Ask anyone born before 2000 who the most iconic sportsperson of all time is, and the responses likely won’t include Michael Jordan, Maradona, or Muhammad Ali. Instead, the chances are good that their answer would be skateboarder Tony Hawk.
First turning professional in 1982 at just 14, Hawk likely had no idea about the legacy that he would soon curate for himself. While he would gradually become a household name of the sport, Hawk constantly found himself venturing into other media; appearing in Hollywood films as a skateboarder on numerous occasions, and even turning up in a “Weird Al” Yankovic music video.
However, as skateboarding became more and more recognised as a mainstream activity, the end of the ’90s brought with it two massive achievements in Hawk’s life that thrust him into the global spotlight. Firstly, was his landing of the 900 in June of 1999, and – just three months later – the launch of a now-iconic video game series that bears his name.
With the aforementioned series going on to not only influence sports, music, and film in unmeasurable ways, the 17 titles managed to gross more than $1 billion in sales, turning a humble skateboarder known as Tony Hawk into something of a big deal, to put it lightly.
Even with documentaries being made about the success of the series, and millions of dollars in royalties coming his way annually, Hawk remains a humble, down-to-earth, altruistic individual, with his Tony Hawk Foundation distributing grants to communities across the globe to open skateparks and foster new opportunities for people of all ages.
Just last month, Hawk revealed that he’s set to visit Australia once again this April for a pair of intimate gigs. Featuring a Q&A session and music from Birdman (that is, the Sydney group famed for covering songs from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game series), these events are set to be a unique experience for lovers of sports, video games, music, and pop culture.
To celebrate these forthcoming dates, we spoke to the sporting icon to learn more about what inspired these speaking appearances, his iconic legacy, and his constant ability to not be recognised everywhere he goes.
Check out Tony Hawk landing his first-ever 900:
The Brag: First up, you’re doing a pair of speaking shows in Australia this April. What is it that made you want to take parts in events like this and bring them down to Australia?
Tony Hawk: It was a collaboration with Birdman, the band. We did a fundraiser here in San Diego last year and I thought it went really well.
There’s such synergy, obviously, with the video game and the soundtrack, with peoples interest in skating, and so we thought that the best collaboration of something we could do intimately was to do…I do a lot of speaking engagements where I tell my story about my life and my challenges, rises and falls of success, and to add that with their music was like a really good combination that I think people will be entertained by.
We thought, “let’s just try it. Let’s try two dates and see what happens.”
TB: What has the response been like from the fans for these kind of events?
TH: Generally when I do speaking engagements, I get a lot of good feedback and I get a lot of good questions. I think this one will be much more specific to people who were into the video game, obviously.
A lot of the time when I do speaking engagements for conferences, whether it be for a sales conference for a big company or a tech conference, and it’s an eclectic mix of people. I think this one will be much more of a hardcore either video game or skate crowd, which is fun for me because then I can really get into more detailed stories and anecdotes.
TB: You teamed up with Birdman last year for your 20th anniversary. How did the band first appear on your radar?
TH: Basically, when they started doing shows I was getting tagged all over the place on social media. I thought it was really cool that someone would make a band just dedicated to the music of our soundtracks.
So, I was checking them out and when we had this 20th anniversary idea, the pipe dream was to get many of the bands [to perform at the event, but] that’s just unreasonable. We can’t; we’re not a festival. We have one stage. We can’t have five bands playing on one stage. It’s like, “well, they just want to hear the hits anyway,” and that’s what Birdman plays.
They play the hits from the game, so it was a really good synergy with what people want to hear and connecting with fans who were fans of the game. It went over really well. That was one of the highlights of last year.
Check out Birdman at the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 20th anniversary event:
TB: With a band like Birdman, they really only exist due to you and your influence. Given that you’ve encouraged countless people to learn to skate, is it strange knowing that these things exist solely because of you and your influence?
TH: It is! It’s very weird, but I could never take all the credit for that. There are so many elements and so many people involved, and so much work behind the scenes.
For instance, when it came to curating the soundtrack for the game, sure I was the catalyst for a lot of that stuff, and I’m hugely proud of it, and it’s weird when your name is so intertwined with a product. But, at the same time I’m proud of it, and I love that people have good memories from that or that they connect my name with a video game series that was very successful.
But, yeah, it is weird on the baseline because I never set out to be a role model or influencer. I just wanted to get better at skating, and I still do. That’s always been my motivation.
TB: As you’ve never intended to have this sort of legacy, when the video game series actually came out, did you ever see it having this sort of reception and legacy all these years later?
TH: No. I would say that I didn’t get a sense of that until our fourth game was released [in 2002]. When our fourth game was released, the last three games were still in the top ten of sales.
That, to me, was a huge mark of success. We were just killing it on every front, and that’s when I realised that it was something that was going to last for a very long time.
TB: Even now, 20 years later it is something that is inextricably linked to people’s own childhood. That’s obviously something that you could never assume would come about.
TH: I would have never foreseen any of that.
Check out the trailer for Pretending I’m A Superman – The Tony Hawk Video Game Story:
TB: You’re first and foremost known as a skateboarder, but your legacy has gone far beyond the sport itself. People these days always view you as something of a gateway to a lifestyle with sports, media, or music. Is it ever daunting to know you’ve had that sort of impact over the years?
TH: No, I mean it’s a huge honour. I don’t take it lightly. If I’m ever somewhere where I’m meeting fans, I want them to have a good experience.
I guess there’s the old saying “with great power comes great responsibility,” but I don’t think of it as great power, I just think of it as an incredibly lucky life. If that inspires people, then that’s even better.
TB: You’ve had quite a number of achievements over the years, whether it’s been through success, video games, media, or even the success of your own Tony Hawk foundation. Is there anything you’d be able to say that you’re most proud of?
TH: I’m proud that we’ve created something that does have impact. We’ve created over 900 skateparks so far. All of those things I’m really proud of – I can’t think of one in particular.
The idea that we have been recognised by big philanthropy through other organisations and gotten grants from them shows that our work is resonating and that we have the right approach.
Check out an example of the Tony Hawk Foundation’s success:
TB: Are there currently any other goals that the Tony Hawk foundation is trying to achieve, or is it just trying to continue in the same vein that it always has been?
TH: We would like to do more international work. It’s really hard because we would have to be set up as a non-profit in other countries if we are going to work in those countries. We just don’t have the funding or the resources to do that.
But, we have been able to work closely with Skateistan and help fund some of their projects because we trust their work. So, we are able to do that without having to do any sort of international red tape. There work is incredible. They just won an Oscar as there was a short film made about them and they won an Oscar last night for it. So, we’re really proud to be supporting them.
Check out the trailer for Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl):
TB: Skateboarding is undoubtedly becoming much more of an accepted, mainstream sport than it used to be in the ‘80s. Even this year you’ve got skateboarding being included in the Tokyo olympics. How does it feel to have something you’re so closely linked with to be so accepted by mainstream society?
TH: We’ve come a long way and I think there’s a lot of elements to that, there’s a lot of reasons. I’m sure the video game is one of them, the X Games, and just the fact that it permeates pop culture now in so many ways from fashion, celebrities, rappers, skating, all sorts of things add up and now kids choose to skate as readily as they choose to play team sports.
In terms of how I approach skating, I always thought, “why isn’t that the case?” Because I look at what it provided me and the community and how important it was.
TB: Is there still any sort of steps that you hope to see skateboarding take in the future in terms of becoming even more accepted and more mainstream?
TH: I don’t really have any high hopes. If nothing else, maybe the Olympics will spark more interest internationally and in countries that maybe don’t have skateparks or support for skating will step up. That would be the silver lining of all of this, that there’s more equality internationally.
Check out examples of the general public not recognising Tony Hawk:
TSA agent (checking my ID): "Hawk, like that skateboarder Tony Hawk!"
Her: "Cool, I wonder what he's up to these days"
— Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) March 21, 2017
Kid at skatepark:
“Are you Tony Hawk?”
me: I am
him: “no you’re not”
me: ok, I’m not
him: “but are you, FOR REAL?”
me: I am, for real
him: I thought you’d look younger
me: ME TOO
— Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) July 29, 2019
To clarify: my legal name is Anthony
TSA agent checks my ID, looks at me, looks at ID, looks back at me quizzically and loudly says
"Tony Hawk's my favorite skater"
Me: I’ll tell him.
— Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) June 21, 2018
TB: In recent years, you’ve also become quite famous for people not recognising you. Ironically, it has given you a boost in popularity. Have you always taken that with a sense of humour, or was there ever a time where you just felt bummed out by people not recognising you?
TH: Well, I never expected to be recognised in all my life anyway, so it never was like I got into skating like kids get into basketball thinking, “I’m going to get rich and famous someday for this.” That didn’t exist as a goal when I started skating, so that was never the plan or the hope.
So, when it happened it was all kind of surprising and crazy, but I appreciated it. As I got older, and people have me stuck in this time capsule of me in the video game form, or me in my 30s when I was doing X Games, then they see me now and they don’t connect that I could have possibly aged.
I mean, at one point I was a little annoyed by it, but I came to just love it. I think it’s hilarious.
Also, I’ve broken through this stage of where it’s a novelty that I skate and I’m older, where as now they think it’s cool. But, for instance, five years ago it was like, “you’re in your 40s, and you’re still skating?!”
It was more with the sense of condescension or hesitation, but now I’m 51 and I’m still doing these tricks, and it’s like, “holy shit, he’s as old as a grandpa,” and I love that I stuck with it to come that far.
Check out Tony Hawk pulling off some classic tricks:
Tony Hawk Australian Tour Dates
Monday, April 13th
The Forum, Melbourne, VIC
Tuesday April 14th
The Factory Theatre, Sydney, NSW