Tony Hawk's first visit to a skatepark proved to be a life-altering occasion as a child. "I literally saw people flying out of these empty swimming pools, and that was my moment," he told Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another, at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. "That was my epiphany: 'I wanna fly like those guys." That desire to fly would eventually lead Hawk to become one of the most talented and influential professional skateboarders of all time, and transcend the sport and push its popularity into the mainstream with his groundbreaking tricks.
While skateboarding was still somewhat of a niche thing in the late 1970s, Hawk said it wasn't that hard a sell to his parents. Born and raised in San Diego, and the youngest of four children, Hawk said they just wanted him to stay busy. "Most of my friends, their parents didn't want them skating," he recalled. "In the early '80s, it was considered more of a negative influence on kids, but my dad was the den father giving everyone rides to the skate park. It was pretty cool."
As Hawk moved up in the skating world. he placed first in more than 70 percent of the pro skating competitions he participated in — all before the age of 25. Still, as he continued to earn a number of awards in national and international competitions, and later, at the X-Games, he wasn't interested in keeping many of his trophies. "I just didn't like resting on those accolades. I would see people with all their trophies behind them and it just looked obnoxious to me," he said. Instead, Hawk would give them away. "I saw what joy it gave people when I would hand them my trophies that I won, that was way cooler."
In 2020, some pro skaters will have the chance to snag a different type of award: a gold, silver or bronze medal at the next Summer Olympics in Tokyo. "I think it's an exciting opportunity for skateboarding, to raise the awareness of skating for international recognition...I [also] feel like the Olympics needs skateboarding's 'cool factor' more than skateboarding needs their validation."
Now at age 50, Hawk won't be competing in 2020, but he still skates regularly — though, he admitted, he has to work at it a bit more than in the past. "I used to take it for granted: wake up late, get hurt, 'Ah, I'll skate again tomorrow, it'll be fine.' And now it's like, 'Oh, you're so old.'"
Aside from 'shredding the gnar' in real life, Hawk also has the opportunity to flash his competitive side virtually. His series of video games began nearly 20 years ago with the 1999 release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater — and continues today on mobile. "I'm good at it," Hawk reflected of his own gaming skills, "but I can already see the scores people are posting, like, 'Ugh, I need to practice more.' If you have a game with your name on it, you've got to be on point."
For his Ask Me Another challenge, Tony Hawk competed against American Idol runner-up and current Queen frontman Adam Lambert in a special edition of "This, That or The Other": Skateboard trick, Adam Lambert song, or character from the Tchaikovsky Ballet, The Nutcracker.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
It's time to meet our next special guest. Please welcome skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.
TONY HAWK: What's up, San Diego?
HAWK: Thank you. This is cool.
EISENBERG: Tony, thank you so much for joining us.
HAWK: Of course. Thank you.
EISENBERG: So when you first started skating, it was kind of a niche thing.
HAWK: Absolutely. It was sort of on the way out of popularity from the late '70s.
HAWK: And so I got in it. And suddenly, everyone quit.
EISENBERG: But was it still the little banana boards?
HAWK: Kind of. It was starting - the whole Dogtown era had come into play.
HAWK: So they were skating pools. And it was more of a movement and a style. And I saw - my first experience at a skate park was Oasis Skate Park right here in San Diego.
HAWK: And I literally saw people flying out of these empty swimming pools. And that was my moment. That was my epiphany.
EISENBERG: You were like, yes.
HAWK: Yes. Yes, I want to fly like those guys.
EISENBERG: So when you were a kid and you first decided, this is for me. I want to be part of this skateboarding scene or figure out how to do it by my - on my own, how did your parents initially react? Were they like, yeah? Or were they like...
HAWK: I got lucky. I was the youngest of four. And my dad was in the Navy. He had retired. And he had been through so much with my siblings through the '70s...
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yes.
HAWK: ...That it was like, just keep him busy - whatever he's happy doing. Most of my friends, their parents didn't want them skating.
HAWK: You know, in the early '80s, it was considered more of a negative influence on kids. And so my dad was the sort of den father and giving everyone rides to the skate park. He's the one who drove us all up to the skate parks in LA so we could go, you know, up to Reseda and Whittier and Upland. And it was pretty cool. Yeah.
EISENBERG: So skateboarding is going to be in the 2020 Olympics. What are your thoughts?
HAWK: I think it's an exciting opportunity for skateboarding to raise the awareness of skating for international recognition. There's a part of me that's cynical that thinks, it's about time you figured it out...
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.
HAWK: ...And that I feel like the Olympics needs skateboarding's cool factor more than skateboarding needs their validation. I mean, so....
HAWK: I do feel like that, really.
HAWK: And maybe that's not the team player, you know? (Laughter).
EISENBERG: (Laughter) So you still skate.
HAWK: I do. I was skating today, actually. Yes.
EISENBERG: People in their 30s drink a beer, and they feel it four days later.
EISENBERG: When you fall now, are you extra careful?
EISENBERG: Or just like...
HAWK: Let's say I'm more proactive in trying to get back to what I was doing. I used to take it for granted, you know? Like that, just...
HAWK: Whatever - wake up late, get hurt. I'll skate again tomorrow. It'll be fine. And now it's like, oh, you're so old.
HAWK: I never really had to work at it like that. But now I get my neck worked on and stuff like that. And it feels more like traditional, professional athlete sort of training. But I'm 50. What am I - I got to do it.
EISENBERG: Yeah. No, that's great. So many are huge fans of your video game series. "Tony Hawk Pro Skater"...
HAWK: Ah, thank you.
EISENBERG: ...Was released in 1999. So...
HAWK: Actually, we just released a game - "Tony Hawk's Skate Jam" - on mobile.
EISENBERG: That's right.
EISENBERG: And so what's different about this one?
HAWK: It's on mobile.
EISENBERG: Do you move the phone as you...
HAWK: You don't, no. There's a lot of the similar controls. It's not with the same developers but a lot of similar controls with the grind button, the air and - I don't know. I'm good at it, but I can already see the scores people are posting, like, ugh.
HAWK: I need to start practicing some more.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) And you still have the competitive thing in you, right? You look at those scores.
HAWK: If you have a game with your name on it, you've got to be a little on your - yeah.
EISENBERG: Yeah, right.
HAWK: You got to be on point.
EISENBERG: Because everyone's going to want to - you to post your scores.
HAWK: Yes, or challenge you face to face.
EISENBERG: Sure. You've won so many awards and prizes. Before you were 25 years old, you placed first in 73 out of 103 pro competition. That's first place in over 70 percent of the competitions you went into - only by 25.
HAWK: (Laughter) Thank you.
EISENBERG: But I read that you don't keep a lot of your awards or trophies.
HAWK: I didn't. I was never one to - I don't know. I just didn't like wresting all those accolades. And I would see pictures of people with all their trophies behind them. And it just looked obnoxious to me.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.
HAWK: I also saw what joy it gave to people when I would hand them my trophies that I won.
EISENBERG: You would just give them away.
HAWK: Yeah. Yeah, that was way cooler when (unintelligible). Yeah.
EISENBERG: Oh, wow. Yeah, absolutely.
EISENBERG: Tony, are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
HAWK: Do I have a choice?
EISENBERG: Tony Hawk, please welcome and meet your opponent, Adam Lambert.
HAWK: Wow. (Laughter) This isn't Queen trivia, is it?
EISENBERG: This is - yeah, exactly.
EISENBERG: No, this is something that we've written for both of you. Adam, Tony, you're going to play one of our favorite guessing games called This, That Or The Other. It's simple. We're going to give you a word. You tell us which of three categories it belongs to. Jonathan Coulton, what are today's categories?
JONATHAN COULTON: Today's categories are skateboarding tricks...
HAWK: Yes, please.
COULTON: ...Songs performed by Adam Lambert.
COULTON: ...Or characters from the Tchaikovsky ballet "The Nutcracker."
EISENBERG: OK, we're going to go back and forth, so no need to ring in. Tony, Cuckoo - skateboard trick, Adam Lambert song or "Nutcracker" character?
HAWK: Ah, that's rough.
HAWK: I'm going to go with Adam Lambert song.
EISENBERG: You are correct.
HAWK: Yes (laughter).
ADAM LAMBERT: Yay.
HAWK: Thank you for writing that song, Adam.
EISENBERG: Tony just revealed what level of Glambert he is.
EISENBERG: Yes, Adam performed that song on the show "Pretty Little Liars"...
EISENBERG: ...Where you dressed up. It was a Halloween episode, and you dressed up as a glampire (ph).
LAMBERT: Yes, you got it.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's right.
LAMBERT: You got all the terminology and everything (laughter).
EISENBERG: OK, Adam.
LAMBERT: A skateboard trick.
EISENBERG: Sure is...
EISENBERG: ...Sure is.
HAWK: He answered in the form of a question.
LAMBERT: What is skateboard trick?
HAWK: It is, yes.
COULTON: Tony - cavalier.
HAWK: Cavalier - I'm going to go with "Nutcracker."
COULTON: Yeah, you're correct.
EISENBERG: Or I thought maybe a skateboard trick where you are just indifferent to everything.
COULTON: Standing around - whatever.
EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah, whatever - tricks, whatever.
COULTON: Who cares?
COULTON: Adam - Dewdrop.
LAMBERT: "Nutcracker" character.
COULTON: Yeah, that's right.
HAWK: Dang, I really wanted you to say skate trick.
COULTON: These are your last clues. Tony - Sleepwalker - skateboard trick, Adam Lambert song or "Nutcracker" character?
HAWK: I want it to be a skateboard trick, but I have to go with Adam Lambert song.
COULTON: Yeah, that's correct. Yup.
HAWK: Maybe we could collaborate, though.
LAMBERT: Yeah, yeah.
COULTON: Adam - eggplant.
COULTON: Skateboard trick, Adam Lambert song or "Nutcracker" character?
LAMBERT: It's also my favorite emoji, but...
EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah.
HAWK: I don't get it.
LAMBERT: Skateboard trick.
COULTON: Yeah, that's right. Yeah.
EISENBERG: It's a tie.
EISENBERG: So you both did equally amazing. Thank you so much for indulging us and playing this great game. Everyone give it up for Tony Hawk and...
HAWK: Thanks, everybody
EISENBERG: ...Adam Lambert.
LAMBERT: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.