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Action Sports’ Highest Paid Athletes

Surfing, skating, and snowboarding have come a long way in the purses that top riders can pull down for winning contests, but it’s still nothing compared to more mainstream sports. Shaun White’s check for winning gold at this year’s Winter X-Games was $30,000. Golfer Geoff Ogilvy’s paycheck for winning the first stop on the 2009 PGA Tour? One point one million dollars.

That said, endorsement deals are beginning to migrate to our sports in unprecedented amounts. Forbes magazine put together a list of the top-ten earners in action sports for 2008, in which they estimate that White earned nine million dollars, primarily from sponsors Burton, Hewlett-Packard, Oakley, Red Bull, and Target, making his endorsement deals more profitable than any baseball or football player other than Peyton Manning.

While many in the industry may complain about corporate sponsorships and action sports becoming more mainstream, the fact is that it’s these dollars that encourage incredible athletes to excel on a board. According to Forbes: “Corporate money has been pouring into action sports in recent years as the popularity of these sports has taken off with consumers. Participation in skateboarding increased 74% between 1998 and 2007 to 10.1 million participants, the fastest growth of any sport in the U.S. Snowboarding registered the third fastest growth over the same 10-year period, up 42% to 5.1 million participants according to the National Sporting Goods Association.”

Forbes based its estimates on interviews with industry experts and excluded Motocross racing.The top 10 earners in 2008 were all male. Top female snowboarders like Torah Bright, Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter make as much as $750,000 annually, but that fell short of their $1 million cut off.

Here’s the break down of 2008 earnings:

1. Tony Hawk – Skateboarding – $12 million

Hawk retired from competitive skating in 1999, but he has built a business empire that sold $200 million worth of Tony Hawk branded products last year

2. Shaun White – Snowboarding/Skateboarding – $9 million

White was the first athlete to compete at both the Summer and Winter X-Games. He’s racked up 10 X-Games gold medals as well as the gold for the men’s half pipe in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Following in the footsteps of Hawk, White launched his own videogame last year through Ubisoft called “Shaun White Snowboarding.”

3. Ryan Sheckler – Skateboarding – $5 million

Sheckler is a hit with teenage girls thanks to his MTV reality show, Life of Ryan, which just wrapped filming its third season. The skateboard prodigy turned pro in 2003 at age 13. Current big sponsors include Oakley, Red Bull and Volcom.

4. Travis Pastrana – Freestyle MX – $3 million (tie)

4. Kelly Slater – Surfing – $3 million

The nine-time surfing champion is both the youngest and oldest to win the title. We won $260,000 in prize money in 2008 when he captured his ninth title. Slater has won $2 million during his career. The bulk of his earnings comes from sponsors like Quiksilver and surfboard maker Channel Islands.

6. Laird Hamilton – Surfing – $2.5 million

The oldest member of our top 10 athletes at 44, Hamilton has always eschewed traditional surfing competitions for the thrill of big-wave surfing. He has built a reputation as an all-around waterman that has spurred books, movies and a clothing line. His wife is pro volleyball player Gabrielle Reece.

7.  Paul Rodriguez – Skateboarding – $2 million

The skater known as P-Rod is the son of actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez. Nike signed Rodriguez to a lucrative shoe and apparel deal in 2004 and has released several signature P-Rod sneakers since then.

8. Danny Kass – Snowboarding – $1 million

Kass won silver medals in the men’s half pipe at each of the last two Winter Olympics. He has sponsorship deals with Gnu Snowboards, Nike and Oakley. With his brother Matt and several friends, Kass founded apparel company Grenade which focuses on winter gloves.

8. Dave Mirra – BMX – $1 million

8. Travis Rice – Snowboarding – $1 million

Considered one of the best boarders on the planet, Rice is a renaissance man on the snow competing in big air, slope style and pipe events. Rice counts Quicksilver and Red Bull as major sponsors and also produces and stars in popular snowboard movies like The Community Project and That’s It, That’s All.