One of the highest levels of achievement in the world of action sports is earning a pro-model item with your name on it. For rollerbladers, while there are pro frames, wheels, shirts, and more, the big ticket item with the most prestige is a pro skate. The allure can be motivating, intoxicating, frustrating, and, for most, unrealized. But for some, it’s a dream come true that cements their accomplishments in plastic and nylon-fiberglass. Given the role pro model skates play for a skater’s career, we decided to reach out to skaters that have received signature skates to find out what the experience was like, if and how it impacted their skating, and more. Some folks promised answers and never delivered, others didn’t respond to our requests, but in the end we got honest responses from Sem Croft, Jeff Dalnas, Mery Muñoz, and the one and only Mike Johnson. Now read on for a first of its kind look at pros discussing the experience of earning a pro skate.
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Our discussion started with that coveted accomplishment—being offered a pro skate. For Mike Johnson, it was a long-ago event that he “can’t even remember!” But he does recall that “it was not long after the first Mindgame movie came out. Because we asked Shane if they were going to make me a pro, because I wanted to add my wheel to my skate.”
Mery Muñoz knows that her pro Aeon was planned to release after the Bladies skate. And Jeff Dalnas remembers the experience of getting pro models from two different companies nearly ten years apart—first with USD in 2012 and then with Trigger Skates in 2021. “The USD was carbon free (my favorite style of USD skate), and it had a black and grey color scheme! I was really stoked on that one!” He told us that with the Trigger, it “was a skate we worked on and tweaked base off of what they already had with The Beat Rainbow model,” and reminds us that it was “another mostly black with grey accents skate.”
One of our more recent pro skate recipients is Sem Croft, Dutch champion. Sem’s skate is in a league of its own, featuring 100% carbon fiber shell and a price tag upwards of $1,000 — a first for street skates. For Sem and Adapt, the approach was very calculated and started “about 4 years ago, when Pieter and Olga told me about this idea they had for a completely new aggressive skate based of the Superlaggera speed-skate. They told me it was going to be a long process to get to a final product, and that it would be a pricey skate, but I told Pieter straight away I didn’t really care about how much the skate was going to cost or how much it would sell, I just wanted to put something dope on the market.”
That sense of pride was reflected by each of our participants. For Jeff, “both experiences left me extremely stoked! I mean, that’s normally the end goal of any pro skater — a pro skate!”
Mike tells us that for him, that pride extended to recognizing the importance of representation. “First, I was proud of myself and proud I could be one of the few African Americans at the time with one [pro skate]. Proud I could be one of the few New York skaters with one, and mostly proud that the time I put in meant something.”
So it’s not really a surprise that Sem thought something similar with “it being my first pro-skate and first ever pro-product, I was super excited and motivated to skate.” Developing a brand-new technology for street skating wasn’t easy. “After a few months he had made one skate that wasn’t skate-able, just to see if the dimensions would be weird or if it even would be pretty as an aggressive skate. The drawings on paper looked sick but sometimes stuff looks better on paper then as a real object.”
That’s a sentiment Mike agrees with: “At the time, having one of those meant your name would be solidified in history. Little did I know I would get three in total. If you’d asked me now… I’m still fucking proud 🙂“
Achieving that level of notoriety is a dream for many competitive individuals, something that our panel of skaters touched on themselves, as when Mery explained “I was excited to decide how it would look, it was a dream for me.”
She went further, adding, “When I was a kid I just liked drawing skates and skateparks. So it was like giving my kid version a very nice present. I had it clear that I wanted to put a powerful color on it.” How cool is that?
Jeff wasn’t too far off of Mery’s experience, if maybe a little less prepared. “Yeah, I’d say since I was a little kid I always wanted my own pro skate! Being that I’m strictly a street skater I feel there is no bigger accomplishment then being honored with your own pro model. I didn’t have anything worked up as far design before hand, and with both skates I was told the colors they wanted to use.” So sometimes the dream comes with compromise.
“Of course I dreamt about this! Haha! I think a lot of skaters do!” said Sem. “As a kid I was always super motivated to skate and try to get better. Kids in my class wanted to be a firefighter or a doctor, I wanted to be a pro-skater.”
And like Jeff, Sem “didn’t really have any designs in my head.” Though he “did make some color configurations of the Brutale skate for future custom skates. But that was never with the idea it was going to be my pro-skate.”
Perhaps in keeping with his reputation as a singular talent, Mike remembers a different experience. “It wasn’t really something I thought about, I guess. At least today I don’t think I did. I was having too much fun and trying to improve daily. But when it did happen, I was really shocked and was like ‘Oh snap, it’s happening!’”
Because he wasn’t expecting it or thinking about it, Mike “didn’t have designs for it already made up, but I quickly got to working on it, as I wanted my DNA all over it as I am with anything I put energy into.”
While Sem has already explained how exciting and motivating the pro skate opportunity was, Mery put the concept of how that skate impacted her self esteem and the way it legitimized the idea of being a professional rollerblader like this: “We exist in a strange space of being a pro skater that feels like a freelance athlete artist.”
Pressed for what that meant, she elaborated that presenting her family with a pro skate helped demonstrate that she could keep pursuing skating as a job. “The fact ‘Muñoz’ is on everyone who skates my pro-model around the world makes my family and I very proud. It also let me see how so many people supported me or my skates.”
“It was definitely a great feeling of accomplishment and a sense of validation!”, according to Jeff.
But again, Mike came with a surprising take on how a pro skate affected his life. “By the time I got my first skate, I already grew through all that weakness. I’m from the Bronx and black. I got shit about skating from my neighborhood since the day I started HAHAHA.”
Going on, he explained how his “confidence was already titanium. I had to push through all that every day to get to the point of getting good enough to even get one [pro skate]. It didn’t help legitimize anything because skating was already legit to me, at least in my head. It may have legitimized my name to everyone else though.”
At home in the Netherlands, Sem’s first skate was a big deal to friends and family. “They were super proud! Most of the friends I got and still have came from skating, and as soon as my pro-skate dropped, I got tons of massages saying how proud and how sick it was I got my own skate.”
The same held true for Mike, who remembers “friends and family were excited for me, to say the least,” and Jeff, though he’s the first to admit, “I mean, my first pro skate was a long time ago. But I think most of my friends and family felt it was long overdue because I’ve been a sponsored skater since I was 11. I was 26 by the time I finally got my first pro boot!”
Unlike many skaters, Jeff received an additional pro model from a different company later in his career. “My second pro skate was more like ‘wow, again!’ And all my friends and family really supported that, even people who don’t skate bought a pair just to support me, which was super cool!”
But those two experience happened at different times in his personal life, and today Jeff has a unique perspective on their long term impact. “My first pro skate was bad timing in my life, as far as skating goes! I had just started my first full time job, and while filming for the promo I was just weeks/days away from my health insurance going into effect. I remember being unwilling to risk an injury right before that, like it was bad luck or something!” Given the challenging state of the American health care system, this is something a lot of bladers can probably relate to.
Similarly relatable to many working adult bladers, Jeff found life starting to get in the way. “So I have my pro skate but I was so focused on work/regular life that I felt like there was no where else to go with skating! I definitely became lazy, not to mention—and this isn’t an important part—but my royalty checks for all of my skates was about the same in comparison to what I made every week at my full time job. I realize that doesn’t really matter when compared to doing what you love, but at that point my life, trying to establish myself, I could have really used some real incentive to keep skating hard.”
And then when a second pro skate opportunity came around, Jeff had a much different attitude and approach. “I learned from that experience and for my next skate made a deal that definitely worked out better for my situation and demonstrated to me how much I loved skating regardless!”
But the benefits didn’t stop there for Jeff. “This last pro skate pushed me to become more involved in blading, contests, my exposure, and really realized that as a skater no company, filmer, or anyone else is going to promote you as well as you promote yourself! The last skate not only pushed me to skate harder, but also facilitated my own company (Blade Supply) because no one else was offering pre-orders on my skate in the USA. It was a great opportunity to sell Trigger products, along with other products, making what is now my own small blade company.”
For Mike, and his competitive NYC upbringing, getting a pro skate added fuel to his already raging fire. “With my mentally it definitely made me feel like I have more weight on my shoulders now. I had to be even better than I was yesterday. To me it’s like boxing, I don’t want to become the champion just to lose the belt the next day. So, I wanted to hold that… let’s say, ‘newfound respect.’ I didn’t want people to think I didn’t deserve it. I’m also fascinated with stories of people rising and falling, so I’m a bit aware of how people get complacent and fall off. Wasn’t going to happen to me.”
Along those same lines, Mery felt the responsibility to live up to the weight of expectations, telling us, “I felt I had to go extra hard to prove to the world and myself I deserved this skate. I tried to improve my trick vocabulary and clean my style. I also put a lot of work on filming my promodel video. At that moment we didn’t have a filmer, so my friends and I did all we could to make a cool promo for it.” That’s good insight into how just reaching the summit of your expectations doesn’t always include someone to make you look great. There’s still work to be done!
Like Jeff tells us, “It will always be exciting to get a pro skate! I don’t think it takes away from the fact you’re still in a position to be given that opportunity. Being good/marketable at skating well enough to get a pro skate is something to always be celebrated regardless of if it’s your first or 100th skate!”
“It never feels like the first, but I definitely put the same energy into them as I did the first. As far as designs,” explained Mike, who had a history of creating some of the most stylish pro models created. “But the weight of getting them, I got used to it by that point.”
According to Mery, when it comes to planning next pro models or working on designs, “the hardest part is having to keep them quiet for months even years without saying anything too early to keep the hype up.”
While winding down our interviews, we asked our panelists if earning a pro skate had changed their lives. After all, it’s not everyday someone achieves a level of success that will elude so many others. For Sem, the most recently initiated into the pro skate club, he explains “not that much. It’s just more exciting to go skate my own pro-skate. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real haha, but it’s definitely a good feeling to be skating my own skate.”
Jeff reiterated a point he made earlier that “this last pro skate definitely has. Since the Trigger skate, more focus has gone into blading!”
For Mery, it was a chance to reinvest in herself and her vision of the future. “Financially, yes. I invested part of the royalties on doing my website. So it changed in the way I could focus more on skating, health, and improving my skills, while trying to travel to compete and teach with my inline school. Also, in paying attention to how I project myself in the future.”
Because as she reminds us, her “main goal is to keep skating all my life, more than what can I get from it. I already won with all the amazing friends I have thanks to this sport and all the countries I visited thanks to it. I’m super grateful of still being able of travel to skate. I’ve learned so much from it!” We couldn’t agree more, Mery!
Illuminating some of the larger lessons he took from his skating career and pro skates, Mike told us, “Of course, I learned the importance of being involved in projects. Reminded me that I was an artist before I started skating. If I hadn’t been on a computer learning things, I probably wouldn’t have been able to communicate my designs clearly. Earning the skate itself taught me the power of enjoying the process. Most people want to skip ahead to the fun parts without putting in the work. I love the process of going from nothing to something. No one can take it away from you once you get there. It’s all earned.”
And that’s the true power of a pro model, no matter the product, sport or niche area of focus. To get your own, you have to earn it.
Photos from ONE print issues, Instagram, and company promotion