Long before social media took bullying for teenagers to a whole new level, Tony Hawkfelt the sting of disapproval from his skateboarding peers.
At the legendary and long-gone Del Mar Skate Ranch, he was a small, skinny kid with the Flock of Seagulls haircut who was making up goofy “circus” tricks that nobody else dreamed of. None of that made him popular or cool.
“In an outcast sport, I was an outcast,” Hawk said. “It was pretty isolating.
“But it made me believe in myself more. I would never advocate for that kind of bullying, but it made me strive to prove them wrong. I sort of hunkered down and forged my own way.”
Fame and a business empire built on skateboarding have shown the native San Diegan chose the right path.
Hawk’s life reflections are coming more into focus this week. On Saturday, the world’s most recognizable skateboarder celebrates his 50th birthday — a milestone that no doubt will leave his fans and peers nostalgic, with a touch of melancholy about the passing of time.
“Maybe I can raise some awareness about being active and old,” Hawk said with a laugh.
“I wasn’t thinking much about it until it started getting closer. People want to make a big deal out of it, so I’ve kind of embraced it.”
Since Hawk doesn’t do anything halfway, he set out on a quest to create a “50 Tricks at 50” video. The maneuvers covered the breadth of his career, and through hundreds of bone-rattling falls, he pulled it off.
“It was a fun idea in the beginning, but in the thick of it, it was a little bit daunting,” said Hawk, who plans to post the video Saturday on YouTube’s RIDE channel.
“For some of the tricks, it was my way of finding closure with them. I wasn’t trying to make it some monumental thing that ‘I’m finished,’ because I’m not. But there were some tricks that were hard back then, and even harder now, and that will be the end of it for me.”
Just three years ago, Hawk had the first-ever downward spiral loop built onto his private ramp — a mini-rollercoaster — and in the video he suffers ugly bloody scrapes and bruises before, of course, nailing the trick in the end. The video got 20 million views.
Hawk’s friends marvel at how he still attacks skating.
“He’s the Energizer Bunny,” said Mike McGill, 54, the Hall-of-Fame skater from Encinitas who has known Hawk since their teens.
“To have that drive, at whatever cost to your body. … He still has a passion for skating. It’s crazy and awesome. It’s inspiring for older skaters, like, ‘If Tony is still doing it, I guess I can, too.’ ”
McGill still skates with Hawk, but notes that, “If he says he’s skating at 10, you better be there then, because if you’re 15 minutes late, you’re probably only going to get five minutes with him.
“He’s very regimented. He probably wants to stay longer, but just like all of us, he has commitments. And his are times 10.”
With three children, ages 9 to 19, still at home in Encinitas, Hawk often has school drop-off duty before heading to his office and warehouse in Vista, where his private halfpipe ramp has been a skating mecca for years.
To skate at Hawk’s place is akin to a baseball fan taking batting practice at Yankee Stadium. It’s hallowed ground, because Hawk is his sport’s Joe DiMaggio or Derek Jeter.
During the 1990s, Hawk went from being a young dad — his son, Riley, was born in 1992 — barely making a living for his family to operating a conglomerate of businesses that pushed his current estimated worth to $140 million.
“I got the most pushback when I was younger,” Hawk said, “because people would ask, ‘You’re still skateboarding? Grow up. Get a job.’ I learned to ignore those comments, and now I feel like it’s more a joke on them if they think that what I do isn’t valid.”
Hawk had won dozens of national skateboard competitions when he struck a deal in 1999 to be the face of a video game, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater,” which would be a staple in the market for two decades.
That pushed his stature to a new level, and in the same year at the X Games, Hawk backed it up by landing the first “900” in history — a trick on the halfpipe in which he spun his 6-foot-3 frame 2½ times before landing successfully. It was a move thought to be impossible at the time.
He called it the “apex of my competitive career.” (Hawk pulled it off, probably for the last time, at the age of 48.)
“I think his vision for tricks was a lot better than the rest of us,” McGill said.
Said Hawk: “There was a constant desire to challenge myself, regardless of the accolades or my standing. In a lot of ways, I was never satisfied with my performance.”
Hawk saw bigger opportunities everywhere. He started a clothing line that was in mainstream retail stores, began an arena and stadium tour, got amusement park rides named after him, and inaugurated a YouTube channel.
He was the early driving force in the popularity of the X Games, at which Hawk won nine gold medals between 1995 and 2002.
And it doesn’t get much bigger in pop culture than to have been a guest star on “The Simpsons,” as Hawk did in 2003. He loses to a cheating Homer in a skate contest, with the champion declaring, “Whoo hoo, I rule this pseudo-sport!”
In McGill’s view, Hawk changed skateboarding because his well-spoken, clean-cut nature made parents comfortable with getting their kids involved.
“We’ve been stereotyped for so long,” McGill said. “Tony proved that all skateboarders weren’t punks. … Tony has always been a pretty straight-edged guy.”
In terms of acceptance, it doesn’t get much better than what Hawk experienced in 2009, when President Barack Obama invited him to the White House for a Father’s Day forum. Hawk was set loose to skate in the Old Executive Office Building.
Fittingly, Hawk is now in high demand as a speaker at corporate events, often talking less about skating than how to market and brand yourself. He also is heavily involved in the running of his foundation, which puts financial and political clout behind the construction of skate parks — many of them in low-income communities. The total thus far: 588 parks.
“I grew up near one of the last skate parks (at the time) at the Del Mar Skate Ranch,” Hawk said. “It was never lost on me how lucky I was to have it. I knew that skating was my salvation.”
Hawk, said McGill, has always held a healthy dose of perspective on his life and career.
“He didn’t forget his friends,” he said.
And sometimes, even among the greatest of Hawk’s peers, they have to bite their tongues and let Hawk own the spotlight.
McGill said he was boarding a cross-country flight with his skateboard, and another passenger — obviously noting McGill’s age — quipped, “Trying to be like Tony Hawk, huh?”
“I just smiled,” McGill recalled, “and said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to be like that guy.’ ”
Via: SD Tribune