There are skateboarders, and then there are bodybuilders — two niche worlds that don’t often overlap. And even though strength, fitness and nutrition have the potential to improve a skater’s abilities, most steer clear.

For those that grew up in the 1980s and owned a skateboard, the name Bill Tocco should sound familiar. Tocco — of Gordon & Smith, Gullwing, Hosoi, and Airwalk fame — made his living as a professional skateboarder in the mid-to-late 1980’s. But he did so in a pretty unconventional way. He didn’t just spend his time skating around different ramps. He also focused on nutrition and strength training to improve his career. In fact, he was once sponsored by Gold’s Gym Venice and was teammates with bodybuilding legend Gary Strydom.

Though his professional skating career officially began in 1987, he really started skating about 12 years before, when he was under 10 years old.

“I started skating because my parents owned a restaurant and I would hang out there,” Tocco said. “Some of the busboys would skate outside and I gave it a try. I had pretty good balance. And they would say ‘you’re pretty good.’”

Before turning pro, Tocco spent a lot of his time skating at Endless Summer Skate Park in Roseville, Mich. There, other skaters who had turned pro or were close to turning pro surrounded him. That experience provided him with the motivation to really make a career in skating.

bill tocco

“If I didn’t learn a trick they would just be like ‘we’re going to throw you in the deep end of the pool.’ So it was good motivation to learn,” he said.  But it wasn’t a new trick or other huge skating related revelation that led to Tocco turning pro. According to him, it was actually a job that he applied for and didn’t get.

“Since my parents had a restaurant and I had worked there, I thought it would be pretty easy to get a job working at Pizza Hut. But they never even called me back,” he said. “I thought ‘now that I can’t even get a job at Pizza Hut, screw it. I’m just going to go for it and turn pro.’ After that rejection, I won every contest I entered in 1987.”

Tocco left high school early and basically spent his time travelling to different skate parks to practice and get ready before different contests. He and the friends he travelled with would just drive around and sleep in their cars, outside, or wherever else they could find. And often they would drive hours, or even days, to skate with other top amateurs or pros. For one regional contest held in Texas in 1987, he actually found himself sleeping amongst some unlikely companions. Being from Michigan, he had thought that sleeping outdoors in Texas would be easy. But in the middle of the night in the winter months, it wasn’t exactly comfortable. And since the competition was being held on a skate ramp surrounded by nothing but an open field, he took refuge in the only building available.

“They had this house there it was called the ‘Goat House,’ and there were actually a couple of goats that lived in there. So after a couple of days I was like ‘I bet you it’s got to be warmer in there than sleeping in the fucking car.’ So, I slept in there next to the goats,” he said. Tocco ended up winning that contest, as well as the finals that were held in Phoenix a few months after. 

Strength and Conditioning —The Secret Weapon

Tocco fully acknowledges that he wasn’t the most talented skater at either contest. But he won anyway, thanks to a few key factors. First, Tocco said he basically had to trick his mind into believing that he could and would win. He had read a book called The Right Brain Actor, which talked about convincing the subconscious mind. Tocco said that it helped him basically become a salesman that sold his subconscious on his own talent and ability to win.

The second factor was his fitness and nutrition. Tocco also had read another book around this time that talked about the power of eating clean. And since that day he hasn’t eaten fast food or similar junk. He had a hunch that the change would help improve his skating and he turned out to be right. He also spent a lot of time doing strength and conditioning work —something that wasn’t very well respected in the skating world.

skateboard bill tocco

“In skateboarding it was very, very, very closed-minded, to where you skate, and to get better you skate more. Even if I told someone  ‘rub this coin on your forehead ten times and that would make you better', it wasn’t allowed.’”

But Tocco followed his instincts anyway. While staying in Texas and near various skate parks around the country he would take his watch and just run for a set period of time in one direction, then turn around and head back. This type of activity helped his endurance, which was particularly helpful for jam style contests in skating. But it definitely didn’t help him win any popularity contests in the skating community.

“I decided that I was just going to do what I wanted even if everybody hated me. So, I thought it was actually pretty cool to be just very outside of the box.”

Of course, his nutrition and training wasn’t just a way to be different. He wanted, and needed, to use those things to improve his skating if he wanted to win.

“My whole mindset was,  ‘okay there’s so many guys that have way more talent than me, but how can I out work them?’"

That hard work paid off, and Tocco found quite a bit of success in skating — winning contests, being featured in magazines, on merchandise, and going to all kinds of parties and events with the Hollywood elite. He appeared in a PSA against gang violence with a number of child actors including David Faustino of “Married… with Children” fame, and photos of him at parties appeared in magazines such as Teen Beat.  He even came close to appearing in a magazine photo shoot with Alyssa Milano… had it not been for a misspelling by Tocco’s manager that apparently angered Milano’s mom and forced her to cancel.


Bodybuilding — A Newfound Love

Eventually, Tocco's skating career led to an injury in his knee. While rehabbing, he lived in a hotel in Venice, California, and trained at his sponsor’s facility — The Gold’s Gym.  From bodybuilders like Shawn Ray and Aaron Baker to stars like Iggy Pop and Charlie Sheen, he always found himself among the famous.  It was also there that Tocco got even more into training and eventually decided to focus his efforts full-time at bodybuilding. He still hadn’t eaten junk food since he read that nutrition book while skating in his first year as a pro and his first bodybuilding competition was The Western Michigan in November 1992. He competed in the light heavyweight division, weighing just around 180 pounds. But after that first show, he was driven to add as much muscle as possible. At his heaviest, Tocco estimates he weighed close to 250 pounds.

During this time, he still skated, but only intermittently.  Around 2012, he met Shelby Starnes, his nutrition and diet coach. The two had both heard of each other because of their accomplishments in their respective fields, but hadn’t officially met before that point. With Starnes’s help, he was able to put on more muscle at an advanced age than he ever thought possible.

“I shook Shelby’s hand and instantly gained 20 pounds,” Tocco joked.  “I first found him from his articles online and his log at I’ve religiously followed the site for years and love Josh Bryant’s content, as well all the other free articles and information provides. It’s been invaluable to me.”

RELATED Matt McGorry: A Man of Many Roles

“It’s been a really good mesh,” he said of Starnes. “We get along really well and have a lot of things in common. I really like the way he handles his nutrition and I like training with him even more — he’s got guts.”

Today, Tocco works in sales at a waste management company in Utica, Michigan. He trains regularly and sometimes works with fitness and nutrition clients on the side. He still credits much of the success he had in his skating career to his choice to do something different and focus on his nutrition and fitness.

“People that don’t understand something fear it,” he said. “And they’d rather just fit in with everybody and not make waves and be liked. I didn’t really care. I felt like I didn’t normally go with the inertia of popular sentiment. I go with what I want to do.”

Flash News: Bill Tocco competes on June 6th, 2015 at the Michigan State Championships and wins the master's class and takes second in the open light heavyweights.

bill mr. mich