The late bloomer
The late bloomer
When he was young, other kids called Tony Hawk a 'circus skater.' Today, at age 48, he's still trying new tricks.

Age: 48 | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 171 lb.

Hardware: Nine-time X Games gold medallist; first to complete a documented 900 (2.5-revolution aerial spin); first skateboarder to have a video game named after him

Have you been cool your whole life?
No, not at all. [Laughs.] I struggled as a kid in sports. Even when I skated, my style of skating was not considered progressive. I was so little that I was focused on tricks as opposed to flow and style and aerial manoeuvres, because I didn’t have the bulk to get the big air. People called me a circus skater. I was weird—it was more like I was doing baton-twirling. I was an outcast in an outcast activity. So it was, uh… very isolating. [Laughs.]

I can’t believe it. When did you grow?
Late. I was 16, 17. By then, I was getting more respect for the tricks I was creating, and then I got the height and the power. I was doing more impressive aerials, and that’s when everything clicked.

You became cool at 16.
In some people’s eyes, yeah. I only felt cool when I was on The Simpsons, to be honest.

The highest honour. What’s the most amazing place you’ve ever skated?
The White House. I went for a Father’s Day event with a bunch of prominent celebrities, actors, newscasters—people who are all fathers. I brought my skateboard only because if I don’t bring it with me when I go to things like that, people ask me where it is. I found myself walking through the hallway of the White House holding my skateboard with an escort. I just set my board down and shot a photo. It was very spontaneous. I couldn’t ask permission, because obviously my escort couldn’t be responsible for that.

You didn’t even clear it with Obama first? Amazing.
No, I think he found out after. And I think there was a faction of conservatives who thought somehow that was a disgrace to our country’s forefathers. But I was celebrating what got me there and why I was there. I would do it again.

“I was weird—an outcast in an outcast activity.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever jumped over? An animal?
[Laughs.] No, that would be straight-up circus. I did jump between two seven-storey buildings in downtown L.A. It was about 20 feet across. No net.
Does it ever strike you that what you’re doing is insane?
I wanted to do that [jump] for a long time. It wasn’t something that I thought: “I shouldn’t have done that.” But the scenario was less than ideal because it had just rained. We got a break in the rain and they started scrambling to dry [the ramp] as fast as they could. That sense of urgency was scary to me. And I’m not kidding, when I got across, they stuck a camera in my face and it started pouring, like that. [Hawk snaps his fingers.] Yeah, timing.

What’s the next stunt you’re dreaming up?
I have an idea that would involve a car. I would come out of a bowl or ramp and land on the car as it’s driving, and it would drive me to another area and I’d come back in [another bowl].

How do you come up with this stuff?
I think of what would be fun and what would be unique. Especially in skating, you’ve got to keep challenging yourself and coming up with new stunts if you’re going to get noticed or be relevant. I’ve always been able to do that. I feel like that’s the reason I’m still here.

What was the first big trick you ever landed?
It doesn’t seem big by today’s standards, but the first professional trick I ever did was called a frontside rock, which is basically rock on top of the pool, and you come in turning an unnatural direction. There was only one other guy who did that. He was a pro skater who created the trick, and I was this unknown amateur and I could do it. It actually ended up moving me up the competition classes, because they were like, “Well, he can do a frontside rock, he shouldn’t be in the beginning division.” But I didn’t have any other tricks. [Laughs.] I was 11.

I hear you were a hyperactive kid.
My mom likes to say I was determined. I think I was difficult. I was very active but I was really scrawny. When I would play team sports, I didn’t excel very much. But I wasn’t afraid to try anything in that sense, to get in the mix and get hurt sometimes. When I found skateboarding, it really felt like something that was as artistic as it was athletic, and I felt like I found my voice in it.

At what point did you realize you could make it a career?
We were one of the first generations of people who actually did make a living at it. In my later years of high school, 11th and 12th grade, I was actually making pretty decent money and realized that all my classmates were trying to figure out what they were going to do for a living, where they were going to go for college, and I was already making more than my teachers.

You owned a house back then.
Yeah, in my senior year. It made it challenging to get to school on time. It was fairly modest for a house but it was my own. It was a duplex, and I had some roommates who were about the same age, which didn’t help. But I learned a lot of responsibility—and I graduated.

Most wouldn’t have.
It was the default party house.

Did you cut class to skateboard?
I created my own independent-study PE. There was this loophole in the high school system where I lived that if you had an activity that was unique and you could prove that you did it for so many hours a week and you created your own curriculum—I actually had to write a course description—it counted. And so I created skateboarding as a curriculum. I would get out of school one class early.

Do you still skate every day?
Yeah, pretty much. At least 10 hours a week.

Do you dream about skateboarding?

Are you better in your dreams than in real life?
[Laughs.] I’m better at thinking of new tricks in my dreams. Sometimes I remember them, too. Sometimes it’s dangerous. Then I go out and think it’s gonna work like it did in my dream, and it doesn’t.

Do you feel like a grown-up?
Only when I see my grown children. [Laughs.] [Hawk has four children; his eldest, Riley, is 23.] I definitely feel young at heart in terms of my chosen profession, and I can relate to kids on that level much more than most adults. But today I woke up, got the kids to school, helped them with homework. That felt adult-like.

You also have a new clothing line out at Walmart. If you’re not cool, will these clothes bring you to that level?

[Laughs.] I wouldn’t want to make such grandiose claims, but it would help your aesthetics for sure. When we first started Hawk Clothing, we started because my siblings and I all had kids, and we couldn’t find what we considered cool clothes for them. Especially then, it was all OshKosh B’Gosh, like you were dressing up little dolls. We wanted something more fitting from our world. I believe it represents our culture well and I’m really proud to have it at a level where people can afford it.

Life has changed a lot since you were on a $5-a-day Taco Bell diet.
In the early ’90s, yeah. It didn’t seem like such a struggle because I was still able to skate. I was doing anything to continue skating for a living, even if that meant cutting back on all my expenses. It was such a formative time—skating was going through all kinds of changes, and a lot of companies and pro skaters were falling by the wayside because of finances. But it taught me that I truly loved it so much that I was going to sacrifice my own financial security to keep doing it. It was tricky because I’d just had my first son. Whenever I had an opportunity to do paid exhibitions I would take him with me because I couldn’t afford childcare, and his mom was working. I took him on trips to Japan, to Europe for weeks at a time. He was pretty young. He ended up learning how to skate, obviously. But that was the most challenging thing, having a family and being that financially strapped. We were eating Taco Bell quite a bit.

What was it like the first time you landed a 900?
It had been an idea for many years. The first time I ever did a 720, which is a double spin, was in 1985. And when I did that, obviously my first thought was, “Well, what’s next? A 900.” I didn’t end up trying it until a few years later, and I really couldn’t figure out how to adjust my body as I came around the last turn. Essentially, I was trying that trick for about 10 years on and off, prior to the X Games [in 1999]. And I had broken a rib and thrown out my back. When I started trying it that day, it was during the Best Trick event, and the only thing I had planned was a variation on the 720, which I did pretty early in the competition. I thought, well, I’ll try some 900s—more for the crowd. And it just started coming together. I can’t explain it. As I was skating in and coming around I finally figured out—literally, in those moments—how to adjust my body to do the landing properly. I was getting closer and closer, and I think it was more because in that venue and in that time I just didn’t care about getting hurt. And every other time I was trying it, that was always in the back of my mind, like, this could take you out for sure. And it was like, well, if I’m gonna get taken out, this is the place to do it.

Landing it must have been the best.
It was a huge relief. I honestly thought: “I finally did this, I don’t care if I ever do it again.”

“I don't want to be out there playing the hits. That would feel like I'm cheating people.”

You recently tried to skateboard in a downward spiral loop. Why, Tony, why?
Well, I had done a loop ramp, which is actually a vertical loop, like a Hot Wheels track. That was my inspiration for the original one. It seemed like that would be possible to do on a sideways plane, given the right amount of speed—you’d have to stick to the wall all the way, and I figured it’d be one to try. To be honest, I thought it would be safer than the other type of loop, because you’re not falling from 15 feet up straight to the ground. But then again, I was falling with a lot of force. It’s a different type of danger. I didn’t think it’d be so difficult.

People get pretty star-struck when they meet you. Have any famous people gotten over-the-top excited about meeting you?
You know what? Charlize Theron. I was having dinner. She left her table and came over to our table to tell me she was a fan. That was a moment when I was frozen.

Did you pull out your skateboard and do a 900?
Yeah, right on the table.

What was the worst fall of your career so far?
I broke my pelvis about 12 years ago. I was doing a full loop ramp and misjudged the one I was on. I fell from the top. There’s not a whole lot you can do when you break your pelvis except sit around and wait.

And play a lot of your own video games. Are you good at your game?
I’m good. I can finish it without cheating.

What’s the best part of being the most famous skateboarder on the planet?
Travelling the world at other people’s expense.

Do you fly around in jets?

I have, yeah. It’s surreal.

You probably don’t even have to clear customs.
Yeah, you do. You’re still a citizen. [Laughs.] I don’t get to do that very often. Don’t think that I’m just jet-setting around. That’s a rare occasion.

When were you at the height of your fame, do you think?
To be honest, every time I think that moment has passed, something else surprises me. So I don’t know. [San Diego city council] honoured a Tony Hawk Day last year.

You have lots of things named after you. Roller coasters, clothes, skateboards. Any Tony Hawk ice cream?
[Laughs.] I do not have ice cream, no. I was offered that in New York once, though. I’ve gotten offers for cologne and chocolates and cereal. Some of it’s just too odd—vitamins. Skateboard-shaped vitamins.

Those sound great. You’re 48 and still going strong. Any signs of slowing down?
I still can do pretty much all my tricks that I’ve ever done, so I don’t feel like I’m just going through the motions. If I didn’t feel like I was progressing, I wouldn’t want to do it in public, and I couldn’t justify being a pro. I don’t want to be out there playing the hits, if that makes sense. That would feel like I’m cheating people. So if I get to that point, which I will, obviously—I mean, I can’t stop aging—I’ll probably choose to do it more in private. It’s not like I’ll quit skating, I just won’t be out in the public doing it.

Will you be skating when you’re 92?
If I can stand up, sure. It’d be better than a walker.

Photo Credits

Photography by Mark Zibert