Hes Frickin Tony Hawk!

Skatings poster boy comes in for a soft landing

"I haven't won the finals in a long time," says Tony Hawk, tired and catching his breath after his final run at the Oct. 1-3 Vans World Championships of Skateboarding at Huntington State Beach. "I'm not having as much fun competing. I think I'm done."

Not quite done. A moment later, he slides down the vert ramp to the Van Doren family to collect a fat first-place check for $15,000.

Most guys in their 30s are shopping at Home Depot, mowing the lawn, and shuttling the kids to and from soccer games. Not the 31-year-old Hawk, who has made skateboarding the focus of his life for the past 17 years. While Hawk was tearing up his final run—busting 720s and 540s over the channel for a crowd of enthusiastic skate fans—his more arthritic contemporaries had just finished the Masters Competition. Not a lot has changed for them. They are grown men with grown men's concerns—except they're more likely to miss work on Monday because of a broken arm. Mike Smith was carried out of the bottom of the 65-foot "soul bowl" through the Plexiglas portal, but he still walked away with third place. Along with Smith, the Masters Competition paid homage to some of the pioneers of the sport, including Steve Caballero (who walked away with first place honors), Jeff Grosso (second place), Lance Mountain and Mike Folmer. Except for Caballero (who still skates professionally), they work on the industry side of things or in less glamorous pursuits like laying hardwood flooring and cleaning carpets.

"I'm a weekend warrior now," explains Grosso, who walked away with some Home Depot spending cash. "It's nice to get a pat on the back. I just skate to keep my sanity. My career is pretty much over, but it's nice to still be skating with the same guys from 10 and 15 years ago. Watching what the younger guys can do is amazing."

What's even more amazing is that Hawk—ripe enough for the Masters competition—still competes with younger skaters. But it's getting harder. And he has companies to run. He owns 50 percent of Birdhouse, the second largest skateboard and apparel company in the world (annual sales exceed $10 million), and Hawk Kids, a new clothing company he co-owns with his family.

He could feed his family for life by marketing his name and image alone. He's frickin' Tony Hawk. He has already pulled the loop: two-and-half rotations in succession in midair, a.k.a. the 900, the kind of classic maneuver that landed him not in the hospital but in one of Annie Liebowitz's milk ads and a Gap commercial. His Birdhouse skate movie, The End—a kind of MTV music video meets feature film—was last year's highest selling skate video. He has a Sony PlayStation game with his name and image as the selling point. Skaters like to say that Michael Jordan is the Tony Hawk of the basketball world. And now he's the champ again.

In a recent Transworld Skateboarding interview, Hawk said he'd like to spend more time with his family, as well as exit the sport on top—his goal, he said, was "to not live off a previous reputation." He doesn't need to. He's made a smooth transition into Tony Hawk, businessman.

I met with Hawk over lunch to chat about his new life.

OC Weekly:When I talked to you at the Vans Triple Crown right before they announced the winners, you hinted that you would retire. Are you? Tony Hawk:Yes. I'm going to keep skating; I just don't want to keep competing. It's not really as fun anymore. Chasing these events just for the sake of placing well and being seen—I just don't want to do that anymore. It's getting harder to get motivated for contests. Compared to most professional athlete's careers, yours has been long at 17 years.

In most other sports, it's hard to make a living if you don't compete, but with skating, there's plenty who don't. Some of the most popular skaters, like Chad Muska, Jamie Thomas, those guys never enter contests. That's what I want to do—skate demos and try to be progressive but without going to so many events.

It has to be hard when people expect you to win every time.

Even if you skate well and finish second, you've lost. That's not really what it's about. I'm skating at an MTV thing next weekend in Vegas. They're building a gigantic ramp—way bigger than anything else—to set the height world record.

Are they trying to break Danny Way's record?

Well, everyone knows he has it, but it wasn't on tape. But Danny's going to be there. Now's his chance to set the record officially. They're going to have highest air and best trick. I was invited to participate in both. I'd rather be doing stuff like that than competing. I don't see it as a contest, but more like seeing what all the guys can do. As far as X Games and all that, I'm finished.

Are you tired of being in the spotlight?

In a lot of ways, yeah, but I'm also getting tired of the hectic schedule. I do get a lot of opportunities to do other things besides the contests within the same time frame. And I'd rather do some of the things that I've held off on.

How many contests have you competed in this year?

Last year, 10; this year, maybe 7 or 8. The busiest year was 1997: I was doing all kinds of things—every weekend. I went to Europe four or five times over the summer; only two of them were competitions. There's so much else I can do. I'd liken it to ice skaters when they retire from competition: they can still tour and do showcases.

You're clean-cut compared with many old-school skaters who are much more rough around the edges—not exactly poster boys for parents looking for role models. You've helped to legitimize the sport for people who have not yet been exposed to skateboarding.

I think if the interest is there, the skating will always be progressive. The guys that are skating right now are pushing it more than ever. I don't worry about people losing interest.

There's much more parental support from today's parents. At most skate parks—community or the big ones like Vans—you see many parents sitting and watching, taking their kids to skate like any soccer parent would.

That shows the growing acceptance and people's views on it—how they perceive it. They see it on TV. The guys that are doing it competitively are a good bunch of guys: they care about the sport; they're not in it for the money.

It seems like there has been a big shift in the sport since the 1980s and early 1990s, when there was still much more of an outlaw, us-against-society type of mentality. The ads that used to run with ways to kill yourself are a good example. There was such an attempt to shock people. Now, there's a much more positive vibe throughout the industry.

It's still unorthodox as far as legitimate sports are concerned. No other sport would let you keep trying something over and over until you get it right after your run is finished because people want to see it. In that respect, that's what I've always loved about it. It's not cut and dry with a strict regimen. So, it's still a little rough around the edges, but at the same time, it's athletic. Kids dig it. They like that they can do it at their own pace. That's why I didn't want to play baseball or basketball. I quit the Little League team and started skating, even though no one else was [laughs].

Many people have not and still don't recognize skateboarding as a legitimate show of athleticism. But it is so technical, not to mention dangerous. It seems like lately, though, with the increase in exposure, people who know nothing about skateboarding are able to watch you pull the 900 and be amazed. They can appreciate how much ability it takes.

Kids that they see out on the streets are just starting. The pros are all in their 20s. So there's somewhat of a misconception. But it shows that it can be done at a variety of ages, and that age limit is being pushed farther and farther.

What do you think of the advances in production of skate contests ?

As far as the big contests like the Gravity Games and X Games, I feel like the amount of prize money doesn't truly reflect what it's worth for them to have us there. Gravity Games was pumping up the fact that it was the biggest prize money ever—the prize money was $5,000 more than the X Games for first place, which was $18,000. On the grand scale of things, that whole thing was a major sporting event on NBC. In comparison with other sporting events, like those on major networks, the first-place money would be more like six figures. But the standard was set so long ago.

Yeah, compared to the $400 you won in 1982, that's a lot.

Yeah, and it's a good living. I'm not complaining about that. But at the same time, for the amount of interest they get in it, they could be paying more.

When you think of what advertisers alone are paying to tap into this huge market, the people skating and actually bringing in those advertising dollars aren't getting anywhere near that. It seems kind of condescending.

If you look at surfing, that sport has had big sponsors all throughout the '80s. And I don't think surfing is nearly as popular as skateboarding, but their prize money is way better because they've had sponsors for a while—like Chrysler and OP—at all these giant events. They don't even realize it's not as popular as skating. But it's because they know they can push us aside.

What do you see happening in skating in the next 10 years?

I don't know about the growth being as rapid as it has been. But I think it's here to stay. It will still keep growing in popularity. The foundation is set.

Do you think the sport has become too saturated with pros?

There're not too many newcomers right now. There definitely has been in the past. Someone starting right now has to be really good to get a company's attention.

There used to be just a few big companies; then there was an influx of skaters starting their own companies.

There are fewer companies again, which gives the main companies more of an identity instead of a sea of little ones. It's finally getting back to where it was after 10 years.

Are you surprised by your longevity?

Not really. When I started Birdhouse, I thought that was going to be the end. I didn't plan on competing after that. But I kept skating. I couldn't stop. I kept learning stuff. So I figured I might as well keep competing if I'm still improving.

How much does your growing family contribute to your decision to retire?

I do actually balance my schedule and turn things down to be with my family. And I'm able to take them with me a lot. I've taken [his 6-year-old son] Riley to Japan, Australia and other places. If I have the opportunity to travel and expose him to other cultures, I take advantage of that. But I get heat from the school district. He's so good, though, and he loves to see everything.

Does he understand who his dad is?

Yes, the kids at his school know—especially the older kids. But we try to keep it low-key.

You must be pretty happy that he picked up a skateboard.

Yeah, he loves it. He's pretty good. He's surfing now, too.

How does your wife deal with your hectic career?

It depends on what day you ask her. We can always find normalcy in our life, just on a different scale. When we look at the things we're doing as a family, it's pretty ridiculous compared with what other families are doing. But at the same time, that's what we do, so it's normal to us. Like spending this weekend at Club Med: they paid for my whole family to go to Club Med so I could talk to them about possibly teaching people how to skate while they're on vacation. How else would I be able to take all-expenses-paid trips with my family to Germany and France? I mean, I won't be doing this forever, so we might as well be taking advantage of it now. It's getting harder because we have a newborn. My wife doesn't want to travel overseas with him. Friday when I was leaving for Club Med, I got a call about going to Rio, Brazil, over Thanksgiving. But we can't take the baby, which means my wife can't go, and it's the holidays. It's hard to prioritize. I've only been to Brazil once, and I had food poisoning the whole time. It was probably the worst trip of my life. Everyone keeps telling me they have the best skate parks. I finally get an offer to go again. Plus, Bob Burnquist might be going.

Speaking of Bob Burnquist, who do you see stepping in and filling your shoes at the vert competitions?

The guys that will always be consistent are guys like Andy [MacDonald] and Bucky [Lasek]. And Colin [MacKay] has been really coming on strong. He has all the stuff wired. Even though he's not doing a run that's jam-packed with a lot, the stuff he does pull off is so technical. Judges mark down for setting up, but he's great. And Bob is great when he's on.

If you could start your career over, would you rather start now when skating is more accepted and the tricks are much more advanced?

No, I'm glad to have been a part of it when the sport was evolving. I think what helped me progress was that I grew up at a time when there weren't so many people doing it. I had to search out people to skate with and pave my own way. Being so determined helped me.

High school was a joke for me. The only girls I ever dated were the girls that hung out at the skate park. I always liked that everyone that was into skateboarding was real creative, funny and smart.

What do you think of being voted Least Favorite Skater inBig Brother magazine for the second year in a row? Is it becoming popular to dislike Tony Hawk?

I think it's hilarious. The bottom line is that whatever I choose to do is skate-oriented. In that respect, I don't support things that aren't something I would stand behind. Like Club Med, that's pretty ambiguous, but it's a nice place. I'm not going to support something like Motel 6—not that there's anything wrong with Motel 6—but I'm not going to be its spokesperson. I like what Club Med is offering.

So, I'm willing to take the heat for stuff like that. I would never want to be out there living on what I had accomplished; I want to always keep pushing it and improving. If I felt like I was just going through the motions so that people knew my name, then I wouldn't feel good about it. Last year, I was voted No. 2 favorite skater and the No. 1 least favorite skater.

And in this year's issue, Birdhouse's video The End was voted favorite skate video.

Yeah, I think that as far as Big Brotherreaders go, I'm the one they're supposed to hate. They don't even know why; they just know that they have to target me because I'm on the X Games. But I love what they do. It's funny because when I hooked up with MTV's Tom Greene last week to film another show, I was telling him about some of the antics in Big Brother's video Boob, like when Johnny Knoxville orders eggs and sausage and puts poop on the plate and returns it to the waitress. She freaks out. There's another shot of him standing in the street, and he purposely gets hit by a car over and over. He's crazy. Tom thought it was funny and asked about getting those guys to write for his show.

They're good satirists. They're entertaining. And I'm sure it helps to have Larry Flynt behind them.

Actually, there's a certain age group that he's trying to reach that he can't with his other magazines. [Big Brother editor] Dave Carnie told me that Flynt turns them down all the time when they try to push the envelope. They used to run full nudity before Flynt bought them.

How surprised were you by the success ofThe End?

We expected it to do well. It was hard to make because we were so all over the place. I had a lot of ideas and wanted to do a lot of stuff creatively that we couldn't do. Some stuff was just too gnarly. We went back and forth with what we wanted to do. We were going to make a G-rated version and another version, but it was just too much effort. We toned it down a little bit, but there was a point when we had to say, 'Look, this isn't for little kids.' Our team is so creative that it's hard to tell them no. Especially Jeremy [Klein]. Half the time, they wouldn't even tell us what they were going to do. We would have told them they couldn't jump off the pier on fire. But they had already done it. We had the footage. There was stuff they did that didn't make it to the movie that was crazy.

One thing that made it was Steve Berra getting decapitated. If that made it, what didn't?

Ireally can't talk about that. They did some damage.

What would you have done if you hadn't been able to make a career out of skateboarding.?

Man, I probably would have ended up being a computer geek. That's what I do in my spare time. I love working on the Web site—it's like mine and my friends' lemonade stand. I can't imagine having a regular job.

What do you see yourself doing now besides skating at shows and demos?

I'm going to work more with the team. I'm trying to keep some community within our team. Everyone lives all over, which is okay, but I would still like to see the group get to hang out more together. I would like to set up a tour. I'm working on that. There's the Web site. And I always have little projects I do. Plus, the video game.

Now that you've done the 900, how do you top that?

There're some tricks that I've wanted to pursue, but nothing I'm going to kill myself over. There's a point you reach when you have to say to yourself that I'm going to put it down and deal with the consequences, or wake up in the hospital if I don't make it. There've only been three times that I've really stuck it. One time, I cracked my rib. Another time, I wrecked my back. And there've been a few knockouts. It's a rite of passage. I used to take the risks a lot lighter. That's how I lost my front teeth; I've knocked them out four times.

Check out Tony Hawk's Birdhouse Web site at www.b-house.com.
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