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The Birdman Cometh: Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk sits down for a candid, one-on-one conversation.

The Birdman Cometh: Tony Hawk

Just the simple thought of having a colloquy with arguably the greatest skater ever can bring some chills down the old spine. Here is a guy who was a member of the legendary Powell Peralta skate team. Who starred in the revolutionary Bones Brigade movies. Who survived two major depressions in skateboarding, and came out on top both times. Who won countless X Games gold medals and continually invented and re-invented tricks that even skaters today respect with pure awe.

And while it’s been years since Tony’s participated in a major competition, he’s still busier than ever. Tony hosts a nation-wide tour called Boom Boom Huckjam that is now showcased at Six Flags locations across the country. The tour, which has been around for years but recently settled at the Six Flags venues, features the top names in skating, BMX and motocross.

And you can’t forget the video game empire. His latest release, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, has been a smash success on the Nintendo Wii and will soon be released on the PS2.

Yet despite all that Tony continues to have going on, he still stays rather humble. He takes care of his family and three sons (including oldest Riley, who just recently finished in the semifinals at the Phoenix AM), and is involved in countless philanthropic activities to help raise money for numerous charities. In fact, you can place the highest bid and win a day at his Southern California compound, with proceeds going to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial.

I caught up with The Birdman himself to pick his brain on everything past, present and future. Arguably the greatest skateboarder of all-time, Tony Hawk with Lat34.

Lat34: I’ve interviewed some pretty crazy people over the years, but today I’ve hit the pinnacle.

Hawk: (Laughing) I’m honored, thank you!

Lat34: Honor’s all mine. Been a fan ever since Bones Brigade and Powell Peralta. Tell me about those days, what was it like being a part of the rebirth of skating after the lull it was going through?

Hawk: It was fun. I saw it come and go twice in my career basically. The second time I saw skating sort of “dying”, we held tight. We had a feeling that it would come back around but even if it didn’t, it didn’t really matter because we were still enjoying it so much.

It was weird to all of a sudden have so much recognition and appreciation for something that we were getting made fun of in high school for. That’s always been a weird thing about skating, especially now. The cool kids in high school now are the skaters. Even California was more cutting edge supposedly than the rest of the country in terms of how they viewed skating, but in my school jocks would pick on me as I was walking to class just to harass me.

Lat34: And now you pay the jocks to wash your car and get you coffee.

Hawk: (Laughing) Yeah, I do get some funny requests though, like “Oh, you gotta come to your high school reunion, we’d be so happy to see you!” Those people didn’t pay any attention to me in high school, at all. Why would I want to go and hang out with them now?

Lat34: Do you surf? I know you were born in San Diego.

Hawk: Yeah, I do. I kind of grew up surfing about as long as I’ve been skating, but never was that serious about it. As soon as the waves started getting really big, I was like, “No thanks, that’s alright.” I’m much more comfortable on a huge ramp. To me, sliding is much more safer than drowning. (Laughing)

Lat34: One of the events that really put you in the pinnacle of mainstream sports were the San Francisco X Games, when you busted out the memorable 900. It was such a spectacle for everyone to see. Rehash that night and the euphoria that followed, did you know you were going to pull it?

Hawk: It was a best trick event, and at that time my best trick was a barrel 720. And that’s all I had in mind. I had landed a barrel seven about half-way through the event, so from there I didn’t know where to go. So I decided to start trying to do some 900′s. I had never made it before, but I figured why not, you know? That’s the next trick I wanted to learn.

So I just started trying it, and started getting really close. My big problem in the past was that I just never committed to it. And then I started committing to it, and decided either I’m going to make this now or get taken away on a stretcher.

Lat34: You took a couple of hard falls. You tried it ten or eleven times, right?

Hawk: It was all such a blur, I was just in the moment. I guess at some point I had run out of time in the event, but it wasn’t about winning the event. It was about making the trick. I didn’t care if all the people had gone home and I was there all alone under the lights trying it. (Laughing)

Lat34: What can we expect from skating now?  Things are continually getting bigger, where is it going to go from here?

Hawk: There’s always going to be new tricks. Being inventive is the cycle of skateboarding. Things are getting bigger, riskier, like the whole mega-ramp movement, things that Bob Burnquist continues to do. People just keep upping the ante. Bigger, higher, longer, even more tech. 

I’ve never seen skateboarding be stagnant before. I think it’s more diverse than ever. Before it was always, “OK, what is the new trick?” Now it’s, “What is the new trick, at 15 feet out? What is the new trick down a triple set of stairs?” I guess it’s just the way things go, and that’s what I’ve always loved about skating. There’s always something new to learn. Doesn’t matter how far you get in the sport, there’s always another thing to attain.

Lat34: Your son Riley skates. How is his skating? Is he following in your footsteps?

Hawk: He is a bit, but he’s kind of scattered. He likes to surf. He likes to ride dirt bikes. He likes to ride BMX. He does all that stuff. When he’s skating, he’s exceptional. He’s doing really tech, hard tricks. It’s just a matter of him being focused on one thing to be honest. He’s a really, really good skater.

Lat34: Or he could be a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted athlete like your friend Shaun White.

Hawk: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s possible too.

Lat34: The video games have been huge. What’s been bigger for you monetary-wise: Your skating, or your video games?

Hawk: My pride always makes me answer my skating, but in terms of recognition, the video game has really outshined everything. I’ve had parents actually say, “I didn’t know you were a real person!” Like I was just some video game character. There’s part of me that wants to just reach out and say, “Hey, I was a pro skater before all this happened!” But it’s great because I’m proud of the video games. I’m proud of how they represent skating. If that’s my path to recognition, then so be it because I’m really proud of them.

Lat34: There’s no doubt in my mind that if you decided to un-retire and come back to competitions, you’d still be number one. Does that thought ever cross your mind?

Hawk: No, I’m happy not competing. (Laughing) I enjoy not having those pressures. To be honest, if I were to go enter a competition, I would be under so much scrutiny, that if I didn’t win and I lost, there would be no gray area. It wouldn’t be fun. It would just be too many people waiting for me to fall.

Lat34: In your honest opinion, are you happy with where skating, and in the broader picture, extreme sports, is at right now? Do you feel like more growth can be and should be attained? Or do you have some old school mentality in you that wants this to stay in the subculture?

Hawk: I think it’s a blast! It’s so much more accessible. It’s viewed in a more positive light, especially in terms of mainstream coverage and parental support. If anything, I think it’s letting the kids who love doing it have opportunities that we didn’t necessarily have growing up. And they can choose something different and know that there is a future in it. They don’t have to consider themselves outcasts and nerds for not choosing to play football or baseball anymore. There are legitimate career opportunities to be had in skateboarding, BMX, motocross. I think it’s amazing because it empowers these kids that want to do something different. 

Lat34: Who is the next great skater? You were the Michael Jordan of skating. Who fills your shoes now, or will become that next great skater?

Hawk: (Laughing) Well, there’s so many different styles of skating. It’s hard to say that one guy encompasses everything. I speak for myself also. I think that there’s a guy skating vert right now named Jean Postec, he’s from France. He’s going to be the next guy on vert because he’s just doing everything. He’s got the spins, he’s got the flips, he’s got the tech, he’s the guy.

As far as street skating goes, I’d say this kid Nyjah Huston, who’s like 12, is better than the majority of every skater.

Lat34: It’s amazing how much younger and how much better the kids are these days.

Hawk: Yeah, well they have these examples to learn from. A lot of the stuff that we were doing, we were trying to invent as we went along. And now they know that the stuff is already possible.

- Cyrus Saatsaz for LAT34.com