Soaring to New Heights
Like no other, skateboard legend Tony Hawk has soared to fame and acclaim in the "extreme sports" arena, coming back from hard-hitting slams and industry nosedives to retire on top at 32. Chosen by ESPN as 1999's Alternative Athlete of the Year, Hawk is greatly responsible for skateboarding's current, unprecedented resurgence. Hawk: Occupation: Skateboarder is his personal journey from childhood to manhood, from taunted schoolboy to celebrated champion.
Although he may seem rather young to be producing his memoirs, in the youthful world of skateboarding, Hawk is considered an old-timer. But the same competitive drive that led him to become skateboarding's most successful pro has also kept him on top of his game and unmatched in the contest arena for almost 20 years.
In so many ways, 1999 was a signature year for Hawk. His last as a competitor, 1999 was also the year Hawk landed "The 9" -- a 900-degree aerial spin -- long considered an impossible maneuver. Although broad television and media exposure had already made him a household name, Hawk was unprepared for the accolades and airtime he received for accomplishing The 9. The maneuver was captured by ESPN cameras at the annual X-Games contest, the footage was distributed widely, and the network later awarded Hawk its coveted ESPY prize for Alternative Athlete of the Year.
After two decades and innumerable titles, Hawk left skateboarding competition on a high note. Hawk is the story of his unlikely rise to prominence in what was an underground sport and of the sport's hard-fought quest for legitimacy. Much of the book deals with an undersized teen's inability to integrate into the non-skateboard culture of early '80s high school, when the sport was distinctly out of fashion: "I wore weird clothes, was obsessed with a 'loser' sport, and looked like I had gotten lost on my way to elementary school."
Growing up skinny, unpopular, and covered with scabs, Hawk had to overcome peer pressure and a scrawny physique to nurture his latent talent for rolling, grinding, and flying in the dying skate parks of southern California. Skaters were giving up the sport in droves, but Hawk and a handful of his peers were obsessed, stuck it out, and developed new, exciting styles of skating that eventually attracted a whole new generation of aerial acrobats, a few of whom -- like Hawk -- would attract sponsors and compete. He describes his professional debut: "To put early '80s skating into perspective, imagine being a professional Frisbee thrower today -- that's the equivalent of a pro skater 15 years ago. I skated the contest and placed third. There were at least 18 people in the stands. I didn't win any money."
From obscurity to fame, and back and forth, Hawk tracks this icon's thoughts and actions through an incredible career and some crazy episodes, like nearly dying from food poisoning in Brazil or refusing to wear a translucent costume for an Italian television appearance. Hawk also recounts emotional periods: from the heartache of losing his father, his biggest fan, to cancer -- "I went on tour never thinking that when I said good-bye to him it would be the last time I saw my dad alive." -- to the joy of developing a bestselling video game -- "The best part of the deal was getting to sit in front of the TV playing video games, and I was working."
The Year of The 9 -- known by some as A.D. 1999 -- was also the Year of the Hawk, as every major network and publication sought an audience with skateboarding's "unofficial ambassador." One journalist, a writer for The New Yorker, even joined Hawk on the road to immerse himself in the sweaty and exhausting life of the touring skateboarder. "He was a nice enough guy, a poetry teacher on the side," writes Hawk. "He could probably relate to skating better than most writers because poetry seems a bit on the subculture side of things, except you don't see 'No Poetry' signs everywhere you go. You know skating has become popular again when a stuffy magazine like The New Yorker (I always picture long-nosed aristocrats reading it in their spats) does an article on skating."
Hawk offers an insider's perspective on the world of skateboarding from someone who's seen and done it in all its phases and forms, a participant who's experienced the hardest slams -- "I don't remember everything that happened, except that I tried to put my hands in front of my face two seconds after my face punched the wall." -- and the realization of lifelong personal goals -- "After thirteen years of trying unsuccessfully to land The 9, all I could think was, finally!" Tony Hawk offers a detailed and insightful narrative that completely describes the evolution of a champion who chose a skateboard over more traditional sports but found fulfillment and fame in pursuing his passion nonetheless.
Miki Vuckovich is the editor of SKATEboarding Business magazine. He resides in southern California.