|(Posted 6/18/2002) |
This article, reprinted from the Boston Globe *, gives a brief overview of Tony's skateboard career, which has taken him from 12-year-old Bones Brigade * rookie to 14-year old pro, through the skateboard industry doldrums to the mega-limelight of today's Warped Tours *, X-Games *, and skateboard video games. Even through this all, Tony Hawk * is clearly one of skateboarding's most positive and lasting role models, and we all owe him for that. Now if we could just stop the ads...
The $250 million skate punk
Extreme sportsman Tony Hawk soars over a pop culture empire
By Geoff Edgers, Boston Globe Staff, 6/16/2002
His skill is to rise toward the heavens on a board with wheels *, twisting through the air in ways only dreamed about, never
achieved, before he got there. But when Tony Hawk lands back on Earth, he is not merely the greatest athlete of his sport,
skateboarding. He is the first skate-punk impresario, a cultural icon-slash-entrepreneur for the Nickelodeon set.
If you're a parent, you may have heard of Hawk. If you're a teenager or younger, odds are he's taken your lunch money,
seducing you with skateboards, sneakers, snack foods, and video games. This fall, Hawk will have even more to sell: a road
journal, a punk-rock tour, a turn on ''The Simpsons,'' and a WB sitcom with Jennie Garth, the former star of ''Beverly Hills
Juggling appearances with Leno and Letterman, hanging with Hollywood * directors, guesting on ''Jackass *,'' Hawk, 34, operates
in a rarefied perch at the intersection of extreme sports and the entertainment biz.
''He's not somebody unlike [rap record-label owners] Russell Simmons or Sean Combs,'' says Murray Forman, a professor of
cultural studies at Northeastern University. ''They leverage their skills into diverse holdings.''
Sports Illustrated recently calculated those holdings. The magazine estimated Hawk's annual take at $10 million and the
amount of business he generates at $250 million a year. In the tween-to-teen universe seemingly ruled by the likes of Eminem *
and Harry Potter, Tony Hawk is an altogether different advertising weapon - so secretly popular that Ma and Pa America have
barely heard of him. How popular? Two recent surveys rank Hawk behind only Michael Jordan among athletes.
''He is hotter than a firecracker,'' says Steven Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations, a company that measures familiarity
image of entertainment figures. ''Marketers should be lining up at his door.''
They are. Hawk's done his ''Got Milk?'' spot, graduating to commercials for H.J. Heinz Co.'s Hot Bites and the upcoming
''What I Like About You'' on WB. Just last month, Movieline magazine honored him with a Cultural Icon award. For the
ceremony, Hawk shared a table with Thora Birch (''American Beauty''). This fall, Hawk plans to take his latest concept, the
Boom Boom HuckJam, on the road. The tour will feature bikers, skateboarders, and punk bands. (An April kickoff concert in
Las Vegas * included the Offspring and Social Distortion.)
There will also be a fourth edition of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater *, which has been one of the most successful video games over the
last three years, earning Activision * $625 million, according to Fortune Magazine.
To hear Hawk describe his rise in a recent interview, it is largely a case of serendipity.
''I just set out to keep skating and keep getting better,'' he says. ''So anything else, in terms of fame or finances or opportunity,
is incidental to trying to keep skating.''
But getting from the vert ramp * to the pages of Fortune is also, in large part, the result of Hawk's business vision. During the
early '90s, when he was struggling to pay his bills, Hawk formed Birdhouse * Skateboards, a company to promote his sport and
sell related products. He signed on to the then-unknown ESPN * Extreme Games, even though he hated the title and found the
hyped-up rivalries silly. He hired his sister, Pat, to run his business affairs. And he listened to all offers, though he didn't
always accept them.
''It's not like suddenly I said, `I've got to have some endorsements, I've got to start making some money,''' says Hawk. ''I've
always had endorsements. It's just that the kinds that I've had had been fairly limited.''
A temperamental kid
The long, slow creation of Tony Hawk, cultural icon, did not begin in a corporate boardroom. It started in San Diego *, during
the 1970s. As he relates in his 2000 * autobiography, ''Hawk - Occupation: Skateboarder,'' which has been optioned by Disney,
he was a temperamental kid who spent most of his preteen years scarfing down ice cream, watching cartoons, and burning his
way through a series of sports. His mother tried to teach him tennis. He responded by smashing the ball back at her as hard as
he could. She took him swimming. He tried to conquer the Olympic-size pool underwater, and grew angry when he couldn't.
He decided he hated team sports. Then, just after his sixth birthday, Hawk's older brother, Steve, stuck him on his blue banana
By grade school, Hawk could regularly be found at the Oasis Skatepark *, directly under a highway overpass and, as Hawk
describes it, an ''Elk's Club for kids with scabs.'' At 12, he became the youngest member of Stacy Peralta *'s ''Bones Brigade,''
one of the pioneering skateboarding teams. At 14, he went pro.
Hawk got respect from the outlaw types by skating better, earning championships, and landing tricks nobody else had
executed. By his senior year in high school, he was making $70,000 a year. He bought himself a house and built a ramp in the
backyard. He rode skateboarding's wave of popularity through the late '80s. But when the bottom fell out of the sport, Hawk's
bank account dwindled. In the early '90s, the greatest skater on the planet had to sell his car and house, and, at one point, borrow
$8,000 from his parents.
All of that changed in 1995 *, when ESPN ushered in ''The Extreme Games,'' an event packaged to compete with more
mainstream TV sports. With manufactured rivalries, quick video cuts, and a grungy soundtrack, it created a skateboard star
system. Tony Hawk, simply the best athlete of his time, became the sport's Michael Jordan. By year's end, he had scored a
sneaker contract. And he had discovered what can best be called the Warped principle, which refers to the bare-bones,
punk-rock tour started in 1996 * by Kevin Lyman.
As larger, star-driven summer festivals like Lollapalooza fizzled, Lyman came up with an alternative concept. A tour that
embraced a lifestyle instead of a group of unrelated big-name bands, Warped featured ramps for skaters and daredevil bikers to
accompany then-little-known bands such as Green Day, Pennywise *, and Blink 182 *. Instead of sterile stadiums, Lyman, needing
space for the setup, held many of the events in parking lots.
Teenagers streamed to the shows. Companies glommed on to what became the most heavily sponsored summer tour. Neil
Young could earnestly shun the soft-drink companies; the skate punks were more than happy to be bathed in corporate logos.
''Because all our types of sports and music are viewed as the underdogs, for them to gain this sort of legitimacy, there's a
collective pride that we've come so far,'' says Hawk. ''It's almost like you're laughing at the fact that there is an endorsement.
That Schick razors is sponsoring your tour, but at the same time you're happy they recognized you in that light.''
A family man
Hawk, larger than life on Madison Avenue, is by all accounts as down-to-earth as the slightly insecure 12-year-old who joined
his first skateboarding team in the '80s. The leader of the skate-punk revolution is not particularly punkish. No suit of tattoos.
No stint in rehab. No history of parent hating.
He is 34, trim, with close-cropped hair and a comfortable smile. He is a family man, with three kids and a pretty wife named
Erin. They live in a 5,000-square-foot $1.6 million house in Carlsbad with a shared beach, tennis court, and golf course. The
Mr. Nice Guy thing is not just an act.
''I have never heard an individual say a bad thing about Tony,'' says Rick Bratman, president of the Aggressive Skaters
''His image is just a genuine product of who he is,'' says Tim Layden, a Sports Illustrated writer who has covered Hawk for
years. ''He doesn't work at it. He can't help but be gracious with everybody who approaches him. And compared to Michael
Jordan and Tiger Woods, there are certainly fewer layers between him and his public. Tony goes to the movies and grocery
shopping and he picks his kid up at school. Tiger and Jordan are both engaging, personable people but any direct contact they
have with the public is long gone. You can just go see Tony Hawk.''
It is the nature of his sport. Even though many marketing studies show skateboarding growing more popular with kids - and
basketball, baseball, and football losing the younger audience - the sport retains its underground cred. Which is how Hawk can
continue to cruise the country with his skating buddies, arriving in parking lots to spread the gospel of the grind. They call
these promotions ''demos,'' and even Hawk's MTV * comedian buddy Tom Green has joined for some recent stops this summer.
That is Hawk's mission: to sell the sport, whether it's through the demos or in commercials. He often includes a clause in his ad
deals stipulating that he must approve the spots, allowing him to make sure that skateboarding is promoted.
''It's OK for me to be the one that everyone wants to epitomize the selling out of skateboarding,'' Hawk says while driving to the
next demo in a parking lot in Las Vegas. ''I don't pay too much attention, because I feel good about what I'm doing. I've always
walked that line in getting sponsors that aren't interested in our industry. I just feel like getting those types of opportunities
helps our skate companies grow.''
The video king
A large part of that growth - of skateboarding, and Hawk's wallet - was sparked by a call from Activision.
In 1998 *, the video-game manufacturer was developing a skateboarding game, feeling it could reach a great untapped audience.
It also needed help in its battle against the more profitable Electronic Arts *, which had ''Madden NFL'' and ''NBA Live.''
''The idea wasn't just to represent skateboarding as a game - we wanted to capture the whole lifestyle,'' says David Pokress,
Activision's director of global brand management. ''I listen to a certain kind of music, I wear a certain kind of clothes, I hang
with a certain crowd of people.''
For Activision, Hawk provided instant authenticity.
''From a financial standpoint, we wanted to be able to sell the game to the widest possible audience,'' says Dave Stohl, an
Activision vice president. ''Tony Hawk was the legend and he was already working the Nickelodeon crowd. He has this ability
to reach the masses. I'm 31. He was the main guy when I was 13 and he's still the main guy. To me, it was obvious if you were
going to use a guy, it had to be Tony Hawk.''
Hawk visited the Activision offices in Santa Monica * and Stohl showed him a computer demo of the game. The first version of
''Tony Hawk's ProSkater'' came out in September of 1999 *. It caught even video-game analysts by surprise and, to date, its three
versions have sold 12.5 million copies. ''ProSkater 4'' hits the market later this year. It's available on multiple formats, including
Playstation *, Cube, and Windows.
''When you think about video games, sports video games, you think of the traditional stuff like football or basketball.
Skateboarding was regarded as more of a niche,'' says Michael Wallace, a game-industry analyst with UBS Warburg
Securities. ''I don't think anyone regarded skateboarding as a real popular thing and it just kind of snowballed. That Tony
Hawk * name meant a lot to the video-game community.''
It still does, though there are signs that Hawk may be achieving the ultimate measure of success: a backlash.
Forman, the Northeastern professor who studies youth culture, has heard the grumbles. ''He's a fairly docile family guy, his
skating career is in decline, and about the time he starts getting his mainstream accessibility, kids start to sign off,'' says
Forman. ''They're looking for the next thing.''
On a recent afternoon in the Park Street MBTA station, a group of teenagers is asked about Hawk, sparking an instant debate.
''He's a sellout,'' says Chris McAuliffe, who's 14 and sports a Mohawk. ''He does it all for the money.''
''Once I saw the commercial with the pizza pockets, that did it,'' says John Torchetti, a 16-year-old standing next to him.
''Skating's a little thing I want to keep to ourselves. It's our thing.''
But Sean McCormack, 16, doesn't agree.
''He's a cool dude and he makes a lot of money,'' he says. ''You skate because you like to skate. But if you're offered a deal,
wouldn't you take it?''
This story ran on page L1 of the Boston Globe on 6/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 * Globe Newspaper Company.
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