Portsmouth RI.   © Karim Ghonem

‘I’ve discovered that when I don’t have a distinct purpose to aim my energy, it leads to emptiness and potentially trouble. I do believe – like many, that skateboarding saved my life.’

Donny Barley

May 2024

How would you describe the Rhode Island skateboard scene and its community?
The skate scene here is very diverse. Each pocket of the state has its own skate identity. Skateboarding has thrived in this area since the 70’s. My friend Sid opened Water Bros surf and skate in Newport in 1973. Providence has also had a healthy skate scene for decades and is currently a haven for the street skaters, Newport is the home of many skaters that surf. South County skaters are a mix of street skaters and park skaters who also get in the water. And to blanket each skate scene we have the veteran skaters of each community who have lived through all the different ins and outs of skate history in the state. All in all, I’d say we have a very healthy skate scene that welcomes all and a solid music and arts scene as well. And we have some great skate shops that do a great job to serve everyone. I’m also proud of the crafty DIY nature of skaters here.

You were born feet first which paved the way to be a skateboarder according to your mum. What would you be without skateboarding?
I’m not sure what I would be. As a boy I wanted to be a few things, Archaeologist because I was fascinated with fossils and dinosaurs, and a gym teacher because I was really into sports and physical activities of any kind. Most of all, I was determined I would become a pro soccer player, because I had fallen deeply in love with Soccer. Pele was one of my first major idols, I read his autobiography as a boy. Skateboarding really took over my heart during my last two years of high school. Which effected my desire to be aggressive on the soccer field, I just lost that killer instinct and desire. I’ve discovered that when I don’t have a distinct purpose to aim my energy, it leads to emptiness and potentially trouble. I do believe – like many, that skateboarding saved my life.

Any local heroes you looked up to when you started skating?
Yeah, we had several! This guy named Steve Maisch. He had a vert ramp in his yard in Groton. We heard legendary stories. We snuck in his yard and pumped on his ramp once. A guy named Talbot, who was like our local Chris Miller. He had this beautiful style, and great vibe. We idolized his whole demeanor. Then eventually we started taking trips in RI and skating the Skate Hut. Which was owned by Fred Smith whom we also idolized. He was punk, he was mysterious, he skated hard and fast. He did lean to tails and would smash his tail so loud your ears would ring.

‘Element was the biggest opportunity so far,new team, new brand,my guys from back east involved.’

Donny Barley • Kickflip • Radlands Skate Park, Northampton (UK) • 1999   © Pete Thompson

At what point did you decide to leave the East Coast and move to California?
I didn’t really know it was possible. I know that sounds funny, but it just seemed so far away and such a massive leap. Eric Pupecki had become a friend of ours. He lived in Cranston, just outside of Providence. We watched him go to Woodward, and then he went to SF. My friends and I rushed back to skate with him once he returned. We needed to know everything about his trip. Around that time, I realized I needed to somehow get to the West Coast. But it still seemed impossible for a while after that. Over time more of my friends would go. Jahmal, Matt Pails, Keenen, Gino. It started to slowly seem possible.

Why did you move back to the East Coast?
I moved back a few times. I was always running from something, I know that now, but not at the time. Had a tough break up with a gal I had been with in Cali for several years. Had to run away from the pain and come home. The relocation felt better in some ways, but I was not taking the time to process and deal with the reality of my life. I was medicating with alcohol and weed. Met another great gal, moved in with her and started the same cycle over again until I finally moved back West. The one issue I could not see was my addictive nature and my dependency for alcohol which damaged my relationships. It would go on for at least another decade. I was a success in so many other areas of my life. Eventually I hit my bottom thank God!

How did you get out of your ‘medication’?
Out of complete desperation I finally started to attend a few 12 step programs. It took some time but I started feeling better and felt at home with the fellowship members. I dove into the process and its complete change my life, so grateful and still attending those meetings regularly.

Toy Machine ad

The board companies you rode for is impressive. Think, Toy Machine, Element, Zoo York…which sponsor stands out the most for you personally and why?
All of them for different reasons! Think was super rad because one of my favorite skaters – Wade Speyer asked me to ride for it! And I really loved the team and the team manager Greg Carroll! Toy Machine because I had a bigger role and opportunity, these guys had video goals, which I knew to be necessary! And the creative aspect of Toy Machine was also the vibe I liked! Element was the biggest opportunity so far, new team, new brand, my guys from back east involved. World tours are planned, video crew is ready, my pay check was the largest it had been yet. I had a “say” on how to shape this new brand! It was what I had dreamed about! Zoo York was beautiful because I wanted to come home again. Wanted to ride for an East Coast brand. I knew this was it for me, this is my last dance and I’m doing it in my own backyard and with some young kids I’ve seen grow up.

In your Trasher interview you mentioned that once you signed up with Elements, you were able to see the world. Which trip is the most memorable in your book?
South America I think! We went to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile! It’s an incredible territory and the people have the largest spirits! Taking these amazing mental leaps by observing the struggles of these skaters in these areas. And watching how passionate they are with very little means. And these massive hearts to love and share with you. It was just a deeper experience. And having that internal feeling – I can never take any of this for granted. Those young kids really woke me up to be grateful for every single blessing that I couldn’t see. I’m trying my best to describe it. We can lose ourselves along the way in life sometimes. That trip came at the perfect time!

Not many skaters can claim a trick being named after themselves. How much Barley is in the Barley grind?
Good question! I think the reason why it gained my name is because I did it back to back on those rails in WTH. And I will tell you I put everything I had into getting that line, I was convinced it could be done. Thank you to whoever is responsible for naming, I believe it was Mike Burnett who wrote the caption of it in Thrasher, I’m not 100% sure.

‘I’m also proud of the crafty DIY nature of skaters here.’

Madonna - Greenside Skatepark, Newport (RI)   © Karim Ghonem

Back to Rhode Island. How is the local skateboard community seen from Boston?
I live in Newport RI. I’m an hour South of Boston. I don’t skate Boston much these days. I stay in Southern RI mostly. We have some rad parks around here. I skate Providence sometimes. And I travel for work, so I get to skate a variety of stuff when I’m on the road. The skate scene here is smaller, tighter, I love it! The scene in Boston is super rad too! I’m not sure what the Boston skaters think of RI skaters. States are very small here in New England, so we all just skate, build, connect, whenever possible. If anyone has beef out here, it gets settled pretty quick. New Englanders are pretty real. Honestly though, I can’t think of any beefs, everyones just trying get by and make the most of what they have, and when the groups of skaters get together, its an elevated and positive experience.

I heard Sid from Water Bros threw the most incredible parties back in the days. Any personal experience you can share?
I was living out West for many years but when I came back into Newport on several different tours, it was always fun. Honestly, I fell in love with Newport RI the first time I came here in the mid 80’s for the skate contests they had at first beach. And at the time Sid had his shop on the beach. It was a constant party. The vert ramp was next to the shop on a gorgeous beach with a few surf breaks. You can imagine the scene, and Newport is a tourist destination as well, so it was pretty wild to experience as a 14-15 year old kid. And we returned to Newport over the years many times before moving out West. I purchased a home here 18 years ago and totally content.

What are the skaters in Rhode Island most proud of?
We just got approved for a skatepark after 18 years of efforts. They gave us a 6 acres property here in Newport. We have raised $750,000 so far, on our way to 1 million! We break ground in the Spring, so make sure you come skate next summer! Rhode Island has produced quite a few pro skaters over the years! Fred Smith lives here in Newport, Davey Rogers too. Pupecki, Jason Maxwell, both from RI as well!

TWS cover March 1999

Who are some of the talented skaters in RI that are making a name for themselves?
My friend Jay Poirier is a killer! Nolan McCaffrey is another one! Kevin Phelps is my favorite though, he’s been annihilating everything for a few years now, he’s from Groton, CT!

There is Old Mountain Field in Wakefield as your DIY skate spot. What are some of the other spots in RI?
I mostly skate parks these days. As a father of three, my free time is limited. You know darn well I find the time! I skate all the parks, all the backyard ramps and pools. We have enough and it continues to expand and regenerate. We also have DIY spots that pop in and out each year. The DIY spots are always my favorite! I do get the itch for the city vibe. When that happens, I’ll hit Hartford, New Haven, Providence or Boston. Each season brings a different dynamic here in the Northeast.

What happened to the Fountain of Youth skate shop you opened in 2007?
It went under in 2012. I had to throw in the towel. The economy took a big hit in 2008, it was very hard to grow the business. I wasn’t the greatest manager either. It was a great opportunity to learn a whole lot about business, which became helpful once I started doing sales for Element. During that time, I got to play a role in many young lives. Many of those kids are still skating and from time to time someone will call and share about the old shop. And if the chance ever came my way, I’d probably do it all over again.

‘We can lose ourselves along the way in life sometimes. That trip came at the perfect time!’

Donny Barley • Pivot to fakie • Wakefield, RI  © Karim Ghonem

As per Jenkem ‘He’s swapped the title of “pro skater” for a more traditional job within the skate industry managing east coast sales and events for Element.’ What is that that you do in terms of sales and events?
As of Novermber 2022, I stopped handling sales for Element. I will continue to act as a Brand Ambassador for Element in North America. I enjoyed handing sales! My wife is now doing really well with her real estate career. So I decided to join her. Last month I became official. I work for Hogan associates and Christies international real estate. I’m not sure how long I will continue to be the Brand Ambassador for Element. If they decide they have a need for me I’m happy to continue. But I’m most excited to grow as a real estate agent. I’m going to soon be licensed in CT and MA, which will allow me to have a bigger territory to operate in. Looking forward to growing and learning more. And hopefully investing more into relationships estate myself! As an agent working from home, I’ll continue to skate and do whatever I can to positively effect the New England skateboard scene, big blessing!

From handling sales for Element you are transitioning into house market. Anything you learnt in the skateboard industry that you are now able to apply in Real Estate?
I’ve become a better communicator, a better listener, better at managing! Having traveled to many countries is also a blessing while conversing with people in real estate. Real estate is all about relationships, kinda like skating!

Last question. If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
My Dad! He passed away from cancer about 13 years ago. Much has happened since then. The pain of his passing motivated quite a bit of change to all of us. Watching him fight cancer was so hard but I see it as his last beautiful gift to us. His strength, his fight, words can’t describe it. I strive to be like him every single day! I’d love to have another conversation with him. I believe that day will come when we meet in heaven!

‘Eventually I hit my bottom thank God!’

©  Pete Thompson