In one night of playing around on his skateboard, Chaz Ortiz made $3,000.
Actually, to be clear, that was just the bonus money the 14-year-old got for winning the Skate Park competition at the Dew Tour on Saturday night. He has sponsors, like Zoo York and Silver Trucks and FKD Bearings, that pay his bills.
While teenage athletes who choose traditional sports like baseball, football, basketball or soccer work their way up through club, high school and college programs, those who find their passion in nontraditional sports have, well, nontraditional options.
Like, for example, the ability to go pro at age 14.
A boy who dreams of the NFL will have to navigate little league, high school and college programs before he knows if he has the mettle to earn a living on the gridiron.
But a child who wants to work the magic Ryan Sheckler does on a skateboard? Well, he can actually skate against and eventually best his idol while his idol is still in his prime. (Sheckler is 18 years old and has his own reality show.) That's exactly what Ortiz did Saturday night in front of 25,900 fans at EnergySolutions Arena.
This isn't just your neighborhood skate park anymore.
Nontraditional sports like BMX park, BMX dirt, Motocross, Skate Vert, Skate Park and FMX, just to name a few, are offering young people from around the world the chance to earn a living doing things that 15 years ago were considered recreational activities.
In fact, my dad used to call our dirt bike races a waste of time. (If he only knew.) Ortiz was traveling around on his parents' dime last year, competing in the Free Flow Tour. If a competitor finishes high enough, which he did, he or she is invited to compete on the Dew Tour. Not even finished with his first year as a pro, Ortiz is already starring in a video that will come out at the end of the year and is produced by Zoo York.
When asked about his life's work, Ortiz said he's just been playing around on a board since he was 6.
"I'm at the skate park every day," he said. "Me and my friends just skate. ... This is pretty crazy."
Yes, actually, it is. It's crazy that prepubescent teens can make their fortunes before they even know how to write a check. But thanks, in large part, to the growing popularity of these nontraditional sports, millions of their peers are willing to pay big bucks to watch these athletes play. They're also willing to pony up so they can wear the same shoes, hats, shirts and jeans these young professionals wear, which is where a lot of the money is made in sponsorships.
Ortiz said he is living his dream.
"I wanted to have a career in skateboarding," he said.
I smiled when he said that because, when I was 14, I was sure I was going to be the first female astronaut. Then I found out about the math and motion sickness.
When parents purchase a skateboard or a dirt bike for their child, they don't see it as an investment in his future. But nowadays it can be just that a ticket to both financial security and stardom.
Mark Ortiz beamed with pride as he watched his son conduct television interviews Saturday night.
"You can't describe or put a price on how proud we are," his father said. "He does work hard. He deserves this."
You have to love a country where not just one but hundreds of people can make a living playing around on bikes and boards, where working hard can mean hours spent practicing at a skate park. And if you think these youngsters aren't really earning their paychecks, just ask them how much time they spend honing their skills.
When asked the secret to his success at such a young age, Ortiz answered quickly and confidently."Practice," he said. And then he smiled and added, "Just have fun with it."