There was a time when I was a sponsored amateur skateboarder. Eventually I became a pro, and like I’ve said before I use the term “pro” loosely. But I went around the block a time or two and learned some things along the way that you aspiring future pros might want to listen to, so hopefully you can be a way better pro than I was.
DON’T TRY TO BE THE BEST
“Wait a minute, you’re advice to an aspiring pro is NOT to be the best?” Well yeah, there’s only one skater who is ever the best [if it can even be said than anyone is ever “the best”]. And there are what, like 250 pros? Being the best is fine but playing the odds is a much better bet. So instead of training to win, shoot instead for being the best YOU.
Although dressing like the dudes who skate for Polar and biting all of their step-off and slappy tricks might feel like it fits the bill for originality, it doesn’t. That’s who THEY are, the question is, who are YOU? Maybe try 540 wall rides, kick your BACK foot off when you do your ollie one foots, or grab on to your wheel instead of your board when doing ollie grabs. Well okay, maybe that’s too much. Oh! What about a streetplant slide down a handrail? None of these things are cool now, but you might be the one to change all of that.
I’m not talking about your skating, I’m talking about the number one factor that will determine your success or failure in the industry: your attitude. The common analogy these days is how you do “in the van.” 50% of an amateur’s time is spent in a 15-passenger Ford with however many team dudes didn’t bail at the last minute on the road-trip-to-wherever, so the question becomes, are you one of the dudes that bailed at the last minute? Bad move. If you didn’t, are people going to enjoy their time with you right there in the middle seat? Or not. Some tips: Don’t talk about yourself too much, maybe not at all, don’t complain, don’t claim, don’t put yourself before the other dudes, especially the team veterans, and please do take a shower now and then. When looking for someone to emulate in the rad department, Dan Lu comes to mind. Sure everyone loves Leo, but everyone really really loves Dan Lu.
You’ve heard that it’s not what you know but who you know. This is true in skating also. If you knew and were friends with every single team manager or company owner in skateboarding, your chances of getting sponsored, staying sponsored, turning pro, and getting paid skyrocket. So introduce yourself and remember to stay rad.
DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT
Supposedly one of the hardest things to do as a human living in today’s society is figuring out what we want. There are so many options. Same with skating. Do you want to just have fun with your skating? Do you want glory and fame? Do you want to be the best contest skater of all time? Do you want to go on cool trips? Or maybe you want perfect attendance. The reason I bring this up is because when I was pro I found myself standing on a halfpipe on a stage at Disney Land doing vert demos four times a day for crowds of thousands. Along with me were BMXers and rollerbladers. The BMXers would go 12 feet high, the crowd loved them. The rollerbladers would do double flips and 1260s and never fall, the crowd loved them too. Meanwhile, I’d be doing my best to hang on to kickflip indys and the occasional 540 while bailing at the end of every run. The crowd was not feeling me. I remember thinking, “Is this why I started skating?” I remember answering, “No, no it is not.” If you don’t know what you want, you’re going to end up somewhere you didn’t plan on, which might happen even if you don’t but at least you can say you tried.
BE LOYAL, BUT NOT TOO LOYAL
Remember this, the skate industry is not your friend, it’s a big business, which is fine but you just need to be prepared for it. If being loyal to a company is the smart choice, then be loyal. Example: You are close with the TM, he keeps your interests in mind when he makes decisions, and the company is stable and has a bright future. However, if you’re sponsored by a company with no resources, a bad image, and no decent prospects, unless you think you can single handedly make that company cool and successful, you might have to quit if you want to hold on to any hope of moving up in the game. Otherwise, when the end comes and your sponsor goes out of business or kicks you off for not “driving enough sales” you might find yourself to be a little bitter, we’re trying to avoid that.
DON’T TAKE THE EASY MONEY
This can be a tough one to follow, but here you need to delay your gratification and say no to the terrible brand that’s offering a quick payday. By terrible I’m talking about the brands that everyone instinctively recognizes as such. If they come waiving cash in your face to be a part of their program, run. Unless you’re going to be the guy who just wins every contest and gets paid that way then your image as a skater is everything. And taking money from a terrible brand that makes you wear terrible gear is death to your image and thus death to your future skate career.
GRAB THE BULL BY THE HORNS
If your sponsor lays out a hideous ad starring you, uses a photo of you kooking it on their homepage, edits your part to a song you hate, tries to hook you up with a terrible brand for money (see above), speak up. Ask to be more involved, say no, offer input, be a part of the process.
Skateboarding doesn’t owe anyone anything. Skateboarding is what you make it, what we all make it, and if you’re not getting anything from it that’s your fault. There’s fun to be had, and if you get anything more than that out of it then good for you. Consider yourself lucky, we all are. High fives!