It began innocently enough. Bill Kennedy of Lake Stevens, being a considerate father, brought home a used skateboard and gave it to his son Cory, then age 3.
Tracy Kennedy, Bill’s wife and Cory’s mom, was unsure about the gift. “I was like, ‘No way, I don’t want my kid doing this.’ But you kn
ow what? Cory took to it and he loved it.”
And he’s been loving it ever since.
The little boy with the used skateboard has grown up to be professional skateboarder Cory Kennedy. And if that name is unfamiliar, look around. You can see him in skateboard videos (try YouTube), skateboard magazines (look for him in the advertisements), and on the internet websites of the many companies he represents including — get this — Nike.
Yep, the world’s most well-known manufacturer of sports shoes, apparel and equipment has hired Kennedy to be one of almost two dozen pro and amateur skateboarders on its endorsement team. Basketball great Michael Jordan is a Nike legend, of course, “and he’s my teammate,” Kennedy said with a laugh.
OK, so the 20-year-old Kennedy has yet to reach Jordan’s stature. But the 2009 Lake Stevens High School graduate already earns a six-figure salary and is known to skateboard enthusiasts across the country. His father tells the story of walking through a New York airport with Cory, and how kids kept stopping him and asking for his autograph.
“I don’t get that too often,” Kennedy said modestly. “It’s not like I’m a movie star or anything. But at times it’s pretty cool that kids recognize me and look up to me.”
Because he was once a kid like that himself. As a boy, Kennedy spent many hours on his skateboard. He also studied videos to get ideas for jumps and other tricks, and then would go outside to try them himself.
Along the way he dabbled in other sports like Little League baseball, “but what stuck was the skateboarding,” said his dad.
By the time Kennedy was in high school, he was showing up on YouTube. (True story, his high school principal once asked for his autograph for her grandkids). And it was a video done by his friend Shane Auckland of Lake Stevens that gave Kennedy his big break.
The video, taken of Kennedy in competition — he won and earned $1,500 — got him noticed by some of the power brokers in the world of skateboarding. “And that was the launch of his career,” his mother said.
How do pro skateboarders earn their money? Well, one way is with competitive prizes, but the bigger cash comes from sponsors. Kennedy’s other sponsors include Girl skateboards, Spitfire skateboard wheels, RVCA clothing and Good Not Great washers.
Although Kennedy makes upwards of $100,000 a year, he still has plenty of upside, financially speaking. Because top skateboard pros can earn well in excess of $1 million a year.
“There are skaters out there that can make that easily,” said Kennedy, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif. “So I’m definitely not like the top at all. But I also have some good companies that have my back.”
At the outset, Kennedy’s parents were somewhat skeptical that skateboarding could turn into a lucrative career.
“They were a little confused,” he said. “It was like, ‘What’s he doing? What’s going on?’ But then they started figuring it out and now they love it. Their son gets to travel and skateboard everywhere. Even though they tell me, ‘Some people have to work for their money.'”
“I’m thrilled for him,” his mother said. “It’s about doing what you love and getting where you want to be, and he’s wanted this since the day Bill came home with that skateboard for him. And now he’s living his dream.”
Still, even Kennedy sometimes has trouble believing his own good fortune.
As a boy growing up in Lake Stevens, he said, “I was just doing this for fun. But right after high school I started looking to see if it was possible, and then it worked out.”
And now, he said, “I sometimes just sit back and think about it, and I’m thinking, ‘Is this real?’ I’m skating with all these pro skaters that I looked up to when I was growing up, and now I’m going on tour with them. It’s just crazy to think about that.
“Not many people get this kind of a chance,” he said. “It’s been a dream come true for me to think that I can do this for a living.”