Tony Hawk plans to keep skateboarding “Until the wheels fall off”: NPR


Tony Hawk flies through the air in a new documentary, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.

Pictures by Sam Jones/HBO


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Tony Hawk plans to keep skateboarding "Until the wheels fall off": NPR

Tony Hawk flies through the air in a new documentary, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.

Pictures by Sam Jones/HBO

Few athletes can say they are so good at their sport that they become synonymous with greatness. Michael Jordan and basketball. Tiger Woods and golf. Serena Williams and tennis. And then there’s Tony Hawk.

The skateboarding icon has seen the sport explode in popularity over a remarkable and long career, from shredding bowls in the backyard as a kid to taking incredible heights on the half-pipe to performing to be a worldwide ambassador of the board.

A new HBO documentary chronicles Hawk’s life and the growth of a once-derided trend.

Hawk spoke to NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe about the new film, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To listen to the broadcast version of this conversation, click on the audio player at the top of this page.

You have skated most of your life. Can you tell us about the first time you rode a board?

Yeah, I was about nine years old, and my brother and his friend were skating down the driveway and his old board was right there. And I said, “Oh, can I try that?” And I remember screaming, “How can I stop? How can I stop?” And then I ran into the fence. I have a few splinters in my fingers. And then a couple of my friends started skating as a hobby and we started building ramps and stuff. And that’s when I got more serious.

And that chart is in the Smithsonian, isn’t it?

It is, yeah. My brother and I donated it to the Smithsonian almost 10 years ago.

Tony Hawk plans to keep skateboarding "Until the wheels fall off": NPR

Until the wheels fall shows a young Tony Hawk before it has become synonymous with the sport of skateboarding.

Neil Blender / HBO


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Neil Blender / HBO

Tony Hawk plans to keep skateboarding "Until the wheels fall off": NPR

Until the wheels fall shows a young Tony Hawk before it has become synonymous with the sport of skateboarding.

Neil Blender / HBO

In the 80s, you were competing all over the country and internationally, then you started winning consistently, but you got to a point where you felt empty and something was missing. Why did you feel empty at that time?

Because I love skating for what it has given me, in terms of sensations, mental health and adrenaline. And when I went to a competition, I was in a much more conservative mode. It was less fun. It was more like, you have to hit that mark. You must do these tricks to succeed in this contest. And then guess what? There’s another one next weekend. And it became this formula that sucked the fun out of skateboarding for me because I love the spontaneous aspects of skateboarding. I like to go out and learn new tricks and skate with my friends. But the only way to be successful in skateboarding at that time was to compete. So I played the game, but at some point it burned me.

When you came back to it, it was about not being so worried about winning. You must be prepared to lose.

Absoutely. And it was liberating. It allowed me to enjoy skating and competing, and it was the balance I needed at this point in my life.

But even if you were prepared to lose, you still gained a lot. Even after that, right?

I did. Yeah, I mean, I think because suddenly I was released from that tension. And it was like, just taking risks. And it would work more often than not.

And there was a time when you got the fame and the money and all that but you still had to go through that thinking point and figure out the man that you wanted to be and you decided to put that discipline that you put skateboarding into your life.

Yeah, and it sounds easy to say, but it took a lot of work because I was always easily distracted by the trappings of fame and at some point I fell into that. And so, stepping back from that and putting all that discipline and energy into being a current father and husband was something I had to work on.

And it didn’t come naturally. I didn’t have a good example of that growing up. My father was supportive, but by no means loving, especially to my mother. And I don’t blame them. I hate using this as a crutch, like I have to figure it out on my own. I wish I had understood it earlier.

But when I figured it out, life was so much better. I mean, now skateboarding is no longer my distraction and my escape. Now it’s just my pleasure. For me, that’s how it is, it’s my relaxation. It’s where I feel in control and have fun and sometimes it goes wrong and I break my leg (laughs).

Is it determination and drive or is there something else?

I think the determination, the drive are definitely the main elements that brought me here, but also the idea that I… it’s not that I want to get injured. It’s not that I’m trying to prove I’m tough, but I don’t mind hurting myself along the way to progress. And if I fall hard and I’m still able to get up, I’ll get up and try again.

One of my first falls was from the top of a swimming pool. I have a concussion. I broke my teeth. Someone found me lying in the bowl. I was 11 years old.

Oh my God. Oh my God.

And when I woke up, my first thought was, “Well, I’m not going to do this trick again this way.”

Tony Hawk plans to keep skateboarding "Until the wheels fall off": NPR

Hawk concentrates before hitting a half pipe.

HBO


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Tony Hawk plans to keep skateboarding "Until the wheels fall off": NPR

Hawk concentrates before hitting a half pipe.

HBO

You’re not retired from skating, to be clear, but you’ve retired some tricks in the past few years, including this “900,” which is 2 1/2 rotations in the air. Last year, you did one last “ollie 540”. What does it mean to you to remove these cheats and why? Why retire them?

Because I can still do them, and I know I won’t be able to do them much longer. And why not have a purpose to that? I feel like very few athletes or artists are lucky enough to realize that they are starting to age and that this may be the last time.

An extreme example would be, “Will Michael Jordan know when the last time he can slam dunk?” And I know that time may come sooner rather than later. And these tricks, the risk to be rewarded is not worth it to me because I know what bad falls you might suffer.

So why not do one for the last time, while I still have the skills and I have the audience to share it, to share this process because it was really cathartic. It was fun for me. I’m grateful I did this and hope my leg gets better so I can do a few more.

You are 53 now. Skateboarding is not a soft sport. Do you intend to continue?

I don’t give ultimatums. I would love to get my leg back to working order and see if I can get back to some version of the skill set I had before I injured myself. And if I achieve even half of that at this point, I’ll be happy.


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