Before we can even begin to talk about the absolutely massive impact Tony Hawk has had on popular culture over the last twenty or so years (and what he’s up to now), we first have to take a step back and look at his monumental rise to the top, starting from the very beginning.
Born in San Diego, California in 1968 to Nancy and Frank Hawk, Tony grew up a hyperactive child who had been identified by specialists as a gifted child with an IQ of 144.
When he was just 9 years old his older brother gave him his first skateboard, a fibreglass Bahne board. Tony quickly took to putting all his time and energy into mastering the art of skateboarding, naturally, his parents encouraged it, as it saw him expend all of his extra energy.
By the age of 12 Tony Hawk had received his first sponsor, Dogtown Skateboards, just two years later aged 14 he became a professional skateboarder, going on to be named the National Skateboard Association world champion twelve years in a row.
Setting himself up for stardom in the 1990s
Whilst there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Tony Hawk was a HUGE name in the world of skateboarding (and sports in general) throughout the 1990s, it wasn’t really until the end of the decade that he truly ascended to global superstardom.
There were two defining moments that helped push Tony into the mainstream, both coincidentally happening around the same time during the Summer of 1999.
The first defining moment was when he successfully landed the world’s first 900-degree spin (known as ‘the 900’) at the X Games in San Francisco in front of eight thousand wild skateboarding fans after eleven unsuccessful attempts.
This marked the first time any human being had successfully managed to do a 2½-revolution (900 degree aerial spin) on a skateboarding ramp whilst airborne, a feat that’s only been replicated by ten others in the last two decades.
The second factor that saw the legendary skateboarder climb to the top of everyone’s minds was simply because his name was plastered across one of the most successful video games of all time, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, after he signed an exclusive deal with Activision to become the face of the much-loved franchise in 1999.
Thanks to some very good timing Hawk both hit the 900 and the shelves of video game stores and supermarkets around the world at around the same time, so his already high stock rapidly rose in a very short period of time to cement him as a true icon of the sport, amazingly, this was only really the beginning of the story for him.
Video game star and cultural phenomenon of the 00s
The success of Tony Hawk Pro Skater was unparalleled at the time In part thanks to the huge media attention already surrounding the skateboarder in the Summer of 1999. The game sold like hotcakes and was one of the best selling games of the decade everywhere it was released.
Receiving glowing reviews from video game critics and fans alike, Tony Hawk Pro Skater set the ball rolling for what snowballed into a mammoth series stretching 21 games over 20 years.
In 2018 it was reported that the Franchise had made $1.4 billion in sales, making it one of the most successful video game brands in history, this number will have only increased thanks to the hugely successful release of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2 (modern-day remakes of the original two games) on next-generation consoles in March 2021.
It’s often said that the release of the original Tony Hawk games (namely Pro Skater, Pro Skater 2, Pro Skater 3 and Tony Hawk Underground) had been the driving force behind a whole new generation of skateboarders in the noughties, Hawk echoed this statement in an interview with The Verge, he said: “It put skateboarding on the map as a genre of video games, for one.
“It brought a new audience to skateboarding and not just people who are interested in trying it, but people who learn to appreciate it from a fan’s perspective.
“I’m really proud of that legacy and the fact that a lot of people say it turned them on to either skateboarding or a type of music that they didn’t know about or didn’t know that they would like.
“I think that the main thing is that parents are encouraging their kids to skate. That didn’t happen when I was young, ever.”
If you ever needed proof that the franchise had inspired some incredible athletes to take up the sport, 2018 Thrasher Skater of the Year Tyshawn Jones attributes his love and passion for skateboarding solely to playing the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games as a child.
Tony Hawk – The recent years
Tony Hawk is, of course, still a very keen skateboarder… That being said, he no longer competes in any major tournaments having actually retired from competitive skateboarding way back in 2003.
Instead, his time is spent on several different projects that include organising skateboarding exhibitions to promote the sport globally, as well as helping develop new video games in the Tony Hawk franchise.
Hawk’s main project and passion is philanthropy. He started and financed the Tony Hawk Foundation In 2002, which rebranded to the Skatepark Project in 2020.
The Skateboard Project looks to build safe, inclusive and free public skateparks for young people who live in disadvantaged and underprivileged areas across the United States. Since the charity’s inception more than 600 communities have received grants and have opened skateboards, which combined have seen more than 6 million visits annually.
Ultimately, most of Hawk’s time over the decade and a half or so has been spent promoting skateboarding and ensuring that young people across the United States and the rest of the world have the opportunity to enjoy and learn the sport like he did.
Has anyone stepped into Tony Hawk’s shoes?
We’ll be completely honest, there’s nobody (and probably never will be anybody) that has risen to the same monumental heights as Tony Hawk did in the 1990s and 2000s, that immense level of fame just cannot be replicated.
There are a small handful of skateboarders out there that have managed to work their way into the mainstream since Hawk, most notably Nyjah Huston, the world’s highest paid skateboarder.
The five-time World Skateboarding Champion and twelve-time X games winner has hit the headlines for a number of reasons over the last few years, and not just for his incredible aptitude for skateboarding.
In 2020 Huston followed in the footsteps of Tony Hawk, releasing his own game Nyjah Huston Go for Gold and the year before that it was announced that he would be part of Team USA’s Olympic Skateboarding team that will participate in the reorganised Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Who knows, success in the Olympic Games might well be the catalyst that propels Nyjah Huston into the mainstream much like the 1999 X Games did for Tony Hawk, only time will tell.