Such is the greatness of the man, there are few good deeds left for Tony Hawk that could possibly improve our pristine perceptions of him. Tony Hawk saves a dog from a hot car? “All in a day’s work for the Birdman.” Tony Hawk builds a hospital with his bare hands? “I thought he did that already.” Tony Hawk gets Trump impeached and ends global conflict? “About time.”
He’s invented countless tricks, won more than 70 skateboarding contests, including gold medals at the 1995 and 1997 X Games, and created a billion-dollar video game franchise; but his latest endeavors prove he’s far from kicking back and taking it easy. Chiefly, the quite frankly astonishing work of the Tony Hawk Foundation and his new affordable skateboard collaboration with Penny Skateboards (pictured above).
The foundation has seen the development of almost 1000 skatepark projects worldwide, while the Penny collab will help countless young skaters purchase their first-ever boards. We spoke with Hawk shortly after the latter’s release (you can cop it right now here) to talk about his earliest memories in skating, the impact his foundation is having worldwide and what Donald Trump means to its aspirations.
You’re unquestionably the godfather of skate now, but what are your earliest memories of the sport?
I got into it through my brother. My brother’s a surfer and he started skating in the ’70s. He was always kind of cruising around the neighborhood and one day I just grabbed one of his old boards and tried to do it. He gave it to me and I started doing it with my friends in the neighborhood as well, because they were all starting to get into it.
How do you think your experiences back then compare to how young skaters get involved today?
Well, I think there’s much more opportunity, obviously skating involves much more in terms of accessibility now. I think the types of tricks people do, and the recognition factor of it — it’s the idea that people embrace it more and understand it better. When I was doing it, it was just sort of unknown and not very well received.
There’s always talk of how skateboarding has lost its authenticity in some way or another since those days. Do you ever buy into that?
Well, I think it’s better now in terms of the amount of facilities and the amount of support young skaters have — including encouragement from their parents. There was definitely an element to it when I was younger that was exclusive and kind of rebellious because most parents didn’t want their kids skating. They thought it was a bad influence.
But it was also just that skating was so new that you could create moves without much, I don’t want to say effort, but you could definitely just make moves your own. It was sort of the wild west of innovation. It was like anyone could try something and it was a brand new trick. Nowadays, skating is so diverse and so many things have been done that that element is much more difficult to break through. But in my day, it was just brand new frontier. I loved it because it gave you an identity.
That being said, I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. It was perhaps just more of a challenge to be skater in the early days when I started.
And I guess you’d be proud to say that Tony Hawk Foundation has played a big role in helping develop those opportunities for young skaters. For those who might not be aware, could you explain what it’s all about?
Sure, the foundation basically supports public skate parks in low income areas. We do that by giving communities resources and funding to get parks going. Mostly, we’re a resource center to provide information and, of course, money — but mostly our experience allows us to guide people through the process much easier. Today, we’ve helped fund over 500 parks in all 50 states. We also have an international outreach program through Skateistan so we helped to fund a park in Cambodia and one in South Africa.
We’re trying to empower communities that already wanted to help themselves and try to make an effort to get a park going. We want to help guide them. We want them to have a sense of pride and ownership in the park and not just us coming in and building a part and saying this city needs one. It’s more about empowering the community and the advocates for it.
Do you think Donald Trump becoming president has affected what you do in any way? Has it, or will it, change your goals or impact your ability to achieve them?
It hasn’t changed our mission for the skate parks at all. If anything, the Trump presidency gives us more validation and more incentives to help more communities. The sort of separation of the haves and have-nots is more apparent and more polarized than ever before. We want to help the communities that are truly challenged, that are in need of these kinds of facilities. It’s the kind of support they need for their kids. His politics don’t change our mission.
I guess the old cliche is that sport can help change a kid’s life. Do you think it’s true, and what do you think kids can learn from skateboarding?
Absolutely. I think that there’s a sense of self-confidence. There’s a sense of self-reliance that exists in skateboarding that kids can take to their daily lives. I think there’s also a sense of creativity and community-based goals – in skating, even though it is an individual pursuit, a lot of things that you learn are things that you borrow and expand from other people’s ideas. I call skating a combined evolution – it’s individual, it’s artistic, but at the time, there is a communal push to keep doing your thing. And a sense of camaraderie in that.
So how did this collaboration with Penny come about and why should we buy it?
Well, I decided to do it because I see Penny as a solid entry-level skateboard. You see a lot of people picking up their first skateboard from Penny. I feel like our boards are more of the stepping stone to hardcore skating. With our connections and influence through the foundation, I’m really stoked that we get to participate and to put our seal of approval on it. And, of course, a portion of the proceeds goes directly to the foundation.
I think it’s fair and not just flattery to say that people from all walks of life, whether they like skating or not, have a lot of respect for you and what you’ve always stood for throughout your career — what advice do you have for a young person today?
The best advice I can give is to believe in yourself and to create new challenges no matter how far you get. Even if you think you earned it all or if you’re considered the best in the world, keep challenging yourself because you’re only as good as your last trick in the public’s eye. But only do it because you love it. Don’t do it because you think it’s your ticket to fame or fortune. If that’s the motivation and you reach any of those goals, you’re not going to keep that passion.
Next up, here’s why adidas and Supreme’s Tyshawn Jones is the young gun skater you need to know right now.
- Photography: Mike Blabac / Penny Skateboards