Skateboarding is all about big moves, big risks and big air. But one thing you will notice about some of the extreme sport's newest big stars is that they're not very big at all. In fact, they're 9 years old.
Occasionally 9-year-old twins Nic and Tristan Puehse behave like your average kids, but of course your average kids are not backed by some of the world's most recognizable companies, including Sony, Gatorade and Nike.
Nic and Tristan aren't sure why all these companies sponsor them. The "why" has everything to do with the booming sport of skateboarding and the booming $5 billion business of skateboarding. One market research firm estimates about 12 million American teens now skateboard; that's more than play baseball.
"Skateboarding is huge," said Ed Riggins, the publisher of Thrasher magazine. "I mean, you can't see an ad on TV or a lot of print media that is advertising any kind of a product whatsoever that doesn't have skateboarding connected to it somehow."
Thrasher magazine is the Bible of skateboarding, and Riggins has been deep into the sport for 26 years.
"It is probably as big as I've sever seen it," he said, "especially all the clothing that's influenced by it and the shoe market. The byproducts of it are huge."
Learning the Sport, and the Language
And what does a huge company like Nike, which sponsors athletes like Tiger Woods, have to gain from 9-year-old twins? A lot, said Riggins.
"You're at the skate park for a little while, and if you can tell who the best guys are, and if they're sponsored, you're curious … who they are sponsored by?"
The twins' father Mike Puehse remembers when his sons started skateboarding.
"From day one [Tristan and Nic] jumped off 2-foot blocks, and I remember very vividly kids around the skateboard park … standing around them watching them and laughing at them," he said. "Some of [the kids] were making fun of them."
Puehse said his sons were "totally undeterred" and admits they got the last laugh.
"I think they've gotten a lot of respect from fellow skateboarders mostly because they know that they stick well and they try hard and are trying to get as good as they can," he said.
As the twins became more and more into skateboarding, Puehse had to teach himself everything about the sport.
"When somebody mentioned that we needed to get trucks for a board, I said to myself, 'Why do I need to get a truck? We can put the boards in the trunk of the car,'" he recalled. "So that is pretty how much illiterate I was in skateboarding."
Trucks are what attach the wheels to the board … Puehse now knows that.
The twins are sponsored by "tracker trucks," and their father has more than a little to do with that. He built a 20-foot half-pipe in their backyard. He has taken them to about 70 competitions, and the twins owe a lot of their newfound fame to their father. Mike posted a video on YouTube that has more than 3 million hits … and counting.
"The No. 1 reason I started videotaping was just for posterity's sake," Mike said. "As they kept getting better and better I learned a little bit of video editing, I put together some videos and sent them to potential companies to see if they might be interested in sponsorships."
Nic and Tristan have 12 sponsors now, and 79 skateboards -- not bad for a couple of kids who didn't even pick up a skateboard until three years ago.
When asked what they do when they need a new skateboard, Tristan replied, "We ask the company to send us some more."
Puehse said these sponsors have saved them "thousands of dollars, probably tens of thousands," and said the twins also receive "monetary incentives" for media coverage for winning competitions.
These home-schooled miniature moguls might be making money, but Puehse said he never feels as if he has to push his sons to skate.
"A lot of people think that they are skating 24/7 -- they live, breath and eat skateboarding. That … that is absolutely not the case," he said. "I'd say on average they are skating about 12 hours a week."
Puehse doesn't have to tell them to stop skateboarding because they have a "good balance" in their lives, he said.
And good balance is just what they need to be successful -- in their lives and on their boards.
'I Hope I Don't Fall'
Thrasher magazine's Riggins said that all the sponsorships and corporate involvement has changed the sport.
"It has jaded a lot of the kids that have become popular at such a young age because all of a sudden they are not only getting a lot of product, but they're making a lot of dough," he said. "That's pretty heavy stuff when you're young. You get used to it when you're young, and it is like turning on a water tap and it is just going to last forever."
The Puehse twins don't seem jaded. They say when they're at the top of the pipe looking over the edge, they're thinking, "I hope I don't fall."
There is a lot about skateboarding that no amount of money or sponsorship can change. The twins sport scraped elbows and wrists, and chipped teeth.
"You can smash your face, you can break bones, you can have a lot of serious injuries with skateboarding, definitely," said Puehse.
At the X-Games this summer, professional Jake Brown had an insane wipeout, and walked away. But his fall was proof that skateboarding isn't easy -- for professionals or first-timers. For the most part, it is a sport for the young, which explains why sponsors are looking for younger and younger stars.
"I've seen skaters when they get their first girlfriend, they forget about the skateboard. When they get their driver's license or their first car, they forget about the skateboard," said Riggins. "Kids, especially young males, it is difficult to keep them attracted to any one thing."
For now, the Puehses aren't thinking about those things. When asked how long they want to be skateboarding, Nic said, "Until I die." Tristan said, "Not until I die. Maybe … until I'm 90."