For the first few decades of skateboarding’s existence, skaters sought sustenance in the snack aisles of the 7-11s whose parking lots they tormented, making meals out of corn chips, sour candy, and Slurpees. “When we first started skating there was no such thing as diet, it was all about Pepsi, McDonald's, Doritos, Carl’s Jr., and any other fast food we could get our hands on,” veteran pro skater Karl Watson told VICE.
Like a PG version of skating’s love affair with alcohol and drugs, junk food secured a front seat in skate culture. There’s even a long history of skate brands repurposing the logos of processed food manufacturers. As with booze, pot, and pills, so long as a skater continued to film tricks, corn syrup addictions were treated as nothing more than a marketable quirk.
Lately, however, skateboarders’ diets have done something of a 180. Sparked by a generation of aging pioneers like Andrew Reynolds, Guy Mariano, and Watson, skateboarders have started embracing—and subsequently monetizing—a lifestyle they once shunned. Veganism, sobriety, and general healthiness are now celebrated. Having swapped soda and chips for green juices, cold tub soaks, and elaborate stretching routines, skateboarders are finally realizing that testing the limits of their bodies is slightly easier when those bodies are somewhat healthy.
“When I first started going on skate tours it would blow my mind how we would be in a van for four hours with nonstop beers and joints and then show up at a spot and dudes would just immediately start hucking themselves down the biggest gaps or rails I’ve ever seen,” pro Walker Ryan told VICE. “And most of them would get tricks. It’s just this amazing thing that skaters are able to pull off these incredible feats with no warm-up. Athletically it just doesn’t make sense.”
It’s easy to see why pro skaters long imagined their career would be over by or shortly after 30. As Deathwish and Supra pro Neen Williams told VICE last year in an interview about getting sober, “we’re literally fighting with concrete.”
Still, while many 90s pros aged out of magazine pages, a few learned to adapt. In the early aughts, top-tier pros like Reynolds, Jim Greco, and Erik Ellington—men once so dedicated to partying that they formed a crew called the Piss Drunx—pursued sobriety and found that waking up without a hangover makes it a whole lot easier to go skate. These skaters soon augmented their teetotaling with a well-rounded dedication to physical health—complete with fruits, vegetables, stretching routines, and non-skate exercise.
“I just evolved into a healthier person who thinks about eating healthy and exercising so that I can continue to skate,” Reynolds told Rolling Stone in 2016. “I hope to continue on that path and be, say fifty years old and be able to say that I feel good and still skate.”
Responding to their idols’ lifestyle changes and America’s growing fixation with healthy living, younger skaters began seeking their own longevity, eventually enlisting the help of real athletic professionals.
“Those dudes were the first mid 30-year-olds to still keep jumping down 15 stairs, so it was necessary,” Walker Ryan explained. “They made having a healthy lifestyle acceptable and cool and made it less embarrassing for me to stretch in front of my peers instead of by myself behind the side of a building.”
It was those shifts in culture that helped open the door for people like Dr. Kyle Brown, a licensed physical therapist working in Southern California who says that 15 percent of his current client roster is made up of skateboarders, including Ryan, Sebo Walker, and Darren Harper. Thanks to skating’s close-knit community and the fact that Dr. Brown skates, too, it didn’t take long for pros to start looking his way for treatment. After years of ill-informed self-instruction, Dr. Brown says the help has been desperately needed.
“The most consistent thing I see is not having a regular stretching routine.” Dr. Brown told VICE. “A lot of skaters either don’t stretch or they don’t have proper stretching routines or exercise outside of skating. They skate, and then chill afterword and do it again the next day. There’s definitely a lack of cross-training in skating.”
Dr. Brown will soon release a collaborative “physical therapy pack” with Old Friends, a clothing company owned by Ryan. Sold in skate shops and online, the bundle will come with a foam roller, a set of stretching bands, a jump rope, and a pamphlet featuring before and after stretching routines for skaters to follow.
As skateboarders continue to move into the realm of world class athletes, Ryan and Dr. Brown aren’t the only two to see a few dollar signs lingering behind skating’s fitness trend. Bringing skateboarding’s longstanding obsession with for-us-by-us business ownership into the billion-dollar wellness space, a number of skate-specific companies have popped up to both proselytize and capitalize on healthier habits.
Historically, beverage companies like Red Bull and Monster have latched on to skateboarding’s “xtreme” image. And while those energy drink conglomerates have spent millions of dollars sponsoring contests, skate parks, and individual skaters, they weren't born from skateboarding and their end goal has always been to promote the consumption of glorified sodas. In the summer of 2016, Andrew Reynolds and Guy Mariano joined forces with Eric Koston, Paul Rodriguez, and a host of other pro skaters and venture capitalists to launch Villager Goods, a coconut water and all-natural drink company. They recently released an electrolyte-infused, high pH alkaline bottled water, a drink that’s trendy among NBA players for its stated health benefits. (Doctors are skeptical.)
Jonathan Lozano, a former attorney, is the author of Salad Grinds and Bean Plants, a vegan recipe blog full of skate puns co-published on Eric Koston and Steve Berra’s skate site, The Berrics. This year he used a crowdfunding campaign to launch Flatbar, a vegan energy snack with tongue-in-cheek names like Switch Mango Push and Banana Berrial Flip.
Even Silicon Valley is getting in on the action. Thistle is a vegan meal plan sending pre-packaged foods and pressed juices across the Golden State. After a chance encounter between Karl Watson and Thistle chef/skateboarder Cory Dennis at a skate spot outside the company’s office, Dennis floated the idea of a Thistle skate team to the company’s CEO, who quickly started sending care packages to a roster of pro skaters including Watson, Reynolds, Koston, and Neen Williams.
While the idea of a vegan meal delivery service buying its way into skating with free kale doesn’t have particularly sinister undertones, the influx of outside forces inevitably raises questions about the long-term future of skate-focused health marketing. Considering the larger wellness industry’s myriad of exaggerations, it seems inevitable that, eventually, swindlers will hand out cash for scripted testimonials selling snake oil as skate supplements. In fact, skateboarding has already had at least one run-in with placebo marketing.
“I love watching a guy who’s been smoking weed all day and is totally baked or tripping on mushrooms jump on his board and blow your mind..." - Walker Ryan
Power Balance, a brand selling $30, hologram-infused silicone bracelets, first appeared on the shelves of sports retailers in late 2009 promising to "enhance[d] the body’s natural energy” of anyone who slipped on the customizable-colored rubber jewelry. Pro skaters Ryan Sheckler, Brandon Biebel, Jack Curtain, and Paul Rodriguez joined celebrity athletes Shaquille O’Neal, Drew Brees, and Matt Kemp on the brand’s roster.
When challenged, Power Balance’s claims of increased strength and flexibility could not hold up in court. In November, 2011, the company settled a false advertising lawsuit to the tune of $57 million and admitted that their hologram bracelets had no true effect on athletic performance.
With skateboarding's Olympic debut set for Tokyo in 2020, the amount of money spent on marketing health to skaters is sure to increase. For now though, before someone signs a seven-figure deal with Lululemon or the Olympic committee unearths its first four-wheeled steroid scandal, skateboarding seems unlikely to fully ditch the youthful transgressions.
“The spectrum of characters in skateboarding is what makes it so fun,” Walker Ryan said. “I love watching a guy who’s been smoking weed all day and is totally baked or tripping on mushrooms jump on his board and blow your mind, even if my body doesn’t work that way. That’s what skateboarding culture is to me and I don’t think that could ever be replaced by a fully structured sport.”
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*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the location of the 2020 Olympics as Beijing. We regret the error.