Ryan Jaunzemis became a poster boy for the 90s fad of "Soaping," where kids used special shoes to grind rails and ledges without skateboards. Two decades later, he's leading a very different life.
All photos courtesy of Ryan Jaunzemis
As all true 90s kids know, Soap Shoes were once a popular—well, semi-popular—type of footwear that had a concave plate at the bottom, allowing "Soapers" to slide down rails and off ledges. It was like being a skateboarder without a board. Sonic the Hedgehog once wore them. What could be cooler, right?
The inventor of the shoes, an inline skater named Chris Morris who began marketing them in 1997, also put together a Soap pro team, the first iteration of which consisted of six guys who adopted a number of tricks from the skateboarding world, performed them in demos at American high schools, and appeared in promotional videos that played in malls across the country. One of these legendary Soapers was Ryan Jaunzemis, a Californian aggressive inline skater who was signed to Soap at 17 and immediately abandoned any thoughts of going to college, much to his mother's chagrin.
Although mom (rightly) thought the shoes were a fad, the now 35-year-old recalls being dazzled by a corner office at corporate headquarters and by sex with what he calls "hot Soap groupies." One day, though, a reply-all email disaster got him booted from the team. (The company ceased to exist by 2001.)
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Currently, Jaunzemis is working as what he calls "Las Vegas' most aggressive dating and seduction coach." He still hangs out with his old buddies from the team, uses phrases like "awesome sauce," and is fond of both the hashtag #soaplife and the emoji combination
I got on the phone with him to find out what it was like to be in the Soap scene back in the day.
VICE: How did you transition from being a pro inline skater to a pro Soaper?
Ryan Jaunzemis: I got my first pair of shoes from a friend of mine named Kenny—I bought them off him for $10. They had a hole in the side of the shoe, and I was trying to do the same stuff that I was doing on my rollerblades—but because of the hole, I'd jump on the handrail and there was this friction that put a blister on the side of my foot. So I took some duct tape and taped up the side of the shoe. The duct tape slowed me down so much that all the sudden I had this level of control [while I was grinding], and I was able to start doing stuff like unity grinds—which is a grind where you're crossing your legs. All of a sudden, I could do tricks, and I could slide on one foot for 20, 30 steps.
At the time, that was kind of unheard of. I felt like I had found the secret to Soaping. It turned out later that if you just ground the shoe down on a disc sander all the way to the rubber, you'll get the same effect. I started doing those tricks, and that's how I made my sponsor video. On my video, I was doing backslides all down ten- and 20-step handrails, and none of the other guys could do that at the time. Ben [Kelly, another pro Soaper] was really diggin' it, so he put me on the team.
What was it like back in the day to get paid for sliding around?
It was amazing. There was a lot of house parties back then. That was a time when hip-hop music was in its prime. JNCO jeans were the big fashion, white shirts and visors. Putting bleach and Sun-In in your hair. And then touring around, grinding these huge rails.
My video was playing in stores in Pacific Sunwear and Journeys all over the country. It was super cool. And then being able to make $1,000 a day—at the same time I was working at an ice cream store called Scoops, and I was making $6 and some change in an hour, and to make $1,000, that would take me like two months of scooping ice cream.
For a 17-year-old kid, that was awesome.
"Raving was really big back in the day, in Los Angeles, so we were using the shoes to sneak drugs into raves."
Were there groupies?
What they would do is they'd send us to the high school with a little practice rail and a bunch of stickers and a notepad to collect emails. This is before Facebook and Instagram, this is back when the biggest thing online was AOL, with the little AOL chat rooms and "you've got mail" and that kind of thing.
I would take all the Soap stickers and I would write my phone number on the back. And then I'd hand 'em out to the girls. Then there was times on tour—Soap was paying for our hotel rooms, and we'd meet other people at the convention show and they'd say like, "Oh, you guys are those Soapers!" And we're like, "Hey, we need booze." We'd slip 'em a couple bucks or whatever, and we'd have a whole ice chest full of beer, and then we're like, "OK, the party's in room whatever," and there'd be all these little Soap groupies there like, "Oh my God, that's so cool, your shoes are so awesome."
Was the Soap scene a drug-fueled one?
One of the interesting things about Soaps is they developed these plates called "Maxwell plates," which are also called "stash plates." When you're walking around with Soaps, sometimes you step on the stairs and you slip [because of the concavity at the bottom], and a lot of the schools were complaining. So Soap came out with these filler plates, and you lock 'em in and they look just like regular shoes, so you can walk normally. Raving was really big back in the day, in Los Angeles, so we were using the shoes to sneak drugs into raves. We'd be selling ecstasy, and girls would be like, "Oh, how do you sneak this in?" And we're like, "These are Soap shoes," and they're like, "Ah, this is so cool!" So, yeah.
Were your parents down with you being 17, touring, and getting into shenanigans?
My mom was not too thrilled with it, because I ended up graduating high school with like a 1.3 GPA or something, and I was starting to fail all my classes. And she kept saying, "This Soap shoes thing, this is a fad, you need to study and get good grades so that you can get a job and go to college," and I was trying to tell her, like, "I'm not going to college. I'm going to be a pro Soaper, or a pro skater." And so she would get pissed off about that, and then I was on drugs, I was shoplifting, she was finding weed. She kicked me out of the house, and I ended up living in a park down the street for a couple weeks after she found this big, five-foot bong that I had bought from Venice Beach. I had acid and mushrooms in the house, and ecstasy.
I was selling weed at the time, at the same time I was doing the Soap shit, and I was rapping. I had this song called "Blunted," which is basically about smoking weed. I was using it like an advertisement, and so I would go to the park with a bunch of weed, like a quarter-pound of weed in my backpack, showing up on my rollerblades and selling weed, and then I'd give 'em a copy of my CD, Blunted, to kind of keep 'em thinking. I kept watching hip-hop, and I was like, "Man, a lot of these people use rap as like a commercial, to talk about how good their drugs are." So I kind of wanted to do the same thing, and I was like, "I want to be the kingpin of El Segundo, selling all the weed."
Did you think at the time that Soaping would be a lasting career?
They were designed for just little kids to just slide around on curbs, and it was supposed to just be for fun. But me and the other four main guys—which was Brendan Smith, Danny Lynch, Paul Cerfuentes, Eddie Ramirez, and myself—we took it way more serious than it was. And we were really starting to turn it into a job.
These guys, they started paying us $200 an hour to do a photo shoot. So we were doing these commercials and making $1,000 a day at 17 years old, which was really amazing. But [the company] didn't see Soaping as a sport. The guys basically said, "Walking from point A to point B is not considered a sport." And us on the team, we were trying to push it to be much bigger than it was, and ultimately, I ended up being fired because I was trying to push it, I guess, too far. and I pissed the main guy off, Chris Morris.
Why were you fired?
So me and the owner, Chris Morris, kind of had this beef. He ended up hiring me as a marketing assistant to the corporate office. I was 19 years old, I had a corner office that was overlooking the warehouse. We had a half pipe in the warehouse and we were able to skate during lunch. So that was kind of cool. Except I was trying to make these ads, and I was trying to design ads for them to put in, and they kept saying, "Well, we don't have the budget for this, this is not how Soap wants to be portrayed." Eventually, I just got fed up, because I was saying, "Hey, for all our blood, sweat and tears, we're out here 20 hours a day basically being the poster boys for your product."
I could say, "Hey, $1,000 a day is really good for a 17-year-old kid," but when someone else is making $20 million and you're making $1,000, that really ain't shit. So we were saying, we deserve at least six figures, because it's said that Senate—which is like the biggest rollerblade company—they were paying their professional riders, rollerbladers, six figures. So we wanted some kind of scale that was equal to that, or at least somewhere along those lines.
So I got fed up, and I started writing this hate mail, where I was just pissed off and I was like, "Man, fuck these shoes, maybe I shouldn't have ever even done this, maybe I should've just kept skating." I was writing that to my friend Justin, but I was writing it on the company Outlook Express, or whatever it was. When I pressed "send," I actually put "reply to all," and that little hate mail that I wrote, it went out to everyone in my contact list. So it went out to Justin, but it also went out to my mom, it went out to my brother, everyone in my school, and then it went out to everyone at the Soap shoes company, including Chris Morris.
So about ten minutes later, his secretary came in, and she's like, "Chris got your email," and I'm thinking, "What email?" And she's like, "It doesn't look like you really want to be here, so you're free to leave anytime." And I was like, "You're firing me?" And she's like, "Well, it's more like a layoff, but we read your email, and it doesn't seem like you're happy here anyway."
What did you do after that? Go back to working at Scoops?
I ended up doing a couple commercials for Heelys, when they first came out with Razor scooters, but they didn't have pro teams like they do now. Around the same time, my girlfriend got pregnant with my son Aaron—so at that time it was like, "Well, my soaping career at this time is over, so maybe it's time to grow up and do the family thing," and I ended up joining the Navy. That was the end of Soaping for quite a few years while I handled that stuff.
After the Navy, I ended up moving to England with my ex-wife—we have two children. But we went through a very violent divorce, and I ended up going to jail, and I'm now banned from the United Kingdom on seven different counts of criminal activity. I got kicked out of the UK, and I ended up in Las Vegas, and then I ended up in this weird underground community called the Seduction Community. I ended up running the whole Las Vegas scene and I ended up on the cover of Las Vegas 7 magazine and City Life.
So how many pairs of shoes do you have stashed away, and how long will they last you?
Well right now I think I have about four pairs. When I was signed, in '99, I think I had 60 pairs. If I still had them now, some of those shoes are going up for $1,200 to even $2,000 on eBay. If I had a couple now, then drinks would be on me.
The way that the shoes are designed, they're just to slide around on curbs. My souped-up, super-charged Soaps will allow me to do much more aggressive movements, rather than the stock Soaps.
Those will probably last me quite a long time, honestly. I do invest in a lot of shoe-goo, sometimes they'll kind of fall apart and I'll glue them back together. Or they could last, like these ones. These are now probably 18 years old, or something like that.
Why not just get a skateboard?
The most interesting thing about Soaps—what people don't understand—people say, "Well why don't you just rollerblade, or why don't you just skateboard?" And the guys that are really into Soaps, they kind of discover that in Soaping, you can grind stuff that isn't accessible with your skateboard or blades. For example, like, if someone wanted to grind the rails inside Disneyland, or Magic Mountain—there's these amazing red rails by the Ninja roller coaster at Magic Mountain—you can't really rollerblade through the front gate of Magic Mountain, so you can't grind those rails, because you'd get kicked out. Or the fountain in the mall, the Galleria Mall, because security would kick you out. But with Soap shoes, it's so underground and so concealed that no one knows you have 'em.
You can hang out at the mall, and you can go grind the mall, you can hang out, have a hotdog on a stick, have a milkshake, hang out with your friends and go grind, and then when security comes by they'll just say, "Hey, you guys can't be skateboarding here." And you're like, "I don't see any skateboards. There were some skateboarders, but they just left." And security will be like, "Oh, OK," and they'll just leave.
There's something kind of secretive about it, and it kind of calls to a certain type of individual. A lot of times in the casinos, those are kind of fun places for me to grind because I live in Las Vegas now. I can't, obviously, rollerblade in a casino because they'd have a shit fit. But I can wear Soaps, and I can grind on the sinks inside the men's restroom. I can slide across the marble sinks, and stuff like that. I grinded on one of the slot machines over there, that was kind of fun. And they were like, "What are you doing?!" And I was like, "Oh, nothing, I just drank too much." And they're like, "Oh, OK." But we Soapers, we're a different breed. We're troubled.
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