Milestone: Ronnie Creager
By Rob Brink
The Skateboard Mag June 2007
"I've pretty much worn jeans, a tee shirt and a hat my whole life and I guess that's just me," says Ronnie Creager, referring to my inquiries on if he ever pondered an "image makeover" to increase his "marketability" and board sales and such.
"I'd have a hard time going out and putting on some flair, you know? If I want to stand out I'll put on white shoes and a white shirt. If I had an agent telling me, 'Ronnie, this is what we're gonna do to build your image…' I see how that can work for some people, but I have a hard enough time feeling normal as it is. I wouldn't want to change myself and be something that I'm not. I mean, it's hard enough being me."
"Whatever happened to the fisherman hats you used to wear?" I asked.
"I have a couple in my closet and I'll put 'em on every once in a while, like, 'I could go for this look today!' But someone else would probably say, 'Dude, why are you wearing that goofy hat?'"
"You know I bought one of those hats when I was younger because of you," I admitted.
"Cool," he replied. "It probably looked better on you than me."
"I don't know 'cuz I'm all tall, you know?" I said.
"Yeah, well I'm pretty short," Ronnie said. He's a humble guy, and he doesn't mind complimenting the people around him or busting out the self-deprecating humor every once in a while.
The first time I saw Ronnie skate in real life was at Tampa Pro back in 1998 or '99. I can't recall exactly. It was the year he busted that 411 opener switch hardflip late flip that made everyone go bonkers. I was an Ã¼ber fan since first seeing his part in Foundation's Super Conductor Super Collider, and I remember watching him skating during practice in his fisherman's hat, eyes all hidden, more casual than any skateboarding I'd seen in my life.
He would cruise lines all over the course and wouldn't miss a trick for days. He seemed to have no care in the world and certainly didn't seem to be trying too hard. But that's just how Ronnie skates. Any of those lines could have easily won the contest. And we were in the bleachers, Tim O'Connor and my boy Nick and I, just cracking up so hard at how ridiculously mellow and flawless Ronnie's skating was. Every time he landed a trick we were holding our guts in pain from laughter.
Later that evening, I ended up in the Element van with the Tim and the team, and, for some reason, Ronnie was in there as well. It was then, as a fan in awe that I was sitting behind him, that I realized Ronnie's personality was just as effortless and consistent as his skating. Every time he said something we would just laugh at his laidback demeanor, the same way we laughed at the skatepark earlier in the day.
So during our conversation for this story, I said "When we got out of the Element van that night in Ybor City, we were just cracking up like 'Oh my God that's really Ronnie Creager and he's super mellow!' We just assumed you were high on weed or something."
"You know what," Ronnie replied, "I probably was high on weed back then." Then he laughed. "But I'm a fan of living in reality right now and I have to get too much work done to be like 'Alright I'm gonna go out and act like and idiot and be stupid.'"
"People are always like, 'Dude, your so mellow, what are you doing?' Yeah, I'm mellow, but my brain is freaking out about everything. My brain is racing—it's always a mess. I've got the OCD where you have to turn off lights and close doors and stuff and do it a couple of times just to know whether its off or on. I don't think you can hide from it, you know? Oh, and I have a cleaning problem—a problem cleaning."
Ronnie's OCD trickles into his skating as well. But it makes him what he is.
"When I'm trying a trick I basically have to start from the same spot every time. I'll have to make sure my shirt is on straight. If I'm trying to film a trick I just try to do everything the same every time. If I'm trying to do a manual trick, I wont do any flat ground tricks in between. If I'm trying to kickflip manual I wont do any 360 flips. If I'm trying to film something, I like to be by myself so I can go back and fourth with out ever stopping in between tries."
You'd think someone whose so worked up inside would avoid the anxiety-ridden contest scene too, but not Ronnie. Despite looking calm and collected on the exterior, you can expect that Ronnie's pretty nervous on the inside before his contest runs.
"I usually bring Pepto bismol with me. I'll kinda sip on that stuff. My stomach gets weird and my arms and fingers feel like there are ants all over them. I've been skating contests for a long time and I still get nervous. Either everything clicks and I do well, or nothing clicks and I fall dropping in. It's weird man; I have no idea what to do. I've asked Sheckler and Rick McCrank and lots of people, 'Dude, what do you do?' And I can't get the right answer I'm looking for."
I inquired about the TSA years he spent living down the street from Penny and Muska in Costa Mesa, thinking I would get some juicy debaucherous stories.
"Oh man, I can't think of any that they would want me to say and there were a few years in there I can't really remember because we partied too much. [laughter]. But basically when I was hanging out with those guys I was in awe. I never felt like I was one their friends, I was just like, 'Wow, I'm getting to skate with these guys…insane!' Penny was just unbelievable, and Chad always had this aggression, and we'd just go out and find something to skate and it was definitely so good for my skateboarding. Those guys were huge, and you'd see how, 'Okay, this is how you gotta skate to get it going,' and I'd feed off their energy."
And smack dab in the middle of this compelling storytime, Ronnie interrupts himself…
"There's a funny song on the radio right now."
"What is it?" I say.
I'm playing Call of Duty 3 for X Box and there's this song on the radio, Total Eclipse of the Heart. But it's like the remix—not the one from the Wedding Singer or whatever. It just sounds funny with all the people on TV running around and killing people."
And at this sort of A.D.D.-induced moment, another realization about Ronnie strikes me. He is essentially a big kid. Not in a bad way, but in the way that most every nine-to-fiver in the world is secretly envious of. Actually, in a way that maybe most everyone is envious of. He's a naturally casual, consistent, mellow big kid with impeccable talent on a skateboard.
When he's not skating, he's still playing. Golf, kayaking, shooting bb guns, video games, Frisbee, baseball, darts, ping pong, riding motor bikes—you name it.
"Rocco he used to take the whole Blind team out to his houses and he'd have seven quads and we were all hooked up to helmets with radios so he could talk to everyone. But he's like a big kid; he's got all the toys. You just see him, like, 'Oh my god, I wanna be like him when I grow up!' I've got a bunch of hobbies and its fun doing them and relaxing."
"Oh, Jody Morris just got online he's playing right now too!" He continues. "Like Colin Mckay and PLG were online a little while ago," he continues…
Prior to getting his first board sponsor, Foundation, Ronnie had a paper route for a bit, then worked at a local skate shop for store credit.
"The paper route was the worst thing—Sundays were horrible. I'd have to wake up at 7 a.m. and put the different sections together, and during delivery the papers were so huge I could only carry a few at a time and I had to keep coming back to get more. They would drop off some of the sections on Thursday and I would have to put them together with rubber bands and stuff before Sunday morning. But that was it; those were my only two jobs. I have no experience in anything. I finished high school and that was it. I think basically everything I know I've kind of gotten from skateboarding. One day I'll have to deal with it. And it's going to be a hard change. I'll have to get up in the morning and work and it's gonna be hard because I've never known it before. I'm, not used to your average everyday employment."
But when you are as brilliant as Ronnie is on a skateboard, with a pro career as lengthy as he's had, do you really need experience in anything else? I'm guessing most anyone who skateboards would kill to have his ability, and, if they knew they had it, wouldn't bother with much else but skateboarding either. Hell I'd be out at the fuckin' manual pad 24-7!
Think about it…have you ever really seen any Creager footage that wasn't amazing? Whether it was some teched-out manual combo no one's ever done, a flip-in flip-out banger on a picnic table, a schoolyard line that would be nearly impossible for almost anyone else to assemble, a contest run that looked effortless, or a switch hardflip down a double set in the pouring rain—Ronnie doesn't disappoint. Even going back to his first video part in 1992's Cocktails by Foundation, Creager was always doing the hardest, newest flip tricks with ease and sliding his curb tricks (yes, curbs back then, folks) longer than anyone.
"Nah, I always just carried wax in my pocket back then," he says, downplaying his obvious lock-in sliding ability. Actually, sometimes he still does. But don't tell him I said so.
Ronnie's first skateboard had a Bruce lee graphic. It was the one we saw in the intro to his What If? Part. "I was pretty young and it was probably like a $12 skateboard from Kmart but it was my first board. I used to steal my sister's all the time and I'd ride my friends' and the neighbors' board."
At the time, he wasn't really paying attention to how much of a natural he was on a skateboard because he was just having fun.
"It was something that kind of fell into my lap—just a way to go out and have fun. I didn't have any idea what I was doing. I played baseball and soccer for a few years but all I wanted to do was skate. I just had the best time skating. It's weird how it turned into a way to work and get by in life."
And for those of you who need a brief history, Ronnie grew up in Orange, California. Hot Skates was his first shop sponsor. Josh Beagle was riding for Foundation at the time and came in and asked Ronnie if he wanted to ride for them too. Ronnie happily accepted. He turned pro for Foundation at about 17 years old and cranked out amazing video parts in Cocktails and Super Conductor Super Collider. Around the same time he was also on etnies and starred in their first-ever commercial in 411 #1.
Shortly after, Ronnie got kicked off Foundation because of rumors that he was already speaking with Rodney Mullen about riding for Blind (which was never Ronnie's intention, Rodney just called him to offer him a place on the team if Foundation didn't work out. Ironic, huh?). So Blind became his home and he's been there ever since.
"I've had a good time with them. They've worked with me. I don't like switching companies much. Once I decide to run with someone and be on the team, I'd really like to be with them forever. I'm kinda happy that I've stayed with the same sponsors for as long as I have, especially a board company. I'm basically gonna ride for them until they kick me off. That's how I see it, and that's how I want to be with all my companies."
Despite a stable home with his Blind for over 15 years now, some of Ronnie's more unstable (and more talked about) relationships have been with his shoe sponsors.
After the early etnies years, Ronnie switched over to DuFFs. Logical, considering it was Rocco's shoe company and Rodney was riding for them. A few years later, he joined the original and elite éS lineup with Koston, Penny, Muska, Sharpe and Sal Barbier. After a top-selling pro model shoe and a short, but impressive video part that he wasn't entirely happy with (for reasons beyond his control) in Menikmati, Ronnie was feeling pressure from the brand to bring his skating to the more trendy handrail and stair phase—essentially to skate like someone he was not. So he and éS parted ways and he tried another shoe venture, Nadia, where he invested a lot of money and essentially, got robbed before the company ever got off the ground when his partner went A.W.O.L.
At this point, Ronnie layed low for a bit. He moved out to Arizona because "I heard California was going to break off into the ocean, and I wanted to have a place here just in case." Blind and Tensor were his only sponsors and even though he wasn't as prominent in magazines and videos, he was skating more than ever and filming for What If?
"I didn't really have anything in the works and I basically just needed to focus on my skateboarding," Ronnie says. "There was about a year and a half that went by that I didn't have any sponsors and I needed to get serious. I was skating and filming tricks but didn't have any sponsors that were making it possible for me to skate all day."
"I started thinking I should go back to school, take some courses, study stuff that I would want to do later on in life—and I almost went that route, but etnies asked if I wanted to ride for them and I was like 'Heck yeah!' I had some old etnies ads from back in the day and I've been with Sole Technology for many years if you count all the times I've ridden for 'em, so it's cool being back. They basically gave me the opportunity to practice skating all day again. But there was a while that I was like, 'Alright, lets move on to something else, career-wise.'"
So in early 2005, What If? was released with Ronnie's part as the curtains. He was officially back on etnies and has recently begun the process of designing a shoe from the ground up, rather than just picking out a pre-existing model.
"I've done it before and it happens a lot where everyone just picks a shoe and goes, 'Yeah, it looks good, run it.' When I made my éS shoe, I basically went back there they put four models on the table and said 'Which shoe do you like?' And I picked the one I liked the best and made a couple changes to it—nothing too significant. This time, I'm a lot smarter and I know more of what I want and I know the shoes reaction from skateboarding a bit more than I used to. Now I have better input. I was trying to design it like my éS shoe but modified to today's standards but I guess it's taking a little more time to make from scratch. I want to put a lot into it and make sure it's right."
So now it's now. Ronnie is 33 and back and forth from Arizona to Cali nearly every weekend, working on a new Blind video. He's also riding for Tensor, Ricta and Mob Grip—all sponsors that are backing him to the fullest. He was voted Team Goofy MVP at GvR '05 and helped the Goofies (and the illustrious Skateboard Mag) win two years in a row. He's planning on moving back in a few months to get himself back in the thick of it—schoolyard skate sessions, contests, filming—the works. He's also getting entrepreneurial and starting up HappySkateboarding.com, a new skateboarding website and online store that he hopes everyone will enjoy.
He's been the same Ronnie Creager on a skateboard for close to two decades now, with maybe the exception that his skating is constantly improving. Pretty admirable, huh? There was no Y2k tech-to-hesh transformation, no rehab, no retirement, no "welcome back" or "legend" pro model, no handrail phase, I've never seen him with a guitar or overnight sleeves of tattoos. just a talented individual with the sincerest love for skateboarding. He skates the way his heart tells him to and doesn't really take aging into consideration, other than the toll it has on his body maybe.
"I still feel like a kid, you know? I'm totally immature, I do stupid things all the time and age doesn't really matter, but I guess when I make fun of my age I'm like referring to just how old my body is. I don't know, age is just a number, but your average pro is definitely not in their thirties."
And he's right. Most people assume a pro at 30 or above is pretty much done for, and that may be true in most cases. But Ronnie's optimistic about his future in skateboarding, whether it be learning new tricks, keeping the old ones, maintaining pro status and a few more solid video parts, he's confident, yet realistic and carefree at the same time.
"I totally think I have a few more video parts in me. This next video part should be pretty easy, I have a lot of footage already and it shouldn't even be too hard to make another one after that. I've learned new tricks and other stuff that I want to do already."
To Ronnie, being a pro means more than just having his name on a product that sells. It's someone who's out filming good video parts, always smiling and happy and getting photos. Doing well for their sponsors, promoting their brand and out doing demos and being cool to all the kids and promoting skateboarding in a positive way and just having a good time.
"I'll be skating forever, trying to come up with tricks that are hard for me that I haven't done and still trying to get photos and video parts. It just seems like a slower process now. But all the tricks I've done I can still basically do. I practice and I don't want to lose them. Like, if I had to go re-film all the tricks in the What If? part again I probably could. Its more of a mental thing, so if I can wake up and my brain is more gung ho, then I'm not afraid. Other days I'm just tired and I resort back to stuff I know. I'm sure ten years from now I'll probably do a trick that I've never done before because there are millions that I haven't done."
"I could still go skating rails and stuff too. But you know, everyone's doing that and I kinda feel like doing my own thing. There's nothing wrong with rails, it's just less impact for me. Ten years ago I was more naÃ¯ve and I was indestructible and didn't care—I would do anything and if I did get seriously hurt I would be up and running in a couple of days—but I guess I know better now."
It's nearly impossible to get Ronnie to say anything negative about skateboarding at all. Not a bad way to be. Skateboarding and having fun genuinely inspire him. His take on being other pros getting him psyched is non-traditional.
"Basically all the guys are too good! I don't really get amped on watching them because I'll wanna be able to do stuff they can do, so I'll get bummed. I'll be like 'Dang, you're too good, I cant watch!'"
He's never really been in skateboarding's spotlight. But then again, he's never really tried. Many would argue that Ronnie is actually underrated. They'd be right.
"I can't get bummed like, 'People owe me this or people owe me that.' I've gone places and people have said I suck and it's like, 'whatever.' I'm not bitter about it. I've totally chosen to go the way I have. I'm not gonna start filming TV shows and stuff. Kids now are probably thinking, 'I want to get up, turn pro and be a movie star,' instead of just wanting to be a pro skater. 'Cuz everyone now, they're doing stuff for MTV and it's just another thing to get into. If I were out there doing TV stuff it would help me and my sponsors, but if you're not in the spotlight people tend to forget about you."
"If I was to get kicked off my companies, no one owes me anything. Skateboarding is gonna' be how it is and I'm just trying to skate. I'll skate forever. I've thought about not having any sponsors and not having the pressure of being a professional skateboarder. But no way—skateboarding is too fun for me—it's in my body. Sometimes I get mad and it's like 'Arggh! I hate skating!' But then you're just lying to yourself because it's the best thing on Earth."
I concluded with asking Ronnie what he felt his biggest contribution to skateboarding was, expecting maybe a mention that he helped push technical skateboarding, or made kids happy, or inspired others to skate like him, but in typical humble Creager fashion he answered:
"My biggest contribution to skateboarding? I buy a heck load of Swiss bearings. I spend $200 a month just on bearings!" [Editor's note: Ronnie also gets them from the local shop at wholesale cost, so that $200 is buying way more bearings that it would at retail price.]
"You don't have a bearing sponsor?" I asked.
What? Well maybe it'll happen after this," I idealized.
"Maybe, but I buy a lot of bearings. That's probably why I don't have a bearing sponsor, because I run three or four sets of wheels and bearings a week. That's my biggest contribution to skateboarding, yeah, that's about it. Love thy neighbor, treat your friends of the world nice and, uh, I don't know, happy skateboarding."