talking [stuff] into the microphone and I had to go back and apologize. It gets hard when you have 20 people in your life around every single day telling you what to do.
SI.com: Do you ever wish you could hit the pause button on your life and take a break from all this?
Sheckler: Nah, there's no pause button in life. These are the steps I've taken in my life and the things that get thrown at me are just obstacles and I'm just working with them.
SI.com: Since the show you've also become somewhat of a sex symbol to a bunch of teenage girls. You're in a new Axe deodorant commercial that drives home that image pretty hard as well. Is that something that you've embraced as well?
Sheckler: Oh yeah, the females are awesome. That's tight, yeah. There's nothing wrong with that.
SI.com: You said before that you push yourself and try to do thing that haven't been done before. You developed a move called the Sheck-lair, an indy kickflip flyout, and are always trying new things. Do think guys are pushing the envelope as much as they used to?
Sheckler: No, I don't think that happens so much in skateboarding. I don't think too many people are coming up with brand new tricks. I think its tricks that have been done before. The way I look at tricks is if I really have my mind set on one, I'm going to learn it until I can do it 10 or 20 times in a row. I want to perfect it.
SI.com: You're also getting into acting. You recently finished filming a movie with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Ashley Judd, Julie Andrews and Billy Crystal called The Tooth Fairy where you play a hockey player, how did that go?
Sheckler: It was amazing. I had to learn how to play ice hockey. It was really cool because I had never really tried anything else other than skateboarding. I really put everything I had into learning how to play ice hockey and be good at it and I did it. All I wanted to do was be able to slide and spray and within the first four days of filming (in Vancouver) I was stopping both feet, turning and flying up and down and shooting the puck and I had a real good time.
SI.com: You'd played a skateboarder before in your previous acting roles. What made you want to push yourself and learn how to be a pro hockey player when you had never even skated before?
Sheckler: I wanted to the challenge. I had never done that before. I live, live, live off challenges. If someone bets me I can't do something, I'm going to whatever I can to prove them wrong. I'll jump off the roof if I have to. I live my life off always trying to find that next level and seeing how far I can push myself.
SI.com: With everything you're doing outside of skating, whether it be acting, designing your own clothing line or starring in your own reality show, do you ever fear that it will overshadow what you do as a skateboarder?
Sheckler: No, I'm a skateboarder. I got Skate Life Till Death tattooed on my arms. I'm not going anywhere. I'll always be a skateboarder. That's what I started with and that's where all this has come from. I'd be nowhere without my skateboard. I'd never abandon it.
SI.com: There's a lot of scrutiny that comes with fame and notoriety, and you've become quite a polarizing figure in skateboarding because of your mainstream fame. How do you deal with your critics and those that have a problem with you outside of skating?
Sheckler: My fans are the best fans in the world and my haters are the biggest haters in the world, and I love both of them. I [frigging] laugh at the haters. I laugh at them. It's the most funny thing to see them. I try to put myself in their shoes and look at someone that's doing way better than me and making way more money than me and I look at them and I'm proud of that guy. I'm happy for them. But the haters that are sitting there, running their mouth and talking [trash], they've never had to work for anything. They've never had the pressure of 100,000 people watching them. They've never been in that situation. So go do something productive with you life. Leave me the [heck] alone; I'm doing [stuff]. I got things to do with my life.
SI.com: Do you ever Google yourself and see what people write about you or say about you online?
Sheckler: No, I stay off the internet. The internet is poison. It is such poison. The internet can make you go crazy.
SI.com: With X Games going on, how much does winning another gold medal mean to you?
Sheckler: It would be huge. The X Games have become a monster in action sports. It's the biggest action sports contest and everyone wants a gold medal. That gold medal I won when I was 13 changed my life. It opened everyone's eyes to who I was. Everyone all of a sudden knew who I was. I still have a Guinness Book of World Records plaque for being the youngest person to ever win the X Games. I don't think anyone's going to break that for a while. I want to win X Games again. I want to have five X Games gold medals by the time I'm done skating, which shouldn't be too hard. I have 10 more good years of skating left in me. I just hope to get better and keep having fun.
SI.com: Seeing how far you've come now, what would the Sheckler of today say to the 13-year-old Sheckler that just turned pro six years ago?
Sheckler: I would probably tell myself to go hang out with more girls when I was younger. I would tell myself to focus more on girls and not take things so seriously and have some more fun. I would tell myself to relax and that you'll be fine in the future. Don't trip, everything's going to be OK.