Tony Hawk Interview | Skate Legend Talks To Us About The Olympics, Video Games, And Regret

In May 2020, the most influential skateboarder of all time is co-hosting the Nitro World Games in Cardiff with Travis Pastrana. In his latest chat with Mpora, Hawk reflects on the past, present, and future of his sport

It’s no exaggeration to say that, for people of a certain generation at least, Tony Hawk is skateboarding. During his heyday, the 51-year old elevated the art of rolling about on some wood to such an extent that he, more than any other skater, became seen as the man most responsible for transforming a subculture into a billion dollar industry. Like David Beckham with football, Hawk became the consumer-friendly face of his sport’s unprecedented shift; taking the pastime to places and people it had never gone before.

“If you found skating, especially in the 80s, you did it because it sort of identified you as being different”

Hawk –  skateboarding. Skateboarding – Hawk. The two of them are inextricably linked; etched into our collective conscience to such an extent that for the casual observer it can be hard to know where the person of our imagination ends and the sport begins. He is, in the words of fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy, “kind of a big deal.” And, what’s more, he’s talking to me on the phone right now – his slightly awkward Californian lilt unmistakable even with a crackly, time-delayed, connection between us.

“If you found skating, especially in the 80s, you did it because it sort of identified you as being different,” he tells me while discussing the inclusion of skateboarding at Tokyo 2020, “But the Olympics were not something we were ever striving for. And nor was it a great priority. We had our own version of the Olympic Games because we had these huge events that got a lot of attention and which were highly revered in our outcast culture.”

I’m trying to work out whether Hawk’s for or against the inclusion of skating at the Olympic Games but his willingness to see both sides, and try to be something of a unifier in that respect, seems to tap into that widespread appeal thing he’s always appeared to have.

Not exactly the sort to come out swinging with hugely controversial statements, Hawk’s acceptance that Olympic skateboarding won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but that it could be hugely beneficial in many ways gives him the air of a centrist; albeit a likeable one, one who says just enough of what you want to hear that the stuff you disagree with doesn’t seem so bad. It’s a quality, you sense, that’s stood him in good stead throughout his career.

Screenshot: Sony | Camera Channel (via YouTube).

“It’s necessary for growth outside of areas where skating is already established. I believe that. I believe there are countries that will now support skating, and build facilities because of that. And maybe they would have never considered doing this otherwise so I think the Olympics are good in that sense,” he says.

“There is going to be a hardcore faction of skaters that don’t want this organisation, or corporate influence though, and that’s fine,” he adds, “They have every right to feel this way. They have every right to skate the way they want to. And go hop fences, and skate schoolyards and rails, and that element is still crucial to skating’s core.”

Does he envisage a backlash to all the podium, medal, and flag-flying Olympic stuff?

“Backlash? Sure. There will be some. There has been some. But it’s not enough to destroy the collective growth of skateboarding.”

“It’s not enough to destroy the collective growth of skateboarding”

It’s telling, during my chat with Hawk, how often and how passionately he talks about the extent to which skateboarding has grown and how much he wants it to grow further. This is a man, afterall, who at 16 was already considered the best skater on the planet; a man who won 73 of the first 103 professional contests he entered, a man who, quite frankly, doesn’t owe skateboarding anymore than he’s already given to it, a man who could be forgiven for being tired, jaded, a bit tempted by the idea of an easy retirement. 

And yet, such is his passion for skateboarding that even decades after he first emerged on the scene Hawk’s still excited to discuss the potential emergence of new skateboarding powerhouses (“Japan”), the sport’s most exciting young talent (“Ozkar Rozenberg”, “Jagger Eaton” – they “can skate any terrain”), and his work with the Tony Hawk Foundation.

“So with the foundation we support skateparks in low income or challenged areas, and we’ve been doing it for 18 years,” he tells me, “We’ve helped to fund over 900 skateparks in the US, and we have an international partnership with Skateistan so we’ve helped to fund their projects in South Africa and Cambodia. It’s the work I’m most proud of and it’s work, in all honesty, that’s just begun.” 

In addition to his philanthropic projects, Hawk’s passion for the progression and wellbeing of skateboarding, and his enthusiasm towards still being a fixture on the circuit, can be seen in the way he’s jumped at the chance to co-host the Nitro World Games with Travis Pastrana in Cardiff this May. 

“It came about because I was one of the hosts of the first Nitro World Games in Salt Lake City, in 2016, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the format, I enjoyed the pacing of it, I enjoyed the fact they were showcasing my sport,” he says, “With the World Games in Wales, I was extra excited because they were adding vert to the programme and there are very few vertical contests these days especially for skaters. I feel like it’s kind of a lost art despite it being just as progressive as it ever was.”

Of course, I couldn’t let a chat with the Tony Hawk go by without asking him about the video game series that changed everything; a video game series that in the early noughties was as much a fixture of my life as air, crisps, and romantic feelings towards the girl I sat next to in maths. And it wasn’t just a fixture in my life either, at one point it felt like everyone in the world was on that exact same button-bashing bandwagon. 

“The idea that it inspired a generation of kids to take up skating or, at the very least, appreciate skating is something I’m very proud of”

In 2000, the two biggest selling Playstation games of the year were Activision’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Between them, these iconic games sold over 2.8 million copies during a single lap of the sun and went on to shift a total of 6.7 million copies overall. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, released in 2001, didn’t do badly either – racking up a total of 2.1 million sales. The music, the graphics, the sleepovers where you’d play H-O-R-S-E until 4am; yes, the THPS video game franchise was skateboarding’s early 21st century gateway drug and we couldn’t get enough of it.  

“I’m hugely proud of it,” Hawk tells me, “I never imagined it would resonate beyond skaters. And the idea that it inspired a generation of kids to take up skating or, at the very least, appreciate skating is something I’m very proud of. It changed my life in terms of recognition, in terms of finances, in terms of longevity. I mean the reason that I’ve probably been able to skate into my fifties, and still be considered relevant or recognised at all, is because of the video game for sure.”

Pictured: Tony Hawk in 1986, back in the Bones Brigade days. Copyright: Stacy Peralta

Before the conclusion of our interview I wanted to find out if Hawk, despite a career as undeniably success as his, had any regrets. His answer took us right back to where it all began, the Bones Brigade.

“I think the only thing I look back on and wish that I had participated more in was the camaraderie that we had, especially in the 80s because we were such a small community and we were all kind of making it up as we went along,” he says, “I was so hyper-focused on competing that I kind of lost track of the true camaraderie and bonds that the other skaters had. And I see that now in hindsight, where I see these people that have these lifelong friendships.”

“I was so hyper-focused on competing that I kind of lost track of the true camaraderie and bonds that the other skaters had”

Perhaps sensing that he might have just painted himself as a tragic loner type, Hawk makes a quick correction: “Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of friends from those days in skating, but I was so hyper-focused on trying to get better, and trying to compete that I didn’t really make all the friends that I could have.

“If I’d enjoyed the moment more, and appreciated just that we got to do that at all, who knows… maybe my career would have been different, maybe I wouldn’t have had such a great winning streak but when I look back I kind of regret that.”

And then, just like that, my time talking to the most influential skateboarder of all time comes to an end. Just shy of his 52nd birthday, the Birdman continues to fly. 

Buy tickets for the Nitro World Games here.

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