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San Diego County has some of the sport’s biggest stars. Tony Hawk, the biggest name the sport has ever seen, lives in Carlsbad. Another big name, Bob Burnquist, moved to Vista in 1996.

Heddings’s mom explained how her son came to live in San Diego. “Getting sponsored, Neil started going back and forth from Portland to San Diego on tours. Finally he just stayed down there, as he liked it so much. He made a lot of contacts and worked at the Skateboard Heaven for Mario and Steve.”

Skateboard Heaven is in Ocean Beach, right next to the Robb Field Skateboard Park. I asked co-owner Steve Guido, who opened the place in 1999, what Heddings did for the shop. He said, “He rode for the shop, and he worked here on and off, whenever he wasn’t on tour. Whenever he came back. He’d bring Marty in to work too.”

Where was Neil living?

“Well, he lived over there on West Point Loma for a couple years. He would go tour and come back and put all his stuff in storage. Float around. When he was living on Green Street, near the shop, he sometimes left this number as his own.”

Marcus Heddings, nicknamed Marty, was born on March 15, 2000. I asked Guido if Heddings lived with Marty’s mom, Susie Moyer.

“He lived with Susie for around a year and a half. It was near the end of 1999 and into 2000.”

Is there a specific season when skateboarders go on tour?

“Different things come and go. Vans might have a tour. He was sponsored by Vans. Or the Triple Crown, or whoever he was sponsored with before. His board company, wheel company. They might put him on tour.”

How long would a tour last?

“Usually a few months. Some would be three, some four months. Others just a few months.”

Mostly in California?

“Some were California, some nationwide. They went all over. They had tours in Europe, Australia, Spain…lots of places. Once Marcus was born, I think Neil only went on a few tours.”

Pro skateboarders don’t make the kind of money pros in the NBA or NFL are making, do they? Is Tony Hawk the only one making the big bucks?

“Well, the thing about Neil is, he’s a skater. One hundred percent skater. He doesn’t care about the money. It’s the companies that came to him and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to pay you, we’d like you to wear our product or skate with our product.’ He would do it for free. I’ve known him for a long time, and maybe he should’ve sold out to the bigger companies. But that’s not who he is. There was a time he was living in his van. Here is a professional, one of the absolute best skaters, and you talk to, like, Chad Muska — who is a pro that makes a lot of money, he is up there; you have Tony Hawk, then you have the next level, like Burnquist, Muska — and he was saying Neil was his favorite skater growing up.

“He was always loyal to the shop,” Guido continued. “And when we had skate camps, we’d pay pro skaters to attend. But he wouldn’t want any money to attend. He would be there for free with the kids. And at one of our skateparks downtown [Skateboard Heaven on 12th], we are famous for our trade show. The same time as Street Scene. We have a wall-ride competition — we pay out a thousand dollars to the winner and best trick. All the pros come, and amateurs. Most come and they say I’m So-and-So big name, just kick back and drink beer, and wonder when they can win their money so they can get out of there. But not Neil. He would, from the minute he’d get there, from the time he’d win, he’d continue skating. We’d say, ‘Hey, Neil, you’re going to tire out.’ He’d say, ‘I don’t care. I love skating.’ That’s what separated him from the rest.”

I got another interesting story about Heddings not being overly concerned with the financial aspects of skating. The call came from Steve Douglas, who recently retired after 14 years as the president and founder of 411 Video Magazine and president of Giant, a skateboard-distribution center. A career accident ended his pro skating career, but he made lots of money on the business end.

Douglas said, “A good friend of mine, Joe Lopes, had died. He didn’t have any insurance and left behind five kids. We did this barbecue benefit, with a back yard ramp, to raise money for the family. Heddings had won the contest and won a few thousand dollars. Now, it’s not like professional baseball players that have so many endorsement deals and shoe contracts with Nike and make so much money from the teams. Competitions like this are how skateboarders make their money. Well, Heddings overheard me and a friend talking about having the winners possibly donate some of their winnings to the cause. Heddings jumped in and said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ He donated his entire winnings, not just some, which I thought was amazing. And he didn’t even know Joe Lopes. He may have heard his name, but he didn’t know him. His family needed help, and he was there. Heddings just seems like an honorable guy. A guy that cares about families. Initially, I heard the social workers just jumped to conclusions because of his tattoos. But I don’t know the facts of the case. I don’t want to even think about how this will all come out. I can’t even speculate. I just thought Heddings was a good-spirited guy.”

In regard to how much Heddings was making as a pro, I asked his friend Louis Peden how exactly skaters get paid and how many can make a career out of it.

He said, “You get paid more than you think. Take Neil. He’s one of the best guys out there. A sponsor pays for photos that magazines use. Like Independent. He gets shirts, trucks” — the hardware attaching the wheels to the board — “and a check. Free equipment, and he takes what he needs, maybe sells the rest of it. But when he gets his photo in a magazine, they’ll cut him a check for that photo. Like when he was riding for 151, they paid him, like, $1500 a month, plus photo incentives. That was, like, 200 or 300 bucks per photo. If you get a cover shot, it’s a grand. If you get a couple photo mags every month, which Neil always did, in every magazine — and there are probably an easy 10,000 skaters in the United States who could do photo-quality stuff in the magazines. They just don’t, because there aren’t that many of them being sponsored. And the guys taking the photos — guys from Thrasher — they follow Neil around, asking him where he’s going to be skating. He tells them, and they show up.”

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