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Skateboarder Tony Hawk MAG
As a child, Tony Hawk was a self-described nightmare. He was nine years old when his brother changed his life by giving him his first skateboard.
At age 14 he turned pro, and by age 16 Tony Hawk was the best skateboarder in the world. In the ensuing 17 years, Hawk has entered an estimated 103 pro contests. He won 73 of them, and placed second in 19 - the best record in skateboarding history. He retired from competition at age 31, but still skates almost every day.
(text adapted from biography on TonyHawk.com)
[Jeff] There are stereotypes about skateboarders, like you have to be a punk and act a certain way. What are your feelings? I'm a skateboarder, and I'm not a punk, so ...
I think it really stems from the past. Skating has been sort of shunned, and not accepted in the public eye, and so the skaters were the ones who didn't really care what others thought. Some skaters were a little flamboyant, like punk and different hairdos and others associated that with skating. And the sort of outlaw aspect ... since there was nowhere for them to go, they went street skating on private and public property. People didn't take to that very well, but since they weren't providing facilities, that was all skaters had.
I think skating is way more diverse now than it ever has been, so I don't think there is one type of person who fits the mold. I think there is a culture associated with our sport, but it doesn't mean you have to look a certain way to be a skater.
[Jiadai] If you spoke at a high-school commencement, what message would you convey?
I'm glad I don't have to do that, first of all. The most important message, I think, is to believe in yourself, you know, and go after whatever goals or aspirations you have with confidence. If you go at them halfheartedly, or only because someone thinks you should, then you're not going to accomplish what you want. It's more about saying, 'Okay I can do this; I have the resources; I have the experience.' That is loosely my philosophy in skating. I don't really try something unless I'm already convinced I can do it. That's probably my message. I didn't go to college, so I've had to rely on what I learned in high school, obviously, as well as my skating skills.
[David] I play baseball, and a lot of kids have a special routine before the game. Is there anything you do for good luck?
Not really. I don't know, I put everything on my left side first, like my kneepads, left to right, but I think that may be more obsessive-compulsive than a good-luck thing.
I used to have a certain warm-up run I'd do - a sequence of tricks for my first run - but I stopped relying on it because I became too focused on it. If I didn't do it right, then I thought the rest of the day was shot, which really was not working for me.
I have a lot of friends, though, who skate vert, you know, with pads, and they always put their helmet on first, and that's their good-luck thing. Or maybe they're just afraid that something's going to fall on them when they're getting ready.
[Jeff] You knew skateboarding was your thing from a young age. Most teens have no idea what to do with their lives. What advice would you have for a kid trying to decide?
Just test the waters - see what suits you. See what skills you have and what you enjoy doing, and if there is anything that fits all those criteria.
I'm in a unique position because when I started, and turned professional, it wasn't really a career option. There was no money in it, you know, so it wasn't like I said 'Well, I'm just going to go take my skating.' Even though I was ranked number one, I wasn't making a living at it.
So I just figured I would probably do something else. Since I was always focused on computers I thought, at some point - if I had to - I probably would go into video editing or web design or something, which I still love. So had I not skated that's probably what I would have done.
I think you've just got to find what really interests you and keeps you excited, and not do something you feel like you have to do.
[Jiadai] I read your autobiography and learned you used to play the violin. You gave it up for skateboarding? I play the violin, so that stood out for me.
Oh, you do? Oh, that's cool.
So, I was wondering what else about you do you think people would be surprised to learn?
Gosh, I'm not sure. I guess that I'm such a computer geek. My friends rely on me for tech support. Literally, I get phone calls, you know, how do I do this, or save this file, how do I print this, how do I change ... you know. And they don't realize that I'm in Australia, and they're calling my cell phone when they could ask some computer guy.
I miss the violin, actually. I literally did give it up for skating, because I felt I could only have one extra-curricular activity, and I felt my skating was improving faster than my violin skills. But I just recently got a new violin, so I'm going to try to take it up again. Might be a little late, but still fun.
[David] My first time facing a 90-mile-an-hour pitch, I was shaking in the batter's box. If I ever went as high and far in the air as you, I'd definitely be scared. Do you have any fear of getting hurt?
There's always a fear of getting hurt, but like I said, I try to approach it all with confidence. If I set a goal, I don't go at it thinking, Boy, I hope this works but rather, I can do this. I try to suppress the fear. I also sometimes have this habit of imagining worst-case scenarios for tricks or for big air, and stuff like that, which is probably the worst thing you can do, but if I think, What's the worst thing that could happen right here? Okay, I can live through that. So, maybe I set myself up for the ultimate failure, or ultimate success.
[Jeff] It was tough for you in high school because skateboarding wasn't exactly 'in.' It's always pretty daunting to be rejected by peers. Was there a time when you just wanted to fit in, even if it meant no more skateboarding?
Yeah, there was, probably when I first started skating. Then it was my way of fitting in because skating was somewhat popular, and all my friends were doing it. Then I started improving, and feeling like it was the only thing I really excelled at.
Then pretty much everyone quit, but I stuck with it, and they saw me as a relic. Because it was like, 'You still skate? That's so last year.' I just couldn't give it up and eventually broke away from my friends from school.
[Jeff] Did you have any friends in school?
Yeah, I had some friends, but my parents moved around, so my only consistent friends were at the skate park. I changed high schools four times, so it was a little rough, but at the same time I was sort of an outcast because I was a skater, so to go to a new school was no big deal.
[Jiadai] In your book I saw pictures of your sons; they are so cute. What important lessons have you learned from them?
The most important was that skateboarding is not the only thing, it's not the most important thing. And they should really enjoy what they are doing, and actually understand it and participate in it, whatever it is.
I try not to try to direct them too much. What is probably the most fun for me is knowing their interests.
[David] Is it tough to be great friends with a group of guys and then compete against them? I play against my friends, and sometimes it's just a laughing matter, but other times it gets pretty serious.
It's never too serious with us. In our sport, it's very subjective. If you do your best and your buddy does his best, it's up to whoever thinks your art is cooler. And there is nothing you can really do about that. You know what I mean? So it's not like there's a definitive winner where they score who went the highest or the fastest.
So it's easier to be friends with your rivals in our sport. It's not a matter of 'I'm gonna get you.'
[Jeff] Did your teachers treat you differently because you were a professional athlete?
[Laughing] No, not at all. They didn't see skateboarding as a legitimate sport so, if anything, I got grief for it. I actually had a rough time senior year when I started getting a lot of travel opportunities, and I'd be gone for a weekend to some big competition, and miss either a Friday or the Monday. Even though I was making up the work, they started marking me down for my absences. I didn't get a lot of leeway.
I actually had a teacher yell at me and say that I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life, that I couldn't just keep riding my skateboard.
[Jiadai] Is it weird to have strangers know everything about you? How do you keep from having a huge ego?
People knowing everything about me - that I'm just as flawed as anyone - lets me not have a huge ego. I don't try to project some other persona. If you look at some pop stars, they are so shrouded with who they really are and who they are trying to project and who they want you to accept.
I couldn't live under that scrutiny. It's a little strange, though, for sure, especially if someone has read my book and starts asking about really private details. At the same time I appreciate that they enjoyed it, and that somehow they are inspired.
[David] My best friend lost his brother last year in a car accident. How did you deal with the death of your father?
How did I deal with it? Luckily, (well not luckily) he was sick for a while, so we had some time to prepare, which is a little easier, I think. Even though it's painful and seems like it goes on forever, it wasn't sudden, like a car accident.
You've just got to be strong, really, you've got to be strong for your friends, you've got to be strong for your family, and you've got to keep going, you know? You can't let it stop your life as well. That was really the way I handled it: I just kept doing what I was doing.
Even when he was really sick in his last days, I had a couple of opportunities for tours, and he told me to go. He said, 'You can't just stay here waiting for me to die, You've got to keep going.' I was on tour the day he passed away, but that's how he wanted it.
[Jeff] You are a pioneer of skateboarding and brought it to the attention of people all over the world. What about you is so fascinating?
I don't know (laughing). I've survived two generations of skating, so I have staying power. People in the '80s knew who I was, and now they have kids who know me. But I was pretty successful competing and that has a lot of bearing in our sport. But, beyond that, video games. I can't deny that video games have made my name more recognizable than I could ever imagine just through skating. And it was fun working on them.
[Jeff] Yeah, and fun to play!
[Jiadai] Recently you've become part of the American Library Association, and their effort motivating teens to read. What book or author do you recommend everyone read before graduating?
Well, I enjoy the guy who wrote High Fidelity, what's his name, Nick Hornby? It's more about my generation, so I would encourage people to read it. I like the way it's written and the characters, but at the same time, it might define a different generation for them. It's a good movie, too.
[David] Although you've had a lucrative career skating, there were some tough times. What did you learn from them, and how did you bounce back?
I just learned that I can't take things for granted. It did seem like there was never going to be an end to my success, but then it dropped so suddenly that I realized I can't just take it for granted.
But I never quit skating. I never gave up what I love doing, even though it was, well, not my downfall, but it was the one thing I kept focusing on it even though things weren't that good.
[Jeff] You have had the chance to meet many of your heroes. Who had the greatest impact?
Well, even though I never really got to talk to him, I find Lance Armstrong a real inspiration. I guess I can say I've met him. I've gotten this close to him.
[Jiadai] How did you come to name your tour Boom Boom Huck Jam?
Well, we were trying to do a take-off on some Japanese names. If you go to Japan and see how they write English, it's really off. And it's always kind of funny but the tone is still there.
Basically we had all these ridiculous names thrown out there. You know, things like Crazy Boy, he go Boom. Like things you'd see in the comics. But then again Huck Jam, you know, has a real meaning to it. Hucking is the term we use when we jump in the air. We huck ourselves into the air. And it's a jam, it's not a competition, so it's a Huck Jam. And then we threw in Boom Boom because it sounded cool and it sort of gave it a Japanese flavor.
[Jeff] Why do you think your tours are so popular?
Probably because it's not a competition, it's a show, so you are not going to see a bunch of guys falling down. I think our show is one of the first that dads share with their sons; they both enjoy it equally. It's nonstop excitement, there's always something crazy going on.
[Jiadai] There seem to be few girls involved in skateboarding, and the Huck Jam attracts mostly sons and fathers. Why, and what is being done to attract more females?
There are more female skaters than ever these days, and they have more support too - televised competitions, girls-only skate companies and organizations, etc. Female skaters are poised to reach the level of acceptance that female surfers have at this point.
[David] How did you become so business-oriented?
It's just what I learned in skating; it's about keeping true to what I do and to the sport. Any marketing and endorsements I do, I make sure that the focus is the skating and the skating has integrity, instead of just making a quick buck.
I use these big companies' marketing dollars to advertise skateboarding, instead of using skateboarding to advertise their stuff. Maybe someone who has never seen it before will get excited and try to skate.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I think it's great to get teenagers being active in Teen Ink instead of just being told what to do. I think it's great to be pro-active where you are inspired to go write, instead of having someone telling you that you have to write.
If you just go and do it and get used to that self-motivation, that's what people are looking for. Employers, especially, like people who do stuff on their own instead of only being told what to do.