Skateboarding legend, video game icon, company founder, musical influencer, philanthropist, The Simpsons guest star. Tony Hawk has lived the type of life that would surpass even the wildest of dreams. A true counter-cultural icon, Hawk’s influence on the skate, video game and musical landscapes can not be understated.
From Carlsbad to Cairo to Coburg and everywhere in-between, you’d be hard-pressed to find a kid shredding in a park or a suit skating to work that doesn’t owe some debt of gratitude to Tony Hawk or, at the very least, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game series.
As a teenager growing up in the Melbourne suburbs in the late 90/early ’00s, seemingly overnight I watched everyone switching from wanting to be Michael Jordan to wanting to be Tony Hawk. For most, the dream of being a professional skater never eventuated, dying after the first or second broken bone, but the thrill of living out our dream vicariously on our PlayStations – while thrashing away to the stellar soundtrack – is one that we shared with millions worldwide. With every high score set, every skate deck or magazine bought, the skate culture and the passion for it grew and embedded itself to the point that, to this day, skateboarding is omnipresent.
As a true trailblazer and the most recognisable skater of all time, Tony Hawk’s contributions to the popularisation of skateboarding can’t be undersold, so it was a bit of a dream come true for Music Feeds to have a chat with Mr. 900 himself about the fantabulous life of Tony Hawk.
Music Feeds: Tony Hawk, thanks for taking the time to speak with Music Feeds, how’s existence treating you today?
Tony Hawk: It’s crazy, I never imagined I’d still be able to be a pro-skater at this age, and still get to have a career and still be recognizable. I mean I’m literally driving home from LA having gone to the Oscars last night!
MF: How were the Oscars?
TH: It was great! I was helping to raise awareness for this documentary about female skaters in Afghanistan (Learning To Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), and they won! So we got to go to all the parties afterwards.
MF: That’s amazing. Skateboarding hey, you’d never imagine it would land you on the Hollywood A-List!
TH: Exactly man, it got you pretty much the exact opposite when I was a kid!
MF: Now when I was a kid, I would have been freaking out right now, because I’m talking to the one, the only, Tony Hawk, so thanks for making 14 year-old- me extremely excited!
TH: Haha thanks man, that’s okay!
MF: Now with that fanboy freakout out of the way, let’s talk about your upcoming trip to Australia! What can people expect from an evening with Tony Hawk?
TH: My role will be to talk about my career, my life and career and just navigating it, riding out the ups and downs, and answering questions about whatever people want to ask. It usually ends up being video games, but that’s okay. Then Birdman: Or The Unexpected Virtue of a Tony Hawk ProSkater Cover Band are going to play an acoustic set of hits from the THPS series.
MF: That sounds amazing. Now I have to ask, how did you end up working with a bunch of people from Sydney covering THPS songs? That seems like a story in itself!
TH: The short answer is social media. Whenever Birdman… would play I’d get tagged incessantly. So I started watching some of the videos and I thought they were really cool, so when we were doing a big fundraiser for the Tony Hawk Foundation that was a 20-year celebration of THPS I thought what better band to play than the band that covers all the hits from the series. So I reached out. Then Bad Religion agreed to headline the event, so it was sort of this dream come true for everyone. The challenge was getting them all here, but thankfully Delta came through and gave us flights and it was a great time. That planted the seed for what we’re doing now, with this tour.
MF: That’s incredible and what an opportunity for the band too! Now, to say you’ve lived a full life is putting it mildly, your influence can be felt in three distinctly different yet ultimately connected fields, skate, video games and music. Does it still amaze you how influential you are?
TH: Every day. It’s insane. I never expected to be able to make a career out of it. Then once I was doing it, I didn’t expect to be able to keep doing it into my adult life, now when I’ve reached middle-age or even nearing retirement age in any other job, to find myself still doing this and to have the types of opportunities that I have had continue to come my way, is incredible. So much more than I ever dreamed of. When people say that I’m living the dream, the reality is, we couldn’t have dreamt this! We’re creating the dream.
MF: Absolutely. You’re an undisputed legend of the skate world, having been killing it professionally since you were 14. You helped to revolutionise the sport during the X Games boom. You were the first man to pull off a 900, you started Birdhouse, you’ve got a foundation, you’ve met Presidents, skated the old executive office building… Is there anything that you look back on personally with the most pride?
TH: Well it’s actually one you didn’t mention, it’s being on The Simpsons!
MF: Hahaha yes! You were on The Simpsons! So that’s number one for you?
TH: I think so, yeah, there’s a cool factor attached to that, especially given that I got to play myself. Generally, if there’s someone else doing the voice for a character, then that generally means they aren’t going to treat you well. With me, they based the episode around me taking in Bart and pretty much adopting him, and it was just all so surreal. I got to go to the round table reading and actually see every single person that does the voices, reading a script, so that was cool. To this day, that’s the thing that people quote at me the most, lines from that episode of The Simpsons.
MF: If it was me or my friends, we’d likely do that to you as well, but we’d also want to ask you about Tony Hawk Pro Skater, especially Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2, the greatest game ever made. That was a landmark moment for me, my neighbourhood, pretty much anyone in my age group, so I’ve got two questions. The first is did the impact of the game surprise you, and the second is, is THPS2 your favourite title?
TH: It has come to be my favourite, yes. When we got the opportunity to do a sequel, for me, that was the mark of success. That we’d made something that resonated with people. That they’d enjoyed it, and they wanted to see another one. I didn’t ever imagine it going past that. Once number two came out, and it was so popular, it became almost impossible for them not to make three and four and all the other incarnations.
I really wanted to make a game that skaters would want to play, but when that transpired into inspiring kids to want to learn how to skate and be involved in the skate lifestyle, that was something that I never expected. To this day, you know, you’ve played it. Even if you didn’t skate, you probably know what a 360 flip is, and that’s because of that game and that’s insane to me.
MF: It absolutely would be because of the game. I can tell you that the influence of the series was really felt in the Australian suburbs. Almost overnight everyone around me wanted to become a skateboarder, and they began listening to these awesome skate punk bands and then when they were done for the day, came home and tried to trip new high scores. It really was a movement. It’s pretty wild how much of an influence it had.
TH: In all aspects too! As you mentioned, the music was a big part of it too. For me I was just trying to keep it authentic to my experience. That was the music that I heard hanging out in the skate park as a kid. It wasn’t like we were trying to start a movement or expose a generation to music that they’d never heard, or anything like that, it was more just trying to stay authentic. Of course, I was going to put Dead Kennedys on a skate game soundtrack, that’s what I listened to skating!
MF: Sadly we’re getting the hurry on, so I’m going to have to let you go, so my final question to you is, looking at the state of skateboarding today. If you could choose one modern skater to inherit the mantle of THPS, and have their own signature video game series. Who would you choose?
TH: There’s so many! That’s an impossibly difficult question, how could I possibly answer that? Hahaha. For nepotism reasons, I think I’d choose my son Riley. He has some signature style, an iconic look and is just really fun to watch skate. Riley aside, if you look at Nyjah Huston and you watch him skate, he’s magical. The stuff that he does, that he can do, consistently, easily, is stuff that people dream of doing once in their lives. To me, he’s just the best street skater, so Nyjah seems like a good choice.
Tony Hawk will return to Australia this April for a speaking tour which includes a live audience Q&A hosted by former Channel [V] personality Danny Clayton and a musical performance by Sydney’s own “unofficially official” Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack cover band BIRDMAN: Or the Unexpected Virtue of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater Cover Band. Dates below.
An Evening With Tony Hawk
Featuring live music by BIRDMAN: Or The Unexpected Virtue Of A Tony Hawk Pro Skater Cover Band
Friday, 13th April
The Forum, Melbourne
Saturday, 14th April
The Factory Theatre, Sydney