Hawk is determined to keep sport rolling
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 16, 2002
Tony Hawk lives by the adage try, try and try again.
"Some tricks you think you will never get," the world's most famous skateboarder said. "All you can do is keep at it."
On June 27, 1999, at Pier 30 overlooking San Francisco Bay, Hawk found himself locked in a friendly battle with four of his toughest competitors, each hoping to capture the coveted X Games "Best Trick" medal.
Hawk knew it would take something special to win against the likes of Andy Macdonald, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Lasek and Neal Hendrix. So he launched himself off the halfpipe and tried to rotate 2-1/2 times in the air.
The move, dubbed the 900 for the degrees of rotation, never had been completed by Hawk or any other athlete. It was skateboarding's equivalent of the 4-minute mile, and Hawk was determined to make it.
On his first try, he came up short. Hawk failed again on his second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth attempts. With each fall, however, Hawk got a little closer. He fared no better on his seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th attempts. But on No. 11, luck was with him.
Hawk spiraled through the air then landed without falling off the board. The crowd and his fellow competitors were stunned. There was a time when skateboarding's elite thought the 900 was not possible. But what once was fantasy now was a reality.
"More than anything, it was a relief," said Hawk who brings his circus of extreme sport, the Boom Boom HuckJam, to the St. Pete Times Forum tonight. "After I did it, we didn't have to wonder anymore."
Hawk, 34, officially is retired from competition. He entered his first contest when he was 11 and turned pro at 14. Three years later, he had a world title and a major corporate sponsor. "I played baseball and basketball like other kids," Hawk said. "But once I got a skateboard, I knew what I wanted to do."
Hawk credits his father's support for his early success.
"He let me find my own path and he supported me even though it was uncertain whether I would ever be able to make a career out of it," said Hawk, who has three sons. "He knew that skateboarding was what I loved to do, that it was my passion. I was pretty lucky."
Hawk came into his own during what many consider the Dark Age of Skateboarding. After an initial boom in the late 1970s, the skate market declined in the early '80s. There was a brief resurgence in the mid '80s but the market bottomed out again and remained flat into the early '90s.
"Then Hawk hooked up with ESPN and he brought the X Games to TV," said Gary Sullivan, owner of Florida Oceansports, a St. Petersburg skate shop. "When we opened up in 1993, we couldn't sell a skateboard. Then, the day after the X Games were on, the kids started pouring in. And it has held ever since."
For the past five years, skateboarding has been the fastest-growing sport in the nation, according to the Chicago-based National Sporting Goods Association. Today, more than 11-million people own and ride skateboards in the United States, and each year a million new kids pick up the sport.
"Skateboarders are finally getting their fair share of coverage from the media," Hawk said. "In the past, the sport has always been viewed with some skepticism. They would either say that it was just a trend that would fade away or they would write us off and say we were just daredevils with no concern for our bodies.
"But I think now the media realizes that skateboarding is creative, artistic and athletic in its own right," he continued. "Attitudes have changed. Now parents are actually encouraging their kids to skate."
Hawk deserves a lion's share of the credit for the change in perception. His wholesome, good-guy image has helped what once was considered an outlaw sport go mainstream.
He has done a milk advertisement, white moustache and all, and when Nickelodeon held its Kids Choice Awards, the "Birdman" beat out Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal for Best Male Athlete of the Year.
Hawk said he envisioned the HuckJam as a way to elevate the sport.
"We kept watching the crowds grow and grow at the skateparks and I knew that we had to find another venue," he said. "The only way to please the crowds was to take the skatepark to an arena."
Hawk financed the initial construction of the mobile ramp system (see pages 6-7C), that would accommodate not only skateboarders but BMX bikers and motocross riders as well.
The "Extreme Circus" debuted in Las Vegas in April then, after a summer hiatus, reopened in October in Portland, Ore. Since then, the HuckJam has traveled from California to New York with alternative bands such as Offspring, Devo and Social Distortion.
Hawk said he hopes the tour's success will help his efforts to get public skateparks built in communities around the country.
Since its inception one year ago, the Tony Hawk Foundation has given away $450,000 to 100 skateparks. Hawk started the ball rolling with an endowment and some of his sponsors, including Activision, Hot Bites and Quiksilver, threw in their support.
"Our criteria is simple," he said. "We support projects in low-income areas and only ask that they consult the skaters themselves in the design process and raise some money of their own."
Hawk said he hopes someday to see a public skatepark in every city. Until then, he has some advice for youngsters hitting the ramps.
"Don't get frustrated," he said. "The stuff you see the pros doing on videos, TV and magazines takes years to master. And for the most part, they still don't have everything wired. The harder things take time. You have got to take it slow."
Try, try and try again.