Perils of financial planning
You could hardly call Ishod Wair's lifestyle lavish.
He rents a modest apartment in downtown Philadelphia. He drives a Honda Accord that he bought from a used car dealer. In terms of attire, he is a perpetual skate rat -- T-shirts, jeans, ball cap. Though he's a fan of rapper Tupac Shakur, Wair does not sport any perceptible bling.
In fact, when pressed by this reporter to name something extravagant he might have purchased with the $100,000 first-place prize he won in October at the Maloof Money Cup South Africa, Wair could not name a single item.
"My mom wanted the kitchen floor done. The tile. That is the only thing she asked me for, pretty much," Wair says.
Yet despite his apparent thrift, Wair, like select top-tier professional skaters, probably stands to earn at least $200,000 to $300,000 a year [before taxes] over the next several years from contest earnings and endorsement deals with brands such as Nike SB and Monster Energy Drink.
These are certainly not staggering sums by the standard of, say, Major League Baseball. But compare Wair with others in his age group -- average 15- to 24-year-olds -- who, according to a recent Census Bureau report, had a median income of $28,322.
Also compare Wair's potential earnings with those of previous generations of skaters. In the early 1990s, for example, the economic Honda Civic was the quintessential pro skater car. (Eric Koston had a Honda. So did Guy Mariano. Tony Hawk had one, too.) At the turn of the millennium, even high-profile pros such as Cairo Foster often had several roommates and resided in not-so-tony parts of San Francisco.
Times have changed.
Of course, not every professional skateboarder can hope to become a multimedia mogul in the class of Rob Dyrdek or a high-net-worth individual. But some professional skateboarders are probably making "a good living."
"I'm still surprised now," Wair says when asked what it's like to have benefited from skateboarding's newfound bigness. "I always wanted to skate anyway. I got to figure some stuff out. I really don't know anything about agents. I am working on getting an accountant too."
What do pro skaters do with what they make?So we have a rough idea of how much pro skaters make. But this leads to a second question: What do young pro skaters such as Ishod Wair do with what they make? If you're Ishod Wair, how do you handle the finances of what has become, whether you like it or not, an actual career? Where do you buy health insurance? What about liability insurance? What is a Roth IRA, and should you, a professional skater, look into obtaining one?
Is there one person who specializes in such issues and concerns? Someone out there who knows all this stuff? Someone preferably steeped in the culture of skateboarding? Someone who seems competent but not stuffy?
These are great questions.
If you're a skateboarder and feel confused about what financial steps to take, you could call Ryan Clements.
Mo' money, no problemRyan Clements is the proprietor of Excel, a business that provides a specialized service that would once have seemed laughably unnecessary: personal financial management … for professional skateboarders.
The headquarters of Excel are on the second floor of the Skate Park of Tampa, a nondescript warehouse in Florida that belies its status as one of skateboarding's most hallowed grounds. (The Tampa Pro and Am contests are career-making events.)
Though Clements founded Excel just a couple of years ago, he has worked at SPoT since 1998 and currently serves as the skate park's general manager. (He considers Excel a side job.) Clements' "very clean" second-floor office includes an espresso machine and a comfy couch, as well as skate mementos such as the hammer that veteran pro Jason Jesse handcrafted for him.
Throughout the day, Clements listens to Lynyrd Skynyrd and what he calls "ignorant-ass hip-hop" such as Lil Wayne. He can hear skateboards clapping against the ground in the park below.
Modest though the space may be, it is one of skateboarding's financial nerve centers, the location from which Clements closely monitors the financial affairs of an impressive roster including Paul Rodriguez, Torey Pudwill, Felipe Gustavo, Stefan Janoski, Fred Gall, Shane O'Neill and Bryan Herman.
According to Clements, Excel is a boutique financial services firm borne out of necessity.
"The reason we even started doing what we do, this little business management deal, is I was talking to guys who were dealing with big corpos and non-skateboarding corpos and finding out what they were getting paid," Clements says. "And I'm like, 'Thirty grand? What do you mean that's all they're paying you? Did you have anyone representing you? How did you make this deal?' And they're like, 'I went to breakfast with this one dude.' "
"What we call it is business management," Clements says. "Because these guys, whether they think they are or not, are all just mini-businesses with the same kinds of problems that other businesses have.
"The No. 1 thing that these new guys, the ams and younger pros, get confused about is taxes. They don't understand what's a deduction and what's not. Then, at the end of the year, it's a giant cluster-bomb of shoe boxes filled with receipts and 1099s. … But with us, they can track their money as it comes and goes online. They'll ask me sometimes, like, 'Did you just write a check for 80 grand the other day?' And we're like, 'Yeah.' 'What for?' 'It's your taxes.' And it's like, 'Oh.' "
But not all of Clements' transactions are so prosaic.
One veteran street-skater presented Clements with this delicate issue:
"This guy just went, like, eight years without paying taxes," Clements says. "He was like, 'I am just not going to pay my taxes.' His paychecks were being levied. He wasn't getting his paychecks. The IRS was taking them. That was when he initially called us."
Eight-year tax holidays aside, many of the financial planning challenges pro skaters face are similar to those of other successful athletes. But in Clements' view, some things make skateboarding, and the psychology of being paid handsomely for it, unique.
"You start skateboarding because you love skateboarding," Clements says. "You get really good at it, and then next thing you know, people are paying you to do something you would have done anyway, right? So to a lot of these guys it's free money," Clements says.
It's that "play money" mentality that has proved many a pro skater's financial undoing. Those familiar with the skateboarding scene know the cautionary tales, the grisly horror stories that team managers tell their new ams during late-night drives in the tour van. DON'T BE THE KID WHO SPENT ALL HIS MONEY ON AN ASTON MARTIN … DON'T BE THE DUDE WITH THE $100,000 LEGAL BILL …
"Once they sign up with us, it's impossible for them to have those kinds of problems," Clements says. "We collect all their checks. Pay all their bills. We literally give them allowances. They have credit cards for big purchases, for their business expenses. And they have their ATMs with a monthly predetermined amount for their personal expenses. Sometimes there's a little head butting. Sometimes they don't want to talk to me because it's like talking to their dad. But sometimes they will listen to me more because I am not their dad.
"The one thing we always try and talk the guy into is, 'Hey, it's not always going to be here. Let's get your house paid off,' " Clements says. " 'Let's get you some sort of retirement fund. Let's possibly buy you an additional house or a commercial building so you can have some sort of rental income.' It's cool to succeed when people thought you weren't going to. If I can have a guy who is making a few hundred grand a year go into his 30s with no debt and a home, I think I have done pretty good."
It is also Clements' job to talk pro skaters -- individuals not known for being risk-averse, individuals who spend much of their working life jumping on ledges -- out of committing economic self-injury.
"It's nonstop. I had one guy not long ago who was sending me links to Bentleys. I was like, 'Are you out of your mind? Where do you get your oil changed for a Bentley? No, absolutely not.' 'Well, doesn't it seem like a good deal compared to …' 'No! Not at all.' "
"I am always trying to buy little random things off the Internet," says Torey Pudwill, a Plan B pro and one of Excel's most prominent clients. "I bought an arcade machine. That was one of the more random ones: 'Mortal Combat 3.' And I was spending a ton of money. My account ran just so low, and I ran out. And I hit Ryan up and said, 'I have this feeling I have been spending too much money.' And he said, 'Yeah, man. You got to chill. You got to pay your taxes.' And I was like, 'Oh, word?' I don't think he was too stoked.
"He's just straight up," Pudwill says. "He'll let you know exactly what's up. If it's not possible, he'll let you know. And if it is, he'll tell you, 'Go have a great time redoing your bathroom.' Or whatever it is. He's a good homie, for sure."
Not that Clements is completely immune to the seductions of spending.
"For a young guy, P-Rod has a lot of wisdom. He's very intelligent. And, how do I say this? He can be kind of persuasive," Clements says.
"That is one thing about skateboarders," Clements continues. "The vast majority of us don't really feel like we have to keep up with the Joneses. That is one great thing. If they have a lot of money, a lot of guys go through the phases of, like, diamonds. But they grow out of it real quick. Usually. Because skateboarders are cooler than that. We don't need that."
And what about the glory days of the pro skater and his Honda Civic?
"You can step it up a little bit," Clements says. "You can go buy a 2-year-old Mercedes. Save $20,000. Buy it used. I will fly out there and buy it with you."