Ricky Oyola is one of the all-time great skaters. His casual lines down city blocks helped define an era. He’s also one of the people that put Philly on the map in the early ’90s. Needless to say, Ricky’s got a few stories to tell. The following interview covers OG Love Park, Matt Reason and Serge Trudnowski, Zoo York, Illuminati / Silver Star, the origins of Traffic, and more.
48 Blocks: When and how did you first get into skateboarding?
Ricky: I have three older brothers. They had skateboards around. But it was in 1985 that my neighbor got a board for his birthday. It was a Nash Executioner. A few months later on my birthday, I got my first board, a Town & Country Zoner. We would have tic-tac contests around the neighborhood. My first official trick was a boneless.
48 Blocks: When is the first time that you went to Love Park, who were the locals at that time?
Ricky: In 1988 was the first time I went to the city in general to go skating. We took a bus from our town and got dropped off at 6th and Arch, a block away from the Afro banks. Love was another spot on the list, but wasn’t what it would eventually become. I didn’t know the locals back then. But Roger Browne, Ari, Scott Slim, and John Burke were some of the good skaters at that time. There were these two twins that were insanely good, better than anybody good. But I didn’t know their names. I would see them sometimes, but they were two of the biggest dicks. We referred to them as the dick twins. They were like Gonz good. I don’t know whatever happened to them, nor do I care.
48 Blocks: You are one of the people that helped put Philadelphia on the map in the early ’90s. Can you describe the vibe in the city back then?
Ricky: Roger Browne was obviously a player, but he moved away to SF early in this stage. So it was Matt Reason, Sergei Trudnowski, and myself that did a lot. There were tons of people that played a part for sure. John Puca was one of the few skaters actually from Philly that skated Love a lot. It was a tight little scene where we ran the show, gangster style in a way. If we didn’t want you around, then so be it. You weren’t around. I liked it because we ran it.
48 Blocks: Who was your first sponsor and how did that happen?
Ricky: I guess my first official sponsor was Z-Products. I went out to Cali for almost two months, visiting some random skater I met at a skatepark in Connecticut. I stayed with this kid Colby Brown for almost the whole time with me visiting my aunt for a week or so. In that week, I went to this skatepark in East LA called Lipslides almost everyday. My first night there, I was skating and got noticed by George Wilson, who was the team manager at the time for Z. He gave me a huge box right then and there. The funny thing is that I got sponsored for my mini ramp skating. He was surprised that I skated street.
48 Blocks: How did you end up on Zoo?
Ricky: After going to SF to visit Roger Browne, I split from Fun. Roger put in a good word with Rodney from Zoo, and I was put on.
48 Blocks: You later went on to form Illuminati, which became Silver Star. Both of those companies are remembered fondly by skaters from that era.
Ricky: After being on Zoo for a while, I eventually got Sergei and Matt on the team. With Zoo being small, and having small company struggles, they started not showing respect to Matt and Sergei. Eli (Gesner)—who created everything for Zoo—came up with the idea and image of Illuminati. Everything that Eli did was like gold. We all were so hyped that we started to learn about conspiracy theories to feel more in tune with what our brand was about. In eight months, it had to end because somebody in the Midwest had a trademark on the name. A problem that Matt, Sergei, and myself had was that nobody at Zoo was telling us what was going on. We were always like when are we getting products, but got no answers until it was too late. East Coast Urethane was blowing up, and offered me to do a company with them. I was already riding for Nicotine wheels, and then later started First Division with them. So I was comfortable with the decision to leave Zoo. We all were really stoked on Illuminati and the graphics. We wanted to keep the vibe going. I was leaving for Australia, and left the naming of the company to Matt and Sergei.
When I was in Australia, I got a call from the owner of ECU saying that I needed to give him a name right then and there because Matt and Sergei failed to do so. I started reading some things from a book I was into and The Order of the Silverstar is what the author referred to the Illuminati as. At first, Matt and Sergei didn’t like the name. But I guess it grew on them as time went on. I was stoked on the name from the get go. The original team board and logo came from the Baltimore Sun newspaper. While skating in Baltimore, I saw the logo on a newspaper box and it reminded me of the Illuminati logo.
48 Blocks: What ultimately happened with Silverstar?
Ricky: The demise of Silverstar, and the rest of ECU for that matter, is still somewhat of a mystery to me. Things were going well, and then all of a sudden the owner of ECU pulled the plug on all of the brands. The rumor is that the owner, Mike Agnew, had a gambling problem and fucked everything up. I was never told by him what the real story is. So that is what I got for you. Fucking asshole. I had two amazing companies that I feel would still be around to this day if it wasn’t for him. But it is what it is. Live and learn.
48 Blocks: Dan Wolfe credits you as being one of the first people that he filmed lines in the streets with on the way to spots in Closure. How did that style of skateboarding develop?
Ricky: I guess I give most of that credit to Roger Browne. I used to drive into the city, park my car in West Philly where he lived, and skate through the city all day. I am talking many, many blocks worth of skating just hitting things along the way. I took a liking to that style, and ran with it. I don’t have any fears of moving cars or being in traffic. Plus, I think that the way Philly is laid out played a good part in it too.
48 Blocks: What impact did the shut down of Love Park have on you personally and skateboarding in the city of Philadelphia?
Ricky: The scene kind of dwindled away because most of the skaters in Philly only skated Love. I cared because it was our secondary home. But for my skating, it didn’t make that much of a difference. I was already skating more of what the city had to offer. My flatground and ledge skating definitely took a hit though. It forced more skaters to skate the stuff that our crew was skating.
48 Blocks: You were on New Deal and then faded off the skate radar for a bit, can you give us a brief timeline of then till the start of Traffic?
Ricky: I was just skating. I guess I wasn’t confident in my skating to go out and try to film. I was being a dad, which takes a lot of your time. By the time Traffic started I had two kids, Olivia and Owen.
48 Blocks: How did you go about starting Traffic, what was your original goal for the company?
Ricky: I wanted to do something. The name Traffic was really slated for a wheel company. I went up to Rhode Island for a contest and there were a lot of notable East Coast heads in attendance. We were at a bar afterwards, and I was talking to Robbie Gangemi about a company. He wanted me to ride for his wood source, and start up an idea he had called Free Agent. Dope idea, but I thought if it worked I would miss out on a few things. So I told him that I had a name that I liked, and he could supply the wood for it. This only lasted four months or so. I realized it wasn’t the best situation. So I pulled out and started doing wood through Pennswood. I wished I were a better businessperson with some capital, because maybe Robbie and I could of done things better together. I would have been stoked to have created something with him.
48 Blocks: What’s been the hardest part?
Ricky: The hardest part is trying to keep it together with no money. People put time in, and need to get their money on time. I am always waiting on checks, and that shit blows. You need to have some working capital. I could sell more goods if I had the finances to produce more goods.
48 Blocks: By the time people are reading this, they will have already seen Moving In Traffic. What are your thoughts on the video?
Ricky: Moving in Traffic was a video primarily to promote Bobby Puleo and Jack Sabback. They got on the team right when VIA was going to be dropped, and had the opportunity to be in it. But they both still rode for I-Path, and were supposed to put their footage in its video. Bobby eventually got the boot from I-Path. Then, the company got sold to a corporation, which put everything on hold. Sitting on footage, Bobby wanted us to put something out to help promote Traffic and the fact that he rides for it. It was a little struggle to get the footage from Jack because he wanted it for I-Path in case they were going to drop something. But since I-Path sucks ass now and were wasting Jack’s time, we were able to convince him this would work in his favor. He could put out a video for Traffic with Bobby and he would have enough time to get something proper for I-Path. The video was meant to be released earlier in the year. But things take time, and we waited until August to put it out. Bobby was real adamant about premiering it on the site. That turned out to be a great idea, and the launch definitely went over well. I was concerned about still being able to sell the video after the premiere. But that became a non-issue because people wanted a copy to keep. The quality isn’t as good online as you get with a hard copy. We are into the short videos because our main goal is to make you want to go skating. We had more footage of the rest of the team. But we have yet another project in the works featuring the ams. So we wanted to keep the focus on our two pros.
48 Blocks: What’s the scene like in Philly now?
Ricky: The scene is up in the air. I skate with Rich and Ry and I frequent the Mole. Still skating all around Philly.
48 Blocks: When is the last time you talked to Matt Reason and Serge Trudnowski, what happened to them?
Ricky: Too long to actually remember. They disappeared like they wanted to.
48 Blocks: What’s your favorite era in skateboarding and why?
Ricky: I like the mid 90s because we ran the show. Also because in that time period, no way would Ryan Sheckler or Shawn White be who they are in skateboarding today.
48 Blocks: Who are your top five all-time best East Coast skaters?
Ricky: For obvious reasons why, but in no particular order, Jahmal Williams, Robbie Gangemi, Jeff Pang, Roger Browne, and Sean Sheffey.