Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s The Birdman! But unless you’re in the skating game or one of his 3.58 million followers on Twitter, you’ll know him better as Tony Hawk, pro-skater, actor and videogame character.
He spent his childhood at San Diego's Oasis Skatepark and by the time he was sixteen he was the best competitive skater in the world. Now Tony Hawk is a father to four, he's travelled the world for skateboarding tournaments, tried his hand at acting, launched his charity, The Tony Hawk Foundation, created his own video games and wants to take i-D back in time, on a date to Del Mar skate ranch. We wouldn’t say no to that.
How does it feel to be an icon to so many?
It's strange to think that I'm an icon to so many, because I grew up doing something that wasn’t popular. It's just something that I loved to do and even though it was different, I didn’t really care because it gave me so much enjoyment and a sense of confidence. To be revered for that is still kind of strange to me but I'm honoured by it. I love that people appreciate skating now but at the same time I'm just another guy you know, I have my own problems, I've got kids and I do normal stuff, so to be iconic seems a little weird, but like I said, I'm happy to still be skating.
It must be an immense feeling to give back through your charity, can you tell us more about that?
My charity funds public skate parks in low income areas and we try to empower communities that have already got something going themselves by either petitioning the city or coming up with an idea for a skate park. It's more about just having a place for these kids who grow up in risky areas, to go. Today we've given away over 4 million dollars and helped to fund over 500 skate parks and we’re still going strong. To some people that might seem trite, but to be honest, it gives these kids a safe place to go. I do feel like we help a lot of kids with our foundation.
Where’s the most outlandish place that you’ve put a skate park?
We’ve put skate parks in cities like Compton, Brooklyn, Indian reservations across the US, you know a lot of places where, from the outside perspective, you wouldn’t expect they have a skating population, but it's just because you're not looking in the right places.
What’s your fondest memory of being young?
My fondest memory from being young is probably one of the first times that I got to travel because of my success in skating, I was about 12 years old and I got to go to Florida, which doesn’t seem like a big deal but I hadn’t travelled that far before in my life and I was on my own, going with a skate team. The guys on the team were much older than me, and I went to an event in Jacksonville, Florida, and it just seemed like a foreign land to me. But it's a fond memory because it really opened up my eyes to travelling and to being in different places and the opportunities that skateboarding had given me.
Where did you grow up?
The best park you’ve ever skated in?
Oh that’s so hard to say, skating keeps evolving, styles keep evolving. I think that I was most impressed when it was first built by the park in the Cayman Islands, because it was just gigantic and had all these different styles of skating and whatnot. At the same time a park can sometimes be too big. There's a park in Shanghai that is gigantic, you can’t keep up your speed because it’s so big. The best facility that I've ever skated is what I'm sitting on right now. This ramp right here is honestly the best of its kind. It’s stood strong for 10 years without having to be changed at all. And it's my home, so it's the best place for me to skate.
Are you working on any new tricks or projects?
I’m always working on new tricks, I love tinkering around with new variations of existing tricks and you know, can you do a shove it into this, or a kick flip into that? Is there a different way to spin your body, whilst spinning your board in this direction? I still try that kind of stuff, I really still want to learn Ollie 720's, which is the no hand and grab 720. And new projects - I just released a video game, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, which is the best of our first two games but for all the new systems. Really we’ve built from the ground up and I'm proud of it but it's for download only on PS3, Xbox 360. Other than that, still skating quite a bit and touring, I’m leaving for Germany tomorrow to go promote the game.
Is there anywhere you would like to go that you haven’t yet been?
I love going to Japan and I’ve been to China a couple of times and Thailand, I just came back from Greece. I would like to see skating being fostered there - those places don’t have generally big skate scenes. Definitely in China because I feel that there’s so much opportunity and people could really evolve skating there, especially if they start to embrace it.
They are very ahead of themselves in that area...
Yeah and they have the room and the resources and it could be huge.
How fun was it making your own game based on just a hobby?
Making my first game was one of the best experiences of my life, I got to fulfil so many fantasies in terms of putting something into a video game, you know? I grew up on video games, I bought every skate video that came out, in fact I tried to buy a 720 machine when it first came out, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. I liked them, I love the skate games but I never thought that they represented skating well. There’s so much more to skating and it’s so much more freestyle based too, whereas what we do with the video game is just go into a level and do whatever you want, you don’t have to have certain goals to fill, you can make your own challenges up. But that whole experience was amazing, and seeing it come to life, seeing how much popularity resonated from it is incredible, it changed my life. It changed my life in terms of opportunity, in terms of finances and recognition, it was amazing. It was nothing I ever expected.
Did you complete every game yourself?
I completed every game.
What was your favourite park or location?
I think I got my best scores in Rio, because I would just go round the outer perimeter of the block. But my favourite level from all the games, even though it’s a little obscure, was downhill jam which was in the second game, because it was the first level that we ever did that had a start to finish, and had a lot of big ramps and stuff and overhead grinding and that was more suited to what I do in real life.
What type of music do you listen to?
I listen to all types of music. I don’t like to categorise myself but if I had to pick favourites, from the past it would definitely be Jane’s Addiction, The Clash, The Beatles, and more recently Arcade Fire and Lykke Li. My library is so huge it’s hard for me even to say one. What I’ve been listening to most recently is stuff like Big Pink, M83, and a little more obscure stuff. That’s not really skate music per se, but I love it.
If you were to take i-D on a skate date, where would you take us?
In my formative days, I would definitely take i-D to Del Mar skate ranch because that’s where I grew up skating. That was my local park, where I developed a lot of the stuff that I came to be known for and I knew everyone there. That’s kinda where I wasn’t a nerd. Cause everywhere else, especially at school, I wasn’t considered cool. But when I went there, people noticed who I was and I really shined. These days, if I’m going to take someone skating, I’m going to do it here on my ramp or in my backyard skate park, because if I show up at a regular skate park, then it becomes a scene and people think I’m there to do a show for them and they all sit down but I want to skate with everyone else. So when I’m not on display like that, I've learned to just appreciate my time, my private skate time which happens here and at my house.