The man they call "P-Rod" has won eight X Games medals over a career that began when he was just a teen. Along the way he has inspired thousands of would-be skateboarders in his native Southern California and across the country, and he still does at events like those pictured here in New York and Atlanta.
Pushing off down a steep ramp, the wheels of Paul Rodriguez’s skateboard gather speed before he approaches a thigh-high apple made of metal. Popping his board into the air, Rodriguez vaults over the apple while flipping the board underneath him to spin on its axis.
With a cameraman trailing alongside him and scores of spectators watching his every move, Rodriguez gets his feet back on the board and nails a smooth landing – making one of skateboarding’s signature moves, the kickflip, look like a walk in the (skate)park.
Paul Rodriguez III, or as most people know him, “P-Rod,” is a 29-year-old professional skateboarder who has amassed eight X Games medals—four of them gold—in street skating since he was a teenager.
Within the world of Street League Skateboarding (SLS), the pro circuit that he competes in, P-Rod is known for a casual and cool style of skating, making complicated maneuvers look easy. He holds endorsement deals with Nike and Target, has recently started his own skateboard company and has become one of the most recognizable ambassadors of the sport around the globe.
“He got me into skateboarding,” 11-year-old Michael Agosto told Fox News Latino. “Watching his videos.”
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But at the LES Coleman skatepark, underneath the Manhattan Bridge overpass in New York City’s Lower East Side, Rodriguez was simply just doing what he does best: entertaining a crowd – something that runs in the family.
Like Father, Like Son
If you are of a certain generation, the Paul Rodriguez you may think of may not be riding a skateboard, but instead holding a microphone. That’s because P-Rod’s father is the Mexican-American comedian, Paul Rodriguez Jr.
“I always remember watching my dad stop and sign autographs or take a picture with his fans. That moment that you take for people goes a long way,” Rodriguez told FNL. “Fans are everything, I wouldn’t have this career or this life without the people that support me.”
Paul Rodriguez III was born on Dec. 31, 1984, in Tarzana, Calif., to a Mexican-American mom and the Culiacán-born comedian. But with dad on the road most of the year, the young Rodriguez spent most of his childhood in the care of his mother.
“Growing up, it was just me and my mom,” Rodriguez told ESPN.com, explaining why he can’t speak Spanish. “My dad wasn’t around for me to pick it up from him when I was a kid. He was always away.”
Even when Papa Rodriguez wasn’t on the road, it could be hard to get a word in with him.
“No matter where we went, there were people lining up to talk to him,” Rodriguez said. “When we went to a Mexican restaurant, I remember guys coming out of the kitchen wanting to meet him.”
Which doesn’t mean the younger Paul Rodriguez didn’t connect to his roots, especially when it comes to some of Southern California’s Mexican cuisine.
“I have fond memories of going up north to my family’s ranch and having some good home-made Mexican dishes,” he told FNL, adding that as a father of a young girl named Heaven he enjoys “the times that I can take my daughter up there and share that experience so she can have those memories of her own.”
And even though he got his first skateboard from his dad, that doesn’t mean that he was always understanding about his son’s chosen profession.
“My father was concerned because he didn’t know anything about skateboarding and was worried there wouldn’t be a way to make a living doing it,” Rodriguez said. “I always reminded him that he worked hard and created an amazing career for himself in comedy, and I am sure his parents had their own concerns about his career choice initially.”
Rodriguez is also acutely aware of how he has become an icon to many young Latinos and that his story – and example – is something that is closely watched by many young Hispanics across the country.
“My heritage is everything to me,” he said. “It is what I am and has shaped me into what I represent. It is what motivates me to continue to be a good example for my people and people who look up to me.”
Despite the chaos of late Friday afternoon New York City traffic, Rodriguez arrived at the skatepark with very little fanfare. His session was part of an event put together by one of his sponsors, the cellphone company Cricket Wireless, during the week of the SLS championship, which was held in Newark, N.J., at the end of August.
Rodriguez would finish in 6th place behind the winner, 19-year-old phenom Nyjah Huston. But that didn’t matter to those at the skatepark.
Between kickflips, ollies and grinds, Rodriguez made time to take a breather and talk with his fans - a routine he has repeated endless times.
“It’s so cool that he’s here,” Pablo Quezada, 16, said.
When he and his 13-year-old brother Pedro were asked who their favorite skateboarder was, they answered as one: “Paul, of course.”
“No matter your background or where you come from, if you meet other skaters you automatically bond with them,” Rodriguez told FNL. “It’s an amazing thing. That sense of connection is priceless, especially at a young age, when you’re just figuring out who you are.”
He added that one of the things he most enjoyed about going to skateboarding meccas across the country such as LES Coleman was that, “I like to involve myself in things that I am passionate about and believe will also, in general, inspire the youth to achieve to pursue their own goals and dreams.”