The first time Preston Pollard saw a skateboard it awakened a passion.
“My dream was crazy,” he said. “I wanted to be a professional skateboarder. I was seven years old. Black kids didn’t skateboard. My friends made fun of me. I wasn’t good at it. And I lived in Alaska.”
Born in Anchorage in 1988, Pollard pursued his crazy dream with a single-minded dedication that seemed to contradict his description of himself as having attention deficit disorder.
“I practiced for hours. You could only get about four months of outdoor skateboarding here, so I practiced in the garage.”
Persistence paid off. By the time he graduated from Bartlett High School in 2006, Pollard was making skateboard films and drumming up sponsorship from the relatively small Anchorage skateboard community. He’d made several trips to the Lower 48, where he hit the big trade shows, shot footage of his stunts and started to pick up national sponsors like Vox shoes.
He was 17 when he moved to California. He's had some success in the wildly competitive world of skateboarding but on a recent trip back to Anchorage, he confessed that the future demands more of him than flying off jumps and throwing in the occasional twist.
“When I left Alaska, skateboarding was the only thing on my mind,” he said. “And it went well. Magazines, sponsorship, videos. But I’m 26 now and my body’s hurting. I realized that I have to get out of my comfort zone.”
His aunt Jean Pollard, who was shuttling him around on a recent trip back to Anchorage, told him, “You’re ADD. Use those gifts that are in you.”
So he started to find ways to parlay his love of riding into other avenues.
He modeled for companies like Nike. He was featured on a billboard for Forever 21 in Times Square. And he delved into television work. He has hosted segments on Juce TV, a sister channel to the Christian-themed Trinity Broadcasting Network, for the past five years. Recently, he debuted his own skateboard line, featuring a frosty portrait of himself by Alaska photographer Brian Adams.
Then there was acting.
“I got the job as an assistant to Gabriel Basso when he was making ‘Super 8.’ It inspired me to act.”
A director who had seen his work on television got him a small part in “Still Standing.” The independent filmmakers, loosely associated with the circle of people who make skateboard videos, also took note. He was recently nominated for best actor in the 168 Film Festival. The international event showcases short movies, often with a religious theme, made within a seven-day period. The red carpet awards ceremony will take place in Los Angeles in September. Preston is in the running for his role as Eli in a film titled “Crossing Over.”
A short film biography about him is in the works, and he also recently landed a gig on the Internet program provider Oprah.com.
“They’re one-minute to-the-camera inspirational things,” he said.
Inspiration could be T. Preston Pollard’s middle name if it weren’t already Preston. Among the doors that have opened to him as a result of his skateboarding career, perhaps the most unexpected is that of motivational speaker.
“I love to motivate kids,” he said. “I’ve been into motivational speaking since I was 18.”
He said that as a young man he got in trouble plenty of times, usually facilitated by his ADD. Skateboarding gave him a way to channel his energy and creativity. It also taught him the importance of having a focus.
"I tell kids to find the one thing you love and use it to get ahead ... find your ride," he said. "I talk to groups and say: 'I know some of you are hustling drugs. And you’re good at it. But there’s a better way. You don’t have to do drugs. Turn your hustle around and start a business.' "
Positive lifestyles have always been part of his message. In a 2006 interview, he made a comment that now seems prophetic:
“I’m just trying to be a leader right now,” he said. “A lot of skateboarders see other skateboarders maybe drinking or smoking but I’m not like that. Kids can look at me as an example.”
Capt. Douglas Fetteroll of the County of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department wrote about working with Pollard after Fetteroll was put in charge of the Avalon Sheriff’s Station in 2012.
“One of my goals was to improve the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and the youth in the community,” he said. Fetteroll reached out to Pollard.
“He not only accepted my offer, but was possibly more excited than me about getting the opportunity to reach young people and impact their lives in a positive way. Numerous students have asked me about when he will return.”
Public speaking may be Pollard’s next big thing but he still enjoys skateboarding. In fact, skateboard sessions often go hand in hand with his talks, as was the case in Avalon.
A couple of years ago he was featured in a video that showed him bundled up and scooting around in his old home town, between snowdrifts, through bike tunnels, along Fourth Avenue. On a trip to Anchorage last month he took time out to ride the skate park features at the Spenard Recreation Center.
“But it’s not about being the best skater in the world,” he said. “I’m not. But one of the things I try to get across is that you don’t have to do one thing.
“I tell the kids, if you like computers, do computers. If you like to write, write. Whatever it is, if you have a passion for something, do it. And let it carry you to a better place.”
Preston Pollard is speaking at several Anchorage schools this week and at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at the UAA Multicultural Center. He will also speak in Fairbanks at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30, at Joel’s Place Skate Park, 1890 Marika Road.