Taking Turns with Tony: Skateboarding Legend Tony Hawk Opens Up about How Communities Can Welcome Skateparks

By Roberts, Rachel | Parks & Recreation, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Taking Turns with Tony: Skateboarding Legend Tony Hawk Opens Up about How Communities Can Welcome Skateparks


Roberts, Rachel, Parks & Recreation


TONY HAWK first picked up his brother's skateboard when he was just 9 years old. He began skating down an alley behind his house and yelled to his older brother, "How do I turn this thing?" He hit the fence, picked up the board, and turned it around.

Hawk has done the same thing with the sport of skateboarding--once known as a culture of punks and outcasts who were out to cause trouble and destroy property, Hawk used his influence and most recently his foundation, to turn the negative stereotypes around and work to include skateboarding as an accepted activity for youth in communities across the world.

Since those days behind the alley, Hawk not only learned how to skateboard, but became the brand ambassador of the sport. He didn't just skate for speed and height, but worked on tricks and turns, adding style and a smooth flow. When most kids his age started thinking about college, as a high school senior Hawk had already purchased a home and was making a steady income skateboarding competitively. Things seemed great, until the sport's popularity plummeted. After the birth of his son in his early 20s, he says things "started to look bleak."

"I was a bit over my head in terms of ratio of mortgage to actual income," Hawk laughs. "It was pretty difficult for four or five years. But I never stopped skating and realized that I'd have to start my own skate company and just have faith that the industry would come back."

After taking out a second mortgage on his house, Hawk started his company, Birdhouse Projects, so that he could provide opportunities for other skateboarders. He hired a small group of skaters and together they elevated the sport to a new level. As the sport's popularity came back, the masses were hungry for Hawk's brand of skateboarding--one full of tricks--versus the raw aggressiveness that had shaped the industry before. Hawk's creativity and his drive to improve became what set him apart.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In 1999, riding high as a major competitor in that year's X Games, Hawk landed the first 900-degree turn the world had ever seen. He became an instant celebrity and he was catapulted into mainstream culture. To him, it just added another piece to what he saw his art, like a painter adding a new masterpiece.

Skateboarding really is an art form as much as a sport," he explains. "It isn't just about how fast you can go or how much you can score, but how do you take this canvas of ramps and make it your own."

He's continued to make his own way, building on his success and sometimes even failure. In 2000, Hawk was invited to a skatepark opening in suburban Chicago--the sport was really taking off and the city was proud of what they had created and thrilled that skateboarding superstar Tony Hawk had agreed to open the park. He says he got there the night before to skate the park and preview what would be in store the next day at the opening.

"I skated it, and it was terrible!" he recalls. "It was designed poorly and you could tell that whoever created the whole concept of the park didn't know much about skateboarding. Here they were, patting themselves on the back for creating this cool, new thing and it was horrible."

He told the park managers what he thought, and he says they were shocked. "They actually told me, 'Yeah, the kids were saying it was horrible too, but we told them to wait until Tony Hawk got here and he'd show them how to skate."'

Hawk realized that if an affluent neighborhood like this one couldn't get it right, then what would happen to lower-income communities? "When I started to look around, I realized at-risk youth in some communities weren't getting facilities like this at all," he says. …

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