Asking what is a pro skateboarder is a question that is often asked as there are many skateboarders out there but only a few are actual pro skateboarders. Going pro in skateboarding is a smooth ride to making a living from the sport. To be referred to as a pro skateboarder is not something that comes easily.
Skateboarders usually need to work hard to be promoted to a pro rank.
Let us take a look at what pro means, particularly in skateboarding, who decides who a pro is and how to identify a pro skateboarder.
What is Pro in Skateboarding?
Becoming a pro skateboarder is when you cross the line from skateboarding for fun (an amateur) and to skateboarding for money (a professional). It means being able to earn a living from skateboarding. Pro skateboarders live off of skateboarding.
They travel around for competitions and have sponsors who invest in them and expect a return on investment in them. This way, they get money from competitions and sponsors. Pro skateboarders are paid to skateboard and receive monetary benefits from their sponsors.
A pro skateboarder is one that has made it past it being a hobby. They receive lots of free items like skateboards, shoes, helmet and other accessories from sponsors.
A skateboarder can be very good, join in competitions and still be called an amateur.
The number of years spent practising and visiting skateboard meetups is not also a factor in being recognised as a pro skateboarder. A skateboarder can spend a number of years in a team and still not be confirmed a pro, but a skateboarder on the same team can spend a fewer number of years and become a pro shortly after.
Being recognised as a pro skateboarder is a whole different ball game. It really doesn’t matter if a skateboarder is a member of a popular team, joins a team in competitions, has been in the game for long, skateboards beautifully – he/she may still not break into the rank of pro skaters.
A skateboarder cannot be called a pro in the game simply because people feel he is a good skater. So, how then do skateboarders become pro in skateboarding?
How Do You Know A Skateboarder Has Gone Pro?
The skateboard brand company will often decide who is pro or not. A company can decide to make the skateboarder a pro when they decide that the skateboarder is good enough, and his decks will sell. This is confirmed by giving the skateboarder a pro deck.
A pro deck is one that has the name of the skateboarder embedded in it. In other words, when a company sees that a skateboarder is good, they give him a pro deck. When such decks are sold, a certain portion of the money goes to the skateboarder.
How money from such sales is shared between the sponsor and the skateboarder is usually spelt out in the terms of the contract and can easily be measured.
Such a decision comes when the sponsor values the skateboarder and feels he deserves to be paid more and can generate income for him in return. Therefore, while the pro is making more money by being a pro, his sponsors are also benefiting from him.
It is important to note that pro in skateboarding has gone beyond just having a pro deck. Sponsors from other industries such as clothing, shoe companies and the likes print name of pro skateboarder that they sponsor on their brands.
A pro skateboarder does not have to be restricted to just having the one sponsor. A pro skateboarder can have contracts with different sponsors.
The good thing is you do not need to be on a team to be recognised as a pro skateboarder. Some prefer to skateboard alone while others prefer to be in a group.
Some Reasons Sponsors Make a Skateboarder a Pro
If a skateboarder has been with a company for a long time without being confirmed a pro, another company can offer to promote him to a pro rank as bait to lure him to their company.
Companies that want better skateboarder on their team, use such incentives to win the hearts of their favourite skateboarders.
When companies enter an agreement with a skateboarder, it is often agreed that, if the skateboarder spends a number of years with them, he will be made a pro.
If the company values the skateboarder to pay him more, then the company will make the skater a pro.
When a skateboarder is good with particular tricks in skateboarding and is consistent with making good videos, a sponsor can see the value in promoting the skateboarder to a pro rank.
Sponsors lookout for those that are good at doing great tricks and stand behind them.
A skateboarder’s good relationship with team members and fans can attract sponsors to make him a pro. Sponsors lookout for skateboarders that will promote them anywhere and be good ambassadors of the company.
In recent times, the social media presence a skateboarder has can attract sponsors to him. This shifts from just having a pro deck to other areas. One of the things sponsors look out for in a skateboarder is the fan base and online interaction.
A skateboarder that has successfully attracted millions of fans on social media is a big asset to sponsors. The reason is that social media has become a major hub of building brands. Once a skateboarder has engaged supporters on his social media handles, sponsors begin to scout for him.
Nowadays, a skateboarder does not have to wait for a sponsor to find him. He can write to companies that he wants to be their brand ambassador. If the company is ok with him, then they enter in an agreement and set the ball running.
How do Pros In Skateboarding Make Their Money?
The amount of money pro skateboarders earn is not fixed. It often depends on the agreement between the sponsor and the pro skateboarder.
There are various ways pro skateboarders can make money from being skateboarding. It is left to the skateboarder to explore the countless opportunities available. Most of the earnings here are quoted in US dollars as there are more examples to use.
- Sponsorships: Pro skateboarders can earn a monthly salary. This is called a retainer fee. Companies sponsoring them pay them a monthly allowance. They also give them freebies, sponsor them to competitions, and cover all-expense-paid trips to events.
- Deck Sponsor: The majority of pro skateboarders have pro decks. Companies pay them a huge ransom for this. Pro skateboarders can earn on average between 1000 – 3000 dollars per month.
- Wheel Sponsors: These companies pay pro skateboarders about 2000 dollars and above.
- Trucks: Truck sponsors pay less. Pro skateboarders earn about 250 dollars from these sponsors.
- Shoe Sponsors: Shoe sponsors pay more as there’s a higher chance of their brands being seen. They pay so much that pro skateboarders can rely on their earnings from a shoe campaign and make a living from it.
- Royalties: Pro skateboarders receive royalties when items that have their names on them are sold. The amount is based on an agreement between the company and the skateboarders. Some have pro shoes, pro board, pro wheel, etc. Sponsors can then print the name of the skateboarder on a product. When any those products then get sold, the pro skateboarder also gets paid.
- Photo Incentives: When a pro skateboarder has a photo appears in a magazine and the sponsor’s logo is shown as well, the sponsor will also pay for it.
- Contests: Pro skateboarders win cash prizes in competitions when they emerge a winner.
- Ads: Pro skateboarders get paid when they advertise the company’s products and services or wear branded items in ad campaigns.
Evolution of Pro Skating
Pro skateboarding is not what it used to be years ago. Things have changed. The skateboarding evolution can be broken down into different eras.
Different eras witnessed different changes and below are the eras in more detail;
First Era (the 1960s)
This era was not about having a pro deck. Sponsors also made skateboarders go pro by giving them magazine coverage. Pro skateboarders were able to get a better payday check from a magazine publication.
In the 1960s when skating was not very popular, companies inscribed only the names of popular surfers like Duke Kahanamoku on boards. This is because people knew their names very well. The more popular a skateboarder was the more the chance of having his name on a skateboard.
In 1977, skateboard company owners began inscribing their names on their decks.
However, pro skateboarding took another turn with the emergence of skateboard magazines. This kicked off when a magazine photographer took a shot of Tom ‘Wally’ Inouye. It happened that Wally was skating close to where the photographer was shooting someone else for Tom Sims team. Upon noticing Wally while skateboarding, they asked him to put on Sims jersey and took a photo of him on a skateboard.
That photo started the pro journey. From then on, companies will ask skateboarders to put on their products, take pictures and pay them.
Later on, the pros did not stop at being in magazines. They also joined in skateboard production. Pro skateboarders advised producers on how to make good decks. This is because they understood what a good board should feel and look like. They became advisers in the industry.
Pro skateboarders were also requested to scout for young talents for sponsorship.
Second Era (the 1980s)
In this era, skateboarders got pro contracts by winning competitions. Pro skateboarders made their money winning in competitions. Pros that thrived were the ones that took part in competitions. This phase of the job description reinforced magazine coverage. Magazines covered pros that performed new tricks in competitions. Pro skateboarders that did participate in competitions soon lost relevance.
Companies paid skateboarders to win contests. Most skateboarding activities were competitions.
Winning competitions, skateboard sales, and making demos became the major source of income for pros.
Skateboarding was not very popular in this era, and there was not so much money in the industry. Pro skateboarders could not solely rely on deck sponsors. They did lots of demos, and competitions for sponsors to make more money.
The era also gave birth to video making for professional skateboarders.
In 1984, Stacy Peralta made the first skateboard video and the success of his video paved way for other pros to start making their own videos. This is how skateboard videos got popular and video making was added to a pros job description.
Some amateur skateboarders got signed as pros because of their performance in videos. Videos helped bump up the popularity of a skateboarder and increased their board sales.
Pro skills shifted from being a good contest skateboarder or a demo skateboarder to a video skateboarder. Whoever was able to tell a story and made impressive films became more dominant. Those that relied only on pro models found it difficult to survive in this era.
Third Era (the 1990s)
In the 1990s skateboarding contests faded out. Shooting unique and extraordinary progressive videos was the order of the day. Magazines stopped photo shooting skateboarders and printed photos from videos instead. Only progressive videos were considered professional skateboarding.
Fourth Era (the 2000s)
Pros got sponsorships from brands who just wanted to be associated with the skateboarding lifestyle. Energy drinks, clothing, and other companies came onto the scene.
A pro skateboarder could get money by simply advertising for the brand in any form. Even if it was just showing the public that they consume the item. Some pros didn’t have board sponsors but had sponsors from other industries.
Sponsors then determined what a pro skateboarder could do for them. Some sponsors asked pros to wear their branded shirts, caps or hold up their drinks in public view whether in videos, photos or live events.
Fifth Era (the 2010s till date)
In this era, sponsorship comes from endorsement. Social media also plays a major part too. Pro skateboarders use their social media presence to promote brands. Sponsors look at a skateboarder’s social media presence before making him a pro. They do not look at their skateboarding ability but how strong his social media presence is.
These sponsors come from different industries and judge a skateboarder not by his skating skills, but by how popular the social media presence is.
With all that said, the core role of promoting the game itself is important and this is not something all sponsors understand. After all, it is the ability to skateboard that attracts huge fans on social media and beyond.