My head is spinning with amazement overload, trying to understand Ryder McLaughlin’s mindset during those ever-pivotal junior and senior years of high school. It’s typically when most teens are fantasizing about what college will accept them, effectively beginning their transition into adulthood and, eventually, the workforce.
If I’m understanding him correctly, at age 17 Ryder’s first goal was to be a professional skateboarder. At that point, the Moorpark, California native had been kick-flipping toward the dream since the sixth grade, when a skate park opened next to the junior high he attended. That being a lofty goal, of course, he had a more-so realistic, humble, and sane Plan B. If skating didn’t pan out, Ryder thought, he’d become a … stuntman?
“Pretty much,” McLaughlin says nonchalantly over a video chat on a summer afternoon. His father did it for a stretch, so “I grew up jumping off buildings into crash pads from two or three stories up. We’d learn how to repel off the side of a building. That was one thing I always thought I would do. Even with CGI, people are always going to be needed to do stunts.” He’s not wrong, I suppose. It’s just not often that you meet someone who’s been so committed to driving on the road less traveled.
“I never thought about college,” he says. “I don’t think my parents really cared. My dad was a cowboy, more of a work ethic guy. He thought that would get me further than a degree would.”
“I do everything. I’m an artist. I don’t want to live in a box.”
As a kid in Ventura County Ryder had a wide range of hobbies, dabbling in magic, Rubik’s cube mastery, and special effects makeup. But it’s when his older brother started skating that his true passion came into view. He spent all of his free time at the skate park, where the number of friends he had far outweighed the ones he had at Moorpark High.
Back then a good day for him meant driving an hour to Los Angeles to skate with friends in the Valley or on Fairfax, which is where he eventually met Mikey Alfred, founder of skate collective Illegal Civ. “Ryder immediately struck me as original and unique,” Alfred says over email. As McLaughlin became more of a familiar face, Alfred asked him to join the crew.
In the early IC days, Alfred filmed and produced their skate tapes, mish-mosh clips highlighting well-executed tricks, massive wipeouts, and brotherly camaraderie among the homies. On the side, he also produced skits, nabbing close, albeit inexperienced buds to do a bit of acting.
When actor-director Jonah Hill brought Alfred on as a producer for the coming-of-age skate film Mid90s, Mikey helped bring Ryder on for the role of Fourth Grade, stooge friend to Sunny Suljic’s lead character Stevie.
The whole acting thing just happened. “I made skits alone as a kid,” he admits, “But never thought about it seriously until Mikey asked and I was like, ‘Sure that’d be fun.’ I joined IC because I liked the guys and to rep the company with their boards. And now we’re making movies.
This year Illegal Civ released their debut feature-length film North Hollywood, directed and produced by Alfred, who chose Ryder to star as the lead. In Hollywood Ryder plays Michael, who aims to achieve the same goal Ryder once had: skate past college and into pro stardom–despite the wishes of his father (played by Vince Vaughn).
Now 23, McLaughlin has the acting bug. He recently linked with INDI to film a short for us––Ryder’s Skate Academy. Playing an alt version of himself and showcasing his comedic chops, he teaches two eager students (friends and Illegal Civ mates Aramis Hudson and Sunny Suljic) how to be a major skateboard star like him.
Jokes aside, McLaughlin’s got another film role lined up to close 2021. Acting provides him an opportunity to explore different parts of himself. “I’m very outgoing with my friends,” Ryder says, “But I’m chill when I’m out in public. I don’t come out of my shell.” He suspects that’s why skating and acting pique his interest.
“They give me a pit in my stomach. Acting is a whole new world. Something clicks and I’m not the same dude. I go into entertainment mode. I love that fight-or-flight moment before the director yells ‘Action.’ It’s exciting. I get to live a bunch of different lives. Everybody has these emotions and characters inside of them. It’s important to let those breathe.”
“I’m not sure how to put it in words really,” Alfred says, trying to describe Ryder’s star traits. “I feel like Ryder has that spirit, that ‘it’ factor.’ The future will tell all. Ryder is already an incredible artist in many ways. I’m stoked for him and his future.”
“Down the line, I’ll do music,” McLaughlin says, confirming his varied skill set. Quiet as kept, he spends his downtime getting inspired by production wizards like late Hip-Hop titan MF Doom or synth-pop Toronto duo Crystal Castles. Then he creates his own tunes in that spirit. Clothing is another lane Ryder’s wheeling into, taking over Illegal Civ’s merch as Creative Director and “making some stylish stuff.”
It’s clear Ryder’s only goal is self-actualization, to become all he wants to and can be at his speed, without restriction. Six years ago he wanted to be a skater. Since then he’s ollied himself into Hollywood stardom. In time, who knows? Maybe you’ll be rocking a shirt he designed or turn on the radio only to find out he produced the song booming out of the speakers. We’ll see.
“I do everything,” Ryder says. “I’m an artist. I don’t want to live in a box. And if I do, it’s going to be a big box.”
Story penned by Brad Weté
Ryder visited our LA headquarters to see our debut EV. Seems like he’s into it, right? We’ll be able to show it to you… soon. Stay tuned.