By: Kyle DuVall
In an era where hours and hours of skate footage is available at the push of a button, there’s a thousand different voices trying to explain what a skateboarder should be. Amid this abundance of definitions, Street Plant Battalion Member Jade Ryan has achieved something as impressive as any handrail stunt or intricate tech trick. In a world of explanations and examples, Ryan has maintained her own singular identity as a skater and shared that identity with no fear and no apologies.
Shredding the streets and parks of Sydney, Australia, Ryan’s philosophy is simple. “If I try a trick and I’m not having fun I walk away from it. If it’s not fun I won’t do it.” And Ryan has no hesitation when what is fun doesn’t coincide with what is conventional. Planting her feet, picking up the board, bouncing off architecture, switching boards, Ryan’s skating isn’t so much about breaking the “rules” as it is about never bothering to learn them. “When I first started skating I had only seen like 2 videos, so I came at it not knowing much about skateboarding… I got one of my friend’s thrashed boards and I just took it from there. The way I started skating came out of being spontaneous… It’s only recently that I’ve started looking on the internet and seeing other skaters… I haven’t bought a magazine in probably 2 years.”
The haters might say: “it shows”, but those who get it say “Hell yeah!” Ryan’s video edits, which she shares on her YouTube Channel and via Facebook, bear no resemblance to the lavishly produced hammer-swinging video assaults that have turned elite level skating into a bone crunching arms race. Instead, her videos actually look like… Fun. And although the bonelesses and drop tricks hearken to the past, what they may actually be showing is the new now. In a world where every kid with a smartphone is posting up untrimmed footage of their star-struck skate escapades, what Ryan is doing is like the control group in the ongoing experiment that is over-endorsed, over athleticized modern skating. The edits are snippets of a skater in a completely natural context, one operating in a partially self-imposed exile, uncontaminated by imposed definitions of the “right way” to skate in 2015.
“Skating is just skating to me,” Ryan says. “In the end I never tried to have an old school or new school thing. Skating is freedom to me.” That sense of liberty includes the freedom to share an exuberant image of skating that doesn’t require skate coaches and private training facilities, one that is less about conquering a spot than being a part of it.
“There’s nothing better than to find a new spot on the streets. I scour the streets for weird looking spots that may have never been skated before and jam out and see what happens. A lot of tricks I don’t even know the names of… It just comes at the spot. Sometimes I’ll see a spot and think ‘I just want to do something at that spot’ and I won’t even be sure what it is yet… It’s more an accomplishment of the spot rather than some trick at the spot.”
Going out, getting weird, having fun, thousands of skateboarders do this everyday. More cynical minds might say there is nothing special about what Jade Ryan is doing, but that’s kind of like looking at the splatters on a Jackson Pollock painting and saying: “I could do that”. In skating, as in art, this is missing the point. Whether other skaters could do the same is irrelevant. The fact is, they didn’t, and, even if they did, their paint splashes wouldn’t be the same anyway.
But there’s no conscious agenda, no political statement in Ryan’s motivations for documenting her own, often quirky, vision of skating. “The endgame to making video is to see the end result myself. It’s a little notebook for myself, a record of what I’ve done,” says Ryan. “It’s all about fun to me, even things that look weird are just fun clips to have. I’ll probably look goofy every time I skate one way or another.”
Whether she consciously intends to or not, what Jade Ryan is doing in her edits is throwing away the basic “rules” of modern street skating and swapping them for stripped-down deconstructed fun. In her vision of skating, even the sacred ollie is just another trick in the bag, not a mandatory starting point for every move and variation “Some people find busting an ollie heaps of fun. Some sessions I’ll do ollies, other days I just wont be a fan of it” says Ryan. “I’ve done an ollie, I want to do something new… Pick up the board in a way I haven’t before, or attack a spot in a whole new way… Plant my feet, get my hands dirty, feel the ground.”
Making these sorts of decisions in your own personal skate bubble is one thing, but putting them out in the digital world, where critics hide behind screen names, and orthodoxies are enforced by trolling adolescents with axes to grind, is something else. That takes a sort of fearlessness that has nothing to do with bodily harm. “Sometimes I see people criticize, but I take it with a grain of salt…” Ryan says, not even showing enough concern to be called dismissive. “If that’s what you’re going to do fine, it really hasn’t affected me one bit in my skating. I do what I do and I have fun, and I’ve met some really awesome people skating. When I go to the skatepark, mainly I have people come up and go, ‘Hey, how did you do that?’ or ‘I haven’t seen that before.’ There’s not much hate when I go out to a skatepark, most skaters who are out there doing it for fun don’t have to hate on anybody. It’s more of a group mentality of encouragement I’ve encountered in skating.”
It’s a group mentality Ryan feeds with every video edit. Doing something different, skating for herself, skating for fun, Jade Ryan is a part of a quiet revolution that’s infiltrating skating from the inside out. Fun, creativity, personality. That’s not the future of skateboarding, or a throwback to the past, it’s the eternal present that keeps skating alive.
Kyle DuVall had been writing about skateboarding almost as long as he has been skateboarding.