The market dynamics are the same for up-and-coming skaters. David Reyes, 24, feels like he’s on the brink of something big in his skateboarding career. He’s sponsored by Etnies and Mystery Skateboards, and he’s been filming video spots for online distribution non-stop since December to get his name out there, attract more sponsors, and build up his fan base. “This year, I’m hustling,” he says. “I’m pushing for bigger and better things.” He’s seen good skaters fall by the wayside because they didn’t have business acumen. “They get played,” Reyes says. “People are like, ‘Oh, we don’t have to pay this dude shit …’ He just wants to skate and is hoping that whoever is watching will appreciate it and give him what he deserves. It’s not like that.” It can be a ruthless business, he says, given that skateboarding starts weeding out potential professionals from the masses while they’re still teenagers. Reyes started skating when he was 9, and at 15 he moved to Oceanside, California, with $50 in his pocket. He couch-surfed with accommodating families—including the Shecklers—as he skated 12-hour days trying to make an impression on the managers of skate companies. He was smart—he realized immediately that grinding it out on a skatepark wasn’t enough.
“One of the reasons a particular skate company was making changes [in their sponsored-athlete roster] and kicking people off was that they weren’t getting 12 photos of themselves [published] in a year,” he says. “So I’ve always had to get at least 12 photos a year—I would make sure I got an interview, or put out a video part. You have to be vocal and you have to let them know what you’re doing and when it’s coming out and what you feel like you deserve. You have to know the business side, and you have to know the skating side.”
Brian Atlas, president of Street League Skateboarding, a competitive series that launched in 2010, believes there is still a place for the low-key skaters who don’t think the pressure to fill the social-media maw suits their vibe, but if they want to maximize their career, it’s the only way to go.
“Social media is a game changer for skaters that want to take advantage of it,” he says. “You can become well known without being pro yet or maintain a strong following by just putting out content that fans relate to and are inspired by.”
For female professional skateboarders, it’s an even tougher road to break into the scene. Before she suffered a careerending ACL tear, Lauren Perkins was one of the stars of the women’s professional scene: podiums at the X Games and Gravity Games, champion at the All Girls Street Jam.
“When I started, women’s skateboarding was at a high point—we had contests every other weekend, all over the world,” she says. “And then about five years into it, the economy went to crap. A lot of contests fell off the map, and then sponsors didn’t have the budget to pay a lot of girls.”
But, as more girls start to skate, the dynamic may be changing. Where the consumer market goes—with its alluring dollars—the industry will follow.
“I used to go to the skatepark and I was the only girl, always,” Perkins says. “I go now, and there’s at least one girl. And the girls are doing a lot harder tricks. It’s growing.”
Sheckler and Reyes give the crowd a show at the official opening of the S’Klallam skatepark, soaring over the edge of a bowl and landing flawlessly, physics be damned. There’s no indication of weariness from Sheckler—amazing, really, given that he’s been in the spotlight the entire time he’s been on the reservation, with constant requests for autographs, hugs, and pictures.
“Even today, waking up, all I wanted to do was skate that park,” he says. “Especially a fresh, new park like that. It’s something we all look forward to.”
On top of the dogged attention, this Seattle trip is the latest leg of a relentless two months of travel filming his YouTube show, Sheckler Sessions, as well as other video parts to distribute online: He’s gone from Estonia to Australia to Mexico to Barcelona to Seattle.
“My passion for skating has, if anything, grown just from being able to travel the way I travel and meeting the people I get to meet and helping the people I really want to help,” Sheckler says.
He knows that this is the life of a serious skateboarder: hitting the road for filming, for sponsors, for competition. And thanks to his example, all the young skaters now know it too. Skating isn’t just skating anymore—it’s part of a package that includes marketing and mentorship.
This summer, Matias Miguel will be a youth skate-camp instructor at the S’Klallam’s new skatepark, helping elementary-school-age children master the basics of the sport during a three-week program. His brother Ron has duties, too, capturing Matias’s burgeoning variety of tricks on his Sony NEX 5N camera.
“Matias came to me and said he was tired of iPhone clips and still shots,” Ron says. “So I saved up for a camera, did my homework, bought the Sony—and became one of his dedicated filmers.”