Athlete representatives¿are their contributions to skateboarding’s growth benign or malignant?

Growth.

Most people on our planet have first-hand knowledge of the word’s meaning. How so? Well, it’s simple. See, every single individual experiences growth as they click off the years between birth and death¿if not emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, then at the very least, physically. We all grow just by living. It’s easy; you don’t even have to think about it if you don’t want to.

So, in growing and changing, we must compensate for things like longer limbs, bigger feet, hands, and ears by acquiring clothing that covers us adequately. While “adequate” is open for interpretation depending on climate or your social sensibilities, it’s a fair bet that the shoes you wore when you were five years old don’t fit anymore.

You follow me?

Our fair activity, sport, lifestyle, pastime (or whatever you feel most comfortable calling skateboarding) grows, too. It has always grown and will always grow, whether the big mouths front their monetary motivations on “growing the sport” or not.

Ideologies aside, skateboarding will regularly acquire new clothing to cover itself adequately. For example, as made-for-TV events¿the likes of which MTV, ESPN, and NBC have so successfully manufactured¿scream for the attention of a growing number of young persons, the personalities they focus on will attain the lofty status of “household names.”

Now, imagine this. You ride a skateboard and have done so your entire life. You’re pretty good at it, too. You’ve managed to squeeze a living out of your obsession by collecting a handful of sponsorships from people just like you¿skateboarders, one and all. Life’s not bad. But suddenly, you find yourself in the middle of a freakish growth spurt. People you don’t know are calling you day and night. They want you to do deals with them¿TV deals, Internet deals, video-game deals, commercial deals, toy deals, movie deals. The people calling you aren’t skateboarders, either. They’re heads of marketing, presidents of development, and executives in charge of massive reservoirs of money. They’re important and persistent, and they want you.

Whoa.

Believe it or not, this is reality. Skateboarders are being sought out as product, brand, and idea endorsers by everyone from computer hardware manufacturers to vacation-resort chains. And a few pros are noticing that their clothes do not cover them as well as they once did. What’s a scantily clad professional skateboarder to do?

Hire an agent, that’s what.

At last count, a short but impressive list of skateboarders had procured the services of agents or managers. Not surprisingly, they’re the same fellas the world has come to know as “those guys I saw on the X-Games.” What the world may not know, however is that these are also the same guys they’ve seen in Mountain Dew commercials, Saturn commercials, Schick commercials, Sprite commercials, in video games, movies, and on toy-store shelves. Is your head spinning yet?

Of course, this idea is not for everyone, so don’t go getting all upset. Agents and managers are probably not necessary for every single pro who has a griptape sponsor and travel per diem. But for a handful of the household-name-type skaters who are literally getting called on and visited by the non-skateboarding corporate world, it might just be mandatory.

Tony Hawk illustrates a clearer picture, “Offers started coming in that I didn’t know how to approach. For instance, something like a video-game deal could be a huge thing if it did well. The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater deal was one of the first things that came to me when I realized I needed an agent.”

As we all learned in grade school, with demand comes supply. Not only are established managers and agents getting into the act¿supplying skaters with high-octane bargaining power¿but new action-sports-only agencies are also staki their claim as the F.U.B.U. representatives of the skateboard superstars.

William Morris, the world’s oldest and largest talent agency is in Tony Hawk’s corner as his endorsement agency. Q Prime, the music management behind such acts as Metallica and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, has signed Colin McKay in their bid to guide the Canadian’s career in the right direction. A youth-market research and consulting firm called Blue Engine represents Andy Macdonald and all his corporate exploits. And an athlete-management and action-sports agency affectionately dubbed The Familie has cornered the entire world on action-sports personalities with a waxing roster of over 25 heads, including Danny Way, Bob Burnquist, and Bucky Lasek.

Besides having someone stand up for you in the wily world of money, power, and influence, why would anyone need a manager or agent?

I try to have a big-picture outlook on Colin’s McKay life and his career, not just what the next deal is gonna be,” says Q Prime’s Mark Reiter. “Granted, if I’m not making him money, I’m not worth my salt, but I think there’s more to it than just getting X amount of sponsors. I think it’s a matter of trying to sort out the future of skateboarding, as well.” Quite a tall order, but the sentiment runs deep among this upstart grouping of elite spokespersons, and their rhetoric seems as genuine as any skateboarder’s.

“We just don’t want corporate America to see anything cheesy,” says The Familie’s Founder Steve Astephen. “The entire world would see that stuff and think it’s what skating’s all about. What we’re trying to do here is prevent damage while being business partners and friends.”

While you’re wondering what skateboarding has been missing out on all these underrepresented years, “missed opportunities” may come to mind¿”better late than never” is probably in there, too. But now that the doors to the world of skateboarding have swung wide, are we really sure that more people are going to come visit? “Absolutely,” Astephen offers with astonishing speed. “People call us because they had nowhere to call before. They call and tell us what they need or ask us if things are even possible. They want to know, ‘How do we call a skater? What do they want? What are we supposed to do for them?’ A lot of markets outside the industry are looking to develop relationships with skaters. Anything from corporate candy company sponsorships or an Internet company, to video games and action figures.”

Everyone involved is obviously very enthusiastic, but there has to be some new directions to go in besides helping to shape and define every corporation’s extreme marketing campaign.

“We’re going to jump way past the Mountain Dews of the world in the next couple of years,” hypothesizes Reiter. “I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities to have an athlete endorsed by a Paine Webber, a Merrill Lynch, or any of the computer manufacturers. All of these companies are trying to reach an audience. There are more teenagers living in the United States right now than in the history of the United States, and there is no clear-cut way to reach all of them.”

Now we’re talking. But the question remains: how will the mainstream exposure that agents and managers bring to the table affect skateboarding? Many fear the change of unchecked growth. Others say by allowing non-skateboarders to have a hand in the fate of the sport, we are handing over control to those who will steer us in the direction of the nearest money pile¿authenticity and respect be damned. Is it wrong for skateboarding to flourish? Is skateboarding supposed to stay small? Some say yes to both, but when it’s smallest, the same people are likely to say they wish it would grow. Quite a conundrum, wouldn’t you say? Well, that’s skateboarding for you.

“It’s not wrong,” chimes Bob Burnquist¿a hardcore skater if there ever was one. “Some people see it as, ‘Oh, man. It’s too big. This sucks.’ But that’s not in the kids’ eyes. I just had this little kid come up to me at a contest, ‘Dude, you’re sick. You’re my favorite skateboarder. Oh, my god!’ He was slapping me five and going, ‘I got your action figure; I got your board!’ He was stoked, and there wasn’t anything wrong with it.” Burnquist views the high-profile aspect of the game as a positive one. “The exposure makes skateboarding acceptable,” he continues. “Now, when a kid wants a skateboard, his dad isn’t going to just shine him and say, ‘You’re not going to go anywhere with that.’ He’ll buy him a board because he saw Tony Hawk on TV.”

The Birdman concurs, “As far as I’m concerned, mainstream exposure just broadens the recognition for skateboarding. The Milk ad or the Gap ad didn’t pay much, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t about money. Including a skater in the Milk Moustache campaign meant that skating had reached a new level in acceptance¿through that, skateboarding will reach more people than it ever has. The same with the Gap ad¿it was more about using the Gap as a tool to reach people who have never seen skating.”

Once the masses have been converted¿touched by the benevolent hand of skateboarding¿and the sport gets bigger, then what? Will the pros still endorse products and compete in contests for pennies on the dollar, just to raise awareness for our sport?

Mark Reiter has that covered, “It’s high time that these athletes were rewarded for the fact that they go out and risk life and limb every day. For the most part, they do it for the fun of it. But if somebody’s going to skate a fifteen-foot ramp in front of a TV camera, they should be paid on the scale that other professional athletes are being paid. The Gravity Games was on a major television network in the middle of the afternoon. What were they competing against? Golf, football, and NASCAR. The skateboarders weren’t getting paid one percent of what those guys were getting. To me, that’s full-on exploitation and it’s high time that it stop.”

Skateboarding is everywhere you look, and riding a skateboard today is easier than it ever has been, but it’s not the underground activity it once was. This can be hard to accept. Luckily it still offers people of any race, gender, or creed an outlet for creativity, individuality, and physical expression, but it’s also looked on as an outlaw phenomenon. The streets are all but off limits to skaters, and even though parks seem to be literally erupting into existence across the globe, there is nowhere for hundreds of thousands of would-be skateboarders to hone their skills unharassed. Growth is natural, but as skateboarding awkwardly stumbles to the next level with a crackling voice and ill-fitting clothes, that same growth can be feel uncomfortable, even painful.

So, if professional skateboarders are smart enough to take it upon themselves to get dressed in more appropriate attire for this blustery environment, we probably shouldn’t fault them for their sharp new threads. After all, we’re the ones who will eventually get their hand-me-downs¿growing stronger (and more adequately clothed) in the process.e kids’ eyes. I just had this little kid come up to me at a contest, ‘Dude, you’re sick. You’re my favorite skateboarder. Oh, my god!’ He was slapping me five and going, ‘I got your action figure; I got your board!’ He was stoked, and there wasn’t anything wrong with it.” Burnquist views the high-profile aspect of the game as a positive one. “The exposure makes skateboarding acceptable,” he continues. “Now, when a kid wants a skateboard, his dad isn’t going to just shine him and say, ‘You’re not going to go anywhere with that.’ He’ll buy him a board because he saw Tony Hawk on TV.”

The Birdman concurs, “As far as I’m concerned, mainstream exposure just broadens the recognition for skateboarding. The Milk ad or the Gap ad didn’t pay much, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t about money. Including a skater in the Milk Moustache campaign meant that skating had reached a new level in acceptance¿through that, skateboarding will reach more people than it ever has. The same with the Gap ad¿it was more about using the Gap as a tool to reach people who have never seen skating.”

Once the masses have been converted¿touched by the benevolent hand of skateboarding¿and the sport gets bigger, then what? Will the pros still endorse products and compete in contests for pennies on the dollar, just to raise awareness for our sport?

Mark Reiter has that covered, “It’s high time that these athletes were rewarded for the fact that they go out and risk life and limb every day. For the most part, they do it for the fun of it. But if somebody’s going to skate a fifteen-foot ramp in front of a TV camera, they should be paid on the scale that other professional athletes are being paid. The Gravity Games was on a major television network in the middle of the afternoon. What were they competing against? Golf, football, and NASCAR. The skateboarders weren’t getting paid one percent of what those guys were getting. To me, that’s full-on exploitation and it’s high time that it stop.”

Skateboarding is everywhere you look, and riding a skateboard today is easier than it ever has been, but it’s not the underground activity it once was. This can be hard to accept. Luckily it still offers people of any race, gender, or creed an outlet for creativity, individuality, and physical expression, but it’s also looked on as an outlaw phenomenon. The streets are all but off limits to skaters, and even though parks seem to be literally erupting into existence across the globe, there is nowhere for hundreds of thousands of would-be skateboarders to hone their skills unharassed. Growth is natural, but as skateboarding awkwardly stumbles to the next level with a crackling voice and ill-fitting clothes, that same growth can be feel uncomfortable, even painful.

So, if professional skateboarders are smart enough to take it upon themselves to get dressed in more appropriate attire for this blustery environment, we probably shouldn’t fault them for their sharp new threads. After all, we’re the ones who will eventually get their hand-me-downs¿growing stronger (and more adequately clothed) in the process.