Most skateboarders get a new deck, new shoes or some new wheels for Christmas. Lil Wayne’s videographer decided to get him a pro sponsorship from Thank You Skateboards.
The 40 year old rapper has been skateboarding for about 8 years, having discovered skateboarding later in life. I’m not here to rag on his love of skateboarding or even his commitment to making skateboarding facilities more accessible. I’m not here to decide who is and isn’t legit in skateboarding.
I have an issue with Thank You Skateboards playing into this whole stunt. For all of Lil Wayne’s enthusiasm and positive promotion of skateboarding, he is as good as any average skateboarder you find at your local park. He has money and means to build his own skatepark, sure, but at no point has he proven that his skills on a skateboard are professional level. And whilst I would not talk shit on Lil Wayne for being stoked that he had a pro board (because honestly any of us would be), I do raise my eyebrow at Torey Pudwill and Daewon Song.
The term “sellout” is thrown around a lot in skateboarding, and it has been used to describe anything from the multi million dollar deals Tony Hawk signs with McDonald’s (which definitely is selling out) to the grey areas of legit “skater’s skaters” like Axel Cruysbergh taking part in the Olympics. Some people describe selling out as any act that appeals to the mainstream in order to make money. There’s a ton of nuance in it, and honestly I can only truly say that Hawk’s level of multi-sponsorship car salesman, alcohol advert, movie cameo business deals comes anywhere near close to the term “sellout”, and even still, Hawk often uses the huge cash payouts to improve skateboarding from within. As I said, it can be a grey area.
So whilst I am definitely itching to call Pudwill and Song sell outs for souring their brand with a gimmick celebrity pro board, there’s likely a whole story I am not seeing. Personally, I think it seems really crappy to have a brand started by two living legends, with a team that appears to still be growing, and to announce a pro board from a guy who would lose a game of skate to practically any average kid at your local. If you want to flow him some boards, or announce that he’s partnered with you for a collab, then that’s great. I would say describing this as a collab is more tasteful than declaring him to be a “pro skater”.
The general consensus is already going down the toilet on what constitutes a “professional” skateboarder. People now literally think it just means “you have your name on a board”. Originally that was meant to actually mean something: you have reached a top tier of skateboarding that means your name will draw people to a board brand. It was aspirational, hard to achieve, and meant that you would get paid for your skill on a skateboard.
I don’t know where this broke down. I want to say it was when Tony Hawk did this exact same stunt with Tom Green in the mid-2000’s (making Tom Green Pro for Birdhouse in order to capitalise on the popularity his TV show, and the movie “Freddy Got Fingered”). After this the idea of “celebrities who skate” became a bit of a meme, as skateboarding and movies over-lapped. I don’t know whether someone saw Jason Lee’s name on a board and assumed that they, too, could be pro because they ride a skateboard and have been in a couple of movies – but Jason Lee had become a living legend in skateboarding long before he took on the role of Brodie Bruce in Mallrats.
I also think brands which deal in social media cache like Braille et al have cheapened things. These brands turn their team pro based on Instagram followers and engagement on YouTube, rather than actual proven skill. Winning a game of skate on a gimmick board for a clickbait thumbnail doesn’t constitute the sort of landmark skateboarding that would turn you pro in the 80s and 90s, and it shouldn’t.
There is still a world where that sort of achievement on YouTube is commendable, and it’s great that kids are finding their way into skateboarding through these videos, but it is negatively changing the way we quantify skateboarding’s legitimacy. If the rules for “how do you progress and succeed in skateboarding” are so nonsensical, then skateboarding is doomed to remain stupid, dumb and ridiculed by the mainstream – and as much as I enjoy the spotlight not being on what we do, I don’t want it being ridiculed or cheapened.
“Cheapened” is a harsh way describe the “Lil Wayne is Officially a Pro Skater” stunt. But that is exactly what it is. If the criteria for being pro is to be famous and love skateboarding (despite not technically being as good as most other people), then that means the very structure of the skateboarding industry is bullshit. It means that skateboarding companies mean nothing. It means that a huge chunk of what draws us to skateboarding is nothing more than a celebrity obsessed pantomime designed to appease those with the most money. And I don’t think that is why most of us got into skateboarding.
My problem isn’t about who this involves, it isn’t about being excited about a partnership with a well known rapper, and a board company ran by legit skateboarding legends – it’s about optics. What does making Lil Wayne Pro say to the hundreds of kids throwing themselves down 16 sets just for a taste of flow sponsorship from a skate shop? It tells them to quit learning to skate and quit pushing skateboarding further than what is possible.
It tells them to become instagram influencers and concentrate on follow count rather than innovative, genuinely good skateboarding. In the same way that I don’t think any old celebrity should be able to waltz in and buy their way into other professions like children’s author, or game developer, or President of the United States of America, I don’t think fame should give you an easy path to being a professional skateboarder.
“What about Bam Margera or Rob Dyrdek?” – This was literally a comment I saw to justify Lil Wayne being pro, and it was said by someone with clearly no knowledge of skateboarding. Bam Margera put in his dues long before he was an MTV star. He was sponsored by Toy Machine, put his stamp on skateboarding, and had a buzz around him due to amazing video parts, his own skate videos, and his signature mini ramp tricks and unmistakable textbook varial heel.
Dyrdek was at the forefront of the industry as a pro rider for Alien Workshop and DC Shoes, and pushing for the invention of the “skate plaza” in skatepark construction. His famous comedy partnership with Big Black from the show Rob & Big originated as a skit in his part in the The DC Video. Long before he was an MTV megastar Dyrdek was a “skater’s skater”, and was pro before he even got a paycheck for presenting Ridiculousness.
The Lil Wayne stunt is an example of putting the cart before the horse. With the exception of Tom Green, every other pro skater celebrity paid their dues in skateboarding and contributed tenfold in blood, sweat and tears with video parts that had “core” skaters excited, and skateboarding that was unmistakably defining of the era. Nothing about Lil Wayne’s skateboarding pushes the envelope, he is fine and relatable as one of us, but every single person who is buying his board will be doing so because of his talent outside of skateboarding. I don’t expect anyone to turn me pro due to my success in my day job, so why should Lil Wayne be pro for that same reason?
Having said all that, his pro graphic is actually pretty good.