What Makes a Pro Skateboarder a Pro?

Pro Skateboarder Tony Hawk in Sydney, Australia 2012
Don Arnold/Contributor/WireImage/Getty Images

How do you become a Professional Skateboarder? What's the difference between pro skaters and ams? A reader named Pat asks - "I've seen many good skaters. They have their own names on boards and shoes, and even have parts in skate videos. But I read on Wikipedia and Transworld skateboarding that they are amateur. Not pro. So i was like...wow, if they cant get pro's yet even with their talent, how good do you have to be to turn pro???"

Good question, Pat! The designation “pro” is kinda tricky and sticky, especially since it can mean more than one thing.

Basically, a skater is pro when he or she lives off of skateboarding. So, if a skater is young, then it’s tricky to call them “pro”, because they are still in school, live with their parents, etc. But, on a very basic level, someone is a pro skater when they can live off of it – so really, it’s up to that skater. This type of "pro" is the same as in any other kind of sport. Usually this type of pro will have a few sponsors, and travel around to competitions, living off of the money generated from sponsors and competitions (sponsors like their pros to do well in competitions too, so the system feeds itself, as long as the pro keeps doing well).

However, there is a system among skateboarding companies where certain sponsors will not call a skater they sponsor “pro” until they decide that that certain skater is good enough.

This type of “pro” labeling often comes with products with his or her name on them. With this kind of pro labeling, skateboarding teams will have a certain number of pro skaters, and a certain number of am (amateur) skaters. This is used more for teams who travel and do demos, and film videos.

And how much do pro skateboarders get paid for pro endorsements?

That’s TOTALLY up in the air. Some guys get loads of money to use their name, and other guys – the less known pros – can get hardly anything. It all depends on how they perform, how the sales go, and how much they are valued by that sponsor. You’ll notice at events like the X Games, when a skater does really well and the cameras are on him or her, sometimes they hold up their skateboards to show off sponsor stickers – or they make sure that certain sponsor stickers on their helmets are always seen. That’s because that sponsor pays them well, and they want to keep them happy and make sure the sponsor gets their money’s worth! It's not all bad, when you think it through - if no one was sponsoring most of these guys, they wouldn't be able to afford to travel and skate, and we would never see them. Sponsorships and endorsements can make things ugly, but they also open a lot of doors. There's a lot of room to argue on this topic, and I think arguing can be healthy (if you want to voice your opinion, visit the Skateboarding Forum).

The world of pro skaters is strange. The top pros do get a lot of money, but the top of the mountain is a small place, and while they are all usually friendly (more so than in a lot of sports), some elbowing does happen.

And sometimes, guys just fall right off…

For more info on getting sponsored, read How to Get Sponsored in Skateboarding.