|(Posted 6/28/2002) |
The freedom to fly
Hawk builds career on skateboard, brings niche sport to masses
By Tom Sorenson, Charlotte Observer
Tony Hawk * is an unusual millionaire athlete. Although he makes his living and reputation on a skateboard, that's not why he's unusual. He's unusual because he calls at the time his publicist says he will, and is patient and courteous and utterly without pretension.
Hawk, 34, talks as long as you want to, breaking away only to find out why his older son, Riley, 9, is putting ice on his elbow. Let me guess. The kid got hurt on a skateboard.
"That's right," Hawk says.
Hawk calls from a hotel room in New Orleans. His third Gigantic Skateboard Tour, the highlights of which ESPN2 * will televise beginning in late July, is rolling through the South. Tonight it is to reach Cornelius, where at 3 p.m. Saturday, Hawk and his crew of skateboard and BMX stars will offer a demonstration at Hang Loose Skatepark *.
Although Hawk got on a skateboard when he was 9, became a champion at 16 and retired from competition at 33, he says there still is pressure when he performs.
"It's the only time they might ever see you live," says Hawk. "They've seen you on TV and in the videos and video game, and you don't want them to walk away thinking you're not very good."
In his Pro Skater video games, one of the most popular sports video games ever produced, Hawk is always good. The games are part of a portfolio that includes skateboards, clothing, toys and even Bagel Bites.
The sale of merchandise he markets and endorses exceeds $250 million a year.
Hawk is as big in his world as Tiger Woods is in his. Only Hawk's world is smaller.
Nine years ago, it was so small it was practically private. He was a niche athlete -- and if you watch skateboarders, there is no question they are athletes -- in a sport that was closer to extinct than extreme.
"People would ask me what I did, and I'd tell them skateboard," says Hawk. They'd ask, "No, what do you do for a living?"
"They thought it was like yo-yo or something," Hawk says.
"Positive TV coverage," he says.
Despite Hawk's resume, almost nobody gets on a skateboard because they dream of endorsing Bagel Bites. They do it to be free.
Some adults encounter skateboarders and want to call the cops, assuming if you spend too much time on one of those contraptions your hair will turn purple, metal will come out of your nostrils and you'll become an anarchist and drop out of school.
Actually, you don't drop out. You become part of something. But to be inventive, you also have to break away. And you don't need coaches.
The sport is new enough that you can invent moves. Hawk didn't invent the 900, a daring 21/2 rotation midair flip above the lip of the vertical ramp. But at the 1999 * X Games, he became the first to pull it off.
If Hawk's minions follow his lead, the next generation of skateboarders will be daring but unpretentious, creative yet punctual and, most of all, free. The future, at least the part of it that travels by board, looks good, don't you think?
Want to go?
WHAT: 3rd Tony Hawk Gigantic Skateboard Tour
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Hang Loose Skatepark, 19340 Liverpool Parkway, Cornelius, North Carolina *
ADMISSION: $6, including cost of skating but not skates
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