By Sean Bowes
Every job has its perks — teachers have summers off, airline employees fly for free and once in a blue moon, a news reporter is assigned to interview one of his or her idols.
A few of weeks ago, Tony Hawk’s public relations department called to inform me that the skateboard legend would be visiting the Skatepark of Tampa (SPoT) with his skate-entourage on August 22, and he was willing to do an exclusive interview with me, a veteran skateboarder of 12 years who knew Hawk’s name even before I ever stepped on a board. Of course I would interview him! If you’re a skateboarder, you know that meeting Tony Hawk is like being a basketball player and getting to meet Michael Jordan. It just doesn’t get any cooler than that.
For those who don’t know, since turning professional at age 14, Hawk has invented dozens of “vert” skateboarding tricks, he was the first person to land a 900 (spinning two-and-a-half full rotations in the air), and he continues to win contests while skating against kids less than half his age. Just two weeks before Hawk came to Tampa he won the Coastal Carnage best trick contest in Huntington Beach, CA. He has also built a “skate empire” around his name, endorsing everything from clothes and shoes to finger skateboards and USB flashdrives.
A little back story on me. In high school I would search couch cushions to get gas money together for the 130-mile drive north from Cape Coral to Tampa, to skate at SPoT. I once missed a flight home from Arizona because I was sitting in front of the gate at the airport reading Hawk’s autobiography, Hawk: Occupation Skateboarder, and never looked up to see my plane leaving the runway. The trunk of my car has looked like a mobile skate shop since I got my driver’s license. Skateboarding is a hobby that has been fully flared addiction for me, and besides a few creaky bones, I couldn’t be happier with it.
Tony Hawk chose SPoT as his second stop on his Birdhouse “MIA to NYC” skateboard tour because of its history and the impact it has had on the skateboard community. Traveling with a caravan of decked-out RVs, Hawk rounded up the Birdhouse skate team, which includes legends Willy Santos and Kevin Staab, as well as newly turned professional, Aaron “Jaws” Homoki, and Hawk’s son Riley, 18, an amateur skateboarder who is a skilled “street” skateboarder, to skate at the famed Tampa park.
“The park is pretty gnarly,” said Riley Hawk, “The layout of the course is really good, and the contests are cool, and the guys that run the park know what they’re doing.”
Team Pain, the same skatepark constructors who built the 14,000-sq.-ft. New Tampa skatepark on Commerce Park Blvd. in Tampa Palms in 2009 builds a new course at SPoT each year. SPoT has two courses, a beginner’s course and a pro course, in addition to the 13-ft.-tall halfpipe, which skaters are welcome to skate year-round.
Hawk is a self-proclaimed fan of SPoT. He featured it in two of his Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video games, allowing gamers to play as SPoT employees. The skatepark, which was built in 1993, is home to two of the most highly regarded contests in skateboarding, the Tampa Am and the Tampa Pro, for amateur and professional skateboarders, respectively.
“It is an honor to be here,” said Hawk.
I have been regularly visiting SPoT for nearly a decade, and it was an entirely different scene when Hawk and the Birdhouse gang rolled into the park. With SPoT’s parking lots overfilled and cars lining the roads in either direction for a quarter-mile, fans of all ages, skill levels and knowledge of skateboarding crammed into the park, which employees jokingly refer to as “the crusty skateboard hut.” Young punk rockers, old guys covered in tattoos, grandparents with holding their kids’ hands and literally everyone in between came together to watch Hawk and the Birdhouse team shred SPoT’s halfpipe ramp. And, the “Birdman” did not disappoint, performing mind-boggling tricks like the Madonna (a trick he invented where he front foot behind him while grabbing the board in the air) lengthy backside lipsides, and to the crowd’s approval, a 540 on his first attempt.
“He’s the only guy twho can do this,” said SPoT general manager Ryan Clements. “When you think of Tony Hawk, you immediately think of skateboarding. He is the only person who has crossed skateboarding into the mainstream.”
My Interview With Hawk
Q- When was the last time you were in Tampa?
A-I was doing the Boom Boom HuckJam demo and came to Tampa. That was in 2008
Q-Why did you choose Tampa as a stop on your East Coast tour?
A-The Skatepark of Tampa is its own staple of skateboarding. The park has stayed open through the days when skateboarding wasn’t as popular. It has been here through the dark days. Really, I’m proud to be here.
Q-Is that why you chose SPoT as a level in your video games?
A-Yes. And, because of the people who work here. All of the employees, they make sure that this is a top-notch facility.
Q-For the record – how old are you and how is your body holding up from the years of slams and falls?
A-I am 43. Actually, it has been pretty good.*
Q-Do you take any special measures to stay healthy? I know some pro skateboarders adhere to a vegan diet or do yoga, while others swallow a handful of Ibuprofen before skating a contest, what do you do?
A-Honestly, nothing. I’ve had my ups and downs for sure, but I’m used to it. The biggest thing for me is just getting enough rest.
Q-When was the last time you landed a 900?
A-I did one in Sweden in May of this year.
Q-Jaws (Birdhouse pro-skater) recently jumped down a 13 ft. high, 27 ft. long set of stairs, and there is a 14-year-old landing 900s. Does this progression of skateboarding scare you at all?
A-I’m not scared because I’m not the one doing it (laughs). But really, I’m not worried about it. Skateboarding will continue to progress. The skaters know what they’re doing.
Q-How does it feel to have your son Riley on the team and to be skateboarding with him?
A-It’s great now to be on tour and hang out with him. He’s 18 now and into his own thing and his own friends. Actually, this way, when we’re on tour and we’re on the road, we spend a lot more time together. It’s great.
Q-When do you plan to stop skateboarding?
A-I will do this as long as I can.
*Note-Tony’s idea of his body holding up “pretty good” may differ from most people’s; within 24 hours of this interview, he had knocked his front tooth out skating ramps at Jacksonville’s Kona Skatepark with friend and teammate, Kevin Staab. He has previously broken his elbow, cracked a few ribs and has had countless scrapes and sprains.