Nov 30, 2011 12:40 AM CST
The name Donny Barley should ring out like a bell for anyone that’s ever witnessed his unique brand of speed, power and East Coast rawness. Simply put, Donny Barley is a legend.
After years of putting it down in the spotlight, Donny disappeared from professional skateboarding just a few years back. At the time Donny had found himself in a tough situation, one that’s commonplace for many pro skaters. When company cutbacks pop off, it’s either swim like hell or go down with the sinking ship. Donny chose to swim and began powering through his life’s next chapter with ultimate focus.
I recently caught up with Donny and talked about his departure from Zoo York, his Rhode Island skateshop, working at Element, his new pro deck and stepping gracefully to the plate when life’s itinerary suddenly changes.
How’s Fountain of Youth [Skateshop] doing? It’s going well. We’re about to have our four-year anniversary on the 17th of November.
I’ve always wanted to ask you, when you parted ways with Zoo, was that an official retirement for you? What happened was, my contract was up in a few months and they kind of forewarned me that they were having some issues with the business and that some changes had to be made. So they wanted to give me a Master [Division] board. At the time it was pretty gnarly. I was sort of speechless because I didn’t really see it coming like that, or that soon. But it happened. So I took the Masters board and went with that for almost a year. And during that period I was building my resume and sort of figuring out a way to stay in the business. I was running the shop and taking care of my family and working every job I could find to keep the family going.
I almost got this job working for Vans. But Element and I had been talking about some possibilities. And then some of those possibilities became possible. So they offered me this position and I jumped on it. And that really began a new era for me. So as far as the retirement stuff goes…(laughs)…I don’t really know how to answer it, man. I’m still skateboarding and taking care of my family and taking care of my shop. Call it what you want. I’m just an older guy, enjoying my family, enjoying my shop, enjoying skateboarding and enjoying having a job working for Element. I’m learning about the business and getting an education about the behind the scenes stuff that goes on in the business.
Was there conscious decision for you to not pursue another board sponsor? I think I kind of looked at things, and felt like I didn’t even know where to go and who to send a sponsor tape to. I was on Zoo York for almost 5 years. And during that time they invested so much money in using me, my likeness and my skateboarding as somewhat, the face of the brand. I felt like they used me more than almost anyone else on the brand. So for me to go and get sponsored by another brand would be a mission. It would be a challenge for another brand to sort of advertise me to the point where it would overshadow the amount of advertisements I was in for Zoo York. It’s kind of hard to sell yourself to a new brand when you were so deeply imbedded with the brand you were just on. At the time, the economy was taking a crap. I had heard some stories from some other pros that were dealing with similar situations. So it kind of just woke me up. I was like, ‘I need a solution as fast a possible, and I’m going to make an attempt at an industry job because that would at least give me an income that I can take care of my family with.’
You used to ride for Element. Is it now like a come-full-circle type of thing? My old team manager, Ryan Kingman called me first. I was really flattered, but there was a part of me that felt it might feel weird to go back. How is this going to feel? After a handful of discussions I warmed up to the idea. I mean what better place to get an education? It’s one of the biggest brands, it’s been around for a long time, it’s successful and I think I’ll have a good amount of security. I kind of just didn’t look back and put my best foot forward and it’s been awesome. I’m psyched on it.
What’s your role over at Element now? It’s been about a year now. I do East Coast Retail relations, which is from Maine all the way to Puerto Rico. I take care of accounts and try to build new accounts, and try to keep the relationship strong between accounts, big and small. It’s been going really well. And I’ve actually been taking on more responsibilities, getting involved in other aspects of things. Element does a contest series, and I got involved in that and traveled with them. I sit in on a lot of the marketing and sales meetings. I built a little flow team and I get to take care of those guys. From time to time I’ll also stand in as an Element ambassador and announcer for some of the contests that happen. Pretty much whatever I can do to contribute, I’m willing to do because it’s cool to make myself more valuable to the brand.
I have two kids, too. For me, I kind of reached a maturity where I was like, ‘You know what, I have my own personal goals that are still there as far as skateboarding goes, but I have to put those goals in the background now because I’ve got to make an income here to make sure that the kids are ok and that the bills get covered’. It was a little bit of a sacrifice I had to make. But I just owned it and new I had to do it and it’s been working well.
Was it a shock to the system from being a pro skater, traveling the world, signing autographs for years, to all of a sudden not being doing it? I miss some aspects of being a skateboarder 100%, but I feel like I’m living in way more of a real reality (laughs). But I’m happy with it, I don’t have a single regret. Something came my way and I had to figure things out and dodge a few punches, and to do it as gracefully as possible. And that’s what I had to do. I still have the same desire to go skateboarding, so anything that I can achieve in skateboarding would just be an added bonus in my opinion. So if I find time to put some footage together or get some photos together for the mags, it just makes things that much better.
How did your new board on Element come about? Element’s been around for 20 years now and they’re having their 20th anniversary after the New Year starts. We were sort of discussing some key piece that would be interesting to add to the hard goods line and the soft goods line and sort of commemorate the anniversary. Right when I was getting the job they were talking about getting a board out for me. I kind of was so committed in my decision that I wasn’t feeling it at that point. I thought it would be better for me to jump right into the trench and grind out the regular job without the athlete part attached to it. With the anniversary thing coming up they started to talk about it again and I began to warm up to the idea a little bit more. They said, ‘Let’s do it’ and I said, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’ It’s a graphic from when I was pro for them from a long time ago. It’s a throwback from when I rode for them.
What’s next for you, Donny? I feel like the skateshop’s been doing really well. I’d like to continue to support the community here in Providence with the shop and learn more and get deeper involved with the brand. I want to watch my kids grow and enjoy a more mature position in the world of skateboarding.
All photos courtesy of Element Skateboards.
Get Donny’s new deck and more from Element at CCS.