Rob Dyer is gnarly. Like, “Danny Way” gnarly.
In the span of the last eight years, Rob (now 26 years old) has ridden his skateboard across the United States (most of the way with a fractured ankle), Canada, New Zealand and some of Australia (which got cut short after he was hit by a car). In total, approximately 20,000 miles—which, when calculated to actual on-board time, works out to about 18 months of solid pushing.
When Rob appeared on MTV Live in June of 2008 to promote his organization, Skate4Cancer, a record number of audience members came to see him. The producers said that Rob brought more people than any artist they’d ever had on, outnumbering even The Spice Girls in their glory days.
Apart from growing Skate4Cancer and opening the new Dream Love Cure Centre in Toronto, Rob’s planning on skateboarding across France this April.
In this world, very few people repeatedly pull off unthinkable. Rob Dyer is one of them.
You lost your mom, both grandmothers and a close friend to cancer … what was the time frame?
It all happened within roughly a five-month span. I was about 18 or 19 at the time and it caused a lot of frustration, which led to Skate4Cancer being born—trying to do something positive instead of dwelling on it.
Having all that happen in such a short time makes you realize that no matter what happens from then on, you know the bottom. Once you bounce back you become grateful for the little things—you realize what’s important in life, because you’ve been there and you’ve felt that low and that depression.
The original goal of Skate4Cancer wasn’t necessarily about raising money but more about education and awareness, right?
Well, in the beginning it was about raising money for a couple organizations, but we discovered our audience was mostly young kids who didn’t have a checkbook to make a big impact on cancer research with.
But they do control their bodies. So we realized we had more impact teaching them about cancer prevention—how to use their bodies to prevent cancer—eating properly, giving self breast examinations and other stuff they could do in their day to day life.
In the past six months, however, we developed the idea to open a cancer community center called the Dream Love Cure Centre—a support system for people who are going through it and a place for kids to come in and talk if they need some counseling if someone in their life has just passed away. Upstairs is going to be a couple apartments for families that are getting treatment at the hospital nearby. So we’re starting to fundraise for that through t-shirt sales. Element has a skateboard that just came out and Circa does shoes for us, so a percentage of those go towards opening the center too.
Also, when the kids do spend money, you can help educate them on making a difference with what they buy, like the Skate4Cancer Element board or Circa shoe … or something like a Product (RED) iPod.
Totally. It’s amazing how much kids are aware of causes these days. I didn’t know any organizations when I was in high school—I wasn’t concerned about it, but the generation underneath us was born knowing that they’re in a really unstable world and they have to step it up. And the fact that they have is incredible.
Am I correct in assuming the Internet has played a huge part in the success of Skate4Cancer?
Totally. I don’t think Skate4Cancer would’ve had the strength keep going without all social media there is now. We were just a bunch of kids who didn’t have a lot of capital to start an organization. The fact that there was a community supporting us through the Internet really helped us. Otherwise Skate4Cancer might not have ever reached people like you in California.
How many miles have you skated in total?
Do you have the strongest legs of any skater on the planet?
[Laughter] I don’t think so. After a skate I’ll be all muscled out, but give it a couple months and it goes back to normal. I love pushing more than anything. Ever since I was a kid, just pushing around the city at night, especially during my time of loss, really helped me vent and figure out what was going on in my head.
I’ve heard some people talk about meditating and it seems like pushing on a skateboard also clears your head. You just focus on one thing and one thing only. I’ve always loved long distance running and things like that.
Do you have a custom setup for these marathon skates?
Because I grew up with regular street boards, I just ride that with a bunch of risers because I use 71 mm wheels—really soft ones. It helps a lot more with the terrain. The only thing about those is we burn through them quickly because of the wear and tear on them. Some of the roads are not as nice as we’d hope.
I go through set of bearings a week. Element helps us out with all of that. There’s also a distributor in Canada called S&J and they’ve always been good to us.
So logistically, how does a cross-country skate work?
Depending on the weather, normally what happens is the van drops me off and then drives up about 10 kilometers and I’ll skate to meet the van, rest for a bit and do the same thing over and over for about 60-80 kilometers.
Wherever we stop at the end of the day is where we pitch a tent or pull the van over, cook some beans, wait for the night to fall, make a fire and sleep.
How do you prepare before you begin?
The best thing to do going into a skate is to not really think too much or over-prepare because if you do and things don’t work out, you’ll get stressed. Like, “Oh man, what we prepared for isn’t working out.”
It becomes negative really quick. Of course you have to make sure that you’re physically well-off and have food and stuff like that, but just getting into it and figuring out what you need as you go is the best attitude to have.
The roads are normally the most challenging and unpredictable aspect because in countries like the US—your highways are wild compared to ours! There’s not as much traffic in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
We’re doing France in April and one of the reasons we picked that country is because we’ve read so many positive things about their bike lanes. A lot of our web traffic comes from France too. Other than that, we really don’t know what to expect when we get there.
Where did the car hit you?
It was just outside of Adelaide in Australia. We were skateboarding down the road and the car came from behind me. I guess the driver dropped his phone or was changing the radio because he just gradually swerved into me. It wasn’t a bad hit, just a gradual push off the road. I didn’t get too badly hurt—just pulled muscles and I couldn’t walk for a bit.
Out of 20,000 miles that’s been the only major incident? That’s crazy.
Totally lucky. The amount of cars that pass us every single day for five months on a skate and the year and a half that we’ve spent on a skateboard, and that’s the only thing that’s happened? It’s pretty amazing.
How did the ankle fracture happen?
That was about three weeks into the first skate across the States, near Phoenix. It was from repetitive stress on my ankle because I wasn’t really used to pushing that much. The doctor was like, “Yeah, you’re not supposed to be using your ankle that much in a repetitive motion.”
But you finished it out anyway?
Yeah. It healed. We just slowed down for a couple days and eventually it didn’t hurt anymore.
That's pretty gnarly. I also read that you considered the first skate a failure?
Even though we started in Los Angeles, went down the southern part of the States, and then up the east coast of America into Toronto, we didn’t finish the way we hoped to. When we started Skate4Cancer, the concept was be able to skate from point A to point B and in the first skate we didn’t accomplish that. We were kicked off roads by police so instead of skateboarding directly from Los Angeles to Phoenix, we had to drive into Phoenix and skate those kilometers around the city.
It definitely felt like a failure, but everything in life happens for a reason. Failure is the farthest thing from how I feel about it now. I’m so happy it went that way because it forced us to do a Canadian one and do it right.
Have you ever been chased by a bear or anything?
In Australia a kangaroo followed me for a bit, which was really weird. I guess in that aspect, the skates are pretty boring. We’re not fighting for our lives against wild animals. We have a lot of people that pull over and offer us a place to stay or food or water. Our interactions with people are normally really incredible so I just knock on wood.
You were mentioning difficulties with cops. I even read that one spit chewing tobacco in your face. Is it surprising that you get resistance and drama? I would think when you explain to a cop that you’re skating across the country to raise awareness for cancer that he’d let you slide?
As you get older you begin to realize that if they say yes to you, they have to kind of say yes to everyone. We didn’t have one negative interaction with a cop in New Zealand or Australia. Cops pulled over and offered us Gatorade and things like that. Some countries are very into people biking from point A to point B, but there are other countries where the highway systems aren’t really set up for that, so it becomes a concern of safety.
We’ve also come to learn how to do it without getting in trouble from the police. Laying low and having the van drive ahead is important because if it drives behind you while you skate, it’s slowing up traffic and people get frustrated and call the cops.
Sometimes kids were trying to meet up with us on the highway. It’s a lot different when one person’s skateboarding on the side of the road, but 15 people? The cops freak out.
The cop’s job is to protect the people. Most of the time they don’t mind as long as we just lay low and do our thing and other drivers aren’t complaining.
Tell us about the girl who faked cancer to go to Disney with you.
Yeah, that was a heavy time for us. A friend approached me with a girl he met who supposedly had terminal cancer and she was on her way out.
Her last wish was to hang out with us. We figured, “If this is what she’s going through, it’d be awesome to make her smile a little bit more”!
So through the help of our skate sponsors, we organized a trip to Disney World for her.
We took her and had a great time. It was crazy because she had a shaved head and shaved eyebrows. She’d go to the washroom to throw up because of the chemotherapy. It was really thought out.
A couple months later I read on someone’s Facebook that some girl was faking cancer. I checked the story out and sure enough it was the girl that we took to Disney. It was upsetting, but I can’t understand her mindset. There’s obviously something more there. She obviously has different issues and needs help in a different way.
All for a trip to Disney World? Something similar happened to Bucky Lasek recently with his charity.
The media asked us a lot of pretty harsh questions. Like, “Why wouldn’t you check first?”
It’s like, “Come on, dude!” I don’t want to live in a world where you have to second-guess someone like that.
If your biggest mistake is trusting a girl who supposedly has cancer …
Exactly. It’s a bummer but you can’t necessarily judge or understand what is going on in her head or what she’s battling.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from all this?
Sometimes the heaviest things in your life—the tragedies or the hard times—teach you so much. Knowing that life can’t get worse really helps you battle the little things in life.
I’m very fortunate to have been able to deal with those things at a younger age. And I’ve been able to grow from them and take on more things that I love because that fear and second-guessing isn’t there.
I never would’ve thought that's what was gonna come out of all this. It’s incredible because work is like eighty percent of your life and if you’re not doing something that you love, you’re gonna be unhappy. There’s too much of a concern about money in our world. No matter how much you’re making it’s not worth it in my mind. Do what makes you happy and everything else will work itself out.
Do you have any advice for anyone else who might want to start their own non-profit of charity?
A lot of people look to the top of the mountain instead of just the first day of climbing the mountain. Keep your dream in mind and know it’s gonna happen one day, but make sure your focus is that first step. Just get out there and start doing it and don’t get overwhelmed by things that are happening along the way, because a big part of doing what you love or chasing your dream or fighting for a cause that you believe in is that there are gonna be struggles. It’s not gonna be easy and I think being aware of those hard times and accepting them while reaching your dream is a real important factor in getting to the top of that mountain.