Tony Hawk’s Influence on My Life

Pro Skateboarder Tony Hawk

I’ve  probably never mentioned this about me but other than pro wrestling and heavy metal music, nothing has had more of an influence on my youth than extreme sports, particularly pro skateboarding. Beyond that, the man that had the biggest impact had been the same man who is most recognized with the sport: Tony Hawk.

The journey all began sometime in the late 90s. Skateboarding and hard rock, in particular, Ska Punk, have long been associated with each other. Both took tons of physical and mental pain to master and complimented the edginess that a lot of pro skaters had. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, a lot of these nu metal bands emulated the fashion choices of skateboarders with their t-shirts, cargo shorts, and sneakers. A typical day in high school had me rocking a pair of baggy jeans, Vans sneakers, a long-sleeved shirt, a t-shirt over it, and a baseball cap. Oh joy!

A lot of nu metal groups even incorporated skateboarding into their music videos. Just look at Limp Bizkit’s  “Break Stuff” music video. Fred Durst and crew certainly embraced the look and fan base of extreme sports. Funnily enough, when Vanilla Ice briefly embarked on a career in nu metal in the late 90s, his sound was dubbed “skate-rock” by his PR team.

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It didn’t stop there, I didn’t just want to look like a skateboarder, I wanted to actually BE one and the first step was my purchase of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the very first video game in a longstanding series, for the Sony Playstation in 1999. An unexpected success, part of the game’s legacy was due to its soundtrack which featured a plethora of artists that would dominate my music playlists for years. Bands like Primus, Dead Kennedys, and Suicidal Tendencies were blasting on my discman on the bus on the way to middle school. Dirty looks may or may not have followed.

In addition to the wardrobe and music, I also adored films that really highlighted the adrenaline that these sports brought. Of course there was Point Break but there was also Gleaming the Cube (which starred a teenage Tony Hawk) and Airborne, a movie about a kid with an affinity for surfing who moves to a suburban town and grows an interest in rollerblading. The film, Grind, was released after I decided to give me skateboarding career a rest. It was about a pack of aspiring skaters who try to turn pro. Oh speaking of my failed skateboarding career…

I fell in love with the video games, being in control of an animated skater and doing death-defying tricks made me believe I could actually do this. Yeah, I was that guy. I then started purchasing copies of The Daily Bread, a magazine profiling the dominant rollerbladers, monthly. One of my best friends from middle school introduced me to the publication as he was a huge fan of in-lining. It was what I needed in order to study the true dangers of these sports and try to become the Lord of the boards. Upon further research, I found that Mr. Hawk was far from the only game in town. There was a whole slew of notable names in the skateboarding world, some even appearing in Hawk’s video games. Soon, names such as Rune Glifberg, Andrew Reynolds, Geoff Rowley, Bucky Lasek, and Bob Burnquist, were among the most talked about at the skate parks. It wasn’t long before I took a liking to watching the annual X Games where the best of the best would compete show off their skills in motocross, BMX, and snowboarding among others, in front of millions of people.

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Tony Hawk performing the 900 degree spin at the 1999 X Games was the defining moment for me to pick up a skateboard and attempt to be as good as he was. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been worse at it. Yes, I realize the way to master the extreme sport is to repeatedly fall and learn from your mistakes but I was falling 85% of the time and not improving. Performing something simple looking like an Ollie was too much for me. Remember that MTV show Scarred? It was a short-lived series where they showed clips of various people’s worst wipeouts and injuries while skateboarding. The few times where I caught it were really hard to watch. Nothing like seeing a dude falling crotch first trying to grind down the bannister of a stairwell. I actually had a similar experience where I tried to grind down the stairs of my middle school but instead of landing on my crotch, I flipped over and landed on my back. I thankfully wasn’t seriously hurt but I believe that was the time where I decided that pro skating was not a future profession of mine. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. I could have seriously have gotten hurt. If a young kid wants to seriously pursue that sort of profession, I’d tell them to be as careful as they can possibly be and only get back up if they feel like this is really what they want to do.

Despite the setback, I still loved the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. I bought the second one for Game Boy Advance and was instantly addicted to it. Soon, the third was released and all sorts of wacky spin offs followed. Eventually, it was all too much to keep up with. Although I wasn’t skating anymore, I was still rocking the threads. I was wearing skater tees almost exclusively from brands like DC Shoes or Element, hell even Billabong (a surfing brand that has been adopted by the skater community) from high school up until recently as I’m trying to stray away from wearing so many graphic tees. To this day though, I still wear skater shoes everywhere. They’re just so damn comfortable!

These days, my nephew has become a big fan of Tony Hawk Pro Skater himself. He hasn’t attempted to step on a board yet but he sure loves playing Ride on Wii which actually has a replica skateboard that doubles as a controller that you can use in your living room. It’s actually pretty cool. The series doesn’t feel as Fun as it once was but that’s probably age just talking.
The personality and charisma of Tony Hawk helped me become more of an active kid. Even though I’m not much of a follower of the world of half pipes and grinds anymore (though I still try to watch at least some of the X Games every year), I can still respect the man who made his mark in such a dangerous profession and can live to tell about it. Not to mention the money he’s made.

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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