Back in the day, every time Preston would get a new skate deck, he would spray paint “PIMP” in large capital letters onto his fresh griptape. It was his mark, an insignia that conveyed a recognizable persona, one characterized by bravado and ignorance. It’s played out, but more importantly, it’s not who Preston was. More than anything, he just wanted to fit in. So, instead of being himself, his demeanor mimicked the people he surrounded himself with. Playing to the crowd only lasted so long though. Soon it became obvious that he didn’t belong among the doubters and the burnouts. He began surrounding himself with more positive and supportive people. As his peers and his mindset shifted, so did his image. His clothes got tighter and he even started wearing bow ties (“I wanted to look more sophisticated,” Preston says. “I learned that if I wanted a real job in the future, I couldn’t sag because I sure can’t rap.”).
Nowadays, Preston is the kind of person that makes you want to be a better person. He’s a motivational speaker who talks to audiences of kids on a regular basis and habitually goes out of his way to help people. He’s considerate, intelligent, and above all, inspiring.
? / Cody Liska
A / Preston Pollard
What up, man. How are you?
Everything is real good. I’m in LA right now. I live here. At first I was living in like Glendale area, then I moved closer to Hollywood area. It’s perfect for skating. Sunny everyday. I love it.
Why did you move?
I moved out of Alaska because I knew if I wanted to be a professional skateboarder or even just skate longer [than 3 months in the summer], I would have to move. So, I made that decision when I was, I think, 20-years-old.
We’ve known each other for what, like over 20 years? And you’ve always been a super positive guy. What keeps you motivated?
Kids, man. Just being able to inspire people. That’s what keeps me motivated, you know? I skateboard because, often, I get to talk to kids. And maybe one word I say could change their perspective on how they view life.
Do you think that’s what lead you to become a motivational speaker – knowing the kind of influence you have?
I realized that I have a gift with people when I was 18. My aunt was like “maybe you should speak with students at different schools. You have a lot of stories and maybe you can be an influence. Maybe you can help some kids who are going through similar problems that you’ve gone through.” I was like “I don’t know about that.” I was nervous. When I was in middle school and high school, I was hyper. I had ADD. I was all over the place. I just wanted to skate.
Anyway, I did it – did my first speech at Chester Valley [Elementary]. I started speaking in elementary schools and I worked my way up to speaking in high schools. It’s hard to explain the feeling. When you’re able to explain little things [to kids] that have personally helped me in my life and have them come up to you afterwards and say, “wow, what you said really helped me.” It’s something you can’t buy.
When did you realize that you’re speeches were making a difference in these kids’ lives? Like the moment you were like, “this is actually working. Ok, I’m gonna see what I can do with this.”
Probably when I was on this tour and I was in New York. It was like the first time I had really done a big speech. I went up on stage and I was super nervous. I didn’t know what I was going to say. I ended up sharing where I was from and what my dreams were and some of the things I’ve been through – about how I was a partier at one point, all sorts of stuff. After I was done, I felt very vulnerable sharing all my experiences like that, but then I had a bunch of kids come up to me and thank me.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned through motivational speaking?
Like, just from talking to kids?
You can’t ever judge a book by its cover. Just because you see a kid smiling all the time, that doesn’t mean he’s happy. You just don’t know. You have no idea what’s going on in that kids head. That’s why I always tell people to have an open ear. Don’t talk so much. Listen. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned: to listen. Listen, listen, listen. And be patient.
Being a skater from Alaska has helped you stand out in the skate industry because you’re not seen as just another kid from California. Is the same thing true for you in your modeling career?
Typically, they’re surprised [that I’m from Alaska]. A lot of the models [I work with] don’t even know I skateboard. I think more doors have opened up because I do so many things. Nowadays you can’t just do one thing and get in. You gotta do multiple things. So when I tell people that I’m a skateboarder, and I talk to kids, and I act, and I model, and I host a TV show, they’re like “okay, we’ll give him a shot.”
Alaska is my home. When people hear about me, they’re like “there’s a black skateboarder from Alaska?” (laughs). It has definitely opened up a lot of doors for me. Just by being different. It’s all about being different. There are a lot of great skaters everywhere, but when you say you’re from Alaska the eyebrow gets raised. Like, “really? Alaska? Are there black people in Alaska?” I get that all the time (laughs). And I’m always like “yea, there’s all sorts of different races in Alaska. There’s everybody.”
Obviously, if you’re a skateboarder it’s like ‘you better not model,’ ‘you better not host a TV show,’ ‘you better stay core to skateboarding or else you’re a joke.’ That’s how I was looked at for a long time. What happened was when I came to California and I first discovered that a lot of skaters that I looked up to, after they went pro, they were working at a warehouse moving boxes or doing other jobs that weren’t at a professional level. So, I knew I had to start thinking outside the box. I love skateboarding, but I don’t want to be moving boxes around (laughs). I don’t want to become a nobody after I go pro.
How have you applied skateboarding to your day-to-day life?
Man, skateboarding has been the foundation for everything I’ve done. Work ethic wise, when I’m skateboarding I fall all the time and I get back up. I use that work ethic when I’m speaking. If I mess up or I get flustered, I know I just gotta keep moving. Or if I’m starting something, like this new skateboard company – yea, it’s scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Just like skateboarding, if you make a mistake, you figure out how to do better. You gotta stay persistent. It’s all about persistence. It’s not really about how good you are, it’s about persistence. When I first started skating, I wasn’t the best in my group. There were plenty of kids better than me, but I was the persistent one.
You’re starting your own skate company?
Yea, it’s Preston Pollard, that’s the brand. I’m not gonna have a crazy skate team, nothing like that. The main focus is to inspire people with my skateboards. I’m not gonna give all my ideas away, but I’ll give you one. I want to do a graphic with a lot of hands together – a black hand, a white hand, a Hispanic hand, a Native hand. I don’t know whether I want the hands to be holding each other or on top of each other like in football before they play, but I know I want to do something like that to show people that it’s not about color, it’s not about race, it’s about working together as a one. If we can do that then the world would be a better place.
Typically when you pick up a skateboard, it’s promoting what? Sex, smoking weed, drinking. All this stuff is being promoted, but it isn’t doing anything to uplift you. I want to have a board that kids can look at and be like, “wow, that right there is inspiring.” That’s the goal. Also, when you buy a board from me, you’re actually going to be helping a cause. Because I’m not just skateboarding to say, “hey, I’m skateboarding.” I’m actually going into the community. I’m going into Compton and I’m going into Watts weekly, and giving skateboards to kids that can’t afford them. It’s bigger than just skateboarding. I want to help people through this company.
Compton and Watts...
Yea, that’s where I speak.
What kind of reaction do you get?
When I first started speaking, it was probably about a year ago, they told me that my first speech assignment was in Compton. I called my sister told her, “I don’t want to go to Compton. Like, out of all places, I ain’t trying to go to Compton.” So, I prayed: “God, just protect me.” When I got there, I’ll tell you what, those kids were amazing. It wasn’t like how you would think, like how it is in the movies. There were normal kids. Kids that want to learn. Kids that just don’t have an opportunity. They’re focused. They have a dream.
I speak for the Sheriff's Youth Foundation. It’s a place kids can go after school and they’re protected by the police. It’s basically a place where kids can interact with the police because oftentimes in a place like Compton kids don’t want to talk to police. They also bring in speakers, like myself, to come in and talk to the kids. Most of these kids don’t have a father or their parents are in gangs. Maybe the kid is selling drugs. So, I’ll tell them instead of selling drugs use that same hustle and build a company. They’re very smart people, they just need to change their hustle to a positive one.
What sort of personal experiences do you think are important not to hide from a group of people you’re trying to motivate?
I just try to be as vulnerable as I can because when you’re vulnerable, people listen. I smoked weed, I drank, I got with girls. I don’t try to hide any of that. When I talk to kids, I start with my past, about wanting to fit in. I tell them I would hang out with thuglets – it’s a funny word that I use. I say, “in LA you guys got the real thugs, but in Alaska I was hanging out with the thuglets, the fake thugs.” I tell them that I would hang around wannabe people who were pretending to be gangsters. And when I did that, I wouldn’t be in a positive place.
A lot of people see me now and think, “Preston is this perfect guy. He doesn’t make mistakes and blah blah blah,” but I’m always like “I’m just like you. I make mistakes all the time.” When I’m able to tell these kids about who I was and who I am – with all my imperfections and struggles – it makes me vulnerable and they listen.
What’s the most common question you get?
I do this trick at the end of my speech sometimes where I’ll hold up a hundred dollar bill and I ask them if they want it. And they usually go, “yea, I want the hundred dollars.” So, I crumple it up and ask them again. “Yea, I still want it.” I’ll stomp on it. “Yea, I still want it.” Then I break it down and I tell them, “in life a lot of people have been stepped on, but at the end of the day they still have value.” After I get done talking to them some kids raise their hands and are like, “hey, can I still get that hundred dollar bill? I know I’m more valuable, but can I have it?” (laughs)
What’s a question that you don’t get that often, or maybe you’ve never gotten, that you’d like to answer?
I would like people to ask me what books I read. Because the books that I read really help me. A lot of times people tell me, “I don’t have a mentor. I don’t have somebody like you had.” And I tell people all the time, “you do have them. Warren Buffet could be your mentor, but you gotta go up to Barnes and Noble and read a book.” (laughs) “Magic Johnson could be your mentor. There’s a lot of people who could be your mentor, but you’re not going to the bookstore.” I love reading because I have so many mentors because I walk myself to the bookstore.
Do you have a suggested reading list?
Say there’s a person who’s like, “I don’t know how to find friends. How do you meet people? How do you talk to people?” I’d tell that person to go buy a book by Dale Carnegie, it’s called How to Win Friends and Influence People. When you get finished with this book, you’re going to be a people magnet. People are going to want to talk to you.
After that book, if you’re still struggling with meeting people, go to the bookstore and pick up a book by Leil Lowndes, it’s called How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships.
Some of my favorite books are The Alchemist, How to Win Friends and Influence People, David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell, Unstoppable by Cynthia Kersey, 32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business by Magic Johnson, Instinct by T.D. Jakes.
For me, God is number one. For those people who maybe don't believe in God, I would say to continue stepping out of your comfort zone. Be kind to people. Be genuine. Down to earth. You never know who you'll meet.
Thank you to God, my family, and Brian Adams for putting my face on his book.
This interview was written and conducted by Cody Liska. He called on some homies to contribute questions. Thanks to Sage O'Neill, Johnny Sellers, and Matt Wild.
Photos courtesy of Bengi, Schanel Pollard, Brian Adams, and Joey Marshall.