Billy Ruff started skateboarding at age 12, and was a pro by age 15. Billy rode his entire pro career for G&S Skateboards. He regularly competed against the likes of Christian Hosoi, G&S teammates Neil Blender, Chris Miller, and other legendary skateboarders. At one point, Billy was ranked number one in the pool and vert category, and between 1983 and 1985, he won over fifteen contests. He also invented ‘The Unit’ – an early-grab precursor to the modern 540.
OGRT: Billy, thanks so much for doing this. Give us a rundown of what’s new with Billy Ruff?
BR: I guess the thing that I’m most excited about is picking up skating again after an almost 20-year break. Just hitting reservoirs at the local park, but really enjoying it. Found a few muscles I haven’t used in a while. Plus I’ve started an electric skateboard company that’s been really fun.
OGRT: Talk to us a little about how you got started skateboarding.
BR: My dad was military, Marines so we traveled quite a bit. International and east coast USA. He got transferred to San Diego when I was 12. Being an only child, I got used to solo sports and activities. When we got to SD, I didn’t know anyone but saw a group of guys skating and it just looked so fun. A week after that, the Pepsi team and a couple locals did a demo at my school. I think it was Dennis Martinez, Steve Cathey, Doug Saladino and a couple others. After that, I was all in and skated every day from there on out.
OGRT: Who were some of your early mentors?
BR: All the SD guys for sure. The short list was Steve Cathey, Doug Saladino, Dennis Martinez just to name a few.
OGRT: You turned pro in three short years; to what do you attribute your rapid progression?
BR: 10,000 hours. There’s a book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. He researched experts in various fields of sport, business, academia etc. and says there’s a consistent thread that 10,000 hours of dedication to any one activity is required to do it well. I guess I did mine in three years.
OGRT: Your first sponsor was G&S…you rode for them your entire pro career…did you ever consider changing companies?
BR: First and only board company was G&S. Gullwing was my first sponsor. YoYo wheels too, but G&S was the first primary. G&S was/is family so it just was a great relationship. I did have my head turned by Santa Cruz, and was really close, but I put emotion aside and had an intelligent talk with Larry. He agreed to put more resources toward the skate division and everything turned out great.
OGRT: You had some of the coolest graphics on your pro models. Who designed them? Any special meaning behind any of them?
BR: Thanks. I’m not much of a hands on artist, but I’m decent at concept and visualization. Fortunately, I’ve had some talented people around me that are great artists. Lynn from G&S and also Mique Willmott were invaluable to the work that was produced at G&S.
OGRT: Which one was your favorite?
BR: Tough question. Kind of like which child is your favorite.
OGRT: The G&S team had some of the most influential skaters: Nicky Guerrero, Neil Blender, Chris Miller and yourself. Were you all close? What was it like having them as teammates?
BR: I’d like to think so. Skating was pretty tight back then. Especially at the competitive level. Kind of like a traveling circus. Within the circus you have families. The teams were the families.
OGRT: Do you all still keep in touch today?
BR: Not so much on a daily basis, but when we do see each other it’s like time stood still and we pick up where we left off.
OGRT: You recently started skating again, after 20 years away. What led to the time away and why did you start back up?
BR: At the time, skating had a perceived shelf life of 30 years old. I was heading there, and was looking for the next career. Airwalk was looking for a So Cal sales rep and I applied. I got the gig and it worked out well. I really enjoyed the business side, but still loved skating. I guess the turning point was when I was doing both skating and repping. One year while doing both I was home only one weekend out a 52-week year. That was getting old, but doable. What the deal breaker was [was] I was starting to get injured in contests, events or whatever on the skate side. The time I’d usually allocate to skating/practicing was eaten up by Airwalk time. So basically I was at the fork in the road. Tried the Yogi Berra way and it didn’t work.
OGRT: How’s the return to skating been for you so far?
BR: Interesting to say the least. First off, really surreal. Almost like looking at yourself in a 3rd-party way. I haven’t ridden a ton just yet, but the few times has been really great. I’m fortunate that I was able to reintroduce myself to a sport I loved. Even better, I get to experience it at the (semi-) beginner level and feel what originally attracted me to it. I should expand here…
OGRT: What was it like seeing yourself in Thrasher Magazine for the first time?
BR: Great question… Obviously pretty stoked. Kind of like, “I made it!” There’s also the self-critic that says, “They used that shot? Seriously? What happened to the other 30 that were way better?”
OGRT: Talk about the “Unit” and how that came about?
BR: My generation was in that age when a lot of tricks were being created. Well, more like the concepts and foundations were being created just before we were hitting our stride. Tricks like the Invert, Ollie, Miller Flip and so on. It was a natural
progression to take the Miller Flip one more.
BR: Getting my wife to marry me.
OGRT: What’s one trick you never pulled?
BR: Handrail boardslide.
OGRT: You were known for stalling inverts, how did you get so good at them?
BR: Hmmmm…. I used to walk on my hands a lot as a kid. Maybe that’s why. Was into gymnastics too as a kid. Just always thought it was fun to feel the balance point and manipulate it as much as possible. It also didn’t hurt that the dice came up seven during the major contests while executing a hand plant!!!
OGRT: Being older now, what do you do to prevent injuries or stay in shape for skating? (i.e yoga, weights, etc.)
BR: On the physical side, it’s mostly cross-country mountain biking and trail running. Yoga would be a plus. The mental side is key. Staying in shape is also spelled, “Don’t get hurt!” I try to keep reminding myself your mind’s 25, but your body isn’t. When I catch myself forgetting that, it’s time to leave the park and pick it up the next day. My daughters are big into soccer and I work with them a lot. Jamo, 11, is keeper so her training has similar characteristics to skating so I do/show her lots of stretching and warm up drills.
OGRT: Who are some “legends” you still love to watch? Now that you’re skating again, who do you ride with?
BR: That’s a tough question to answer directly. There’s always a part of me that was, is, and will always be, a skate fan.
Maybe I can answer it this way.
I was at ElgatoClassic.com last weekend. There were a lot of really great moments. The one that comes to mind was watching Dennis Martinez pad up, walk in the pool and start skating. By himself. Just him in the pool with a handful of us watching. Knowing all the stuff Dennis has done and gone through and to see him there. Skating. A huge smile on his face. Mine too. That was awesome. I don’t know if that answers your question, but it’s what came to mind first.
OGRT: The progression of skateboarding has been amazing to watch; who are some young guns that impress you?
BR: Can’t answer that one yet, but I do like seeing the girls come into their own.
OGRT: Skateboarding has really embraced the “legends”; give us your thoughts on that and do you think you’ll ever compete in one of the legends comps?
BR: Yea. Pretty crazy how that came about. I think part of it is how skateboarding has a respect for each other as well as those that came before. Facebook didn’t hurt either LOL. One thing I think was unique was how guys like Cab, Tony and dozens of others pushed through and have yet to set the expiration age of a skater. That’s truly impressive.
OGRT: What do you hope to be remembered for?
BR: How about the guy that never refused interviews, autograph, question or fair time when time available.
OGRT: Again we greatly appreciate the time Billy. Time to let em’ know…
BR: Old Guys Rip Too! Define Old!
Thanks Guys. Appreciate it!
– As of the creation and publication of this interview a good friend and mentor Larry Gordon passed away. I’d like to dedicate this interview to his memory.
Electric Skate Shop