Core Careers: Ryan Clements of The Boardr
Anyone who is connected with the skate industry knows Ryan Clements, who may be the ultimate industry insider.
Ryan co-owns two businesses – skateboard event company The Boardr, which runs major skate contests around the world, and Excel Management, which manages the careers and finances of professional skateboarders.
Before that, Ryan was the longtime General Manager of Skatepark of Tampa (SPoT), the most influential core store and skatepark in skateboarding.
Here at SES, Ryan has always been one of our favorite people in the industry. He’s about as core as they come, and is also entrepreneurial, detail oriented, business-minded, interesting – and nice, too.
For this Core Careers piece, he shares details about his path in skateboarding, what he learned during his time at SPoT, how he overcame getting fired, and how The Boardr has pivoted given how COVID has impacted events.
How did you get started in the industry?
The Boardr Partner Ryan Clements: I got hooked on skateboarding in 1985 at the age of 12. I quit college in my second year to start a landscaping business. That was in 1993 and my first experience as an entrepreneur. Then the opportunity to work at Skatepark of Tampa came around in 1998 and I jumped on it. At the time I thought, “This will be cool. Maybe I’ll go back to college down the road, or I can always mow grass again.”
What were some of the important lessons you learned during your time at SPoT?
Ryan Clements: Everything. But I didn’t realize it at the time. 1998 – 2013 was like 15 years of college and graduate school.
From a retail perspective, we sold and developed relationships with every single endemic brand. Additionally, we were one of the first skateboarding online retail stores, thanks to Rob Meronek. Then simultaneously we were building Tampa Am, Tampa Pro, and Damn Am, so I was really learning about sponsorships and how that world worked. We essentially ushered Nike SB into contest sponsorships. I learned the ins and outs of how brands like Red Bull operate.
Fellow skateboarders at the bigger brands guided us how to build Skatepark of Tampa into what it is today. They made me realize, “Wow, we really have something here. This is unique and special, and we can actually make a living working in skateboarding in Tampa, Florida.” That was not possible prior to SPoT.
Was it challenging for you when you left SPoT? If so, how did you overcome that?
Ryan Clements: Well you’re being quite kind because it’s no secret that I was straight-up kicked out. It was heartbreaking, devastating, an identity crisis. I felt like I had no place, no value in the industry.
Jorge Angel, who worked directly with me on everything at SPoT, was booted along with me. We met up at my house the morning it happened and sat across from each other at the kitchen table and were like, “What in the world are we going to do?” Jorge and I had already very loosely started managing pros on the side, so I said, “I’m not sure yet, but be here tomorrow morning.” We started our next chapter at 9 am on Tuesday, January 3, 2013. I sent out my “parted ways” email to my address book and got 700 replies. It took me a month to return all of the voicemails I received. You can say that things took off rather quickly.
But it did take many years to fully overcome it emotionally. I had something to prove to both myself and to skateboarding. I really needed to make sure that I belong here.
You have two main businesses – what are your main roles in both? How do the companies intersect?
Ryan Clements: Excel focuses on management and representation of skateboarders. We also invest a lot of time guiding and advising up-and-comers. While still at SPoT, Jorge and I started doing the basics of collecting checks, paying bills, setting up corporations, working with a CPA on tax returns – just helping a couple of pro skaters keep their shit together. Once we had an official business, we soon added representation. I owe the whole idea to co-founder Heath Brinkley. He told me, “You’re good at running a small business. You should do this for pros.” I’m sure glad Heath saw that in me!
About six months after Jorge and I departed SPoT, Rob Meronek also resigned and we founded The Boardr. The Boardr does events and consulting. We own and operate a few events like Grind for Life and The Boardr Open. Then we create and execute concepts for brands. We’re behind-the-scenes for events like Copenhagen Open, Vans Park Series, adidas Skate Copa, Vert Alert, and many more.
My role is to handle new business, oversee the special projects, and give my team the resources they need to get their jobs done. In turn they unconditionally trust me to guide them, but never hesitate to put me in check either. There are 10 total employees and a dozen or so contractors that we utilize on a consistent basis.
The biggest overlaps are processes like bookkeeping and administration, sharing office space, and those sorts of tasks and expenses. We are so small that every employee is key, and nine out of the 10 live and breathe skateboarding. Therefore we accumulate a tremendous amount of information that we share internally. So yeah, that’s the most important intersection: information.
How hard has it been for The Boardr, an event company, given the pandemic? How have you guys pivoted?
Ryan Clements: We had some good years before the pandemic, but COVID was devastating. 2020 was down 80% from 2019. In 2021, we hope to be down about 50% from 2019. We don’t see a full recovery until 2023. But we have pivoted and leaned into a few new avenues to generate revenue.
On the flip side, Excel was actually slightly up in 2020. 2021 is looking good. Go figure.
You usually travel so much. What has it been like to not be on the move all the time?
Ryan Clements: In 2018, I flew 260,000 miles! My colleague, Dylan, and I, got awards from Delta for traveling to six continents within that year. My entire career has been rush, rush, rush. Everything we have we built from nothing. I was always trying to constantly do more. Being forced to not do more was really good for me in many different capacities.
You are an expert on all things skateboarding. What have you thought of skateboarding in the Olympics and do you think it will have an impact on athletes and brands?
Ryan Clements: We support any opportunity for skateboarders and the brands, so by default we support the Olympics. It can be a great opportunity for the right skater. Additionally, the overall acceptance as something to be taken seriously will lead to more skateparks on a global scale, which will also lead to more skaters, more product selling, etc. The more revenue a group like ours can generate, the more we can funnel back into skateboarding.
However, knowing how things operate behind-the-scenes at World Skate (the governing body for skateboarding and roller skating), I can’t help but think about how The Boardr would do (skateboarding in the Olympics) if we had our say.
I remember you saying to me long ago that answering email promptly and being on top of details really helped your career in skateboarding Can you elaborate on that?
Ryan Clements: I remember telling you that. It’s the age-old formula of attempting to provide excellent customer service.
We operate The Boardr and Excel like we work at Starbucks. You walk in and we greet you with a smile. When you leave, it’s exactly what you want. If it’s not what you wanted, we adjust things to your liking. That’s all done with grace, humility, and appreciation of our roles. Does it always work out like that? No, of course not. But that’s what we strive for.
I live a wonderful life, and I owe skateboarding for that. During the busy and stressful days I try to remind myself that I’m here to serve the needs of skateboarding. Skateboarding comes first, the rest works itself out.