For X set, Hawk is chairman of the board

Legendary skateboarder takes extreme mainstream

August 19, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Here are the prerequisites for fame and immortality in the sport of skateboarding: 10 concussions, fractures in half your ribs, a broken elbow, a handful of missing teeth, compressed vertebrae in your spine, stitches up and down your shins, ripped cartilage in both your knees and more ankle sprains and ligament tears than you could ever begin to count.

Live through all of that and you're still guaranteed nothing. Hundreds of skaters have experienced far worse and remained virtual unknowns. That's why the prerequisites don't end there.

You must be able to walk with kings, yet never lose the common touch. You must be able to change the world, sometimes one marketing gimmick at a time. And lastly, you absolutely must be able to execute a perfect fakie ollie flipkick while riding goofy foot in front of 30,000 screaming teen-agers.

It's no easy task, but that's partly why there's only one Tony Hawk.

Hawk, in case you haven't already heard, is the greatest skateboarder in the history of the sport. At 34, he has been at this more than two decades, and in the world of extreme sports, there is no one bigger. Though he has said numerous times that he's retired from competition, Hawk keeps coming back.

Last night, his genius was on display once again at the ESPN Summer X Games as he dazzled the crowd at the First Union Center during the Best Trick Competition, finishing third, completing a jaw-dropping trick just after time expired that would have likely earned him gold.

Hawk flung his helmet into the crowd and got a standing ovation.

Saturday, he also made history by winning the vert doubles competition with partner Andy Macdonald for the sixth straight year.

That the X Games even exist is a major credit to Hawk, whose popularity has helped bring skateboarding and extreme sports to the masses.

Now in their eighth year, the X Games have gone from being a niche event with little mainstream appeal to a prime- time money-maker. Though ESPN won't say just how profitable it has become, The New York Times recently reported that total sponsorship dollars are rumored to be about $30 million.

Hawk, a skinny California native with a crooked nose and a million-dollar smile, is the biggest reason why. Not only has his creativity been unmatched - he has made up more than 70 tricks and is the only skater to ever successfully land a 900, a dangerous trick that involves rotating with the board in the air 2 1/2 times, in competition - but he is also one of the most influential pitchmen in sports today.

Hawk-endorsed products (including skateboards, video games, T-shirts, shoes and frozen snacks) generate about $250 million in sales a year.

He is among the most recognizable sports stars in the country, and in an age where athletes and ego go hand in hand, he's apparently a humble, dedicated family man. It would fair to say he's helped the sport evolve from its rebellious street beginnings and fully injected its influence into the suburbs.

"I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out," Hawk says. "I mean, I never thought that I could make a career out of skateboarding."

Baseball, in fact, was his first love. The rules and restrictions of team sports, however, weren't a good match for his hyperactive and ultra-competitive personality. Growing up in Serra Mesa, Calif., Hawk was so prone to tantrums, he was notoriously expelled from preschool.

But when his brother, Steve, put a skateboard in his hand at age 9, he was forever hooked.

"My family was really supportive," Hawk says. "My dad would drive me to the skate park almost every day."

At 14, Hawk turned pro, and by the time he was 16, he was turning heads all across the sport. Most of the pro skaters competing today are still doing tricks Hawk invented when he was in his teens.

"When I first started skating, I would sit in the living room of my friend's house watching videos of him," says pro skater Bucky Lasek, a Baltimore native. "It's the same thing these days. I'm just in awe all the time."

With the introduction of television coverage, Hawk would solidify his status as a skateboarding living legend. In 1995, when the X Games debuted in Rhode Island, he won the vert competition and the public began to take notice.

His skateboard sales took off, and kids in the mainstream started to emulate him. In 1999 at the X Games in San Francisco, he landed the history-making 900.

Since then, he has competed sparingly outside the X Games, but he has remained a major presence in the sport. He is one of the most searched athletes on the Internet, and his skate park touring group is a major draw.

"It's an honor and a big responsibility," Hawk says of his status. "But I just try to detach myself from that and enjoy skating. "

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