Tony Hawk at the Oxford Union

Tony Hawk came to the Oxford Union Friday 18 January to talk about his exciting life as a pro skater. In addition to being one of the most iconic skateboarders in the world, Hawk has a line of video games based off of him, is the owner of the skateboarding company Birdhawk, creator of the philanthropic Tony Hawk foundation, and has appeared in numerous movies and tv shows both as himself and as a stunt double.  

He reminisced on when skateboarding first rose in popularity in the 1990s, and how he dealt with the bullying he experienced as a result of his participating in the sport.  Throughout the decade, skateparks were shut down reportedly for “insurance issues”, likely due to the common injuries of skateboarders.  This consequently pushed skateboarding into more public settings, where skaters would practice on any object found suitable, precipitating the stigma around skaters as loiterers or trespassers.

Hawk played a few team sports in school, but never excelled at them like he did with skateboarding. He was one of the last of his friends still skating following the closure of many skateparks,  and was not popular for doing so.  Pop culture helped the sport rebrand itself, with movies like Back to the Future and TV channels like MTV that depicted the sport as cool and rebellious. Hawk comments he was in his “element” when skating, seeing it as a method through which he could explore his individualism and creativity.

He says, “When I found skating I found my own voice. I found my own style. . .there wasn’t this cookie cutter way you had to skate.”

When it came to discussing his iconic skateboarding tricks, like his 900 trick in 1999, Hawk goes about it modestly, commenting that he tends to take it all one day at a time. Questions from the audience largely focused on Hawk’s genius and approach to creating new skateboarding tricks – undoubtedly elements that really shaped his influence as an athlete. His response was to keep encouraging yourself to not give up: “They were all tricks I have done at one point but I set out with a modest goal that day, like maybe three or four tricks I want to do. To get that one trick you keep trying over and over and over.”

In the US alone, the Tony Hawk foundation has created over 500 skateparks in low-income areas. Hawk expressed an interest in branching out beyond the US, where his charity has been mostly based, to a wider, international setting. Skateboarding has taken off globally in some notable countries – Hawk specifically mentions Cambodia and Ethiopia. 

While Hawk has undoubtedly influenced generations of skateboarders, he states that he himself feels inspired by the new era of skateboarders.  Skateboarding will be in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo next year, specifically added for this Olympics with hope that it can reoccur in future games. Hawk remarked the gender gap becoming less and less breached in the skateboarding community: “The interest is growing, the acceptance is growing so it’s the best time it’s ever been for female skaters.”

Image credit: TimothyJ