In the sports world, Xtreme sports have long been thought of as the unconventional rebel, the edgy alternative to mainstream pursuits. If baseball is as American as apple pie, then skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing and BMX racing are now as American as the Apple iPod.
The essence of Xtreme sports is that it's less about competing with opponents and more about competing with yourself. Moving with the earth. Defying gravity and your fears. There's a certain fervent passion within Xtreme athletes that you won't find in other sports--the kind of passion that springs from being alone with the environment, whether that's respecting the awesome power of the ocean or feeling your way through the rhythms of a city sidewalk.
And it's this same passion that drives many Xtreme athletes to successfully launch and run businesses of their own. The ability to face fear head on and push themselves to succeed at feats others have never tried are also qualities found in every successful entrepreneur.
"[Skateboarding] is about getting on the board and feeling that exhilaration, the speed and control of it," says pro-rider Tony Alva. "And, not to be too metaphorical, but the business relates to that same thing with me."
A Revolution is Born
Alva is the granddaddy of Xtreme entrepreneurs. One of the pioneering founders of skateboarding, he's witnessed the sport from its grassroots beginning in the 1970s, through it's lull in the '90s, and to the multibillion dollar business it is today.
"I was really lucky," says Alva, 48, whose story was recently documented in the hit film Lords of Dogtown. "I think a lot of it had to do with the timing and the fact that I was born and raised in the '70s at a time when there was a huge revolution for surfing and skateboarding. So going from being the punk kid sneaking into people's backyards [and skating their empty pools] to being an entrepreneur was kind of a natural progression for me."
Alva started skateboarding at 16, and at 19, he paired up with a friend who was experimenting with a new lamination process that made the skateboard decks lighter and more flexible, while retaining their durability and rigidity. Alva knew this new process would revolutionize the skateboarding world. Together he and his friend put together $50,000 from savings, family loans and competition winnings, and started manufacturing skateboards with other pro riders in mind. In 1977, Alva opened Alva Skateboards in Oceanside, California, where he sold skateboards, clothing and other skate apparel. Alva opened a new store in Los Angeles in December, 2005, and projects combined sales of over $1.5 million in 2006. He's also looking at opening retail outlets in key cites such as New York, Tokyo and London, where skateboarding has a huge following.
Per Welinder, 43, a professional skateboarder from Sweden who made a name for himself in the early '80s, also had pro skaters in mind when he launched Birdhouse Projects with Tony Hawk, 38, in 1992. "We love skaters," says Welinder. "We were living and breathing skateboarding. We started Birdhouse because we felt that we wanted to have a brand that really reflected what the pro riders wanted to have out there in the marketplace."
So Welinder and Hawk began creating skateboard components, such as decks and wheels, designed for competitive skating. It wasn't long before they began building their brand recognition through Birdhouse's competitive skate team and started selling their boards, T-shirts and hats in specialty sports shops throughout Southern California.
Welinder, Hawk and Alva were able to capitalize on their fame and start businesses of their own, but what about the hundreds of other aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start a business based on their passion for Xtreme sports? Surprisingly, you don't have to be a professional to make it in this business, and many of the obstacles you'll face are the same the pros do.