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Introduction and interview by Luke Callahan
Photos by Liam Glass and Gordon Nicholas
Character design is a practice common in the animated arts. It involves the development of illustrated personas. The skill of crafting these looks, gestures, and personalities can take years, even decades, to hone. In the world of character design, Riley Boland is an absolute masterpiece. He’s got a silhouette recognizable from a mile away. His long list of quirks and -isms are an impersonators dream come true. And, last but not least, he can fly. Let’s ink this Pixar deal! It’s been a pleasure witnessing this character design develop over the last 15 years, and it’s always a few laughs catching up with him. Here’s a slice of our conversation from mid-June 2019.
Riley is floating on his back in the glacial waters of Bow River in Bowness, Calgary. The sun is dipping behind the Rocky Mountains. I’m standing two feet away with a voice recorder. He pokes his head and ears out of the water…
Let’s talk bone density. Yours is widely admired in the community. What kind of roll does dairy play in your adult life?
Like 1%. I have ice cream and that’s pretty much it.
This has changed. I remember in your younger adult years, others in our circle were softening their bones with adult beverages, and you were on the dairy.
Yeah, then it was two to four litres a day. Skim. Make sure you put that in there. Skim.
Shout out to skim. Enough about milk. Let’s talk health in general. You dabble in the Wim Hof Method (exposure to extreme cold and meditative breathing). You were out here on the river in February cutting out a dunk hole with a chainsaw. How has this technique played into your skating in recent years?
Getting wet and cold helps recovery. Sore muscles, sore joints, being in the coldest water you can find helps that. And I have a hot tub across the street, so that helps.
How much of this is physical benefit and how much is mental benefit? Is there a link of accepting the pain of the ice dip and going into skating with a similar mindset?
I don’t know if I’ve thought of it like that. I just like getting exhilarated. When you come out of that water you feel the best you’ve ever felt.
I’ve got to go there, we’re on health, we’ve got to talk Olympics. Are you training with these guys? What’s going on?
I’m going to the contests I need to go to for now. We’ll see what happens. I’ve been pretty focused on street. Trying to film a Ninetimes part.
So you’re not like some contest skaters who don’t skate street during “contest season?”
No, it’s definitely not my main focus. I’m really focused on skating street, probably the most focused I’ve been on it in my time skating.
You have to admit, it would be tight to claim Olympian status: “Riley Boland, Olympian.”
I grew up skating street and indoor parks, so I feel like I’m a raw skater at heart. I’m not forced into it by my parents like some of the new kids. There are pros and cons, everyone’s going to look at it differently. People like it, people hate it, I’m comfortably in the middle… it’s just getting a little sporty for me. A little sporty.
You’ve got some climbing ropes and other fitness stuff rigged up at your place. This isn’t tied into Olympic training?
That stuff is just for enjoyment. I’m doing lots of climbing, too.
I thought it might have been in line with upping the dad-strength. Protector vibe. Is there an element of, “I might have to kick someone’s ass for stepping to my crew?”
No. That’s a good question though. I don’t think I could save or protect anyone. I’m not big in general. Being fit just helps skating. I’m 32, I know people who are slowing down at my age. I don’t want to ever give it up, it’s so fun.
Another part of fitness is just keeping up with my five-year-old son. He’s high energy, always on the move… I don’t want to be getting no dad-gut.
Riley and I leave the river and make our way to his house.
Tell me about your business. Give me the elevator pitch.
I own a company that designs and manufactures tactical gear for law enforcement and military all over the world.
So does this make you an arms dealer? What kind of gear are we talking?
Just nylon, sewn gear. Backpacks, vests.
What does an average day look like for you at the company? And you can drop the name. Plug it.
Ferro Concepts. We have four employees. My main thing is working on designs with my guys. Product development, testing, and getting stuff out to the right people.
So you’re working in the military space. You ever hit the gun range?
Usually just in the States. Not a lot. We’ll do photo shoots there, live fire. It’s super fun.
Is your accuracy on the board reflected at the range? You hitting centres?
You’re god damn right.
You got the militarized camper van in front of your house. Could this be another fatherly/protector play? Are you prepping the fam for the apocalypse?
I’m not like that at all. I just like to have a van that can go where I want it to go. We go camping. We went to Oregon; we drove to Baja last year. I want to be self-sufficient when we’re out on the trail. I got all the parts to fix it. We go out of service.
Self-sufficient… there’s got to be a small comfort in this climate chaos to being a little apocalypse-ready.
Yeah, you’re good when you have solar, and a water filter. But I don’t have backup food or anything.
No food caches out in Drumheller?
Just ammo caches.
I saw you have the dirt bike parked at your place, too. Another nice apocalypse getaway option. You know there’s going to be gridlock traffic when it all goes down. Can the whole family fit on there?
I think we’d be okay if we had to. In Vietnam they’ve got four kids on, a bunch of chicken coops, and the wife is holding the cell phone up for the dad.
You’re just a couple blocks from the river, you’re also a few blocks from the new skatepark here in Bowness. What’s your approach to hitting a new park? What do you look for…
The biggest gap. No.
Seriously, though, sometimes these transfers aren’t even intended gaps. They weren’t designed to go from A to B. Looking back at openings of Millennium or the Slam City course from Source Park, these gaps were named after the guys that did them.
Yeah, the (Alex) Chalmers gap at Millennium. The (Chris) Senn gap at Source, even though it was set up smaller when he did it.
I’m sure there’s a few “Boland gaps” here in Calgary.
I’ve never heard anything called that, but there are some gaps that I think I’m the only person who has done it.
The kids call it “Boland gap” when you’re not around.
Maybe. I don’t go to a park thinking, ‘Where’s the biggest gap?’ I just skate a park and think, ‘Oh, this is kind of weird, I want to go off of this.’
We arrive to Riley’s house, layered up after the river dip. He pulls the lid off the hot tub and we hop in.
What’s one of the stand-out cities you’ve been to for skating in recent years?
Florianopolis, Brazil. I was there for a Park Series contest. The skate scene there was unlike anything I’ve seen before. There were DIY house parks in every yard. High Adventure was this hostel/skatebowl that a bunch of people were staying at. We’d meet up there every day and skate that. There was a bunch of other spots just down the street. Pedro Barros lives just up the street, too. It seemed like a lot of transition skaters there—it was cool.
How have your music tastes evolved over the years? Several years back there was a lot of ’70s pop on the playlist. What’s on loop now?
Definitely a lot of R&B. R&B and trap. If I’m heading out to sesh a park, I’m listening to Roy Woods or something.
Riley’s wife Lysa pops into the backyard briefly to say hello.
Lysa, we’re just talking Olympics back here. We’re talking apocalypse prep.
Yeah, he thought I was all about getting apocalypse-ready.
Lysa: You are. You told me you have to go bury a bag 200 miles outside of town…
Truth comes out! The truth comes out!
I said that once…
A few minutes pass with some more light apocalypse talk and then I come back with the hard-hitting questions.
When’s the last time you had a haircut?
I believe it was 2003.
Over 15 years now without a trim?
Not since then. I got a haircut in grade 11, I guess I was 16, and I haven’t cut it since.
Is it still growing?
Riley stands up in the hot tub. His Willy Nelson braids are down to his hips.
Where is point of no return? Eventually you will have to grow it until you die.
I feel like I’m already passed that. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll look good with short hair anymore… maybe I don’t look good with braids, but it’s just what I have and what I know.
Pre-electric chair last meal?
Crépes, Hungarian style, with cottage cheese in them. Cinnamon sugar. Syrup. It’s my Grandma’s classic.
I was hoping you were going to say “a pint of breast milk.” It’d be nice to bookend your life like that, you know?
I’ve got to get out of this hot tub. Let’s wrap. Last words?
I don’t know… I’m just a dad who skates.