Travel the world. Drop breakthrough video parts. Grace the latest magazines. Dominate demos. Kill contests. Get paid. This enviable existence was once the exclusive realm of top professional skateboarders. Not any more. Many of today's top amateur skaters are also living the life. The line between am and pro is thinner than ever.
Take a look at Foundation skateboards amateur Nick Merlino, for example. Over the past couple years, the 24-year-old New Jersey native has mixed a heady cocktail of ads, editorial, video, and, last but certainly not least, contest performance. Back in June, he scored fifth place -- and $7,000 -- at the Maloof Money Cup's New York installment. Before that, he barely missed the final cut at his first Tampa Pro appearance. Not bad for an am.
"To us, Nick Merlino is pro," says Skatepark of Tampa's Ryan Clements. "We all know that Nick does not have a pro model, but we do anticipate one coming soon, which is why he is welcome to skate pro SPoTlight events. If we thought he wasn't going pro soon, we would have denied him."
Among other amateur standouts on the pro bubble, Clements says that Toy Machine's Daniel "Lutheran has a magical personality and is exciting to watch, and [Nick] Garcia has put his time in and definitely rips, but I don't think they should be pro this year. How about next year? Or first let's get rid of a few pros who aren't doing s**t ... just taking up space on company rosters. Then we can turn these [guys] pro."
Merlino's pro model, by the way, is scheduled to drop on October 28, the same day of the premier of Foundation's new video, "WTF."
As Clements points out the gray area between am and pro, Merlino sees it as more black and white.
"Technically, ams that get paid are pro skaters because they're getting paid, but they just don't have the board or the shoe," he suggests. "Right now, I don't have a board. But I'm allowed to enter pro contests, so I guess that means I'm pro."
According to Mike Sinclair, director of teams for Tum Yeto distribution, which includes Foundation, the promotion from am to pro is "different for everybody. But, generally, they do get more money [after they turn pro]. And they get a [pro model] board. That's the main difference: Your company turning you pro. That's way more legit than just being allowed to enter pro contests."
Speaking of top ams skating pro contests, Chocolate's Raven Tershy not only enters, but wins. First up, the 18-year-old Santa Cruz, Calif. native bagged top honors at this year's Copenhagen Pro bowl event. Then he chased that win with a Skateboard Park gold medal in his very first X Games appearance.
In the eyes of the guys in Tampa, Tershy's a "super am," says Clements. "[It's our way of describing] skaters like Raven and Real skateboards' Ishod Wair, guys above and beyond anything that is normal. Ishod wins everything he enters and can do every trick. And it's not just all about tricks either. Look at Raven's skating. It's not like he has only the best trick selection, but it's the way he does them. The feeling you get when you watch him skate is like no other."
But does that mean Raven's primed to go pro?
"I'm not ready," says Tershy, who's looking forward to filming with his Chocolate skateboards teammates in China this fall "I feel like I have a lot of stuff left to do. I think you just gotta wait and keep skating and eventually it'll happen. It's obvious when somebody's ready.
"I would never ask someone to turn me pro," Tershy adds. "If the team has a good team manager, they'll know when to turn somebody pro. It's not good to turn somebody pro too early. They gotta know that the guy is gonna be skating and dedicated to it for a long time."
Wair's sentiments run along the same lines: "I don't talk to any of my sponsors about going pro. I think it would be weird for me to bring it up. I think that they know when the time's right."
Until then, Wair plans on doing what he does best: progressing by leaps and bounds and coming back with the footage to prove it. Sounds like a solid game plan, and it keeps his sponsors happy.
"I just gotta keep skating," he says. "Sometimes I don't want to go someplace [for my sponsors] -- and they probably wouldn't be that mad at me if I didn't go -- but if you cooperate with them, they'll show it back. They'll treat you how you treat them. That's my situation."
And that's the sort of class that'll help push top ams up to the big leagues.
"It's all in the skater," says Sinclair. "If the skater is skating like a pro and handling himself like a pro, then it's time. People just recognize that he's that new dude, and it's something that the team manager and the company owners get together and say, Okay, he's got it."
Incidentally, Wair traveled to South Africa just two weeks back and was granted the opportunity to skate in the Maloof Money Cup pro event there. Without a pro board, and still technically considered an amateur, Wair bested all pros in contention, winning the event, the Money Cup and its $100,000 prize. Am or pro, by any definition, that's pretty spectacular.