INTERVIEW BY NEIL MACDONALD (@SCIENCEVERSUSLIFE) / SELF PORTRAIT BY Tony Hawk
There’s no better person to be the figurehead of skateboarding than Tony Hawk, and as we approach forty years since he first turned pro, it’s fair to say that Tony either had a hand in—or was witness to—pretty much everything that mattered in the development of skateboarding as we know it during those four decades. Between himself and fellow teenage Bones Brigadier Rodney Mullen, the trick book was written, and skateboarding was taken in whole new directions.
Like Rodney, Tony was a gifted school student with the determination and energy to do everything as well as he possibly could. For him this meant learning all the new skateboard tricks as they were developed, but there were only so many of those back then, so then it was up to Tony and his friends to invent more tricks, to explore every imaginable possibility to find out what was possible, and essentially give birth to skateboarding as we know it. From being a scrawny kid at Del Mar getting laughed at for wearing elbow pads on his knees, to going on to do things that no human had done before, that was quite something.
In 1999, just as skateboarding was expected to suffer a fall in popularity—in keeping with its previous ten-year boom-and-bust cycle—Tony landed the 900, the one trick that had eluded vert skaters for years, and he did it on television, in front of millions of TV viewers. A few months later the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game was released, a franchise that would go on to sell millions of copies, introduce skateboarding to a whole new generation, and change the public’s perception of it for the better, forever. Already the most notable skateboarder in skateboarding, Tony Hawk became a household name, and by far the most popular two words for members of the public to shout at skateboarders from passing cars. And that’s awesome.
From turning pro at 14 years-old to seemingly endless contest firsts, then to almost lose everything when vert skating died overnight, to leaving the Powell Peralta super-team and building Birdhouse with the crew he wanted, to touring the world with custom-built ramps and taking skateboarding to entirely new places—both geographically and culturally—Tony’s contribution to skateboarding is unfathomably huge, because there’s nobody remotely comparable.
I asked Tony if he’d be up for a chat about some things I’ve always wondered, and I think the fact that he was happy to spend his Tuesday morning speaking to a complete stranger about skateboarding says everything about how much of a skate rat he still is.
A now-retired Gymnast Plant on Australian Capital Territory in 1989 Photo: Scott Needham
You’re just back from a trip, and I saw you were up a mountain in a helicopter. What was going on?
Haha! This is true. It’s something that I’ve been able to do sometimes, in the past. They call it ‘heli-skiing’, and basically they take you to big mountaintops with fresh powder, and so you get to snowboard down crazy mountain faces and it’s not tracked up like it would be on a resort. It’s a bit excessive, in terms of price, privilege and accessibility but to me it’s worth it. It’s amazing.
We got three solid days in; a lot of the time when you go on one of those trips you have to wait out the weather, and I just got lucky. When I flew in, we had three clear days, so I was able to cut the trip short and came home.
And that’s just for fun, not work?
That’s just pure fun. I’ve been snowboarding since 1985, 1984 maybe, and back in the early days of days snowboarders were treated like skaters. You weren’t allowed to go into any resorts, and everyone thought you were a criminal, so to see it come this far and to have the opportunity to do stuff like that is just crazy.
Have you ever been asked to turn pro for snowboarding?
No. There was a time in the eighties when there was a snowboard company called Kemper and they just sent out gear to all the pro skaters in the hope that someone would decide to pick it up and become pro, because it was so new then. I didn’t want to start over in a different sport and try to do that. I think the last time that I had knee surgery, it was from overshooting a jump snowboarding and I just thought that if I was going to continue to skate, I can’t get crazy with this.
One of the first mags Tony would have ever seen. Skateboarder Vol.4 No.8 March 1978
I remember all the Kemper ads in Transworld. Both mags covered snowboarding when it was new and Transworld did their snow mag, but how important were magazines when you were coming up?
I was the generation of Skateboarder magazine, so Skateboarder magazines in 1977 or 1978 were my first magazines and I would just read them from cover to cover. There were no other skate publications then because skating was so underground. And then Thrasher. What was the first issue? ’81, I think?
January ’81. Transworld was May 1983.
Yeah. So Thrasher and then Transworld, that was my formative years for sure.
Centre Spread in the first issue of Transworld. Photo: Neil Blender
You were more known for having a Transworld allegiance, especially as a Del Mar local who skated for Tracker, but you had the centre pages of the first issue with a Thrasher sticker on your helmet.
Hahaha! I was playing both sides. A lot of it was to do with my locale; I mean I lived in San Diego and Transworld was sort of born from the Tracker camp, I rode for Tracker and their headquarters were in Oceanside. There was a sense of localism to it, for sure. And Thrasher was more NorCal. It’s so funny to think that our world was so divided when skating was such a small community as it was, and there’s this civil war going on!
But at the same time, I was on Powell and I had Stacy [Peralta] and [Craig] Stecyk as influences and Stecyk was much more drawn to Thrasher, obviously—he used to write the ‘On Board’ section of Thrasher—so I got to be friends with those guys too. I think MoFo [Morizen Foche] was probably my biggest link to Thrasher, and he would come down to Del Mar and shoot me. I guess in terms of my availability, it was obviously more to Transworld because I lived in North County and I was neighbours with Grant [Brittain]. And to this day I still am! Haha!
1986 Thrasher cover shot at the Pink Motel in Sun Valley. Photo: MOFO
Was there a point where the magazines became boring to you? Like if you’ve got the best stuff in the magazine most of the time, did you still read it?
I still read it. I was still obsessive. Probably even more so when I thought that there was a chance that I’d be in it, so poring through the articles was a big part of my life, but also it was fun to see the other influences in the magazines in terms of street skating coming on the scene and in different geographic locations.
That was my link to skating in the UK, or to Europe—articles in skateboard magazines. I was definitely a big fan of the magazines, absolutely
That was my link to skating in the UK, or to Europe—articles in skateboard magazines. I was definitely a big fan of the magazines, absolutely. And you get pumped when you see yourself in them! It’s crazy.
Tony’s backside ollie technique took him from above the coping in 1980 to high above Glen E.Friedman’s head in 1983
How long did it take you to learn to ollie? Alan Gelfand skated for Powell too.
That’s hard… There’s not a vivid memory of ‘learning an ollie’. My style in the beginning, when I’d grab my board, I’d do it very lightly and usually on the nose because I’d learned from Eddie Elguera to grab the nose. So I’d learned from pretty early on that I didn’t necessarily need to grab it because I was just sort of guiding my feet anyway.
So I was doing backside ollies when I was probably eleven or twelve, in 1980. I remember that being the only ollie I could do above the coping. I could do frontside ollies but I felt like my backside ollies were my key to doing something unique.
Could you ollie to fakie first?
Oh hell no. That was frightening. Haha!
I was doing backside ollies when I was probably eleven or twelve, in 1980… I could do frontside ollies but I felt like my backside ollies were my key to doing something unique
How much longer did frontside take?
That was probably near the same time. I think that once I really figured out how to get airborne, and once I figured out how to ollie into my airs, then I just started exploring everything. Including frontside ollies and airs to fakie and stuff like that. There was just an explosion of tricks in the early eighties, which was so ironic because it was when skating was at its lull in popularity, and it was just exploding with talent.
What were those plexiglass demo ramps like to skate? They look terrifying.
Terrifying! I think, probably, the apex of the most terrifying would be the one that a skate shop in Arizona called Bare Cover had. It was eight feet wide, vert, no flat and it was four feet off the ground… Because it was on a trailer. So, chances are you’re gonna fly off the bottom—or somewhere else on the ramp—and you’re already four feet off the ground when you do that. That was very scary but we just kinda learned to go straight up and down.
FRONTSIDE OLLIE IN LA COSTA BEFORE RAMP SCIENTISTS HAD WORKED OUT COPING OR CURVED TRANSITIONS. Photo: J.Grant Brittain
A good time to have airs to fakie down, I guess. Was there a point where your own contest placings were your only rival?
I think there’s a couple of elements to that. I always wanted to keep improving and I didn’t really care about my contest placings, so that existed in my head always. Learning new stuff. That was what drove me and that buzz of doing something new is still what pulls me into my ramp every other day, to try new stuff. So that was always in me, that drive.
It got to the point where I felt like the judges were judging me against what they thought I was capable of, and not against the other riders. I think that came from monotony, almost like they were sick of me winning and they needed to be a little more cynical of my riding. Haha!
But also, I was getting burned out because I did feel that pressure, and that whole cliché about it being lonely at the top is true, and it’s so strange. There are so many stories, but you hear about people touring and hating what they’re doing, because the thing they love so much has just become a job. Not that it felt like a ‘job’, but I definitely had this pressure, and I wasn’t enjoying it.
I wasn’t enjoying the process; I had a strategy but at the same time it just wasn’t as appealing. There was not a sense of camaraderie between me and the other skaters, it was more like, “Oh, Tony’s over there and he’s just going to do his thing”. I pulled back from competing because of that, because I was feeling this sense of burn out and it was sucking the fun out of skating for me.
Reaffirming the fun with a lapper assisted edger on a curb in 1988. Photo: O
What year was this?
I’d say it was probably around ’87, ’88.
So that’s the time when videos were really coming in. Stacy went all out with the Powell videos.
Well, I actually had a conversation with Stacy about that. I said, “Look, competing is killing my soul, killing the reason I like doing this, and I would like to not compete” and he point-blank said, “How do you think you’ll make a living?” I told him it’d be through the videos, but he thought that if I wasn’t competing, nobody would want to see me. And that was the mindset of skateboarding then.
If you’re not competing and getting the top places, you’re not gonna get magazine coverage. People will forget about you, and even if you’re in the videos, you’re not gonna be highlighted. And so I wrestled with that, and eventually came back to competing, but with a different attitude. That’s what saved me, for sure.
What was the change in attitude?
It was more that it was all or nothing. I wasn’t going to be conservative with my skating, I wasn’t going to strategise. I was going to try all my hardest stuff and if I end up falling and not making the finals, then that’s just how it goes. It actually unlocked a whole new sense of exploration and creativity, and I ended up doing really well. And sometimes I didn’t, but I didn’t let that destroy me, I didn’t let that destroy my spirit.
Where do you think you’ve seen the biggest leap in the development of skateboarding? The ollie?
There are so many milestones… In terms of what changed the perception of skating and what changed the level of skating. There are so many bullet points there. Definitely the ollie, the ollie changed everything for sure, but in terms of my career arc, street skating completely changed skateboarding. The idea of what was possible changed when you could utilise the urban landscape.
Tony taking his ollie to the streets in a Tracker Trucks advert from 1988
If you look at skateparks now, they’re just trying to emulate street plazas. Emulating places that you would find that were not meant to be skated, and that’s fascinating to me. Street skating really came out of necessity because parks were closing, and no-one had a place to go but they still loved to skate so much that they just hit the streets and figured out how to use them. I remember seeing Natas and Gonz do the first handrail, and I remember knowing in my mind at the time that that was a game-changer.
So there was no sense of, “Oh, that’s cool, but it’s not really what you’re supposed to do”?
I guess in my eyes I didn’t like that hardcore separation between street and vert, and I think there were a couple of people—like Danny Way—who bridged that gap in an entertaining way who brought that street aspect to vert. When people started doing big kickflips on vert it felt like that was how we would merge these worlds. Danny Way was obviously a pioneer at that but if you look at it now, if you look at a park contest, it’s a hybrid of street and vert.
Hawk on a handrail. Five Stair 5-0 for the Quicktrack in 1990. Tracker Ripgrip, Powell Jawbone, Blue and White Gorilla Ribs plus Ray Barbee and Lance Mountain along for the ride
Was it a worry, as a vert skater, when Powell started giving street skaters pro boards?
I never made a conscious decision of, “Oh, I have to skate street now because I have to be ‘relevant’”, it was just part of what you were doing if you were a skater. Especially with the kind of crew I was hanging out with, they’d be out street skating so I’d just go out with them. It wasn’t really until the mid-nineties—after I’d started Birdhouse—when I had to make a pretty big decision that I can’t keep street skating because my ankles can’t take it.
That was the point where I thought that what I was doing on the streets was not revolutionary anyway, and I was just out there doing it to kinda show that I can, and now I’m risking my future skate career by trying this more technical stuff.
I was on a Birdhouse tour, I think around ’96, where I rolled my ankle worse than ever and thought I’d broke it, but I didn’t. I was just letting that heal and I went out street skating with the Birdhouse crew and I did a switch ollie down like three stairs and rolled the other ankle equally as bad. In that moment I thought that if I wanted to keep skating, I’d have to stick to ramps.
I had to make a pretty big decision that I can’t keep street skating because my ankles can’t take it. That was the point where I thought that what I was doing on the streets was not revolutionary anyway
Doubling the stair count 7 years later in this Airwalk ad with classical form on a lipslide
So when Tommy Guerrero, Mike Vallely and Steve Saiz got boards, I guess it was because Powell was big enough for a superstar vert team and a superstar street team. Those guys didn’t need to learn McTwists to be on Powell.
Yeah. I respected their skills. I didn’t think of it as encroaching on my business, it was just like, “Those guys are sick!” and absolutely they deserved it. I toured with Steve Saiz and Tommy for years and we had a blast. There was a mutual respect for sure.
Who was the second person to do the McTwist? Was it you or Lester Kasai?
Were you the third person to do the McTwist?
I’m not really sure! I didn’t figure it out until probably a month or two later. I didn’t have that flip-spin like Mike and Lester did. I had a sort of flat spin, because I didn’t understand how to go upside down so it was hard for me to spot my landing, and my spin was slower so I had to go higher, and I just wouldn’t commit to the landing. Then finally one day I just held onto my board. And I kept holding onto my board all the way through the flat and up the other side. Still grabbing, still holding on. Haha!
Release mastered. Tony span 12 McTwists back to back at Leigh On Sea in 1991. R.A.D Issue 99. Photos: TLB
How much of the drama around rivalries in the magazines was contrived? Were you going out partying with the Alva boys when the photographers went home?
Not necessarily, but we all got along, for sure. With the exception of some weird personality conflicts every once in a while, which were more random, I think. It was always like me and Christian [Hosoi] were pitted against each other, but I loved Christian! I loved his style and we got along great. We toured together sometimes. It wasn’t like we were there vibing each other as if we were boxers or something.
But for sure, you had your own camps. I hung out with what would be considered more the nerdy crew of Kevin Staab and Lester, then there was the Alva crew and the Christian crew and the Zorlac crew and sometimes the worlds would merge but I wasn’t a big partier, and I was younger than a lot of those guys.
What’s your favourite movie out of Thrashin’, Police Academy 4 and Gleaming the Cube?
Umm… Wow. Ha! That’s really hard. Well, for Thrashin’, my involvement was very minimal so I can’t say that that was the best experience or my favourite. I enjoyed it, because at the time Del Mar Skate Ranch was closed and they used it for the competition scene in Thrashin’, because they had their own insurance through the studio, they could open up Del Mar.
For me, that’s a fond memory because Del Mar was open for a couple of days because we were shooting Thrashin’. That was cool; we hadn’t been able to skate it otherwise then.
Police Academy 4 was fun. It was fun because we were on a real movie set. We were doing stunt doubling, they had a budget and they were able to open places up for us to skate.
But I think Gleaming the Cube was my favourite. I was out of High School and into that movie set. And living in LA. I had to rent a place in LA at age 18 or 19 and suddenly I’m doing movies.
I wasn’t a stunt double, I was actually one of the characters so for me that was probably the most fun, the most enlightening. Tommy [Guerrero] and I would do scenes so he would fly down and stay with me, and we had a blast.
I mean yeah, the movie’s ridiculous in its own way, but people loved it. And you know, since then I’ve worked with quite a few actors and celebrities that had to learn how to skate for one reason or another, and Christian Slater was the most accommodating.
He was down. He really tried to learn how to skate. I’ve seen the other side of that, where they just refuse.
Probably the most combative was the guy on Police Academy 4 that Lance doubled for. I forgot his name, but he’s Ratner in Fast Times at Ridgemont High [Brian Backer].
How much input did you have into the skate scenes in those movies?
That was more Stacy’s job. He was a consultant.
Steve Saiz, Tony Hawk, Tommy Guerrero and Rich Dunlop with Christian Slater in R.A.D October 1989
Where’s the strangest place you’ve skated a halfpipe?
Hmm. That is a tough question. Well, I think one of the most challenging and interesting demos we ever did was… Do you know what Arena Football is, here in the US?
Alright, so obviously it’s American Football, but it’s in an arena so there are walls. You don’t go out-of-bounds, you’re always in-bounds.
Like ice hockey football.
Yes. Exactly. It was pretty big for a while, and we were asked to do a demo after one of these games. I believe it was in Louisville, Kentucky. After the game was over, our crew came in and started putting up the Huck Jam ramp, and the crowd waited while they assembled our ramp. And that took them 45 minutes. Then we skated. It was such a strange dichotomy of fanbases. Haha! All these kids that came to the Arena Football game that really had no interest in the Arena Football game, they really just wanted to come and see our demo.
The main event was actually afterwards.
Yeah, exactly. That’s not the strangest location, but it was the strangest set up. We did a demo in front of the Capitol Building in Taipei at a time when skating was not that popular… That was interesting. ESPN Asia had decided they wanted to set something up and they hired Tim Payne to fly over there and build us a ramp.
Learning new stuff. That was what drove me and that buzz of doing something new is still what pulls me into my ramp every other day
The Fallbrook Flight Centre under construction 1988. The foundation for creating the perfect vert ramp
They got the right people then. What’s the most common fault with vert ramps?
It’s really just a matter of not being consistent with cutting the transitions. I mean, you’re doing it all by hand, right, so there’s a lot of room for human error there. If I had to say what the most common mistake was, it’s not putting support beams close enough together. And not using 2” x 6”s. If you’re only using 2” x 4”s to build the transition, that’s not going to be sturdy enough so you’re going to feel the ramp bending, and it’ll feel like there’s kinks in it. 2” x 6”s, every eight inches. I think that’s the magic number. And that’s a lot!
Stalefish 540 at home. Photo: Jamie Owens
And then when you’re putting on your layers of surface, to go and make sure you’ve got screws in it every eight inches, and that takes a while. Although my current ramp was machine built by a company that does stages for concerts, so I’m way beyond worrying about where the support beams are. Haha!
Do you have any idea why Powell boards were a tenner more expensive than anything else over here? They also didn’t have a layer of coloured ply, which was supposedly why they delammed badly…
I have no idea. All that stuff was way beyond what I knew, or even what I cared to understand at the time. I felt bad though, that in Europe those boards were worth their weight in gold.
They sold, sure, but that doesn’t mean they were any better than a UK brand.
What strange developments have you seen in skateboarding that you’ve liked? What have you not liked? Did you skate Boneite?
Hahaha! I did skate Boneite because I rode for Powell, but I think I was lucky in that I got my boards for free, so I could break one and just ride another one. I didn’t actually break a skateboard until Boneite came in, so I will attest to that, and I will agree with people who had issues with it, that it definitely was a weaker construction.
In terms of what I’ve seen that I’ve liked, there’s so much!
Mark Gonzales brought so much innovation to skating, and not just through his own skating. He was the one who drilled his truck holes back, so that when he did nose and tailslides it wouldn’t slide on the actual bolts. Just because it was out of necessity, for him. He changed hole patterns. That’s something that people don’t even think about, but he literally changed the hole patterns of our trucks.
Other than that though, in the last fifteen years—and I can’t take the credit for this—I have seen skateboarding come to a phase where people are doing tricks in combinations that were literally only possible in video games. When you watch what goes on out there in the street, it’s nuts. When I see a clip of Shane O’Neill, every time I think, “Is that CG? Is that real?”
Symmetrical boards are reappearing, and that’s something that you were pushing thirty years ago. Do you think they’ll stick around this time?
Haha! What I noticed when I used to ride a double kicktail board was that I am not so committed to my trucks the way that some people are. I’m used to new trucks; I put a new complete skateboard together every couple of weeks. When you go into a double kicktail thing, your trucks are your signature, and so the only reason I wouldn’t think it would catch on is that it’s shaped the same way but they’re gonna ride it in one direction for the most part.
The idea is that you’re going to ride it forwards and backwards and never really know. Or that was the idea for me. That’s one hiccup that I think would be a challenge for people.
If you do a crooked grind you’d need to turn your board around and do another one the other way, to keep it even…
Crazier trends have happened! Haha! I did like having my board with two tails because I never knew which way it was going and I didn’t care.
What about safety gear? Has anything much changed there since plastic caps on pads?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny you ask that because we tried to go down a rabbit hole to find out who invented the knee slide, and when that happened. Now I don’t know that, but I know that at some point I stopped wearing volleyball pads and I started wearing pads with plastic caps, and I started doing knee slides. I think I was maybe about eleven years old, at the time when people actually started doing that.
But the pads themselves definitely have come a long way, just with sports innovation and with injection moulding. The thing that has come really far—and this is unfortunately not a thing a lot of skaters know about—is the construction of helmets. Their level of safety is so much further than it used to be. I can say that because I’ve been knocked out a few times: with the old helmets, without a helmet and with new helmets, and the new helmets are absolutely infinitely better than any helmets we wore in the eighties and nineties.
FRONTSIDE AT THE OASIS WEARING A NORCON HELMET AND NIKE BLAZERS. PHOTO: STEVE HAWK
Have you ever broken a bone?
Yeah, I broke my elbow shooting a commercial for Gap in 1998. I have two screws in it. It was funny because I did that commercial at a time where I wasn’t making much money, and I really needed the money from the commercial. If you do commercials—and especially in those days—you want to get in the final edit because you get royalties going forward every time it played. Luckily I had shot a couple of things before I got hurt, so I ended up getting in the commercial and getting royalties from it.
There was your symmetrical board, but before that your Powell board in 1989 was almost completely blank and the next one had a huge-for-the-time nose. How easy was it to get things like that done?
They trusted me, for sure. I think I went a little crazy with the Hammerhead look, the shovel nose, and I probably should have stuck with a more traditional popsicle shape if I could have, but they went along with it for sure. Some people thought it was a little too much!
The prototype of that, the one you rode, had ‘Colin McKay XL’ written on the griptape. I’ve always wondered what that meant…
Hahaha! At that time, Colin was an amateur on Powell and every time I’d see footage of him, he was just killing it. I think he reminded me a lot of myself with his trick selection, so I was always really impressed, and he was just so small, but he wore extra-large clothes and would do extra-large tricks. So in my head it was, “Colin McKay is extra-large”. And you know what? Colin has that board.
Wow. I’m glad that still exists. What memories of the UK do you have? What about the trip that became the tour section of Public Domain?
That was a blast. I loved it. That was one of my favourite times. We spent five weeks in Europe. I really enjoyed getting to go there because Livingston was legendary, right? It was one of the first skateparks, it was still there then and it’s still there to this day, and I was just psyched to get to skate it. It wasn’t the optimal vert for us at the time, but I was always up for the challenge of those things!
We also got to go to Ireland on that trip, which was unreal. We took the ferry to Ireland and we did a demo in Dublin, and you could just feel the excitement, and how thankful people were that we made that trip.
Did you go to George Harrison’s house on a Bones Brigade tour, or was it just Cab? I feel like I’ve heard different versions of this…
I think that happened twice and I think we were the first ones to go. It was me, Lance Mountain, Ray Underhill, Eric Sanderson and Steve Saiz. When they had the Bones Brigade and they did the tours, they would sort of divide the team up so that they’d have one more well-known member in one crew for a couple of weeks with other pros and ams. So we were doing it in shifts, basically. So I think the next year, Cab went. For the most part I was never on those Bones Brigade tours with Cab, or with McGill. The tour itself would go for months, and I myself would be assigned to four or five weeks.
Further European exploration. Slam City Skates Founder and total legend Paul Sunman shot this photo of the Birdman in Paris
How serious was the Bones Brigade Manual?
Oh.. Ha! I can’t speak for the people involved in that but that was not something that was presented to us, to my generation, with Cab and Mike and Lance and everyone. We were already part of the team, right?
What happened was, I think there were a couple of incidents on tour that led to legal issues, so for Powell, that was their reaction to those kinds of problems.
You were supposed to sign this code-of-conduct contract. I think they tried to make it kinda silly, but at the same time they were trying to make it something that said, ‘Look, don’t mess up! Don’t get arrested!’ I think that’s where it came from.
And then obviously somebody got a hold of it and they made it into a whole thing. I understand both sides of the story. I think it was more, ‘You’re representing us, don’t fuck up’. That was the message of the contract. And to be fair you should see the contracts I sign these days, for endorsements and stuff. It’s wild. And it’s all legal-ese, so you wouldn’t even pick up on it.
David Z pushing the envelope in an Independent Trucks advert from 1981
For a while, a lot of the people doing anything in the industry had been part of Powell at some point. Steve Rocco and Jim Thiebaud both skated for Powell, but who’s the most underrated person that passed through the corporation? Curtis McCann would be one, but who for you?
That’s hard. There was so much talent. I’ll tell you who was underrated, and it’s only because of it being the right place, wrong time: David Z. David Z rode for Powell, he was an amateur, and I’m talking about late seventies, early eighties, and he was truly the first person to blast airs. I’m talking about five-foot Lien airs at a time when people were barely getting above the coping.
David Zaruski? David Zaritski, something like that. For us, as impressionable youth, it was like, “That guy flies!”, he was amazing. All I know about him is that he disappeared. When he hit his peak, it was at a time when skating was just in a lull, and I think he became a dentist. From what I heard.
David Z rode for Powell… he was truly the first person to blast airs. I’m talking about five-foot Lien airs at a time when people were barely getting above the coping
Powell magazine ads didn’t usually have skating as the focus, which was pretty unique for the times. Were they fun to do?
Yeah! We trusted Stacy’s artist’s instinct, so we went along with it, for sure. There are a couple that I did that I think are more ‘iconic’ than others, like when they painted my face like my graphic. That one still rises to the top every once in a while.
How long did you have to sit perfectly still, trying not to sweat, for that?
I think it was a couple of hours.
There’s a 1987 Grant Brittain photo of Mark Gonzales doing a nosepick at Sanolands, and he’s riding his own board, but it’s covered in Powell stickers, including a Tony Hawk sticker. Did you give him those stickers?
I honestly don’t know. It’s possible. I was friends with Mark and Jason Lee back then for a while. I loved those guys and I really appreciated Mark’s approach to skating. He was so irreverent, and that was Mark, you know? And the dude was number one sales on Vision, and he put my sticker on his board because he didn’t care. It’s so great.
When vert died in the early nineties, it happened really fast. How was that for you?
My take on it, was that in the late eighties, in the mid-to-late eighties, there was a big boom in skating. Skating got popular and vert was not that accessible. There were a few vert ramps, but skateparks were mostly mini ramps and other things like that. The skateparks closed because they couldn’t afford the insurance, and that’s just a fact.
The US is so litigious that people want to blame each other for getting hurt and skateparks were the perfect venue for that. The skateparks couldn’t afford the insurance because the insurance just kept getting more and more, so they were closing up, which meant that the only places where there were vert ramps, were gone.
So, the people who were into skating just skated street. That’s what they could go out and do, right out their front door. As vert skaters, relying on our success in competitions, it dried up really quickly.
Blunt to Fakie in Italy in 1989. Photo: Marco Contati
When skateboarding first crashed in the early eighties, it seemed a bit of a slower process, but the crash at the start of the nineties happened just about overnight.
We couldn’t prepare for it all. My income was dropping by a half every month, in probably 1990, 1991, because it was based on royalties from sales, and nothing was selling.
Did what Steve Rocco was doing at that time impress you? Did you rate it?
I enjoyed the sort of anarchy, and the irreverence. And the skating – I thought the skaters that he was choosing were amazing. I didn’t like that he had to bash everyone, just to climb his way to the top. I mean… At some point I realised that that was just what had to happen, to shake up the industry, because there were only these big manufacturers and somebody had to come and ruffle their feathers.
It did seem like it was just all mean-spirited, and that just wasn’t my vibe, but at the same time I respected that they were shaking things up. You’d see stuff from World Industries and it was crazy skating! That’s why I got Jeremy Klein as one of our first skaters on Birdhouse, because it was like, “That dude is a pioneer of street skating”.
Why were vert skaters running 40mm wheels in 1992?
Well I never had a street board and a vert board, so I just went along with ‘Oh, we’re riding smaller wheels for street now, because it’s closer to the ground’ or whatever. It wasn’t until more like the mid-nineties that I realised that vert ramps were not built that well anyway, so we needed all the speed we could get, and I’d much rather be getting speed and dealing with big wheels in the street than be dealing with these bearing covers on vert.
I think at some point I realised the benefit of riding something at least 58mm, or 60mm, and that’s it, that’s all I ride. I ride 60s wherever I am and I get speed, and I know how to use that board. It’s funny because my son Riley is more of a street skater and his board is wider than mine, and he’s running 58s.
How wide is Riley’s board? Nine?
Almost nine, yeah. Mine is 8.5.
SMALL TIRES AND A REAL JIM THIEBAUD BOARD. PHOTO: BRAD MCDONALD FOR SKATEBOARD! MAGAZINE in 1992
There’s a Brad McDonald shot of you riding a Real slick—a Jim Thiebaud board—from then. Jim came from Powell too, so was there a conversation happening there between you, Jim and Tommy Guerrero?
Well, basically, Tommy and I both decided to do our own companies at the same time. When we were talking about it, Per Welinder caught wind of that and contacted me, and basically said, “I heard you’re starting your own company, and I’d like to join you”. I knew Per had a business background, as well as being a pro skater, and so he and I combined our savings—literally all of our money—to start Birdhouse, but also to start a distribution brand, and Tommy wanted to be part of the program. To be under our distribution. So, he started Real, with Jim, and then Real and Birdhouse were under Birdhouse Distribution. Same with Lance, because Lance was starting The Firm at the time and he joined us initially at the beginning.
But the reason I was riding a Real board is that we all had our boards manufactured at the same place, at Taylor Dykema in San Diego, so we were just getting whatever was hot off their press. And to us it was all the same. It was like World and Blind.
Blue Sky Thinking. Tony inverts while Lance Mountain wields the lens in 1986
Did you, Tommy and Lance ever talk about doing something together? I’d have thought you and Lance might have gone into something together, beyond distribution.
With Lance, he and I both had different motivations and different directions that we wanted to go in. And a different team vibe. So we all did our own thing. Tommy wanted his thing to be much more of a NorCal thing, much more street, I wanted mine to be a more eclectic group—street and vert and whatever—and I already kinda had my picks that I wanted to be on the team. We all just respected each other’s individuality in that sense, and I felt that with our diverse group, we could go further as a group.
You took Jeremy from World, but before that Rodney Mullen went from Powell to World. What was your relationship with Rodney like after he went there?
Initially, it was awkward because I just didn’t understand why Rodney would want to leave this hugely successful brand that helped to make him a household name, so I didn’t really understand it. Rodney and I were at a different stage in our relationship then. He had stopped competing, and he was trying to do a business thing, and I was still caught up in trying to be a pro skater.
He went off to World before I started Birdhouse, obviously, but eventually we came back together just because we have so much respect for each other’s skating and career. I feel like he was the only person—especially through the eighties—that I could confide in because he was the only one that understood what I was going through because he was going through the same thing.
Did you get everybody you wanted for Birdhouse?
I think the only skater that did not come to Birdhouse who I was really hoping would, was Colin McKay. Like I said, I had such huge respect for his skating; he was always super innovative and a funny dude. We used to hang out a lot. I did not know that Plan B was forming at that exact same time.
Did Mike Ternasky ask you to join Plan B? Your name’s there, scored out, in that first ad.
In a very sort of indirect way, yes. That was how I learned about it. I just said I was already trying to do my own thing.
And everything was still cool with you and Danny and Colin?
Sure. Danny, I mean… He’s such a pioneer of what we do.
Is it right that Birdhouse was originally going to be called ‘Lucas’?
No. That’s what Per wanted. I was never going to agree to that. Haha! I just remember him saying how he loved that name, so he named his first son Lucas.
Filming for Feasters, 1992. Photo by Brad McDonald
Feasters, the first Birdhouse video, came out right in the middle of the lo-fi street skating revolution. Was it fun learning nosebluntslides on blocks?
It was a blast! I loved it. I just loved that we had this freedom to do whatever we wanted. That was probably the most liberating part for me. Not that I ever didn’t like working with George and Stacy, it was just more that they were calling the shots, and now, we were calling the shots. We were just out street skating every day, getting footage and making videos. It was just such a fun, spontaneous time, and we had no idea if it was going to work. Birdhouse struggled for years, you know?
It felt like a new small company. It never felt like it was Tony Hawk doing a Tony Hawk company.
It was a big relief to be with a company like that for a while, but there came a time when I was doing a lot of the busy work for us—not sales, but all the marketing, all the planning, all the tours and stuff like that—and at some point Jeremy and Per had a discussion with me and said, “Look, you’re way more effective if you’re out there as a skater, and not doing the layouts for the ads”. We were doing a video every year, and they thought that was too much. They thought it was too diluted, so I took their advice and that’s when we rereleased my pro model.
When Mike Vallely went back to Powell, did Powell speak to you too?
Not really… George sort of offered to produce our boards when we started Birdhouse, but I just felt like I needed to make a clean break. Somewhere out there is a Birdhouse branded board that George made as a sample.
The Loop was an Airwalk ad. Were Airwalk hassling you to do the Loop?
Well, I had presented the idea to the Airwalk team manager at the time, because I didn’t have the money to build something like that. That was probably in my most dire financial days, and I said that I really thought I’d be able to do it if they wanted to build it, because Airwalk was the only company I was affiliated with that had any money.
They basically just said no, almost like they weren’t even interested in it. The team manager at the time spoke to the marketing agency that they’d hired, and said, “Tony Hawk is thinking about doing this trick”, and those guys told Dan Sturt. This is how it all came to be…
Dan Sturt, this legendary photographer, heard that and he knew the potential of it. I’ll never forget this; I was taking Riley to pre-school and we were getting bagels—that was our tradition, go get bagels before pre-school—and I saw Dan Sturt at the bagel shop. He said, “Hey, I heard you want to build a fullpipe”, and I said, “Well no, I want to build a loop, to do a full loop”, and I watched his eyes, and he was like, “Oh, that’s brilliant. We have to do that”.
I told him that I didn’t have the money to build it, and Airwalk weren’t going to do it, and he just said, “I’ll make it happen”. He was in such good standing with the marketing agency at Airwalk because his images were so amazing that if he said to do it, they would do it. So that’s how it happened.
What does Dan do now?
I don’t know, but I do see him around every once in a while, and I’ve actually seen him at Riley’s coffee shop a couple of times. There’s a park here, Alga Norte, and I’ve seen him there sometimes, just cruising around, but he doesn’t take skate photos anymore, as far as I know. He got uninterested in it when digital became the norm.
Taking the invert to a higher level. Another collaboration with master lensman Daniel Harold Sturt
Was there fallout from the X-Games people when Whitey McConnaughy poached the 900 sequence? All this corporate money going into a big global TV event, then some snowboard photographer wanders in and gets the most important sequence ever…
That was funny. I think that by the time that sequence came out, X-Games had already really utilised that whole moment, and the hype. I feel like they just sort of let it go.
Of course it was renegade that he shot the photos, but it didn’t seem like it was a big deal. They got what they wanted out of it. Now obviously there’s a lot of misinformation and folklore about that whole event but I didn’t plan it. I didn’t go to that event with any intention of doing a 900, and so I think in terms of the way it played out, ESPN really capitalised on that. Fine with me.
Whitey McConnaughy poached 900 sequence
When was your second 900? The MTV thing?
My second one was the MTV event, yes.
What about the third one?
Ha! Right. After I did it the first time, I went down to a ramp in Mission Valley, San Diego, with the intention of getting one on video, and a sequence of it—a proper sequence—and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t commit to it, and I thought that I had it. I thought that because I did it once, I could do it again, and I couldn’t do it again.
When the MTV event came around, that ramp was so much bigger and had such a big landing zone that I managed to do it there, and making it there gave me the confidence to keep doing it afterwards. So I went back to Mission Valley after MTV and got a sequence of it.
How do you do a 900 then? At what point do you want to look for your landing?
Let’s hope that you’re high enough to spot the landing, but mostly likely you won’t be. It’s based on feeling. It really is. There’s this sixth sense that you need to know where you are in the air. My best advice to anyone that wants to try a 900 is to stay with the spin, no matter what. So even if you don’t get your board—if you miss the grab—commit to the spin. My worst slams were opening up midway, and I’d be upside down and fall on my back. You have to pull off further, because in the middle of the spin you’re way further out onto the flat that you normally would be, but that spin continues to bring you back onto the wall.
Do you reckon Annie Liebovitz is the most notable non-skate photographer who’s shot you?
Probably… Or Herb Ritts.
How does shooting with somebody like that compare to shooting with somebody who at some point in their life has been a skateboarder?
It can be kinda tricky. I remember at Herb Ritts’ studio, you know how photography studios have those seamless walls for photos? I said that I could probably skate that, he was all, “That’s great, that’s great!” and everyone else was freaking out because I was damaging it. I remember going up and doing sort of alley-oop slides so I’d be facing him, and I bailed a few, and I think the conversation was basically, “Please don’t use any of the ones I’m falling on”, because he loved all of them.
It’s usually stuff like that, like the timing of things, where you have to have those discussions, but now with the new generation of successful photographers, they understand it better because skating’s just a little more mainstream. The shoot with Annie Liebovitz was great.
It’s a great shot; a legit trick with you looking right at the camera. It just didn’t get laid out so well…
Haha! Yeah. That was a bummer.
You said twenty years ago that you thought skateboarders needed a union. What about now?
I guess we’re closer to that, with all the Olympic organisations, in terms of each country doing their own communities and whatnot, but there’s no cohesive group for all the athletes. That speaks more to the organisation of skateboarding in general, because it is so splintered. There’s no NBA or NFL. There’s no FIFA. It’s just such a different beast and that makes it hard because if you’re a pro skater in the US, then insurance is a big deal. If you don’t have insurance and you get hurt, that could cost you all of your savings.
Do you think skateboarding would benefit from a dominant company now, like Powell was? Could that ever work again?
Maybe? I don’t know. There’s enough of an audience that means we can have all these companies and they can be successful, but I don’t think it would be good to have some sort of monopoly on skateboarding. The thing I love most now is that skating’s is the most diverse it’s ever been. It’s the most eclectic, the most inclusive, and there are companies that are just focussing on this very unique style of skating, or that unique style of skating. I love that there’s such an array of styles and of fashions that you can pick which one suits you best. I think that’s awesome.
The thing I love most now is that skating’s is the most diverse it’s ever been. It’s the most eclectic, the most inclusive
It’s everything that has ever happened, all at once.
Yeah. I don’t think some Nike-esque corporation could do it so inclusively, in skateboarding.
How do you see existing tricks progressing? Will we ever see a stalefish 900?
Ha! Well, a couple of people have done 900s grabbing melon. Sandro Diaz was the second one to ever do it and he did it grabbing melon. Every time I see new clips, when I see what Elliot Sloan is doing, it’s unreal. I think people are fixated on 900s and 1080s and whatnot but there’s a whole new generation of kids that are just blowing it up. Mitchie Brusco did a 1260, you know?!
You once said that the kickflip McTwist “needed to be done”, so what needs done now? We can’t be far away from a 720 ollie…
Yeah, I want to see a 720 ollie. I’m not going to do it good, but I think Elliot Sloan got pretty close.
What tricks have you only done once? I’ve got a nollie 360 heelflip indy in mind… Is that something you’ve done more than once?
Hmm. Yeah. I think I’ve done that a few times. That’s a good question… There’s some random ones I’ve done through the years that don’t get much shine but that were really hard ones for me. I did what I’d call a 360 shove-it to back lip which would be a bigger spin back lip, right?
That’d be a bigspin back lip, if I’m picturing it right.
Well, it’s a full 360 shove it, so my board ends up in the same direction that I started with, into a back lip. I’m turning the board an extra turn. To me it’s a 360 shove it back lip, and I stand by that. Haha!
What ‘hard’ tricks do you find easy and what ‘easy’ tricks do you find hard?
That’s a good question. Hmm. I think any backside 360 trick I’ve found easy, and that’s a big stepping-stone for people on vert. An indy 360 is super hard for a lot of people.
And blunts, any blunt is pretty easy for me. Frontside, backside, 360, half-Cab, whatever.
Do you think being tall helps with blunts?
Nah, I think it’s just about learning the re-entry process, and it just depends on your approach to it. As far as tricks that are easy, frontside inverts have always been one of my hardest tricks. And in my generation, that’s something you should be able to do blindfolded. It’s funny too, just straight kickflip indies became harder for me than just about any other flip trick. I can do a 360 flip to Weddle grab before I do a kickflip indy. Or a heelflip varial, I can do before I do a kickflip indy. And kickflip indies are set-up tricks for people.
Do you reckon that’s because you didn’t choose to learn them at the time?
Oh, I tried! I tried to learn them at the time! Haha! It was not from lack of effort. Haha!
How scary is it doing doubles with a BMXer?
Depends on the BMXer. I’ve been in the worst of it with Rick Thorne, where he didn’t go as high as he should have, and I ended up running into him. So that was scary.
With Matt Hoffman you can do a huge air underneath him, and not have to worry about it. But I choose carefully, and I won’t just do that with random people, so the people that I will do doubles with are the ones that I trust implicitly.
Got you. I wondered if you just showed up and got paired with somebody.
Every once in a while, especially if I’m skating in a foreign country, there will be a kid that’s coming up on vert that will ask me to do doubles with him. That happens, I would say, half the time if I go somewhere new.
And what’s the answer?
Oh yeah, I’ll do it. When it’s with a skater I can adjust for timing and location, especially if I’m the one going over, just because I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ll agree to that almost every time.
What’s the strangest promotional item you’ve see your face on?
I saw a Photoshop, I think in China or Korea, that was from a photo of me doing an airwalk, with my feet kicked out, and they’d put rollerblades on my feet. And that’s what the product was. Someone sent me a photo of that, and I thought it was amazing.
What has your biggest selling shoe been, out of Airwalk, Adio and Hawk?
Probably Hawk Shoes… Or Adio. Yeah, my Adio signature model. But when I got my Airwalk model—that was ’96, maybe—that saved me. The income from that saved me because I was struggling. I was struggling to pay my mortgage, Riley had just been born, and things were difficult. When Airwalk offered me and Jason Lee pro models, that changed my life.
Were you close to Sin [Sinisa Egelja] at Airwalk?
Absolutely. That was all Sin’s doing.
When did you last have to audition for something? I imagine that nowadays people probably know who you are and what you’re going to do.
I think the last time I actually auditioned for a part it was for Sex And The City. I can’t say it was a cameo because they wanted me to play a baseball player.
Did you get it?
I didn’t get it. Haha! It was what’s her name, the star—I forget her name—and she was dating a baseball player for a bit, in one episode.
Tony Hawk, the rollerblading baseball player.
Whatever it takes.
How long had the Vans conversation been going on for? You’ve been on Vans before and one of your best friends has one of the best shoes ever, on Vans.
Yeah, I always had a good relationship with them. I think it came to fruition more because I was doing the announcing at the Vans Park Series all through 2019, and it was more that they wanted me to be more involved with Vans as a company. I told them that I was only really there as an announcer, but if they wanted to make it official with Vans, we’d need to have a different conversation. That’s how that started.
Tony on Vans, first time around
Would you have gone to Nike if they’d asked?
Hmm. I don’t know. I mean, I wasn’t vehemently against it, you know?
Did you ever get that Advil sponsorship?
Haha! I have not. But I’m still down. I still use Advil.
Are you still a massive technology nerd, or have you gone retro?
No, I definitely still am but it’s almost impossible to keep up with it. I’ve been into Bitcoin since 2012, and I’m fascinated with stuff like that. NFTs, all the new technology, the new apps, new ways of doing things… I love it. Doing editing on my phone is still fascinating to me because the stuff that I used to have to do to edit videos was impossibly hard.
And you did edit videos in the nineties.
Yeah, I helped Tod Swank do a Foundation video back then, I edited some sections for Celebraty Tropical Fish, the Powell video—the whole bit with me, Ray Underhill and Sean Mortimer—and then all the Birdhouse videos with the exception of The End.
How much of what’s in The End were you expecting? Like you’re dealing with a budget and everything, but then there’s Jeremy Klein and Heath Kirchart driving off in a rented van with a big box of matches.
I knew they’d get into some high-jinks, but it was more, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’. We gave them the budget because we knew they were going to come through with the footage.
You issued an NFT of your last 540 ollie. How did that go?
I can’t complain. We had a bidder and we did the thing. It’s more that I was so connected to an artist that it wasn’t really just ‘my’ offering. That made it more pricey too, so it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I was excited to be linked with the artist. He was actually in the UK, he’s called Ondrej Zunka.
That happened, but now I’m linked up with this group called Autograph, and Autograph was started by [NFL legend] Tom Brady and they have the likes of Tiger Woods, Naomi Osaka, Derek Jeter and Simone Biles so I feel very fortunate to be there. So far it’s been hugely successful.
So it’s a gymnast plant you’re doing next, as an NFT. That means that’s the next trick you’re never going to do again, right?
Well I had this idea, which was basically to ‘retire’ some tricks. There’s a bunch of tricks I know I can still do now, but they take a lot for me to do and I know that I’m not interested in doing them, going forward. So there’s a few of those tricks where I thought I could really put forth the effort and do it for the last time, so I chose five tricks and I saved the skateboards from each one.
It’s cathartic to be at the age, and have the skillset, where I can say, “Yes, this will be my last one”. I feel like for a lot of us, we’ll never know when we’ve done our last kickflip. Or whatever. Last invert. You don’t make that distinction, but I’m able to actually consider that this will be my last one and that I’m not interested in doing it again.
These five tricks that I did took a lot more effort than I remembered.
I feel like for a lot of us, we’ll never know when we’ve done our last kickflip. Or whatever… but I’m able to actually consider that this will be my last one and that I’m not interested in doing it again
That adds value to the thing, knowing you’ve had to work for it. Rather than it just being stuff you can do all the time.
I suppose… I mean that wasn’t the intention, it was more to give closure to these things. If someone’s into it, and they want the skateboard I used for it, then that’s exciting to me but at the same time these were just more for me to do, and whatever happens afterward will be incidental to that.
Surprisingly, one of the hardest ones was a fingerflip air! Haha! I haven’t done one in a few years and I just wasn’t catching it right and I wasn’t confident with getting my feet back on it. It took a long time.
Finger Flip Air, from Transworld, October 1984. Shot by Brian Martin
Seems like a good way to tidy up your trick bag, and still have the tricks exist, but as digital monuments. It could go on indefinitely, right?
I’ve had people ask if I’m going to retire all my tricks, and if that would mean I’m just not going to skate many more, but no – these are the ones that are more on the fringe. Tricks that I know I’m capable of but I really don’t want to do anymore, because the risk-versus-reward is just not there for me.
There are plenty of other tricks that I have that I enjoy doing all the time and will still do in public, so I feel lucky that I have enough to go round. Haha!
I feel like it needs to have some kind of special value to it. It’s not my big focus, it’s just something I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks so it’s fresh on my mind.
You’ve been called the Wayne Gretzky of skateboarding by Canadians, and the Michael Jordan of skateboarding by Americans. Is there another sportsperson you’d like to be the ‘of skateboarding’?
Hahaha! I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve ever projected anything like that. To be mentioned in the same sentence as Michael Jordan, that’s it for me. That’s amazing.
Sam Jones has made a documentary about you. When will we see that?
He’s basically finished it. I saw a rough cut of it, but I’m not part of the editing. It’s more on him. It’s hard for me to watch, personally, because it’s so personal, and I don’t have an objective opinion on it but it’s well done.
There’s some really good interview parts with Neil Blender, surprisingly.
Yeah, because Sam was a skater in the ‘80s and grew up with Neil’s brother. It was really cool to see him in it. I was surprised.
I know the editor that’s he’s working with has to move onto another job soon so I assume he’s going to lock it up here in the next couple of weeks. But I’ve never sold a movie, I’ve never been a part of a movie in its infancy stages, so I don’t really know. I assume it would go on to film festivals maybe, or if they get a buyer right away… I don’t know, but I doubt it’ll be this year.
What’s your favourite Skatepark Project you’ve worked on?
I think one of the most iconic projects that we did was funding the Compton skatepark. Compton is so associated with being a challenged area in an inner city and the fact that we were able to fund that park completely was a big deal to me. That was early on in our days. Beyond that, working with Skateistan and helping to fund their projects in South Africa and Cambodia. I would never even have imagined that there would be able to be a skate facility in Cambodia, so I think those ones stick out the most for me.
I just love all of them; I love that we are able to get projects approved just with our endorsement. Our endorsement goes a long way, so it’s not like we’re funding complete projects, it’s more like we’re saying “Yes, this one is worthwhile”, and that gets a city behind it more.
How much more complicated is it to do that in a developing country, compared to California?
We can only do stuff outside the US through a different group, so Skateistan is one of the few that we trust implicitly, because as a non-profit we cannot establish ourselves in each country we work in, and we don’t really have the funding to do all the projects we need to in the US already.
Later Loop Action in the Bullring from The End. Photos: Atiba Jefferson
Who do you have lined up next for the Loop?
For the most part I’ve retired the Loop. I don’t like seeing anybody crash on it anymore, and inevitably when we put it up someone crashes. The risk-versus-reward is just not there for me anymore. Seeing Jimmy Wilkins have it every single time and then loop-out and break his hip, that was where I said that we really had to stop doing it.
I think the last time we put it up was when Felipe [double amputee Felipe Nunes] from Brazil made it through, and that was the coolest thing that had happened on it, so it seemed like a good time to retire it. So I have it, but if someone else wants it, I’ll discuss terms, but I don’t plan to put it up. Haha!
What’s the board behind you, the heavily-skated kid board?
There was this kid who chased down a FedEx driver, and asked, “Hey, do you know Tony Hawk?”, and the FedEx driver’s like, “Well I know who he is…” so the kid goes, “Well can you get this board to him?” and he gave this board to a random FedEx driver, with my name and his name written on it, and the FedEx driver put it out on TikTok. People were tagging me endlessly, and I finally connected with him and said, “Yeah man, send it to me and I’ll send Cooper a new skateboard”. It’s funny because for a lot of people in the US, this one is the first one they see and the only one they know about when they see these skateboards.
You’ve just done the Vert Alert comp, with a load of legends. How did that go and what’s next?
That was exciting, that was something I’ve been trying to do for the last three years, and now we’re talking about what would be next for that concept. Hopefully another public event, something that can stand on its own.
Did you just pick everybody you wanted for that?
It was open qualifiers so anybody could have come to the ramp, where I have it usually, and qualify for the event and then the top eight from each division went to Salt Lake City with the ramp.
The really fun—and surprising—thing about it for me was that there were a lot of families coming to see it. A lot of dads who skated in their youth, whose kids skate now, and maybe they don’t identify with their kids’ ‘heroes’ these days because it’s more of a street era and it’s newer names and younger skaters, but there was something about having all the legends there and doing it on a Friday night that made that the main event. Our legends demo was bigger than the pro contest the next day.
It was pretty amazing to see Cab, and Christian there, Sandro Diaz and Bob Burnquist… It was unreal. It really felt like the height of the X-Games, in terms of vert-appreciation. It’s 2021 and Steve Caballero did his signature Caballerial for a crowd of thousands. Christian Hosoi did a Christ air. What a time to be alive, when those things are converging next door to Street League where people like Nyjah Huston and Rayssa and Shane O’Neill are doing the most modern, complicated, difficult, technical manoeuvres. Those things co-existing in the same timeframe is amazing.
How involved in the Olympics were you? I remember you helped ESPN with how to ‘present’ skateboarding in a respectable way, and obviously you were around all the NSA events, so you’re familiar with all versions of organised skateboarding. How was the Olympics for you?
I was part of the group that was pushing the IOC to make sure that if they were going to include skateboarding, they would at least do it with the right people, and to try to show them that it’s as valid as any sport they’ve ever included. Once it got accepted, I removed myself from all the organisations and committees. Mostly because it required a lot of work, and I didn’t want people to think that I was somehow cashing in on it, because I made no money from any of that.
They wanted me to go to every event and do every interview, but my goal there was to get it in the Games, and now it’s in the Games I can leave the process.
But to be there, I felt very lucky. Even the skaters’ families couldn’t be there. So it was fun to go a a spectator, and not someone who’s invested in the whole outcome of it.
Can you imagine a time without board sponsors, with only shoe logos on skateboards for the ‘elite athletes’? Will shoe companies buy out that ‘space’?
I don’t sense that, because I feel like there is a great allegiance to skateboard sponsors, and there always has been. Even if they’re not big. Even with the smaller brands, so to speak, who don’t do the biggest sales, there’s more reverence for them and that’s the whole goal of turning pro.
It’s fascinating that there’s much more hype and excitement for somebody to get a pro model than to get a pro shoe. And the pro shoe is going to be far more wide-reaching, and far more lucrative in a skater’s life, but it’s more about the respect and the reverence for the skateboard itself. And I don’t think that’s going anywhere.
I just think this is the best time to be a skater. There are more facilities than ever, and say what you will about the Olympics and sponsorship but it just allows more support for the people who have devoted their lives to it.
There’s no great divide in skillset now, everyone rips. The kids are going for it, the women are ripping… It’s unreal. There’s blind skaters doing super tech tricks. I love that we’ve evolved so much and it’s just this great big melting pot, and there’s no segregation.