By Nathan Storey
The most famous skater in the world is 40 years old and he just welcomed his fourth child. He’s been retired from competition skateboarding for nine years. It’s easy to imagine that at this point Tony Hawk would have faded into the abyss, hardly seen and rarely heard from. Yet, his presence has never been more known. Since he ﬁrst stepped on a skateboard 32 years ago, Hawk has risen from obscurity to illustriousness, crossing over from skater hooligan to business mogul. Many consider him to be the greatest skater alive. But for Hawk, he’s still that same kid that fell in love with skating three decades ago. And with age, comes wisdom, and new motives for his involvement with the sport. His focus is no longer aimed at winning competitions but rather on raising money for his namesake foundation to help kids.
Today, a typical event for Hawk is much different than it once was. Sure, he still skates and puts on shows as part of his campaign to raise money, but this time, it isn’t about awards or accolades. With his traveling tribe of BMXers and motocross daredevils, The Tony Hawk Foundation’s Stand up for Skateparks beneﬁ ts have raised over $2.3 million and awarded it to 390 communities in 47 states. And this August, he’s bringing his star-studded act to the Hamptons.
Hawk’s own success story is the driving force behind his buzzing passion to deliver skateparks for those who have no access. “I got lucky in that I lived by one of the last remaining skateparks in the US. It was my home away from home,” Hawk said. “It’s where I shared ideas, it was my sanctuary, it was an eclectic group but we all identiﬁ ed with each other on the level of skating.” Now he’s work-ing to bring that to kids across America.
Thus is the modern-day life of Tony Hawk, dynamic skateboarder turned philanthropist. It would be frivolous to dismiss Hawk as a skater dude, relevant only because of his freakish aerial talents. Hawk is venerated in the world of ramp skating for his ridiculous stunts (he was the ﬁ rst ever to land
a 900, two-and-one-half rotations in midair) and has a seemingly endless arsenal of tricks, many of which the pioneer invented himself. But Hawk has catapulted past the typical skater ethos to create a global brand — encompassing everything from cell phones to video games to Birdman-branded T-shirts — bringing fame and fortune along with him while using his celebrity to help the greater good. In his mind, that means helping kids experience the very thing that started as a pipedream but propelled a dynamic career and inspired a young Hawk to feel comfortable in his own skin.
Hawk stood with one foot on his board, one on the platform, his eyes gazing down at the halfpipe before him with a laser determination. The unruly crowd pumping their arms towards the heavens seemed to want it as bad as he did. The place was shaking with anticipation.
Ten times Hawk had tried to reach im-mortality by landing the elusive 900, never seen before in the world of skating. Ten times Hawk had biffed, thwacking himself on the hard-as-rock ramp. The other skaters in the “Best Trick” competition at the 1999 X Games had halted their campaigns in order to join the crowd in willing Hawk along in his pursuit of history.
“The Birdman” knew he had to ﬂy. Sparkling lights glittered down from above and his competitors smacked their boards in unison against the wood of the halfpipe for encouragement, setting the stage as Hawk vaulted into the pipe. He pumped into the air with a slight grab to maximize his sheer velocity before zipping back down the incline. On the other side, he pumped again building more speed. He shot up the ﬁrst side one more time and threw an epic spin, two-and-one-half rotations, and landed on balance with his left ﬁnger tips gliding across the ramp behind him. His right hand shot up in triumph as the crowd at Pier 30 in San Francisco erupted in celebration. Hawk had snatched skateboarding’s Holy Grail by spinning an unheard-of 900 and cemented his status as skateboarding’s best atmospheric artist ever. Standing before a sea of fans — both arms raised in jubilation and a look of disbelief draped over his face — Hawk knew he and skating had reached a pinnacle only imagined.
The seed that sprouted skateboarding’s greatest champion grew from the concrete in San Diego. It wasn’t a straight shot to stardom though. Hawk grew up during the transition from the laissez-fair approach of the ’70s to the get-serious act of the ’80s. This desk job mentality didn’t sit well with Hawk’s freestyle way of life. A well-documented distaste for the nine-to-ﬁ ve ofﬁ ce job led him to view skating as a viable option to sufﬁce his ﬁnancial needs while fulﬁlling his passion simultaneously. He didn’t look to skating as a career from the get-go, however. As a self-described frustrated and unfocused youngster with a propensity to dabble in off-brand sports such as BMX biking, Hawk found a cure-all for his angst the minute he stepped on a board. The adrenaline rush provided by death-defying tricks fueled his motor. The freedom to do it his way and the creative-ness of trick design lent him his own voice. Tony Hawk on his ﬁrst skateboard.
After high school, Hawk got a small taste of the uncharted success he’d later ﬁ nd but couldn’t digest the whole thing. A brief ﬂirtation with fame was short-lived and reality smacked him in the face as he found himself requesting a loan from his parents. “Out of high school, that was sort of my ﬁ rst taste of success and it was pretty short-lived. I don’t want to say it fell apart but I deﬁ nitely went through some lean times in the early ’90s when skating was very underground and very much not accepted.” A surfer brother and a rock band sister provided his parents with the stomach needed to grasp Hawk’s unconventional aspirations. With the money, Hawk bought a video editing suite and put together promo videos for skate companies.
To say his endeavor wasn’t lucrative would be understatement and the work didn’t sit well with Hawk either. “I don’t wanna say I hated it but I wasn’t cut out to just sit in front of a screen all day long and do that kind of thing.” That’s when he looked back to skating.
By the early ’90s, skateboarding was eschewed as an abrasive sub-culture of punks and nomads. Skateboarding began its ascension to ESPN spotlight and video game behemoth with the ﬁrst X games, a rebellious stepbrother to the Olympics, in 1995. It was at the ’99 X Games that Hawk threw the famed 900. As a transitional ﬁ gure and grass-roots ambassador, Hawk became the poster boy of the movement into the mainstream.
legion of casual fans — Hawk did for skating with his aerial mastery of the half pipe. “The recognition factor went way up when it broke through the level of being just a niche sport. That’s when we realized skating actually had a fan base now, that people appreciate skating that don’t necessarily do it,” said Hawk. “I think that was the catalyst for setting up much more.”
Everything up to that point was by skaters for skaters. With the integration of skating into the casual public eye, it became by skaters for a fan base of people that just like to watch on TV, people that don’t even skate.
“That’s when we realized it’s here to stay," recognized Hawk. Oh was it ever. The X Games took off, and Hawk rode the wave of recognition to prominence, padding his pockets and image along the way with a slew of video games, a clothing line and now two raucous Six Flags rollercoasters.
Despite his out-of-this-world fame, Hawk’s ambitions remain simple. With over 13 million skaters in the US and only about 2,500 skateparks, most skateboarders are forced to skate in the streets, parking lots,
and other locations where they’re often not welcome. The dearth of public skateparks clearly agitates Hawk. He says everywhere he goes he sees empty baseball ﬁelds or basketball courts, but the minute a skatepark is opened he sees kids taking to the pavement from the break of dawn to the spring of night.
“I think that a lot of kids are looking for alternative activities besides the just the team ball sports that everyone is supposed to do when they’re young as Americans. Skating has really come into play as one of the activities kids choose and you’ve got to provide facilities for that because otherwise you’re just telling them not to skate on public property but not actually giving them an alternative.”
With a family of his own and as someone who grew up with the cool dad who drove Hawk and his buddies around to skate parks and competitions, he wants the same opportunities afforded, not only to his kids, but to all kids. “Seeing kids growing up now — I’ve run the gamut of age groups, I have a 15-year old, a 9-year old, a 6-year old and now a new-born — I can see the challenges they face and the opportunities that may not be there for them if they choose to do something that’s different,” Hawk said. “But by these days choosing to skate is not something way-out there for a kid. It’s almost mainstream. More kids are skating now than playing little league.”
With the money raised through Stand Up for Skateparks, Hawk hopes to provide the much-needed access. “There’s plenty of support for it [skating] now, we’re just trying to provide it in the places where kids seem to be neglected more.” Raising money to build skateparks may seem like an unconventional way to help kids, but with a heralded career as a pro skater and an appetite for the unorthodox, what does Hawk care about conventionalism anyway?
The Activision Presents Stand Up For Skateparks event will take place from 3:00 pm 7:00 pm at the Ross Lower School
739 Butter Lane
Bridgehampton, New York 11932
Tickets and packages are currently available through the event Web site:
www.standupforskateparks.org, or by contacting C.C. Flashman at email@example.com or 760-477-2479