Ryan Williams will never forget the nasty words haters often threw in his direction.
“You’re never going to get anywhere riding a lame scooter.”
“You only ride a scooter because it’s easy.”
“Scooters are for losers.”
He was just a 12-year-old boy who had a passion for scootering. You know, that metal board mounted on two little wheels and attached to a long steering handle.
But back then, in the mid-noughties, it wasn’t exactly the most popular activity taking place at his local skate park in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast. While those around him were grazing their knees from BMX bike falls and skateboard stacks, Williams was the odd one out, honing his craft on the humble kick scooter.
It was a craft he developed for a decade and a half, and now Williams, more commonly known as R-Willy, is considered the world’s premier scooter rider. Across scooter and BMX disciplines, Williams has claimed seven gold medals in big air and best trick events at both X Games and Nitro Circus.
“When I started I was just a kid doing my own thing,” Williams tells ESPN. “I didn’t really mind what people would say to me but as I grew up I could see the stereotype more and more and I could see that younger people were really getting some slack for riding a scooter. It was just bullying.”
Williams was never just ambling around the park on his scooter. Even before he had reached his teenage years, he was achieving more air and perfecting tricks those double his age could only dream of landing.
His obsession with all things action sports began at age seven after Williams stumbled across Ultimate X, a documentary which depicted the 2002 X Games competition. It was love at first sight.
“I remember watching that movie and it had all kinds of crazy stuff and when they got to the motocross guys I was like ‘I want to do that’,” Williams recalls. “Straight after seeing that I would go to the rollerdrome with my mum and fall on my butt about 30 times. It eventually progressed to going to the skate park, riding roller skates, then the scooter and eventually a BMX bike.”
For most young teenagers, convincing their parents they want to hurl their body into the air for not only fun, but as a profession, would be a difficult sell, but Williams never had any trouble getting his folks on board with his career aspirations.
“Mum’s actually pretty wild,” he jokes. “At one stage she was the best in Queensland at BMX racing, so she wasn’t very hard to convince. As long as I was doing well in school she didn’t mind if I was having fun at the skate park with my mates, and that’s all we thought it was going to be until I progressed to the point where I was earning money from it.”
The first paid gig Williams received came at the age of 16 when he was selected to travel to the United States for a scootering competition. It was an all-expenses-paid trip to California which ended in Williams finishing runner-up. It would turn out to be the launchpad into an action sports career.
Today, Williams splits his time between travelling around the world with Nitro Circus, competing at X Games events and making countless sponsor appearances.
The world of action sports is very seasonal. Williams could easily be on the road for two months straight, come home for a week and then fly back out for another month.
“I’ve probably flown around the world 10 times now, but one of the craziest trips was when I went to Travis Pastrana’s house in Maryland,” Williams says. “He messaged me and said I want to have you fly out to my place and I want to see you do the world’s first triple front flip on a BMX.
“We flew out there and he had the big flat bag and I was practising on that for about three or four days. Everything was so calculated and they were producing a jump for me to do this trick. It took me about six tries, and they were gnarly crashes, but to eventually [land it] was a huge celebration and an accomplishment for me.”
Much of Williams’ day-to-day involves perfecting tricks at his 40-acre property on the Sunshine Coast, which he acquired in 2019 and has labelled ‘R-Willy Land’. He invites athletes from all over the world to come to his “Disneyland for extreme sports athletes.”
“A dangerous trick like the triple front flip is one where I’m going to want to do perfect 20 times in a row on the practice bag before I take away the safety net and go for it on the real ramp,” he says. “There’s just so many things that can go wrong.
“But some other tricks I’ll land on the airbag first or second try and I’ll just say ‘yep, let’s do it’. It really depends on how dangerous the trick is and how many points of ejection I can get.
“I’m like a professional crasher as well, because if you can’t learn how to crash then you won’t be able to get up and try again. Most of the time in action sports you have to try more than once.”
Of course, it doesn’t always go to plan and in this game, wipeouts cannot be avoided.
“I’m actually considered really lucky,” Williams says while searching for the closest piece of wood to touch. “Still, I’ve separated both my shoulders and fractured my skull three or four times, knocked my teeth out, broken my ankle and broken my arm once or twice. But that is such a good list for being in the game for 15 years. “If I told the Nitro Circus guys what I had done and what I had broken, they would say I am the luckiest guy on the tour.”
The decision to persist with scootering amid a barrage of bullying has paid enormous dividends for Williams and he can be credited for almost single-handedly reshaping the stigma around the sport.
“Here I am 14 years later living the dream,” Williams says, almost pinching himself in disbelief. “One of the best things was being able to shine some light on it and show what was capable on a scooter. I hope that the next kid that comes along and rides a scooter won’t cop that same stereotype I got.
“Remember, it is a cool thing to do.”