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Tony Hawk turns 50 — and he has a trick for every year

To celebrate his 50th birthday, American skateboarding icon Tony Hawk recently performed 50 of the tricks he created that helped catapult the sport into becoming a social and cultural phenomenon. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker talks to Hawk about his legacy, getting older and the evolution of the skateboarding industry.

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  • Christopher Booker:

    About two months before his 50th birthday, Tony Hawk set out to revisit 50 of the tricks he has invented or pioneered during his 41 years as a skateboarder. Everything from the finger flip to the 540 ollie.

    But it was just after landing the 49th trick – the 720 – when he found himself flying toward a pole.

  • Tony Hawk:

    I don't know how I walked away from that. I really don't and I do remember distinctly, as I was flying through the air, the– my first thought was, "I can't believe I'm not gonna finish this video."

  • Tony Hawk:

    "How many is that? 49? Lets try another one if I can still move."

  • Tony Hawk:

    When you grow up as a skateboarder and you– you– you– you're used to enduring– injuries of some sort, that becomes your mindset. I wasn't so concerned for my health, I was more concerned with finishing the project I had started. Nowadays I really have to work at it, and so if I do get hurt I'm the one doin' the icing, and doing– and– and getting– the mobility back, and– and starting low, and starting slow. It's not– it's not that it– it– it's like, so crushing or so debilitating to get hurt at my age; it's just a lot more effort to get back out there. I don't do yoga– i– I don't work out. But perhaps I should.

  • Christopher Booker:

    To sit down and talk with Tony Hawk about how someone is able to do this at the half-century mark, is as much a conversation about longevity, as it is a conversation about about creativity, motivation and the resonance of career that started before he was old enough to drive.

  • Off Camera Announcer:

    "Tony Hawk, here he is. Lets go."

  • Tony Hawk:

    I was very lucky– that my– my dad was supportive of– of me choosing skating when almost every other friend of mine, their parents did not want them skating. They thought it was a bad influence, they thought it was a waste of time, they thought it was to dangerous. And I was the youngest of four– kids, and so by the time I came around my parents had lived through the '70s with my older siblings, and it was more like, "just g– whatever keeps him busy."

  • Christopher Booker:

    In 1982, at 14, he become a professional for the california based Powell-Peralta skateboard company. Part of a group called the Bones Brigade, he helped propel skateboarding to the mainstream throughout the Reagan years.

    As skateboarding's popularity grew, so to did the contest circuit. Competing from California to Toronto, Hawk dominated it, winning 3 national titles by the time he was 18, all the while picking up ever more lucrative endorsement deals with shoe and clothing companies and making tens of thousands of dollars a month in sales of his skateboards.

  • Tony Hawk:

    It got weird for me when I was consistently winning a lotta the events, especially in the late '80s. And I didn't have any peers– you know, in terms of people that I really identified with. And– and suddenly I felt like I was– I was set apart from the– from the– my contemporaries. And it was like, "well, we just hope you get second place." And– and– and that is supposed to– p– supposed to be– a compliment, and I took it as– as, like, crushing because it was like, "no, I just wanna be with everyone else. I– I enjoy skating with everyone." And I sort of– I- I– I stepped away from competition for a while and refocused my energy back to just learning new tricks, and that gave me that fire again."

  • Christopher Booker:

    While he continued to skate, this period coincided with a substantial downturn in skateboarding's fortunes. Sales of skateboards and skateboard clothing plummeted and Hawk's royalties virtually evaporated.

  • Tony Hawk:

    The early '90s were tough, for sure. I had just started a family– my income was shrinking by half every month and that's when I decided to start a skate company, which seems like the most bizarre, you know, risky idea. But at the same time I believed in skating. I believed that skating would come back around. And– and so I — I did it,i basically took all my equity in my house and started a skate company, and then moved to a much smaller place and– had a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and taco bell, and you know, just– just made it work.

  • Christopher Booker:

    The early days of his new skateboard company, originally called Birdhouse Projects, were lean. Hawk assembled a small team of skateboarders, and they travelled across the country promoting and selling birdhouse skateboards, clothing and videos.

  • Tony Hawk:

    We were skating parking lots in front of skate shops, and they would just set up little junky scrap ramps, and we did it. You know, 100 people would show up and we would sign autographs, and we were livin' the dream. In hindsight it seems like a struggle. At– at the time I was just stoked 'cause I did get to skate, and– and that was the most fun for me, and I was still doing what I love.

  • Christopher Booker:

    But his break from competitive skating was short lived. In the summer of 1995, ESPN launched the X-Games, a nationally televised competition for what are known as Action Sports. Everything from motor cross to bmx to skateboarding. Nearly 25 years later, the X – Games have become the single largest platform for athletes in the action sports world.

  • Off Camera Announcer:

    "Tony Hawk coming out of competition retirement less than two months ago."

  • Christopher Booker:

    At the age of 27 Tony Hawk was one of the x games' breakout stars.

    But it was during the games of 1999 when Tony Hawk would become a household name. That's when he became the first person ever to land the famed 900 – 2 and 1 half aerial rotations above the ramp – a trick he had been trying for 10 years.

    By the turn of the century, Tony Hawk had become not only skateboarding's global ambassador, but one of the world's most recognizable sports figures. His name and image could be found everywhere from toys to video games, to his own clothing line. He even appeared as himself on The Simpsons.

    And the crowd's that came to see him, kept growing. All the while, skateboarding continued to evolve.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Now, your eldest son is a professional skateboarder as well. How do you think his career differs now at his age from– when you were his age?

  • Tony Hawk:

    So for him, he doesn't even have to compete because we're in the age of social media, and– and video, and– and photos, and– and people just wanna see what you're producing if they're interested in your– in– in your skills.

    Two years ago, his son, Riley, was photographed skateboarding in a drainage ditch outside of San Diego. He was skating through the ditch, then jumped up on top of a pipe that sits 8 feet above the ground. It was the same pipe his father was photographed skating under 30 years earlier.

  • Tony Hawk:

    That still blows me away that– that he did that. For him to think way outside of– of the box and– and actually, like skate up and over it– was something that none of us would imagine

  • Christopher Booker:

    But with everything he has done, Hawk says the thing he is most proud of is the Tony Hawk foundation.

    The foundation has helped build nearly 600 skateparks across the country, from inner city neighborhoods in Los Angeles and New York, to native american reservations in Montana and North Dakota. An estimated 6 million people use the parks each year.

    But there is a photo that hangs in Hawk's office that perhaps offers a more thorough portrait of just how far skateboarding has travelled in Tony Hawk's 50 years.

    It shows a young boy learning to leap into the air along with his board. It's a skateboarding trick called the "ollie," and it's one of the first moves any skateboarder learns. But this isn't Baltimore, or Seattle. It's Ethiopia.

  • Tony Hawk:

    That is one of the coolest skate photos I have ever seen.Just the whole thing. He's in rubber boots and you know traditional garb, learning to ollie. Yes, its amazing.

  • Tony Hawk:

    To me that's one of the most exciting elements of– of the growth of skateboarding, is that it will be– it will– it– it– it will be in places like those, and it's an open canvas to them, they don't– they don't have this history, they don't what the cool trick of the week is. And so they just do it in their own style. That was me. I mean, you know, I– I grew up one– near one of the last remaining skateparks. There were only a handful of us that were skating there, but it gave me everything.

  • Christopher Booker:

    And even at 50, after all the contests, accolades and broken bones, he says that feeling is still there.

  • Tony Hawk:

    I still try new tricks all the time. And– and the tricks I'm trying– yes, I'm 50 and– and that might seem absurd, but– but I've sort of shifted my style into a way of skating that isn't so s– high-risk and so much high impact. But I will never quit skating. Maybe even in ten years you'll just find me carvin' around in my backyard– maybe not on camera, but that's where you'll find me.

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