Almost ten years ago, I started to hear about skateboarding's next child prodigy. His name was Ryan Sheckler, and at age 8 he was already turning heads. He quickly started collecting sponsors, winning contests, and getting coverage. Despite this early success, there was a lot of cause to worry about his future. It can be difficult for people who succeed at a young age in a lot of different arenas, and skateboarding is no exception. Plenty of people have started strong, then burned out. So, as I watched Ryan's star rise, there were question marks. Could he handle the pressure? Was this really what he wanted? When he became professional at age 13, it made me wonder again: was he headed for a spectacular collapse?
Well, the good news is he's not a drug addict or a has been. The bad news is that he's about as greedy as you can possibly get. It's not enough for him to have many lucrative contracts, a shoe with his name on it, his face on video games, and to travel around the world skateboarding. No, he and the brains behind his 'brand' decided that it wasn't enough, and they've gotten him his own MTV show. Yes, we the lucky viewing public now get to watch Ryan do things like plan for Winter Formal, whine and moan about his family, show off his wicked back tattoo, and search for that elusive girl who's interested in a 17 year old with too much money and a pro skateboarding career.
If it's not obvious, I find this to be extremely aggravating. Skateboarding has been associated with its fair share of lame things over the years, and a reality show is a huge step backwards. I'm not faulting Ryan for being an annoying teenager, because god only knows, I was one of those too. I'm not complaining about his tanned jock meathead approach to a part of my life that has symbolized the exact opposite to, well, tanned jock meatheads. Not everyone is going to see it the way I do, and he's got just as much right to pick up a skateboard as everyone else. I'm not even faulting him for wanting to make money while he has an opportunity. A career can be capricious, and he or anyone else is wise to try to strike while the iron's hot. What bothers me is the best thing he could think to do is make skateboarding into a second-tier Laguna Beach.
People have done lame things in the name of turning a profit off of skateboarding before. Tony Hawk did a loop for McDonalds, sold Bagel Bites, and pretended like Tom Green was cool. But even then, nobody could claim that he took more than he put in. Tony stuck with skateboarding and helped it grow through the lean years. He ate Taco Bell and did van tours for tiny crowds. He put together a team of unknowns that are now some of the top pros in the culture. Yes, I will always feel ambivalent that he chose to give some legitimacy to ESPN's interpretation of skateboarding. But, ultimately, he put in the work. He was involved when there was no money to be made and stuck with it. Ryan has never known a fallow period. Skateboarding has made him a millionaire before he's 18 years old, and all he can think to do is find another way to milk it dry. What a little creep.