Paul Rodriguez: Why I'm still in love with the skateboarding life

In an essay from pro skater Paul Rodriguez, the four-time X Games gold medal winner reveals the trials and tribulations of making it in a sport that's always progressing, as well as how to guard your passion for the things that you love to do without ever letting them fade.
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It was near the end of 1996, around December, just before I turned 12, that I first started skating the streets of Los Angeles. From then on, I grew up riding, reading skating magazines, watching video parts and eventually making my own. Street skating is the world that hooked me.

Back in the day, to get recognized and to try to get your foot in the door of the industry as a skater, you had to send in your video. You would look in the magazine for an address to these companies and you would just send your video there blind, hoping someone opens it, someone watches it, and someone calls you back.

Things are so much different today. Kids just post their videos on YouTube, where everyone can see it. Anyone can create his or her own buzz, and people in the industry will come across it. That’s what people do: search for the raw talent out there. The Internet put power in the hands of the skater. It’s easier for people to show off their talent, especially if they are from the middle of nowhere and don’t have any access to the industry otherwise.

That’s why skateboarding is blowing up so much. There are so many more people backed by sponsorships showcasing their talent at big contests like X Games, Street League and Dew Tour. It’s led to more mainstream fans taking on our culture and style; people appreciating our shoes and clothing. It all works to make the sport of skateboarding bigger.

You can take different paths in this industry, and there are examples of people leaving their mark on skateboarding from each path. You just have to decide what you want your mark to be.

Paul Rodriguez, circa 2005

Paul Rodriguez, circa 2005

Some people are purists; they only get core sponsors, meaning only skateboard companies—wheels, trucks, bearings, shoes—and they leave it at that. They won’t get drink sponsors, phone sponsors or try to venture out at all. Some dudes won’t skate contests, they only put out video parts. You can definitely do your thing from that position. Whether or not you’re purist or mainstream isn’t what's important, it’s all about what you envision for yourself—what drives you to skate.

I still don’t know what I want my mark to be, but I know I want to be well-rounded enough to keep my options open. As I got more and more into skating, time passed and all these contests started happening. I got invited to X Games and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure that’s awesome.’ I was super-young when I first got invited. I just wanted to go skate. I went, skated and had a lot of fun.

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And the visibility I have been able to attain in the skate world has allowed me to start my own brand: Primitive Skateboarding.

It’s a project that I’m very proud of because I always knew it was something I wanted to do. At some point I have to retire from actual skating, but I couldn’t handle the idea of having no connection left to the sport. A brand, if you do it right, will outlast you. Hopefully, now I’ll always have a connection to skateboarding through Primitive.

I’ve danced in between both worlds. I try not to go too far either way, and just try to ride that middle road and enjoy it. I don’t think I’m the founder or pioneer of that hybrid style. I think it was just that I was young, naive and in love with skateboarding. I took on anything that came along like, ‘That’s a cool opportunity, sure I’m into it.’ And that has led me to where I am now, but it wasn’t a laid out master plan. I was just excited to do whatever I could to get out there.

I love seeing younger riders making noise on both ends of the spectrum of skateboarding, the core world and the mainstream world. Guys like Nyjah Huston, Torey Pudwill, Shane O’ Neill and Manny Santiago have got big name sponsors yet still command so much respect in the core world. Younger guys like Curren Caples and Matt Berger are beginning to do the same.


. I’ve been skating long enough that I have a love for the history and era that I grew up in, but I try not to be one of those guys who is too caught up in his own era and never moves forward. I try to keep up with the new guys and skate with the new generation and keep my hunger, stay inspired. These kids today, man, they are getting better and better by the day. They help me stay in love with skateboarding.

I look at a guy like Jay Z; he shows you that it can be endless. He made music super young, crushed the game. Still makes music, but music is now secondary to his business ventures. I want to live a life that’s constantly progressing. It’s not, 'I was an athlete, now I’m just some dude.'

The best message I have for the younger riders, most of the kids out here already have dialed. When you fall so deep in love with something, it’s not a chore, it’s not a task—it’s what your heart is telling you to do. Keep skating. Guard your passion. Don’t let it fade.

There were points in my career when I saw my passion take a dip. Sometimes overwhelming career obligations would stress me out. Don’t get lost chasing other things. Try not to get too lost building a name or an image. If those things are important to you, then go for them. But don’t forget why you began skateboarding in the first place. You getting on your board and riding is the heart of all that stuff. Protect it. I protect skating like I do the rest of my dreams.

There is a lot outside of skateboarding that I want to try. I feel like in my mind, I want skateboarding to be the thing I was least successful at as I keep growing and going forward. I don’t want to retire from skateboarding and have that era be the glory years of my life.

Neither should you.