We caught up with the skateboarding legend and Laureus Academy Member Tony Hawk while he welcomed Italian football icon Alessandro Del Piero to the Laureus Academy as its 56th member.
Tony, why is it important for you to be a Laureus Academy Member. Have you enjoyed welcoming Alessandro Del Piero as a new Academy Member?
Well, for me, it's a huge honour to be included with so many legendary athletes from different sports and different countries, and I'm happy to represent skateboarding and action sports in general in the Laureus Academy, because I feel like our sports are growing faster than most sports these days, and I want to be able to include them in all of the Laureus considerations, in the Awards and in the charity work. So for me, it's a huge honour, and I feel like a great responsibility to represent our sports. Having Alessandro here is also really fun for me to connect with another Academy Member and show them what I do personally. For me, it was making what I do much more real to the rest of the Academy.
What do you remember from your childhood? Do you feel you had a normal childhood, or because of skateboarding were you doing different things?
My childhood was relatively normal. I played mainstream sports, basketball and baseball, and when I started skateboarding, it was relatively popular among kids my age. So, I didn't feel that different. It was only when I started getting really good at skating did I notice that all my friends had quit, and then that's when I felt different, because suddenly I was on my own in this sport that was relatively new, and I fell in love with it. But I couldn't find the same passion for it in my friends. My friends, they just weren't excited about it. They didn't understand how difficult or the intricacies of it, and I ended up sort of feeling like an outcast very quickly. But I found community at my skate park, and I think that is what really set me up for the future in terms of being an advocate for skate parks, because I knew that was the place where I found like?minded individuals, where I found a sense of community in a sport that was considered not popular.
What was the best thing you've learned in life from your skateboarding and why?
I learned to be selfconfident. I learned to create my own challenges. I mean, skateboarding is very much an individual pursuit, so it taught me how to find my own style and how to be creative, but in an artistic/sporting fashion. And the lessons that I learned, was how to believe in myself and that's something that I didn't take from team sports through my experience, because I wasn't encouraged very much in terms of improving what I did, until I got into skateboarding and I realised that it was all up to me and that I had to follow my own voice, and skating taught me that. I keep that creed with me to this day.
When you landed the 900 in 1999, it was a watershed moment in the sport. At the time, did you see the potential for board sports to reach the level they have today?
That's a hard question. I always saw that potential through all my years of skateboarding. I always felt like skateboarding had something much more than the general public was seeing. So, for me, I didn't think learning a new trick would be that sort of gateway to a mainstream popularity. But at the same time, I always wondered why it wasn't that popular, why it wasn't well received or understood by the general public. So, I'm honoured that people considered that a moment of crossover, but for me, I always wondered why they didn't get it in the first place because what I felt that day, doing the first 900, is something that I felt through all my years of skating, and that is a sense of accomplishment that I created.
What about the progression of the sport since then? Where do you feel it is today?
I think it's in a really good place. It's growing internationally. We're seeing skating in South Africa, in Cambodia, in Uganda, in Afghanistan. I mean, places I never imagined they would even see a skateboard, there are thriving scenes in those places. So, I think that it's on a really good rise in popularity in terms of international recognition. It is very likely to go to be in the Olympic, I believe possibly in Tokyo, and so it's in a good place. Definitely in terms of the US, the popularity isn't growing as fast, but it's definitely not declining, either.
You won 70 contests over 17 years. Your longevity was almost as impressive as your ability. What was the key to keeping going for so long?
To continue challenging myself. I didn't rate myself against my competitors. I always rated myself against my last performance, and so for me it was always a constant challenge to learn new tricks, regardless of what my contest ranking was. And I think that's what it is; I was more competitive against myself; I put a lot of pressure on my performance.
Can you identify the point that you would signify as your best in your career?
My last year of official competition, which was 1999, that's when I had landed my first 900. But beyond that, I had one of my best years in terms of consistent placings. I think that I went to an event, the World Championships were in Münster, Germany, and I feel like I had one of my best performances there, and that came before the X Games. And then there was another finals in Vegas where I did my second 900 and I felt like I couldn't really have ended. I couldn't really have out?done my 1999 year of competition, so that was a good out for me.
Who are your favourite skaters to watch today? Are you involved in any kind of mentor role with any of the young riders?
Yeah, I'm definitely mentoring a few younger riders, like some of the skaters on our team. Some of my favourites that I've watched through the years and members on our team are guys like Aaron Homoki, Ben Raybourn, some newer, one of the newer kids, Evan Doherty, has a lot of potential. In fact, I think he landed a 900 when he was age 11. And then Lizzie Armanto, who I think is the best up and coming, well, not up and coming, she’s already pretty established, but I think is the most exciting female skater on the circuit today, and that's our first female skater on the team. I'm really excited to be supporting her and female skating in general.
You mentioned that hopefully skateboarding would become an Olympic sport, maybe as early as Tokyo 2020. What would that mean to you as somebody who has been so close and so involved in the sport throughout your life?
Well, it would be exciting for me. There's some validation in it in terms of being recognised on that scale. But the flip side of that in my eyes is that the Olympics need skateboarding, maybe more than skateboarding needs the Olympics at this point. They need a sport like ours in their Summer Games to keep the young viewers interested. The way that snowboarding brought the excitement level back to the Winter Games, I believe skateboarding will do that to the Summer Games. So, I'm a bit torn about who benefits.
Can I ask for your views on Mick Fanning who has been nominated for the Laureus Action Sports Award, who had suffered a shark attack last year?
Well, I think I put him up for a nomination long before he had a fight with the shark, so he was already well established and one of the best surfers we've seen today, one of the best competitive surfers by far. I was honoured to have him in the Action Sport list, because obviously I feel strongly about our sport as a genre, but especially the board sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. So, it's always good to see someone from one of those sports in the mix.
Skateboarder Bob Burnquist is on the list. Do you want to say something about his performance over the years? He's been there forever, really.
Well I think Bob was an early Laureus Action Sports winner, and I believe that he is someone that continues to progress in skateboarding in terms of how far we think we can take it. He keeps pushing those limits year after year, and in terms of height and difficulty and distance, he's really on a different level of what we consider possible. And so, it's great to see him in there again. He's getting up there in age, too, but he's not slowing down.