Since going pro in 2010, Red Bull athlete Ryan Decenzo has become a household name in the world of street skating. Last year was a big one for the 25-year-old Vancouver native. He won the Game of S8 contest at Summer X Games 17 and topped the Dew Tour. This summer holds endless possibilities for the budding skater as he prepares for X Games 18, which begins Thursday. We caught up with Decenzo, who lives in Huntington Beach, California, last week at Venice Skatepark, where he told us how he’s prepping for his upcoming competitions and how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (mostly Leonardo) inspired him to pick up his first skateboard.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a skateboarder? If your teacher had asked you what your dream job was back in fifth grade, would you have said that?
I didn’t really start skating until seventh/eighth grade so I probably wouldn’t have said anything about skating in fifth grade. I probably would have said, “I don’t want to go to school and I don’t want to ever work, either.” I probably wanted to be a pro soccer player or something like that.
What made you initially decide to start skateboarding?
It was just always one of those things that I had my eye on as a kid but I never really had a chance to get my own board and go do it. When I was a kid, I’d watch "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and loved it. They would cruise around in tights in sewers. That was before I even knew what skateboarding was and I thought, “Wow. That looks cool!” When I got a chance to get a board, I just wanted to rip around and learn how to ollie and all that stuff, as soon as I figured out what that was. I also played those video games, like the Tony Hawk first video games, to learn stuff from those.
Was there a point where it was a conscious decision that you wanted to pursue this as a full-time career or was it something that you just kept doing and happened on its own?
There was a point when I was a kid, and I was skating a lot, and I got sponsored. I was going to school at a college and working a part-time job and skating, and it was getting super insane for me doing all these things. I won this contest and thought, “All right, I’m just going to give this a shot and have fun at it and if it doesn’t work then I had a bunch of fun for a while and lost a few years of school.” It wasn’t too heavy of a decision, I guess, but at the same time if it wouldn’t have worked out, things would have been different.
How is the Southern California skating scene different than your hometown of Vancouver?
Vancouver has one of the biggest skateboarding scenes in Canada just because it’s got the best temperature. It doesn’t freeze for long periods of time there; it just rains a lot so you can kind of technically skate a little more, but compared to California, it’s kind of crap. All the rain deteriorates around the snow and makes big cracks on the ground and when you fall it’s like falling on teeth and your hands just get chewed up. Growing up, we would shovel snow on skate parks and driveways and places that we wanted to skate and hope that the next day it would dry out. Vancouver is its own little city, whereas California is the epicenter of skateboarding, I would say, compared to all across North America, and probably South America and most of Europe too. It’s just of where skateboarding began, and its roots are here, so there’s always a lot of industry out here.
What do you do when you’re not skateboarding?
I hang out with friends and keep it relaxed and play video games. I’ve been golfing a bunch lately because it’s a lot of fun and it’s challenging. I like things that are really hard. Skateboarding is really hard, and golfing is really hard. I don’t really like team sports too much, where you have to pass the ball over and people blow if for you and you’re like, “Oh man. Forget about that! I’m not passing anymore.” Skateboarding is so raw – it’s you, yourself and your board. I like sports like that.
How has the skateboarding industry changed from when you were just getting your career started?
It’s grown a lot. There are a lot of bigger names/brand names that are getting in there. It’s just good that skateboarding is growing and becoming more accepted instead of this thing that people are pointing their fingers at and saying, “Don’t do that around here.” Now they are more considerate and say, “Don’t you guys know about the skate park down the street?” and I’m just like “Well we’re trying to build a street park.” It’s getting more accepted in the world so it’s pretty awesome, actually.
Growing up, what were your parents’ careers and did they support you being a skateboarder or were they hoping you picked a more traditional route?
Yeah, they were definitely a little bit frustrated at how much time me and my brother were putting into skating. We would just be like, “Okay, we did our homework. All right, we’re going skating.” And would not have done any of our homework. We would just be going skating. Then we’d get home and do the last of our homework that we could and then go to sleep, and then we started getting worse grades.
My mom did a lot of school at University of British Columbia up in Vancouver. My dad is a Machinist for Toyota, so he went to a bunch of trade schools and they were kind of looking at us like, “What are you guys doing? That’s not going to work.” They kind of were just like, “Yeah. Good luck with that one. Whatever.” I think my mom and dad are really stoked now, though. They are glad that at least something is working out of it.
How is your brother, Scott, doing in his skateboarding career?
He’s almost at a pro level right now, I would say. He was the first amateur put on Plan B once they came back. He’s got an important little spot in the world of skateboarding.
What is your favorite part about competing in a big skateboarding event?
Skating with all the other guys when they’re not just dorking around and chilling and doing basic tricks. It’s kind of an upped the ante super fun session with your friends or with a bunch of really good other skaters. What I like is skating with people at the highest level that are going to push me when they’re skating at their highest level at the same time.
What are you doing to prepare for the X Games?
I was up in Vancouver, hitting up some skateparks and skating with my bro. He’s really good. We’ve been skating together for years so he’s at the same level I am, so when we skate together, we really push each other a lot. Just skating with him and at skating parks and having fun and trying not to get hurt basically and stretching and eating as well as I possibly can without going to Wendy’s too many times.
Do you still get nervous before you perform/compete?
Sometimes if you feel like you’re having a bad skate day and then you have to compete, and you get a little bit more nervous but if you’re skating around in practice and everything is working perfectly, it kind of takes away some of the nerves. It depends on the day but there’s always a little bit of nerves in there for sure.
If you weren’t a professional skateboarder, what would you be doing for a living?
I might be another professional something, maybe a snowboarder. But I might get too cold for that and bail out. I’m into drawing. Maybe graphic design? It depends what I would have gone to school for. I didn’t know what I was going to school for at the time so skateboarding worked out in that aspect.