What makes someone a pro in BMX?
Typically, the term 'pro' in BMX is taken to mean someone that gets paid by a brand to ride for a living, which isn't too far from the actual definition of 'professional,' which means to follow an occupation as a means of livelihood. But is that all it takes to become pro in BMX? And does that mean that getting paid $75 to do one demo a month makes someone a pro?
I think not.
The term 'pro' gets thrown around a lot in BMX, and I'm guilty of it too. But recently, it's dawned on me that that BMX doesn't really have a pre-determined system for becoming a pro. In fact, there are no parameters for becoming a "pro" in BMX, which seems to resonate within the community.
"If you can make a Web video these days, you're pro, which is kinda ridiculous," says Mike 'Rooftop' Escamilla. And as public perception goes, he's right.
Not that it was anymore established when Escamilla turned "pro" in 1995, at the age of 18. At the time, Escamilla rode contests, competing in Mat Hoffman's Bicycle Stunt Series throughout the mid '90s. At round three of Hoffman's 1995 series, in Oklahoma City, Okla., Rooftop entered the 'Stuntmen' street class and placed ninth. That's about as close as BMX freestyle has ever come to the process of "turning pro." And that was 16 years ago, when BMX was a much smaller sport.
Currently, there are options for going a more traditional route towards becoming a pro rider, such as the Free Flow Tour, which is billed as "the official amateur series of the Dew Tour." Amateur riders are invited to compete in a number of regional events throughout a calendar year, and the winners of each year's Free Flow Finals are invited to compete against the pros in the year-end Dew Tour finals. It's the route taken by Mike Spinner, who turned pro at the 2006 Orlando Dew Tour finals following a win at the Free Flow tour. But that is just one sanctioning body's process, and only viable to riders that want to compete on the contest circuit.
So what about the riders that don't compete, but obviously know how to ride a bike and are being paid by sponsors to endorse products? Let's take a look at Aaron Ross. Aaron is a wildly popular street rider from Corpus Christi, Texas that endorses product for Sunday Bikes, Odyssey, etnies, Fox and Empire BMX. He does ride pro in the occasional street contest, including X Games BMX Street, but tends to focus on filming videos, shooting photos and progressing his riding. He's also extremely accessible to BMX fans, and actively engages the BMX audience through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
"It was different when I was traveling a lot and hardly getting by. I was having fun and only riding. Now, as a pro, I do more," says Ross.
As far as natural talent on a BMX goes, Aaron is obviously a pro. And as far as promoting the brands he represents, Aaron is also a pro. But no sanctioning body ever pointed at Aaron Ross and said, "Okay, you're pro."
Not that I think anyone with any knowledge of current BMX will argue against the fact that Aaron Ross is certainly a pro. He's just a different type of pro, for lack of a better way of explaining it. And that is where I want to steer this discussion, towards the varying types of pros within the realm of BMX.
Over the next few weeks, we're going to examine the various roles that a pro can take in BMX, from contests to videos and everything in between. I don't plan on definitively answering the question "What is a pro?", but I do hope to get a discussion up and running about the way in which a rider becomes a pro, and hopefully work towards BMX getting a more established system in place to allow riders to reach their full potential. Check back soon, it could get interesting.
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THE PRO QUESTION ON ESPN BMX