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Following our article ‘How to Become a Sponsored Skateboarder’, we wanted to take a further look behind the scenes of what it means to be sponsored in 2019 and give you an idea of what it’s actually like to be a professional skateboarder.
There are a lot of companies, a lot of good skateboarders, and only so many paychecks to go around. This isn’t meant to elicit sympathy, being a professional skateboarder is a privileged position, one that most of us will have aspired to at one time or another. Rather, we wanted to take a look at the reality of the job, to go beyond Instagram if you will.
Getting paid to skateboard nowadays is in some ways harder than it has ever been. Those lucky enough to be on the payroll of a major shoe company can do well for themselves, but of course, there are a lot of professionals who for one reason or another are not in this position. If you’re so inclined you can maybe take an energy drink contract to pay the bills, but that’s not for everybody.
Sebo Walker has been professional for Krooked Skateboards since 2016 and was also a big part of the Lakai program. With Lakai no longer part of the equation, we wondered what being pro for Mark Gonzales’ company is like and is it enough to make a comfortable living out of skateboarding.
How long have you been a professional skater and more importantly, is it how you thought it would be when you were younger?
I have been pro for Krooked for three and a half years which has been a dream come true for sure. I think skateboarding as a whole has changed a lot in the past 3-5 years and, as a result, being a professional skateboarder has also changed.
As a kid, I did envision a different world for a ‘professional’. Since turning pro is the end goal for most skateboarders you are under the impression that once you reach that level you get taken care of – salary, career longevity etc, which can be the case for some, but unfortunately isn’t everyone’s reality.
I wouldn’t give up my experience of being a pro for anything, but I think it is also important to paint a realistic picture for kids wanting to make a career out of skateboarding right now.
"I lived in my van absolutely to save money."
It was well documented in various skate media outlets that you used to live in a van, was this to save money or you didn’t have an apartment?
I lived in my van absolutely to save money, but it was mainly to have someplace safe to sleep. I had been couch surfing for two years and it was pretty tough. Sleeping on wooden floors, dirty carpets or couches definitely takes its toll on your body – and the patience of the people you are relying on.
I wanted to find an alternative and the van was a great solution. We set it up with a mattress in the back and then all of my clothes and skate bits in the front. It was a pretty seamless system. I told myself I would live in it until I turned pro, and wildly enough, I did.
Are you content with how things are for you right now? Or do you push your existing sponsors for more or even try and attain new ones?
I do my best to push existing sponsors, aiming to help in any way I can, add a creative touch on things, or propose trip ideas etc. But I’m also always seeking to pursue new ones that I feel share a similar vision. I am really proud of the sponsors I have and have made it a point to only get sponsored by companies and brands I really believe in.
Krooked is and has always been my favourite. Gonz, Jim Thiebaud, Bram, Alden and everyone else at DLX have been such supporters of me, I couldn’t be more grateful. They have continued to have my back through the ups and downs of my career.
Innately, I’m always seeking new opportunity, but at the same time I am very content just seeing my name on a Krooked board and continuing to work on being a good professional skateboarder for the companies that back me now.
Have you ever thought of trying to attract an energy drink sponsor or be tempted by the contest circuit? You have been in SLS once or twice right?
When it comes to energy drinks, never. I don’t agree with promoting products like that to the youth. I do ride for @wedrinkwater, which just promotes drinking water. As for contests. I find that they can be fun because I just love skating. But to be fully honest, it isn’t really my cup of tea.
Contests represent so many aspects of skating nowadays that I feel are the opposite of why I fell in love with it. I’m not a sixty second skater. I feel that I skate my best when nobody is watching and I am freestyle skating on a day that I feel good and am enjoying myself. I see a lot of positive and good coming from contests - bringing awareness of skating to people around the world, entertainment factors and so on, but at the end of the day it isn’t what makes me want to go out and skate.
To me, if I had to use the word ‘winning’ in regards to skateboarding, I would say winning is battling countless amounts of tricks in the process of making a video part with your friends, finally making the trick, the smile that comes from the feeling of success. The moment when you’re all together celebrating a collection of time, injuries, and hard work at the premiere. That’s winning.
Looking at certain professional skateboarders like Nyjah for example, do you believe young people see him and choose skateboarding as a career, just how they might choose basketball, baseball or football as a focus sport, which will potentially be very lucrative?
Yes, absolutely. Nyjah has done really well for himself. He has big sponsors and a lot of corporate backing and as a result has had a very lucrative career. I think that he, and other skaters alike, have a big impact on the younger generation of skaters and their decision to pursue skateboarding as a career.
That said, I think it is important for all skateboarders to be transparent about their careers as a pro skater so that the younger generation can be better informed on the reality of pursuing skating as a career. There is definitely a spectrum and who you choose to partner with or get sponsored by has a big impact on that.
Do you see skateboarding as your job and your ‘profession’, or something more like when you first started?
It’s fun and if you happen to get some free products along the way then cool. Skateboarding will always be my first love and I feel super lucky to have it be my profession. Having fun while skating has always been my top priority. I have been skating for almost two decades and the feeling I get when I skate has remained the same. If that feeling ever changes, I think I will know it is time to focus on something else.
“I was threatened to sign into a contract or be pulled out of the video completely. I couldn’t believe it. A video I had worked so hard on for 4 years.”
What happened with Lakai, did your contract run out?
I don’t want to sugarcoat it, leaving Lakai was a super difficult decision for me. I had been on Lakai for almost 10 years - it was my first big sponsor and was a big guiding factor in how I became pro. I owe a lot of credit to Rick and Mike and am very thankful for all that they did for me during my time there.
My decision to leave was based on the fact that I felt that I had been growing apart from the company. They had been bought out, I saw lots of friends get fired or quit, team riders treated different depending on how much the TM liked them or not. Sciano and Espinoza were given ultimatums that in my opinion weren’t fair at all, and which drastically changed their careers. I didn’t agree with the vision that was being filtered through the TM.
I wasn’t valued as a team rider, there was a lack of communication, massive disconnects with the TM and the other filmer. Trips turned into segregated chunks of the team, riders in bad moods, just a lot of negativity. It came down to the video. I was threatened to sign into a contract or be pulled out of the video completely. I couldn’t believe it. A video I had worked so hard on for 4 years. That was the last straw.
Although I did sign to be in the video, I shortly after broke out of the contract and ended it. I believe that if I were to have stayed it would be disingenuous and that really wasn’t representative of my career there. Some of my best years in skating was with Lakai and I look back on my time there in a really positive way, I don’t know if that would have been the case had I stayed.
You’ve been wearing adidas shoes of late, are you on flow and do you aspire to make it to the full team? What are the chances of that do you think?
I like skating their shoes. I’ve been buying them at skate shops or getting them from Marc Johnson or Paul Shier once in a while. I would love to be on the team. I have always been a fan of adidas and really like what they are doing in skateboarding, advocating for women athletes, inspiring the youth, and incorporating art are all things I can really get behind and believe in.
This interim time of not having a shoe sponsor has helped me appreciate the years I did get free shoes. I feel like I am working harder than ever and feel better than ever on my board and I hope that will result in a shoe sponsor.
Do you get a wage from Krooked and from any of your other sponsors?
Yeah, DLX takes care of me and I’m so thankful. That is pretty much my only income from skateboarding, I supplement with a lot of mural work, teaching skateboarding lessons, art sales and side jobs to make it all work.
If you want to travel nowadays how do you arrange it? Do you get a travel budget from any sponsor?
Most of my travel is self-funded or for mural jobs. DLX helps when it coincides with Krooked or Spitfire, or just to pitch in if I’m filming for a video part, which is great. But for the majority of travel I take care of myself these days.
You sell your artwork and run a key fob company with your brothers, do these things help supplement your income from skateboarding?
Skateboarding takes care of the basics for me, paying rent and groceries. Selling art helps me live outside of the bare necessities. I work on art projects for multiple hours daily. I teach lessons and work periodically on mural jobs to get that extra income to treat my wife with a nice gift, nice dinner, or fund an adventure for us.
My brothers and I started Walker Bros Co to have something we run together. I love my brothers. We grew apart in our early 20’s and are all in a better place now, it’s fun to have this side gig to do together. It doesn’t help supplement income for us right now, we just try to break even most of the time.
"If you only want to turn pro to make money this might not be the career for you."
Being a pro skateboarder is a dream to so many kids, any harsh realities you’d like to explain? Or even just pointers you’d give yourself when you were younger and trying to make it?
I would just encourage kids to do what they love. If skating gives you enjoyment then keep it up. Concentrate on skating with your friends and learning new tricks. That’s what it’s all about. If you only want to turn pro to make money this might not be the career for you. Skate because you love it and the rest will fall into place.
You seem to have a really healthy outlook on life, have you seen professional skateboarding break or change people in a negative way? No need to name names of course!
In the 20 years I’ve been skateboarding I’ve seen a lot of pros fade out. Whether it’s injuries, partying, or just getting over it, it’s not an easy profession. Skateboarders are modern day street warriors. You get beat up and broken down a lot. Filming a video part takes a lot of time, work and slams. Slamming sucks and a lot skaters don’t have medical coverage so it can be tough.
There will be negative people in any industry, its inevitable. I believe it’s good to just focus on what drives and excites you. For me, I just want to film as many video parts as possible, and get photos. Having fun while being productive. Be positive and patient. Warm up properly, eat well, and keep pushing.
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