An interview with skateboarder Tony Hawk Tony Hawk is, arguably, the Michael Jordan of skateboarding. On everything from T-shirts to video games, his name not only sells, but stands for something among his fans.
I had the chance to speak with Hawk just before his performance at the Feb. 23 Indiana Firebirds game. Around 10,000 fans stuck around an hour after the game, sitting patiently through the construction of a 20-foot-high half pipe. Few seemed disappointed by the wait, and many, mostly younger boys, seemed on the edge of ecstasy being so close to their hero. Both in the interview room and on the pipe, there is a sense of grace that Hawk shares with the great athletes and artists. The hardest moves all seem to come effortlessly. Through multiple attempts of a signature "720" (two complete spins while in the air), Hawk"s expression never changes or shows the slightest hint of effort. After hitting the maneuver, he reveals no satisfaction. It seems that - like Jordan, Babe Ruth and Tiger Woods -Hawk occupies his own world, competing only with his own ideal. NUVO: When you started, did you ever foresee playing in basketball arenas, having your own video games or having millions of kids idolizing you? Hawk: I didn"t have any specific goals so everything has just been fun. Being a "pro" when I started wasn"t really a career option; it was just a title you held. If you became a professional skater, it just meant you moved up a class in competition. It didn"t mean there was any money in it. NUVO: Did you get a chance to see the game [Indiana Firebirds]? Hawk: I got to see the end. It seemed a lot more action based, a lot more points and not as much standing around. I think there"s a lot of crossover between our audiences. Skateboarding is becoming more accepted as a "real sport" just like [arena football] is. A few years ago, most sports fans wouldn"t even look twice. I"m sure that if you look at the crowd, most of the parents are here for the football and the kids are here for our skateboarding. NUVO: With as far as extreme sports have come in the last decade, where can it go now? Hawk: I think just more acceptance. Skating keeps evolving. If you"re asking what"s next for skating, it"s just bigger and better. There"s no limit for skateboarding. It"s a constant challenge. But as far as where it"s headed in the grand scheme, I"m not sure - but it seems like there"s a good foundation. NUVO: You have an event that is essentially your Olympics in the X Games, but is there a possibility of something like a tour, more along the lines of golf or tennis professionals? Hawk: There are competitions all the time and there are series within those competitions like the Triple Crown series or the World Cup. Unlike golf or any other sports, only a small portion of skaters enters the contests. I don"t think it can ever get to a point where you know who the best skater is. There are a lot of pros - some of the best ones - that have no interest in competing or even performing live. They just go and do their thing, maybe shoot some videos to get coverage and that"s all they need. There are so many different types of skating and competition is just one part of it. I stopped competing a few years ago because I just couldn"t follow the circuit. There are competitions every weekend from March to October and I have kids and a wife. I just couldn"t do it anymore. NUVO: What does it take in terms of athletic ability and physical training to be a pro skateboarder? Hawk: I think it takes a lot of determination. There are some people that you would consider to have natural ability but I don"t think that"s what it is all about. It"s just a matter of how hard you want to work at it. It takes not letting yourself get so frustrated that you give up. There are certain tricks that we try hundreds and hundreds of times and only land once, but that"s good enough for us, just getting it that one time. NUVO: A couple years ago in the X Games, you landed a "900" [two and a half complete spins]. How big was that for your career? Hawk: Yeah, I landed that in 1999"s X Games. It was something I had pursued off and on for about five years. I had never tried something for so long and not been able to make it. NUVO: Has anyone surpassed that? Hawk: No, but there"s so many different types of tricks, so a 900 isn"t the end-all of tricks. It"s just the most that anyone"s spun. I don"t know if anyone"s going to try and spin any more. It would take a specialized ramp or something. It"s not like snowboarding - you have to hold onto the board during the spin. Anything more, you"d have to come up backwards or land backwards and Ö well, no thanks. NUVO: There are thousands of kids out there in the arena who look up to you. Who did you look up to when you were their age? Hawk: I looked up to the pros at the time. One guy in particular was Steve Caballero who was young like me and he was already pro. I saw him in magazines and he was really small. He was an inspiration because I was this skinny kid growing up and people would tell me I wasn"t fit for this type of work, but I"d see Steve Cabellero in the magazines and he was smaller than me and going 4 feet out of a pool. I"d see that and say, "That"s what I want to do." NUVO: Did you play any other sports growing up? Hawk: I played baseball until I was about 11 and then I devoted myself to skating. I felt like every time I went and skated, I"d learn something new. I didn"t feel like that about baseball or basketball - I was just going through the motions. NUVO: Do you feel like skateboarding is becoming an acceptable sport or is it still held back by the subculture, the rebel image? Hawk: I think skateboarding is more accepted now than it ever has been. It still has its rebellious inclinations or perceptions that people give it. People say we"re outcasts. It is an individual-based sport. It"s as much of an artform as it is a sport and that puts off some people. There"s not the traditional team sport element. But some have come to embrace the ideals of the pros and realize that it"s truly athletic. NUVO: What"s the worst injury you"ve had? Hawk: It"s the ones you don"t remember! I broke my elbow about five years ago. That was my first official broken bone. Good equipment has a lot to do with that. I"ve sprained ankles countless times and had teeth knocked out. It"s not as bad as most people think. NUVO: You"re a role model now. What is your message to these kids now that you know you are in this position of amazing influence? Hawk: Find your own path and don"t give up on it. When I was growing up skating, 10 years old, 12 years old, all the way up into high school, it was the most uncool thing you could possibly do. People would harass me all the time about it. I didn"t have many friends when I was in school. I would spend all my time with people that shared my interests, but none of them were peers. I just knew there was something more valid to it. I just tell kids don"t give up because at some point if you"re doing what you love, it"s going to benefit you. NUVO: My final question for you - how good are you at your video game? Hawk: I can take you out, I bet (laughter). I"m pretty good. I should be, since it has my name on it. I can finish the game without cheating, which is a task in itself. I"m not as good as some of these kids that play five hours a day.