I grew up in a time when skateboarding started getting bigger than ever and was being shown all over the place, especially on television. I was watching the X-Games live in our living room in 1999 when Tony Hawk landed the never-been-done 900. When I asked my Dad about that moment he admitted he actually cried when he saw it. My Dad had been a fan of Hawk since Animal Chin and seeing the 900 finally landed on live-TV was mind blowing. I didn’t get it nearly as much as he did when I was nine, but X-Games made me know it was important by smashing me over the head with it.
I hate admitting that X-Games was one of my first skating influences knowing what I know now. X-Games has cleaned up their act, but they have obviously done a poor job representing skateboarding in the past. The beautiful thing about Tony Hawk’s 900 though is that it transcended all the commercialized faults. When I was that little I didn’t understand the stupid politics of X-Games. All I saw was someone flying in a way that has never been done, and that was important to me because it rises beyond the ordinary human experience. Who doesn’t want to do the impossible?
Tony Hawk was already one of the most known skateboarders of all time, but that moment launched Hawk’s popularity higher than his 900. Soon he had books written about him, a deal with McDonalds, and even a cheesy remote control version of himself. A lot of skaters criticized Hawk for “selling out” to companies that had nothing to do with skateboarding. There are lots of points to this opinion, and I agree that skating is not about McDonalds or remote control toys. Yes, skateboarders are being used so that companies can look “cool” and make more money, and almost always these portrayals of skaters are skin deep or just plain embarrassing. However, a Hawk has to eat, and if Mcdonalds is his prey then he better dig in with his talons and kill it. Those companies outside of skateboarding would have used skaters anyways, so real skaters might as well use them. Compared to other skateboarders who have more recently gotten attention, namely on MTV, the Birdman handles his corporate business with grace.
In my opinion Hawk’s best and most influential business deal was the creation of the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS). There had been skateboarding games before, but THPS had better graphics, a better system of control, and legitimate skateboarders as playable characters. When my friend Bo got a Playstation we would stay up as late as we could in the basement staring at the TV completely immersed in the game. I was blown away and immediately fascinated by the minute long montage of real skateboarding footage in the intro. It was sure to hook kids with classic slow motion effects and loud punk rock (“Police Truck” by Dead Kennedys) repeating “…ride, ride how we ride.”
The actual game play itself was terribly unreal to true physics, but the true physics of skating are too hard for a fun game. They upped the speed, height, and hang time to make tricks and combos easy to execute. People who knew nothing about skateboarding could grasp the concepts of what could be done on a board. I began to understand the nature of skating and learned the difference between a huge variety of tricks. Kickflips, heelflips, shuvits, 360 flips, hardflips, smith grinds, 5-0s, lipslides, crooked grinds, and the list goes on, not to mention the endless trick combinations and rotational variations. It was addictive and it didn’t take long for me to get hooked to the details of the seemingly infinite possibilities.
Unfortunately I was hooked to a video game about skateboarding, not quite skateboarding. There were other video games I wanted on top of THPS so I asked my parents for a Playstation on Christmas instead of a skateboard. Within half a year though I knew I had to try skateboarding out for real and begged my parents for a board. It’s embarrassing to say that I got into skateboarding because of X-Games and THPS. I’d like to say I was sparked by my Dad’s board or my friend’s older brother, but that isn’t how it happened. I guess it is appropriate though because I am sure a lot of skaters in my generation started skating for the same reasons. There were lots of posers as a result, but in my case I was introduced to a new world that I could never leave. I like to think of being inspired to skate through TV and video games as an ironic blessing that saved me from becoming a lazy couch potato.