Mark Nicolaus may be injured but still stacks media on crutches.
Here are 10 things that they don't tell you about being sponsored. Some of them are good, some of them are alarming, and some of them are inspiring. This is a must read for anyone thinking about sending in that SPONSOR ME email, so that they know what they are really getting into.
1. NOTHING IS FREE
It's True in any part of life, especially longboarding. Anything you get from a longboard company will need to be earned. The best riders in the world spent years paying for gear, eating top ramen, and living on couches to develop the reach and marketability needed to be rewarded with large amounts of gear. Gear that they then turn around on, and film videos on, gather photos with, and give to other skaters in their area to hopefully influence the local community to buy these products. A good gauge for a company on who to sponsor is by figuring out who is going to bring back the most amount of valuable media with the gear that they are given. If they can bring back a couple of videos, a stack of photos, compete at a race, hold a slide jam, and make it into Skateslate, they are the sure-fire choice. If they take all the gear and money and travel around, don't collect any media, and sell their decks to get cash, they won't be on the team for long.
2. YOUR FAVORITE PRO IS BROKE
"I have spent my entire life savings being a Pro Skateboarder" - Levi Green on how much money he makes from skateboarding. There is little money to be made from doing really nice slides, and if you are going to compete on the world cup it is going to take some serious coin to make it happen. Entry fees, plane tickets, rental cars, hotels, time away from work, and injuries are expensive and cost a pretty penny. It was once said that winning the World Cup costs about $20,000 to make it to all of the races. That was 10 years ago. Now it is not about who attended the most events, but who attended EVERY event and placed in the podium at most events. As the level of riding has gotten better the overall talent level is ridiculous at your average IDF race. There are at least 20 people who could actually win the race at any given event. It is common for your 1st round heat in a 4 man race to have last years IDF Champion, the top track qualifier, and Emily Pross in it, and you bet they are all riding freshies.
Here is the Final heat at the Britannia Classic, entering the last corner 30 feet separates 1st from last.
3. SOCIAL MEDIA IS HARD
So winning a world cup may be out of the option, but don't give up hope, there is more than one way to skin a sponsorship cat! Some Pros are not competing in races, and still make it happen by documenting everything. With the modern age of social media you can reach a wack of people by being pro-active on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, and most companies require/reward awesome social media presence. A good rider will post on Social Media at least 3 times a week if not more. You can do this, too! Hell your mom may still pay your cell phone bill, so post away. Staying connected with followers, sharing company marketing material, hyping new products, and coming out with videos is must for any sponsored rider. Now days you don't have to be the best at skateboarding if you can document it properly. There are numbers of examples of skaters like this in our industry. A 10/10 skater with a 3/10 social media is less desirable than a 3/10 skater with a 10/10 social media presence. If you are actively promoting your brand you are a better asset for the company. Long gone are the days when being the best skater got you all the riches, and now it is more important for a company to have a team of social media warriors getting out the company hype to reach the audience that didn't show up to the event.
4. YOUR RAW RUN ISN'T HELPING
We have all seen gnarly raw runs, and wanted to emulate them. Most of us do not live at the bottom of the 'fish' and cannot easily access terrain that would look good for a raw run. So learning to cross-step, getting good at nose-manuals, and embracing your local terrain is what you need to do! It is more valuable to be a freestyle master than a racer now anyways. Most companies are not looking for another DH Freerider, and would kill for a creative freestyle expert. Videos showcasing fun, innovative, and relatable riding are far better at connecting with the general enthusiast than a gnarly raw run. If you don't live near huge hills, don't worry, skate the way you can and enjoy the things you have, sometimes even the gnarliest dudes just want to go hit a garage, or putt around through a fun neighborhood. You cannot skate balls to the walls in front of a car for ever, but you can do nose manuals forever, like DAEWON SONG. You don't have to be gnarly just creative and passionate.
Chris Birch shows off his unique style and separates himself from the throgns of raw runs.
You don't have to travel to be a Pro, but that is the best part. Leaving your hometown to experience the world, and see other communities of skaters is going to get you more publicity and expose you to more people than your home town ever could. Which will make you more desirable to sponsor. Sometimes it is all about who you know, and if you know enough people eventually someone will include you in an opportunity that you would never have gotten to experience otherwise. Some of the best pros out there got their big break by packing up everything, moving to California and working with companies directly to get a foot in the door. James Kelly and Louie Pilloni moved to LA to pack boxes at Loaded, and now look where they are! Everyone from Calgary seems to move to Vancouver to be closer to brands to get their name out there. Don't be scared, someone has a floor for you to sleep on so that you can follow your dreams.
Morgan Owens travels far and wide to ride, here he is shmangin' the fish on a recent roadtrip!
6. THE BOTTOM IS WHERE YOU START
Most up and coming riders do not realize that most companies have been burned by a Pro rider before, and because of that they are less inclined to give much away at first. Some riders have been given too much, too soon and end up feeling entitled to that level of support forever, and then expect more and more, while doing less and less, and companies have learned from that. Today it is common for a company to start potential riders with a small discount on products to see what they are capable of, and what they are going to be like in the future. As riders prove themselves through social media, event attendance/performance, community involvement, shop support, and overall likability they get more and more from the Sponsor. This is to ensure that both rider and sponsor are mutually benefitting from each other and that there is a healthy working relationship to guarantee success on both fronts. This is the way that it is, and if you thought that your latest raw run was going to get you 4 new decks, 20 sets of wheels, and a case of precision trucks, you are mistaken. You will probably get a nicely worded, encouraging email, a small discount code to purchase some more gear and a couple free T-shirts. And you better wear those threads in your next video!
Jackson Wells leaves work at MOTIONBOARDSHOP to stack clips for Free Wheel Company, showing dedication to his sponsors.
7. DO IT YOURSELF
The most common line in a "Sponsor Me" email that makes us not want to sponsor someone is, "With your support I know that I can improve my riding and grow my skills." If you need support to go and have fun on a skateboard, then this isn't the right place for you. Riders who are sponsored all have something in common. They were out doing awesome things before they were ever sponsored. Whether it was reviews, videos, show-me-a-tricks, or event hosting, they had something worth supporting before asking for the support, that is the real secret. Sometimes you get sponsored because you have a thriving Instagram and a great Youtube Channel reviewing gear, and companies recognize that media potential and want to support you because of it. But no brand is going to support you to start an instagram and a youtube channel, those need to be in place first. Max Wippermann on Sponsorship - "If you sit on your ass and think you are getting anywhere, you should probably try street luge."
8. PREPARE TO BE BRICKED
As we all know, you are going to get burned when you play with fire, and everyone of us has taken a spill off of our longboard at some point or another. Being a Sponsored rider means that this cannot stop you from shredding. If you are on a 3 week roadtrip with the brand and you fall first day you are going to be stuck in a van for 3 weeks with road rash, that is going to suck, and they are still going to make you skate broken to get shots. The best thing that you can do is prepare. Get HEALTH INSURANCE, it will still cost you money but much less than if you have to bankroll medical bills yourself. STOCK PILE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS. Just because you hit a guardrail at 50 and your femur looks like a staircase doesn't mean you get a pass on the next 3 months of responsibilities. A good backup of photos and videos will help you keep pumping out media for the brands, and keep you as a current rider in peoples minds. Brands love when you get hurt and still look like you skate everyday, after all that is your job as a Sponsored rider, is to look like you skate every day, regardless of if you do or not. So prepare for the worst and start a drop-box full of good photos, you never know when the company will want to use you for a magazine ad, and you can submit a 6 month old photo while you are laid up in bed with a cast on.
Nate Blackburn pays to play on the 2nd day of a 21 day road-trip. Sucks to suck.
9. YOU ARE GOING TO GET SCREWED
If you end up riding for a company, eventually, something will work out that won't be in your favor. Whether budgets get cut, your Pro-model is scrapped, or the new young kid got to go on the film trip, something will piss you off! During these times it is important to remember that this is skateboarding, and you are doing something that you love, and you would do this even if there was no money involved. Because at some point you will realize that you could be making double the money at any industry outside of this one. So if you are going to be in it, you need to be fully stoked all the time, because if you are not having fun, than why do it? Just remember that everything works itself out, and that our time is short on this planet so we should enjoy every minute of it while we can and experience as much as possible, while being grateful for all the unique experiences that come.
Fitz Illingworth has been working his way up through the OMEN ranks with constant high quality media, event attendance, and hard work.
10. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE SPONSORED
Skateboarding is not a sport where you should judge yourself based on how much you get back from it, but instead how much you give back to it. You don't need to be sponsored to have fun on a skateboard, and you don't need to have a sponsor to be a good skateboarder. Some of the best skateboarders out there don't seek out sponsorship and just skate because they enjoy doing so. They progress the sport for themselves without caring what other people think, and ride because they enjoy it. If you think that you suck at skateboarding because you don't have a sponsor, than you are looking at it the wrong way. No one hops on a skateboard and thinks, 'man I am going to get rich', and it should stay that way. If you get sponsored great, but some of the best sponsorships are still not as good as working a good paying job outside of the skate industry. If you can pay for all of your events, buy your own gear, and are accountable to no-one that is a real win! That means you get to skate when you choose, not when the companies camera guy needs you to. Do you know how hard it is to skate downhill at a sunset and not blow the shot because the sun only sets once a day, and you are covered in road rash? Pretty hard, so why not just skate to enjoy it, and appreciate the sunset and enjoy the time on a skateboard with out the pressure of a sponsor? There are sometimes when even the most compensated pro just wants to throw it all away and skate without any pressure.
Well, that wraps up the 10 things they don't tell you about being Sponsored. This is not meant to discourage anyone from following their dreams but to help keep a realistic expectation of the world that lays in front of you if you travel the road to sponsorship. We advise you to remember #10, and enjoy skateboarding for yourself first and foremost. Being sponsored is a job, not a carefree joy, and many people get burned out when they realize that they have to work for that gear. So stay stoked, enjoy skating, and dump some thane for us!
NOW GET OUT AND SKATE!