The afterlife -- action sports industry jobs
While many action sports athletes earn enough money to live comfortably, rare is the foresighted pro who puts away enough to retire on. What happens to those who quit school to pursue pro athleticism for a decade or so? What do they do when their pro careers end? Some start brands in action sports, and others lend their knowledge and passion to jobs behind the scenes or outside the scene altogether. Here are a few career directions former pros have gone in to take that next step.
Todd Richards competed in the X Games for a decade, won two gold medals and started commentating when he had a broken arm. He believes ultimately it's the pros' job to take initiative and prepare for the end. "Get creative before it happens to you," he says. "Address the elephant in the room. Look, you're 35 years old now, and everyone on the team is 18. You know where this is going. Be proactive."
Once upon a time, the action sports photographer had a full-time job with a magazine and a lucrative side business selling leftover photos to a variety of brands for advertising purposes. Occasionally, they balanced the full-time mag job with a retainer from a popular brand on the side. Then photography went digital and supply increased while print demand faded. But there are perks in the life skills of the trade: "Photography has taught me to go get whatever I wanted," says Justin Kosman, the lensman who took this photo of BMX pro Corey Bohan. "Cut to the front of the line, jump in the deep end." Or as evidenced above, lay down in the dirt to get the shot.
Hawaiian surfer Rochelle Ballard had to scramble when her biggest sponsor dropped her unexpectedly in 2008, ending her career after 17 years on the world tour. She built a yoga and massage studio and began hosting wellness retreats. "One lady was skipping as she left the retreat," Ballard says. "I felt like I changed her life."
Coach and Mentor
For mountain-town dwellers who wake up to the reality that they will never learn a triple cork, there comes a day when they have to decide to go back to the "real world" to get a "real job" or stay in a ski town where a lifetime of service-industry employment awaits. Ski and snowboard coaches get paid to spend every day out on the hill teaching the next generation how to shred properly. And if they're lucky, their influence turns out rippers like Jackson Hole's Cam Fitzpatrick and Blake Paul, pictured left in maroon here. "One of the best things about it, selfishly," says Jackson Hole Snowboard Club Freeride Program Director and head snowboard coach Jeff Moran, pictured right, "is that I get paid to go skating and snowboarding, long past the age of when my abilities should allow me to do that. But the best thing is to be able to pay it forward for the next generation."
Most drivers in any motorsports discipline will tell you that the difference between winning and losing rests with the quality of their mechanics. A NASCAR pit crew will change four tires and gas up a car within 14 seconds. In rallycross, the crew will often pull all-nighters to repair a car wrecked in qualifying the day before. In motocross, mechanics are constantly tweaking engines to get maximum performance, as well as tune bikes to rider specifications. Pit crews are often unrecognized, but they are essential to any driver or rider's success. Here, Ricky Johnson's pit crew works to keep his Global Rallycross car on the track.
Jon Rose grew up in Laguna Beach, California, living the traveling/competing pro surfer lifestyle until fate intervened in 2009. While on a trip in the Mentawais, an earthquake struck the port city of Padang, Indonesia. He had a dozen water filters with him that he was bringing to Bali for a clean water project, and he gave them to aid groups to treat the injured and provide bacteria-free drinking water. After that, he founded a nonprofit that brings access to clean water to people around the world. He responded after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Hurricane Sandy and works in two dozen countries around the world. "There are a lot of problems in this world, clean water should not be one of them," Rose says. "We've proved that even under the worst conditions, it's solvable."
Rob Dyrdek's magnanimous personality became the subject of a reality show for MTV in the mid-2000s ("Rob and Big"). A few seasons later, that reality show expanded into another reality show ("Rob Dyrdek's Fantasy Factory"), and then a late-night show ("Ridiculousness"). All the while, Dyrdek, left (with Ryan Sheckler), has created a league for skateboarding that now has Olympic potential, and he bought the holding company for the brand he came up on as a skateboarder. He's living the high life as a recognizable personality in pop culture. "Fame opened up a lot of doors and gave me a lot of opportunities to continue to scale that creativity and get things I wanted to get done easier at times," Dyrdek says.
The path to becoming a full-time member of a top-notch ski patrol unit is long and often arduous. The job itself, especially at a big-mountain resort like Jackson Hole, pictured here, is no joke. Patrollers are up at dawn on powder days, post-holing through waist-deep snow so they can ski cut open faces and lob bombs onto potential avalanche slide paths in order to get the mountain open safely for the frothing masses of powder hounds queuing up at the base. It takes years of training and experience to gain the knowledge and confidence to perform at the highest level, and the job carries with it the potential for high consequence. For those who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of powder and a life lived outdoors, however, the rewards of the ski patrol life are worth the risk.
There was a point in time when Brad Gerlach was rated No. 2 in the world and considered an obvious contender for a world title. Then he walked away from the competitive scene, preferring instead to chase waves and have fun. When he's not getting his freesurf fix, you'll find him coaching up-and-coming talent or working as a hired storyteller for high-end surf trips. Last year he was spotted getting on a boat in the Maldives with Mike D of the Beasties Boys.
For most brands, the team manager is one part travel agent, one part event planner and one part taxi driver. "You also make sure that any aspect of what goes on with the team is not getting screwed up: working with product designers on product, the art department, even making sure the team riders are representing the brand correctly," Etnies team manager John Povah, not pictured, says.
Many judges across action sports have been top pros with their faces plastered across magazines and videos. As the sport progressed, they not only kept an invested interest in the sport, but they squeezed in time to participate, alongside holding down a 9-to-5 job. An all-expenses paid trip to judge and make quick cash at a major competition can be an enticing offer, despite being removed from the limelight. "For the most part, a lot of the younger dudes won't come up to me," says Mike "Big Island" Castillo, not pictured, head BMX judge for the X Games. "They probably think I'm Mat Hoffman's bodyguard or something."
Luke Egan, left, was one of the most feared competitors on the ASP World Tour in the 1990s. Today he's one of the most feared businessmen in the surf industry. A partner in Electric eyewear, which was purchased by Volcom, Egan is now starting a new brand called Depactus, which will be building technical, functional surf wear. Similarly, Ken Block and Damon Way had an idea to expand their clothing line Droors into footwear in the late '90s, creating DC Shoes at a time when no one in the skate industry was producing high-quality skate shoes designed by skateboarders. Then they sold the brand off right before the economic bubble burst. Now Block focuses on racing rally cars.
Thirty years ago, Stacy Peralta, pictured here, was a part of the movement that created vertical skateboarding. He went on to became a team manager, brand owner and filmmaker, but those early accolades never went away. As the years went by, his interests expanded into directing full-length feature films outside of skateboarding -- a similar trajectory to creatives such as Spike Jonze, Bob Haro, Jason Lee, Mark Gonzales and Ed Templeton, who all went on to bigger things outside of action sports. BMX freestyle inventor Bob Haro took his design experience outside BMX, and brands recognized his name from his contributions to the sport. "I've been fortunate over the years to have worked with some of the biggest and best names in sports, like Penske, Daytona Speedway, Oakley, Red Bull, Nike, Thor, Parts Unlimited and many more," Haro says. And he owes it all to his BMX vision.
In 1999, a pro might have been the subject of a bidding war between hot new West Coast brands, only to realize that $500 per month wasn't going to cut it in Southern California. So they started working behind their sponsor's brand, traveling the length of California to peddle wares. "Working as a sales rep at Animal [Bikes] kept me connected with my friends," Animal Bikes pro Jared Washington says. "I still ride for the brand, and shops recognize my name when I reach out to them. In that way, I feel like I was giving back to the brand, helping to keep us authentic."