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Meet the Nieratkos

Sean Hayes: Skate Coach to the Stars

The word "coach" conjures up images of sweaty old jocks with whistles & exercise drills. Sean Hayes tries to change that.
January 9, 2014, 7:30pm

The first time someone told me that former Toy Machine am Sean Hayes was a "skate coach" I giggled out loud. It sounded so stupid. At the time Sean was training my buddy and former MTV heartthrob Ryan Sheckler, so I asked him what the fuck a skate coach was. "He helps me train, get in shape, and get ready for contests," he told me. If you're not involved in the skateboarding industry, you might not understand why I was so taken aback at the idea of a skate coach. You see, for many of us the idea of skateboarding as a competitive or team sport has long been a point of contention. And because the word "coach" automatically conjures up images of sweaty old jocks with whistles and exercise drills, it's sometimes not a very respected profession in the skateboarding world.

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But guys like Ryan Sheckler, Paul Rodriguez, and the rest of their ilk are in positions to win a shitton of money each year in contests, so I can see why they would need a personal coach. Truth be told, every other sport has them, and if skating is actually headed to the Olympics these guys are going to need coaches, and I'd rather it be guys who used to rip like Sean Hayes than some armchair skate dad who doesn't know his ass from his axle. The funny thing about skate coach Sean Hayes is that he's Canadian. I've always found Canadians to be hilarious, what with their perma-smiles, dopey demeanors, lack of military, and free health care. I love their silly ways so much that my buddy and I are writing a screwball comedy about the crappy Canadian space program called Space Canadians in Uranus. Antics ensue!
Sean Hayes is no different than his fellow countrymen. Thirteen years ago he was a stoner chasing the pro skater dream, but then he dreamt up the term Skate Coach and started a new profession. Now he's dreaming about becoming the next great author, and like every other great American author from Canada, he knows there's only one place to write a book in North America! Bogota, Colombia! And he's leaving next week for six months!

Confused? So was I!

VICE: It's been 13 years since I interviewed you for Big Brother. What happened to your pursuit of the skate dream?
Sean: By that I assume you are referring to the dream of being a pro skater who gets paid tons and never has to work a day in his life. Well, I like to think I was smart enough to realize early on that wasn't going to work for me, so I got involved working in the industry. Besides, I'm better at what I do now than I was as a skateboarder. So for me all that happened was I expanded my skate dream, which gave me the opportunity to work with some of the best pros and travel all over the world.

What happened next?
I was going to college, still skating, when Colin McKay asked me to be the Plan B team manager. I knew I wanted to continue working in the industry and with skaters, so the chance to work with Plan B was perfect. I loved traveling around with all those guys, organizing tours, and helping them with anything else they might need from a board sponsor. After a few years and being the team manager for other companies, I realized I cared a lot more about helping the skaters succeed than I did about helping a brand sell more products. That's how the coaching started—I just saw an opportunity and went for it.

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How did you become the world's first "skate coach"? And isn't that the most vile term in skateboarding since the introduction of agents?
It is if you don't understand what I do. And yeah, in 2010, when Ryan Sheckler first hired me to help him make a comeback at the X-Games after being injured the year before, it was seen by most as being more taboo in skating than even agents were at the time. I mean, I get it, a coach? In skateboarding? But let me clarify: The guys I work with are already the best in the world; I'm not teaching them how to do kickflips. What I do is help them perform with the skills they have in the times when it really counts. For most of these guys that's at big contests like the X-Games or Street League. Not only are they skating in front of a huge crowd and on national television, but they can win upwards of $100,000 for first place. So if some skaters see it as disgusting and vile to want to do your best, then so be it, but the truth is standing on top of the podium feels great. Skating harder than everyone else is pretty fucking awesome if you ask me.

I'm not sure I completely understand what it is you do as the coach for guys like Ryan Sheckler and Paul Rodriguez. It sounds less like you're a drill instructor than a new age self-help skate guru.
I mean it sounds like we are just getting confused over what the right label is for what I do. I prefer coach, but to be honest everyone I work with just calls me Sean, so it's less of an issue than you might think. What I do is spend a lot of time skating with them and watching what they do at the park or even out in the streets. I'll help them out if they want to know more about nutrition or physical training—all that stuff helps—and I might suggest some stuff to work on that relates to the specific format of the contest they are getting ready for. When that's mixed in with the things I have taught myself about coaching and athletic performance, and my desire to help these guys win, the outcome is usually that we are both successful.

Still seems weird. As a "coach" you helped Aldrin Garcia set the world's highest ollie record. What advice did you give him? Did he use magnets?
Man, this is such an intense story. Powell Peralta hired me two months before the Maloof high ollie contest in Vegas. I found all the latest plyometric and strength workouts that NBA guys like Kobe Bryant use to improve their vertical jump and he matched what they do plus more. Along with increasing his vertical I knew from watching the slow motion of Danny Wainwright's Ollie (previous world record holder for 15 years) that flexibility was equally important, so we also did a lot of yoga. Then, ten days before the event there was a best trick contest at Black Box. Aldrin slipped out on Manny Santiago's sweat and cracked his head on the cement. He had to get airlifted to the hospital and ended up having a fractured jaw and a really bad concussion. His parents were there in the hospital and the doctor said he couldn't skate for at least six months, because if he hit his head again it could be fatal. When he got home his mom took his skateboard and hid it in her closet. With only a week left he called me to ask what he should do. I told him that he was still prepared, all the hard work and effort he had put into getting ready was still there. He came over a few days later before going to Vegas and talked about how he was nervous because everyone thought he was going to do super well and they didn't know how much pain he was in with his headaches and jaw. As I do with many of the skaters I work with, I reminded Aldrin that the end result didn't matter, it was how much he put into his attempt. He told me that he wanted to put everything he could into it. I remember how stoked he was when he called me after he had won, and for me it was proof that I was on to something pretty valuable with my coaching.

At what point did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
I've always been a "writer," meaning I've always written in notebooks, writing songs, poems, stories, diaries. But what I'm doing now is different—I've had articles published in skateboard magazines, and more recently on writing blogs and websites, but I really want to publish great books. And so I've been keeping my three projects private until recently because I wanted to really make sure they were ready.

Do you think it's a Canadian quality to live in a fantasy world where you can be anything you want, even if it's a skateboarding rapping astronaut?
I think I've just done a good job at understanding that we are each responsible for creating who we become. It's not a quality I share with all Canadians, but the astronaut you mention… were you talking about Chris Hadfield? Because yeah, I really do want to meet him. He seems like another Canadian doing what he wants in life. So I guess you could be right, maybe it is a Canadian thing!

You're working on three books at once. One of them, Five Weeks in the Amazon, is from last year when you lived for a month with a shaman in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
Yeah, one of the main reasons I went there was because I wanted to use ayahuasca. I thought maybe it could help me out in my life, maybe answer some of my questions in life, like how the hell to be happy. I participated in ten ceremonies. I didn't see god, but I did learn a lot about myself during the whole process. I showed up without knowing any Spanish, so the first half of my trip I was not only in the middle of the jungle, but I could barely communicate with anyone. Every time I hiked anywhere I saw snakes, tarantulas, and every other kind of bug you can think of. The first three days I had over 200 bites, but as my trip continued and my diet became more "clean" they stopped biting me.

What are the other two about and why do you have to go to South America to write them?
I am going to South America to live cheaply, be inspired, and get away from the distractions I have living here and just focus on creating great literature. BEYOND ATARAXIA is a philosophical discussion on life, suffering, love, friendship, money, the soul, and many other subjects that are as relevant today as when they were first brought up thousands of years ago. I analyze my own perception of life and make comparisons to many of the understandings great philosophers before me have already realized. I acknowledge that really, what I know is very limited—what I can offer is the ability to expose our shared human essence in an honest way. As Voltaire said, "Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers." This book will challenge who you think you are, make you question what you believe to be right, and force you to become more aware of your true nature. ZENEGA is an anthology of my favorite poems written at various times throughout my 20s. Some are cheerful and optimistic, and others are as cold and dark as the places they originated.

For more on Sean go here, and to donate to his Kickstarter go here.

More stupid can be found at Chrisnieratko.com or @Nieratko