Still, some sponsored skaters are already benefiting from skating's fourth boom. Donny Barley estimates that several pros--those in the very highest bracket, mind you--are making well into six figures. Barley, who went pro three years ago, won $3,000 for taking second place in the street skating contest at Asbury Park. Last year, he says, he grossed around $40,000. Not bad for a 25-year-old who's doing what he loves "heart and soul." Barley's ambivalent. He figures that corporate involvement "pays off in some ways, and it sucks in some ways."
One of the ways in which it sucks, almost everyone agrees, is the degree to which skateboarding is misrepresented to the public. "When they showed skateboarding at the Olympics, they had people coming out of a UFO skating with a bunch of in-liners and BMXers. And they were all wearing silver jumpsuits. I mean, whose idea of skateboarding is that?" asks Thiebaud. Not a skater's, surely.
Skateboarders do not wear uniforms, even "really radical" silver ones. They do not have coaches; they do not play on teams and they don't follow rules. The opportunity to escape from the restrictions of ball sports is generally why kids start skateboarding. Pat Byrne, a sunburnt 14-year-old skater from Verona, New Jersey, had never considered skating a sport. "I don't know," he said, his eyes still glued to the mesmerizing back-and-forth motion of the skaters on the half-pipe at Asbury Park. "I guess it's like drawing. I mean, because you make things up."
No one--outside of ESPN, which is quite sure it's an "Extreme Sport"--quite knows what to call skateboarding. Mark Gonzales, the patriarch of modern-day street skating as well as a successful painter and writer, draws a blank. "It's a lifestyle, I guess." It may be a lifestyle that ESPN and Nike find difficult to sell; one pro says that most of the riders he knows can't even compete unless they're baked on blunts. And Saturday night finds a goodly portion of the pro circuit stickering the hotel hallways and chanting "titty run" on their way to the local strip joint. In the end, maybe corporate America simply won't want skateboarding, saving skaters the choice. Which, more than likely, will be fine with most skateboarders, who were doing okay without them anyway.