Skateboarder Jeron Wilson Brown and black athletes like Jeron Wilson continue to shape the sport of skateboarding, which has grown from a cult pastime into a big-money international spectator sport.

Skateboarder Jeron Wilson

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Mr. JERON WILSON (Professional Skateboarder): My name is Jeron Wilson. I'm from San Fernando Valley, California. I'm a professional skateboarder. I've been skating for about 16 years now. I'm about 28 years old, but I look 22.

ED GORDON, host:

Jeron Wilson has taken his childhood pastime and turned it into a career. NPR's Christopher Johnson reports that Wilson loves the ride.


Jeron Wilson blames his cousins. They got him into skating almost 20 years ago. In his early teens, Jeron honed a four-wheeled technique sharp enough to win local contests and get his face in national skateboarding magazines. A start-up company, Real Skateboards, recruited Jeron as an amateur before he had finished high school. But while he was impressing fans and talent scouts, Jeron still had some convincing to do at home.

Mr. WILSON: My mom was always, like, `Why are you out there riding that?' but once she started seeing the checks come in, then she had a different, you know, outlook...

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Mr. WILSON: ...especially I started getting paid when I was an amateur.

JOHNSON: Jeron was 16 when he and a friend co-founded a skate equipment company called Girl. Jeron wanted to quit school and focus full time on the sport, but Jeron's mother insisted he earn his high-school diploma. He did and turned pro soon afterward. In a sport where black athletes like Jeron are rarely the public face, he stood out.

Mr. WILSON: Early on, I didn't even see color. It was just, I'm skating, you know, and I guess when you get older, obviously, it becomes a factor. You relate with other people that are of color, because a majority you see is white people, but there's definitely a lot of other talented brothers out there.

JOHNSON: He's one of them. As a professional, he's got his own signature skateboard and footwear. In the last eight years, Jeron has earned sponsorships from major sports equipment companies. He won't talk exact figures, but Jeron says he's grateful he can make a good living from skateboarding.

Mr. WILSON: People really trip out. I mean, I trip out on it, too. You know, believe me, I can't believe I'm getting paid some money to do something I love to do.

(Soundbite of person skateboarding)

JOHNSON: At a skate park near Los Angeles, Jeron glides across the flat and curved metal surfaces.

(Soundbite of person skateboarding)

JOHNSON: He's up a ramp, and suddenly, he's airborne.

(Soundbite of person skateboarding)

JOHNSON: Jeron tucks his knees to his chest and seems to almost fly. On more than a dozen skateboarding videos, Jeron shows this same expert footwork. He performs tricks with names like the Nollie Bigspin and the Switch Dance 180 Heelflip. He's demonstrated these high-speed, high-risk tricks on five out of seven continents. Jeron has just come home from an exhausting European tour.

Mr. WILSON: You don't get to see home that much, you know? And me, I'm a homebody. I've got a dog. I've got a girl. I like to get some time to relax a little bit.

JOHNSON: With all the traveling, filming and performing, Jeron says skateboarding feels a lot like a real job, but if you ever get to see him work, it's clear his passion hasn't gone anywhere.

Mr. WILSON: I love it, definitely. I think I would have been stopped if I didn't. I went through phases where I wasn't inspired as much as I should be, but now that I'm older and I see where I've gotten with it, it's still there.

JOHNSON: Jeron says he might become an accountant. Some day, maybe he'll wear a suit, carry a nice leather briefcase and skate to the office.

Christopher Johnson, NPR News, Los Angeles.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) ...on this Earth. You can skate a parking lot and see it all for what it's worth. He'll flip 12 stairs and still receive those shares...

GORDON: You can see clips of Jeron Wilson in action on our Web site at

Unidentified Singer #1: Put in 15 stairs, no slide.

Unidentified Singer #2: Let's ride.

Unidentified Singer #1: ...(Unintelligible) homies pulling air backside.

Unidentified Singer #2: Let's ride.

Unidentified Singer #1: ...(Unintelligible) school girl ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Singer #2: Let's ride.

Unidentified Singer #1: Every time he fell, he got back up and tried.

Unidentified Singer #2: Now I first started skating back in 1986 and I still can't land a (censored)...

Unidentified Group: ...kick flip.

Unidentified Singer #1: ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Singer #2: I just like to ...(unintelligible), kick turn, carve the bow...

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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