Hello. I am Danny Boice, CEO of Trustify. Not too long ago I sat down with Tony Hawk to talk about his journey from humble beginnings to making it as an entrepreneur and global brand.
To a surprising degree, the story of skateboarding's transition from Southern California backyard hobby to one of the most widespread and lucrative sports in the world is the story of one man: Tony Hawk, legendary pro skater, de facto ambassador and multimillionaire entrepreneur.
Today, skateboarding is a multibillion-dollar industry, situated squarely at the heart of ESPN's annual X Games, an "extreme sports" Olympic-style competition that has spawned separate summer and winter events as well as global satellites held across Asia, South America, Australia, and Europe. Some skateboarding professionals today are as widely known (and as highly compensated) as their peers in more traditional sports. Ancillary licensing markets—most notably in apparel and gaming—bring in annual revenue that dwarfs those of other extreme sports.
The year 1999 was pivotal to this transition. That year, two things happened that would usher in skateboarding's new status as a global player in the sporting world. Not surprisingly, both of these centered on Tony Hawk. First, on June 27th, at the fifth annual X Games, Hawk—already a legend in the skateboarding world—became the first person in the sport's history to land a 900: the 900˚ midair spin that had long been skating's Holy Grail.
The furor surrounding Hawk's completion of this seemingly impossible feat only fanned the flames for what, a couple of months later, would be 1999's second major event in skating: video game publisher Activision's release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, which went on to become one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed video games of any kind and launched one of the most lucrative franchises in gaming history.
The effect of the Tony Hawk's series—in concert with the growing visibility of the X Games—was nothing short of revolutionary. Just as basketball fans had flocked a few years' earlier to Midway's NBA Jam—a two-on-two basketball game featuring licensed likenesses and names of real NBA teams and players—skaters found that sometimes they'd rather wile away the hours successfully landing breathtaking aerials under the guise of their idols' on-screen avatars than repeatedly fall off their own boards with their friends.
Even the modest Hawk himself is forced to admit the centrality of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in the sport's popularization.
"I knew how far skating had come," says Hawk, "when we released our fourth video game and the [first] three were still in the top ten of all video games being sold at the time."
For non-skating gamers, the series acted as a sort of gateway drug, introducing them all at once to the sport and the culture.
"That's when I realized how well-received skating had become. Because even though people were playing the video game, they were embracing the culture of skating as well, and the lifestyle. And they were tuning into the X Games because of it."Though he's since retired from professional skating, Hawk still remains very much at the center of the sport. His non-profit Tony Hawk Foundation has helped to build over 400 skateparks across the US, and in 2012, Hawk launched the skateboarding-focused RIDE channel on Youtube. He's still involved in the X Games, and is currently planning the expansion of the Pro Skater series into the mobile space, with a new game designed for tablets and smartphones coming out later this year."That's pretty exciting, because we've been kind of out of the video game space for a couple of years," says Hawk.
Even though he's retired, Hawk has always still found time to do what he loves most, even when it's meant grueling training to recover from injury, like a busted pelvis at age 35.
"[That injury] made me realize how much I loved skating," says Hawk. "That I'd be willing to get back on the horse, and to overcome such trauma, just so I could get back on my skateboard, you know? I mean...it's not that I needed the money, necessarily. I just needed to do that for my self-confidence and for my own peace of mind."
That self-confidence has seen Hawk rise to the top of his game, in business as well as in the skating world. And only three years ago, long after the broken pelvis, it as that self-confidence and drive that allowed Hawk to report happily to his followers on Twitter: "I'm 43 and I did a 900 today," with video to back it up.