Technically, going pro in the world of action sports has nothing to do with the ability to attract dozens of sponsors. But everyone knows that the real stars of skateboarding, wakeboarding, and motocross are the guys with brand names splashed across their bikes and boards. "There's an obvious correlation, but it's still [based on] skill level," says BMX champ Ryan Nyquist, who competes in this week's Gravity Games.
"At first, I was just amazed. The money was one thing -- and that came along later. But I could go up to a company, say I'm going to be in a contest, [ask for] free shoes or a T-shirt, and they were like 'Sure.' These people are so willing to give out product, in exchange for you having it on your feet and giving coverage for it."
At 24, Nyquist is a BMX freestyle veteran and one of the top athletes in the game. And though the California native says he never planned for a career as a professional rider, he recalls his first bike with passionate detail. "It was a Kent," he says. "It was basically black, with red highlights and red wheels. It's what I zipped around on and where I learned how to ride wheelies. It was an awesome bike. Eventually, I grew out of it, because I broke the training wheels off of it so many times."
From there, he progressed to Diamondback and Haro, the company for which he now rides. By the time he was 16, he had entered his first freestyle dirt contest. Soon after, he turned pro. "People were paying me to ride their bikes," he says. "It was so crazy to actually get money for something I loved doing and would be doing anyway."
Nyquist's list of achievements is filled with gold medals and first-place honors. His name is linked to various X Games, Vans Triple Crown, and Gravity Games awards and records. He has his own video game. His sponsors include Adidas (which developed a signature shoe for him) and Butterfinger. He's been turned into an action figure. He's on trading cards. And he's hosted programs on Nickelodeon. "This was always just a hobby for me," he says. "It was something I did with my friends on weekends. After I won my first contest, it was like wow."
And while he tries not to think of the future, Nyquist remains cautiously optimistic about his career. "There are guys who are 36, who are still riding," he says, adding that he plans to compete "as long as my heart is still in it and my body can still hold up.
"I'd like to think that I'll be strong enough and mentally and physically able to go out and compete with all of these young bucks coming up."