The Ryan Corrigan Interview

The Japan Photo // Hokkaido, Japan // Photo by Hajime Nohara

I sat down with Ryan Corrigan recently to get his perspective on the BMX world, the scene in Austin, ramps, and the ups and downs of sticking with an often thankless, yet still rewarding way of life. I asked some other BMX elites to provide their own thoughts and memories of Ryan. Enjoy.

By: Paul Covey
Intro by: Stew Johnson
With: Joe Rich, AJ Camp, Steve Crandall, Nuno Oliveira and Tomas Williams
Photos: Joe Rich, Hajime Nohara

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“In the fall of 1993, some friends and I drove from Northern Indiana down to Pine Bluff, Arkansas for an ABA National. Among a sea of leathers and number plates, I met a young kid who stood out like a sore thumb. He had a heavily battered Mongoose Hooligan that if I remember correctly had a railroad tie wedged into the steer tube of his second hand forks to keep them from snapping off. He was fairly soft spoken with a rough around the edges appearance, wearing clothes that were many sizes too big (as we all did back then). Neither one of us were there to actually race, just loiter. I don’t really remember us riding together or having any kind of meaningful conversation, but nonetheless we exchanged addresses.

A few months passed and I received a unsolicited VHS tape in the mail from this quiet kid. His riding in the video was anything but quiet. He was sending himself down big rails without much concern for his own safety…..sometimes with success, sometimes not so much. The crew he ran with appeared to be a wild bunch. He seemed to be that one lone BMXer in his town that got adopted into the local skate scene….much like a stray dog being taken in by a pack of wolves.

Fast forward a few years and I moved down to Austin. Upon my first visit to 9th street, I ran into Ryan. He had packed up his car with all his possessions and driven it to ATX. He looked even rougher this time, with some shaggy mop on his head and a black eye. We started riding together and it wasn’t long before we were roommates and the adventures ensued. We did plenty of traveling, plenty of filming back then and I witnessed Ryan go through plenty of injuries. One might even go so far as to claim that I’m his bad luck charm. Sorry about that Ryan, I do seem to remember a few triumphant clips sprinkled throughout all the crashes.

Chances are if you’re reading this, then you are probably already familiar with Ryan’s ramp building skills…maybe you just don’t know it yet.  He’s had his hands on some of the most respected ramps in the world….with T1 being the crown jewel. His work ethic speaks for itself. Need some bowl corners done? Then Ryan’s your man. Very seldom does he turn down the opportunity to go on a road trip or a job offer to build a ramp in some far off corner of the world. He has always been down for an adventure and Ryan knows that everything is an experience, good or bad, and that’s what life’s about.”
Stew Johnson  //  BMX Filmmaker Extraordinaire

So Ryan, what has changed about Austin now compared to the late 90s?
As far as Austin goes, the city has grown exponentially. I think the BMX scene has followed suit. There are a lot more riders and more spots to ride. The scene was based around the 9th Street trails back then, and now with House Park, 9th street is pretty much in shambles. We also had the indoor park (Intellect Rollers Realm/Ramp Ranch) with heavy Thursday night sessions. There were always a few backyard ramps too. The kids today have it easy. There are parks all over the place now.

New Braunfels, TX // Photo by Joe Rich New Braunfels, TX // photo by Joe Rich

How did you get into BMX?
I got my first real bike for Christmas of 1987 – a General Hustler. I think earlier that year I’d seen a Dyno show with Dave Voelker and a local Arkansas show with Tony Caruth. I actually still have a poster from the Dyno show. I even had Voelker to sign it at one of the first Texas Toast events.

What was the first bike that you really wanted?
Beats me. I did have 2 Mongoose Hooligans though, and an original Hoffman Condor frame.

Cool, I had an original Condor too. What was the scene like in Arkansas growing up? You mentioned Tony Caruth; Tell us about him.
The scene in Arkansas was actually pretty big in the late 80s. There were a few parks around, the Kanis bowl, lots of good street spots, and Tony Caruth’s ramps. Tony is awesome. He has a bike shop and ramps for everyone to ride. The ramps have always been horrible, but he doesn’t charge a thing. He just has them for people to enjoy. A few years ago, when he turned 50 I raised some money and went and built him some new ramps.*  I’m sure they have rotted away by now, but it was a fun weekend.

*editors note: “…built him some new ramps” means Ryan raised funds, gathered sponsors, purchased wood and supplies, drove out to Little Rock from Austin, demolished, patched, rebuilt and added new sections to Tony’s dilapidated backyard ramps, and organized and ran a jam – all for an old friend’s birthday.

“When I think of Ryan, I think of a very dedicated man that is always down to put his part in to make things better. Simply for the greater good…And he’s really, really good at making it all better. RC comes from the age old mindset of, if you want something done, you do it. He just ran wild with this simple concept and never looked back. Ryan has seemingly carved this path through life based on pushing his own limits of what is possible next.”
Joe Rich // Terrible One

What were the early contests you went to like?
There were loads of contests around Arkansas. I pretty much just rode flat at first. Later I got into ramps and street. I also traveled to all the mid-western B.S. contests later on. I remember sleeping in my car and in that field in Oklahoma near the Hoffman Bikes warehouse.

SMP // Shanghai, China // Photo by Joe RichSMP // Shanghai, China // photo by Joe Rich

I recall a magazine spread in Ride of you at Woodward, Pennsylvania doing a turndown, and according the caption, you had just learned them. When did you first go to Woodward? How old were you at that time?
I never went to Woodward as a camper. I worked there when I was 22 and 23. Then a few years later, I went back as a pro.

Did you learn about building ramps there?
No ramp work back then…at least not at Camp Woodward.

Who would you say were your main teachers and influences for ramp building?
I feel any BMXer or ramp builder looks to Nate Wessel for influence. He has done more than anyone else out there. Without working with Nate I wouldn’t be where I’m at today as far as building ramps goes. Other than Nate, in the beginning it was probably Tim Payne. He built the Animal Chin ramp!

Corrigan's Corner at T1 - Photo by Joe RichCorrigan’s Corner // T1 // photo by Joe Rich

When did you know that you were going to be building ramps for a living?
I have no clue. I’m still waiting for the bottom to fall out of that one. It has to come back to working with Wessel on all the x games, before the cement courses, and the Woodward jobs. Thanks to those jobs, I really was able to fine tune some things and get the practice necessary to become good at it. I am just trying to make a living now doing something that I am actually interested in. I have no clue how long it will last.

If you could start over and have another career – anything- what would you want to do?
I’m still not sure if this is a career. Someday I will be doing something else. I have no idea what that will be though.

Which ramp projects have you been most psyched on?
This could get to be a long list: T1, for obvious reasons. We have spent well over a decade fine tuning the ramp to flow the best it can and for people to roast as high as possible. The Pallet Loop at the FBM Ghetto Street Comp. It was a loop out of garbage that 2 people went around and other people stood on top of, and it didn’t collapse. The first Empire bowl. A simple, fun bowl. Sometimes less is more. We could talk about awesome builds all day. Backyard Jams, Texas Toast, Nike Pool, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Street Justice, the bowl in Cologne last year…

“What can I say about Ryan Corrigan?  I think the first time I met him was at the indoor skatepark in South Austin.  He was kinda dirty, quiet, and was riding a brown bike, which I normally hold against someone without exception.  However, he proceeded to blow my mind on the mini and spine, and I was instantly a fan.  20 years (give or take?) later, I am still in awe of Ryan, not only for his talent on a bike, but also for his amazing work ethic, loyalty, and friendship.  Whenever we need something, whether it’s a small kicker ramp, or a huge backyard bowl, Corrigan always makes it happen like the boss that he’s always been!”
Tom Williams // Empire BMX

What was your worst riding injury? Talk about that insane photo with the sliced chunk in your leg.
I’d say the worst injury was breaking my leg. I jumped off a fakie, tripped, and landed stiff legged on the tranny. My knee went backwards and broke the top of my tibia off. It took 3 surgeries and about 8 months before I rode again. There was a second surgery during that time from a staph infection. I had a pretty major one less than a year earlier where the hospital cut a large chunk out of my leg to scoop it all out. That’s the photo you are talking about. Since I already had the one staph infection living in my body, it jumped on the trauma in my leg and caused a second staph infection. I had another surgery to remove it and spent 4 more days in the hospital. I was pumped full of antibiotics for about a month after that. Big thanks to my mom and dad for taking care of me during all this. That was about 15 years ago.

The Japan Photo // Hokkaido, Japan // Photo by Hajime Nohara Abandoned park // Hokkaido, Japan // photo by Hajime Nohara

Can you tell me a little about these photos from Japan?
The crazy circle bowl thing…I first saw it in 2007, I think on the cover of Thrasher. The story hinted that it was in Japan somewhere on an island. This year, while on a work trip to Japan, I took some extra time after the job to get a session in. It’s actually an old park that was closed by the government; it’s crumbling apart now. Sessions there don’t come easy.

Abandoned Bobsled track giant berm shot - Hokkaido, Japan - Photo by Hajime Nohara Abandoned bobsled track // Hokkaido, Japan // photo by Hajime Nohara

On that same trip, I was taken to an old bobsled track. It was one of the wildest things I’ve ever ridden…full throttle down a mountain! The sketchy part is when you come out of the berm you are in about a 5’ wide track with 2′ high walls on each side of you.

What about these pictures from China that Joe Rich shot?

Those are from the SMP skatepark in Shanghai. It is another of the wildest places I’ve ever ridden. The table photo is in one of the “smaller” bowls. It’ probably about 9′ deep…

'...this is in one of the smaller bowls. Its probably about 9' deep...' - SMP Shanghai, China - Photo by Joe RichSMP // Shanghai, China // photo by Joe Rich

The pipe photo! The Pipe – there’s nothing like it. Dropping in the wall in the photo heading towards the huge cradle is awesome. I love that thing!

At speed into the full pipe - SMP Shanghai, China - Photo by Joe RichSMP // Shanghai, China // photo by Joe Rich

Let’s shift gears here and talk about FBM. Describe your time with the FBM crew.
It was a fun time. We were/are just a bunch of friends riding bikes and laughing. I wouldn’t trade it. Some of the stories still make me smile.

Favorite all time FBM team rider?
I think everyone would give the same answer on this one: MIKE TAG R.I.P. Mike was the backbone of the team back then. He was always finding out about spots, filming anyone and everything, making the videos, and manhandling anything that he wanted to on his bike. Mike was the tough-as-nails, quiet dude who kept you wondering what to expect next.

Tell us about your signature Outsider frame. I remember being stoked on the concept of a well made, no frills, straight-forward frame that kept the price affordable.
The Outsider wasn’t even that much cheaper, maybe $40 or $50 at most. That was me in nutshell at the time: make a decent bike at a decent price. That’s it.

Sweet. How did it feel to have your own signature frame?

In hindsight it’s pretty cool. Not everyone gets that in BMX.

Did you get any royalties off of it?
Yeah, I think I got five bucks a frame. So every few months I’d get a check for a few hundred bucks if I was lucky. I think I was just as excited about some of the shirts I helped with at FBM, mainly the “Blow up your car, Ride a Bike” shirt.

Do you still have one of your frames?

Yeah, I have two. The last one I rode is now my lake jump bike, and I have one in the closet that I’ve never ridden. I would like a few more of the “bike in the bottle” stickers if anyone has any kicking around…

Did you ever have paying sponsors?
Well, FBM didn’t really pay. Once in a while we would get a little money from royalties or photos, but I’ve always had a job. At one point it looked like I was actually gonna get paid from Duffs, but then I broke my leg and disappeared for almost a year.

It was different back then before social media. Print magazines and Props were the fastest ways to get news, besides word of mouth. It was weeks, if not months, before people even knew I was (living) back home in Arkansas and had already had 2 surgeries on my leg.

'...T1, the ramp I've been working on for well over a decade...' - Photo by Joe Rich The ramp Ryan has spent over a decade refining  // T1  // photo by Joe Rich

Who has been your favorite sponsor or hook-up?
I’ve had lots of people be nicer to me than they should have. I’d have to say over all people though, Big Dave, who has now started his own custom frame company, Pedal Driven Cycles. Ever since Dave started welding at Homeless, I’ve ridden the bikes he’s made. He’s helped me out more than anyone, and there are a few others that have been there for me too.

How did your time end with FBM?

I’m not sure if it has ended. For some of us, Crandall isn’t letting us go. I currently ride one of Big Dave’s custom Pedal Driven Cycles Frames. I do have a FBM sprocket on it though.

“Ryan Corrigan used to pee in pint glasses and go shirtless into dance floors and bump into hot girls and spill piss all over them, but if he was having a really good night he would chug whatever he was drinking and do something called the Pukee-Dance. People would get real stoked on that kind of behavior. Always a hit with the nightlife crowds wherever we ended up in the world.”
Steve Crandall // FBM

What was it like for you to have a regular column in Dig (Corrigan’s Corner)?
It was cool and fun. I received a lot of positive feedback from people. I think in my situation, being a low-end pro rider, and always having to work a job, and then write about it…lots of people related and enjoyed it. It’s another one though where it’s not like I got paid to crank out a column every month. I just wanted to write about things that I thought were good stories. I looked at it as following in the tradition of other columns that had existed in the past like Dog Bites and Shep Bites – just a rider telling his stories. The first one where I wrote about one of my first big ramp jobs at the MTV Sports and Music Festival was a good start. Basically, I worked 2 weeks straight building ramps in Memphis, and I got paid a little less than my friends that simply showed up and rode for a day.

Cuts at T1 Photo by Joe RichCircular saw action shot // photo By Joe Rich

A lot has changed since then. Do you have any thoughts about BMX media in 2015?
Stop with the re-posting of things. Make original content.

It’s funny. Even if you do make original content then it gets re-posted everywhere. The entire social media thing is a strange world. I can’t believe how vain some people can be. Do people really have to list their entire sponsor list on every photo they post on the internet? I could go off on things of this nature. The shameless self-promotion is a foreign concept to me. I feel strange even being a part of it, but I’ve also realized it helps me get some ramp jobs. I think there is way to do it with a little bit of tact though.

Can you elaborate?
Just show some self-respect. I understand we all get excited about a photo and want to share it, but just pause for a second:  Does the world really need to know everything you are doing or everyone you saw that day? How the selfie became acceptable is outrageous to me. Imagine walking around with a Polaroid of yourself showing it to everyone, all day, every day. Everything doesn’t have been seen by everyone.

At times, it just seems like a strange popularity contest, which is what I got into BMX to get away from. Do riders/companies/media really need to re-post photos that 4 other people already have re-posted?  I guess I come from another time.

Mods at T1 - Photo by Joe RichMore mods at T1 // photo by Joe Rich

Who do you think is doing a good job within BMX these days?
That would have to be all my friends: Credence Bikes, T1, Empire, Odyssey – for putting all the effort in to do Texas Toast, and people that are actually smiling when they go ride.

Besides the occasional chill or chit chat, the bulk of my dealings with Corrigan revolve around the beloved Texas Toast Jam. Corrigan is the head builder for park/street, idea man, wacky obstacle crafter, lover of asphalt pads, rattlesnake wrangler etc… and he has been since the start. Ryan is a reliable go-to, he know’s his stuff, and sadly probably falls into the unsung hero category. Toast wouldn’t be what it is without him. Cheers to Corrigan and all that he has done!
Nuno Oliveira// Odyssey BMX

As someone with a unique perspective on being a rider, building the course, and watching so many events, what do you think could be done differently?
I’m not sure where to start…I’ll just say I’ve been a major part of the Ghetto Street Comps and Texas Toast. I have tried very hard to make these events be the best they can be by making everyone that is there smile. I’d like to see more events that BMXers want to go to and be a part of, but where the results really don’t matter. It’s more about the riding, the friends, and having a good time. The TV events are good in that they exist, but when you put up lots of money, people get strange.

Lastly, what would your dream session look like?
That actually happens pretty often: An entire group of my friends and me all riding T-1 and laughing a lot.

“Ryan is a guy that I’ve been lucky enough to know for over 25 years now.  He’s always been a kind, genuine dude.  I think of him as someone who I could count on if I needed help and I hope that he thinks of me that way as well.  When I moved to Austin it was Corrigan being here and connecting me with all the locals that really helped make it work. Not to mention that I stayed in the house Stew, Big Dave, and Ryan were renting after having a rocky start with the move down. In his actions Ryan has always had a go for it attitude.  If he wanted to try something on his bike, he did. If he thought it was time to move somewhere and check out a new scene, he did that too.  He is inspiring to ride with and can make you want to push your own limits on or off a bike.”
AJ Camp //The Peddler Bike Shop // Austin, Texas

Thanks Ryan.

//PC

 

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