Tony Hawk skates on Feb. 21, 2020 in Los Angeles.
BERLIN – Legendary skateboarding star and advocate Tony Hawk smiled and laughed when a reporter asked what it means to have his sport finally in the Olympic Games.
“Do I think it’s a big deal that we’re going to be in Tokyo?” Hawk asked, rhetorically, about the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. “Absolutely, it’s a big deal. It’s something that’s decades overdue. We should have been part of the Games before, because the truth is, we are a truly global sport. But now it’s official, and we’re good, and I think everybody is going to see what we’ve already known for a while — skateboarding is exciting.”
The Olympic debut of skateboarding will come in the form of two events each for men and women: street and park. In street, skaters navigate features such as handrails, slopes and benches, while park takes place in a hollowed-out course resembling an empty swimming pool.
Hawk, 51, will not be part of the U.S. Olympic skateboarding team, which could have as many as six men and six women, but he laid the pioneering groundwork for the sport’s brightest stars, such as Americans Brighton Zeuner, Nyjah Huston and Tom Schaar, to now strive for Olympic medals.
“They’re all taking the sport to new heights, and that’s awesome,” Hawk said. “I think what’s interesting now is, we have like two sides two the board community: the counter-culture part, which was the start of it all; and now the newer part, which is into the sport for its athleticism and the competition aspects.
“I think both sides can totally exist and be happy with where the sport is going. There is more opportunity everywhere for everybody as this keeps going.”
Growing up in the San Diego area, Hawk turned pro at 14 in 1982 and developed into the world’s preeminent skateboarder, helping usher the sport from niche status to the mainstream with competitions like X Games, which debuted in 1995. Over nine X Games through 2003, Hawk won 10 gold medals on his signature vert events, and in 1999 he famously became the first person to land a 900.
Along the way Hawk has helped grow the sport through his eponymous foundation, video games and other business ventures.
Although no longer competing a la Kelly Slater, the similarly iconic surfer who lifted that sport’s profile during the 1990s but fell just short of qualifying for its Olympic late last year, Hawk still can hit his tricks — he landed a 900 in 2016 at age 48 — and globally draws respect as the sport’s leading “elder” statesmen. He’s using his fame and wealth to spread skateboarding around the world, by helping build parks big and small.
He was in Berlin for the recent Laureus World Sports Awards and made sure to visit Nike SB Shelter — one of the German capital’s largest skate park facilities. It was a clear example of Hawk’s description of the original and newer forms of skateboarding blending into one. The outside of the urban, bunker-like building was covered in brightly colored graffiti. Inside, street courses, ramps and rails were busy with boarders in serious training.
“I think the most powerful aspect of boarding is our inclusivity — we cut across gender, race, socio-economic lines,” Hawk said. “Anybody can do this. Our sport has something for everybody. You don’t have to have a lot of money to be part of our community. You can be you, no matter where you are in the world.”
Hawk continued, openly thinking about how the Olympic exposure could impact skateboarding.
“I think that is exactly what I hope happens around the world because of the Olympics — more skateparks are built, more kids get involved in the sport and we continue to grow the impact of boarding beyond where we are now,” Hawk said. “We’re going to see even more countries get into the game, and that can only benefit everybody. It’s super positive all around.
“And yeah, I think after these Olympics, the public will be able to name another skateboarder besides me. That will be good for all of us.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for The New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.