Skateboarding originated in California before the action sport took the world by storm becoming a global culture and billion-dollar industry. A hobby in the 1950s made popular by surfers who wanted to keep busy when the swell had dropped, quickly created an industry consisting of some of the world’s most well-known brands including Vans, Converse, and DC Shoes.
As the 1970s rolled around, skateboarding expanded beyond the United States into Germany, starting the sports’ initial globalization. Over the following few decades, with newfound popularity and growing participation, major competitions, events, and leagues were created and televised like the X-Games and Street League Skateboarding. While reaching a growing audience, athlete sponsorships began to shape the world of skateboarding.
Historically, only household names in the sport such as Nyjah Huston, Tony Hawk, and Ryan Sheckler, generated massive sums of money off of sponsorship. With a large portion of athletes typically agreeing to product or flow partnerships there were very few skaters landing paying sponsorship deals. Today, more and more young amateurs are being groomed by large skate brands to turn pro and become official team riders or in other words, a paid sponsored athlete.
Skateboarding has made significant strides since its inception 70 years ago but there is still so much room to grow. In 2020, with many factors including, the global pandemic and Olympic Games, the industry saw an 118% increase in skateboard equipment sales according to Action Watch, a skate, and surf industry data provider. As the 2020 Olympic games made history adding five new sports, the most since 1920, the skate community had mixed opinions of adding skateboarding to this world stage. Many believe that supporting the integration meant skateboarding would lose a sense of community, culture, and freedom, while others believed this was the appropriate step to grow the industry. The lack of collective opinion did not stop mainstream media attention during the Tokyo Games, in fact, it may have sent skateboarding into the stratosphere in terms of popularity.
Now, with upwards of 85 million skateboarders worldwide, how does talent set themselves aside from the pack and create opportunities beyond the typical skate sponsorship layout? Diversifying marketability, skillset, and value is key. With fewer local skate shops connecting young undiscovered talent to big-name brands, the internet is now their direct line to becoming a sponsored athlete and monetizing off of their talent. What started as creating VHS tape highlight reels or “Sponsor Me Tapes” to send to team managers eventually led to lucrative career opportunities for many legends and hopefuls alike. In many ways those VHS tapes still live on - today Youtube, Vimeo, and other social media platforms have become king in the skateboard sponsorship space. Many skaters are leading the charge when it comes to bridging the gap between athlete and creator. Although filming, editing, and directing shots for a skater’s Youtube channel often seems subsequent to their actual athletic ability, in reality honing those skills or similar ones can provide additional value to brands beyond an athlete’s skateboarding experience.
Many young athletes in the space are doing just that; Donta Hill is a prime example of an athlete who uses social media to showcase his overall marketability by sharing not only his skateboarding prowess, but his personality, involvement in the community, modeling talent, boxing ability, and more. Likewise, female skaters are proving their value in the male-dominated industry now more than ever by using the power of social media and the attention gained by the Olympic games. As new, up-and-coming voices and demographics become more prevalent in the skateboarding community, the sponsorship sector of the industry will continue to expand. To rise in the sponsorship ranks as an athlete, skateboarders must develop in parallel with the ever so evolving landscape of skateboarding as a whole.