Like a Hawk

A 2003 Interview with Pro Skater Tony Hawk

Original Publication
Toyfare, March 2003

It’s another one from the vault. I did this interview with pro skater Tony Hawk in 2003. Being for Toyfare magazine, the article was ostensibly about his then-new line of action figures, but we managed to veer off into other territory, including a discussion of a terrifying something called the “butt-splitter.”

You can tell Tony Hawk is hurting as he limps into the hotel lobby. He and his skateboarding crew had just acked the Nassau Coliseum for the big Boom Boom Huck Jam the night before, and his fifth show in five nights has left him battered. On top of all that, there had been attendees Susan Sarandon, Christie Brinkley and 60 Minutes to talk to afterwards…What was he gonna do, tell ’em he was tired? If you’re at all familiar with Hawk, you have a certain image in your head of a good guy who hasn’t let fame and fortune go to his head; someone who, at heart, is just a kid who loves to skate.

Well, it’s all true; you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more gracious and down-to-on earth. As a member of the legendary Powell-Peralta Bones Brigade skate team, Hawk made a name for himself skating ramps, but his greatest trick has probably been maintaining-and expanding-his fame over the years. Regarded by many as the ambassador of skateboarding, Tony is the most recognizable name in the sport, as well as one of the most recognizable names in sports, period.

With that level of fame come certain trappings: action figures, for one. But for a while it seemed figures weren’t a trapping Hawk was going to accept without a fight. Now aligned with Brooklyn-based Art Asylum on a line of li’l Hawks, he seems to have resigned himself to fate, and we wanted to know why. So despite the fact that his body went through the wringer the night before, and his family is on the road with him, here he is giving up part of his free time to talk toys with Toyfare over a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich.

KEITH: You were hesitant to do Tony Hawk action figures at first. Why the reservations?

TONY: I feel like there’s always the worry of being considered a sellout. It always seemed like once you got to the level where you have an action figure, that’s it. Okay, yeah, you get the M.C. Hammer, you get the New Kids on the Block action figure…and that’s the end of their career, basically. That’s when they’d say you’ve jumped the shark, when you’re just clambering for anything. That’s what it seemed like to me in the past. At the same time, I’ve come to realize through being successful, especially through video games, that people only really consider you a sellout when your stuff is selling.

It’s like when they say a band has sold out. Actually they’re just selling more albums. They’re not changing their art. The irony is that if you take a band like KISS, for example—I mean if anyone is ever gonna be called a sellout, it’s gotta be KISS—and their fans are die-hard. They never consider them in that light, as sellouts. And they’ll market anything. They’ll go for toothpaste.

KEITH: Of course, you’re no stranger to Tony Hawk merchandise.

TONY: I’ve had signature products since I was 14, but nobody really took notice of it because skating wasn’t really that big. Suddenly it gets really big, and everyone’s scrutinizing what you’re doing and who you’re promoting. It doesn’t compromise what I do. It doesn’t change the way I ride my skateboard or the way that I present myself. Action figures are another extension of that; there’s such a cool factor in action figures now. I saw Art Asylum’s stuff…it’s quality stuff. It’s not just some thing where you pick it up and the head falls off or you can’t move it or what have you. It’s come a long way. When you look at Eminem and Ozzy action figures—that’s not N’Sync!

KEITH: Did your kids exercise any influence over your final decision to go ahead and do the figure line?

TONY: Yeah. I mean, having kids, I understand what kids like. What they’re into and what they
consider cool. Obviously with Art Asylum’s background, with their track record—my kids have some of their toys—I knew they were quality and I knew they look good, so…the kids enjoy ’em!

KEITH: So what’s it been like working on a toy line, especially one that looks like you?

TONY: It’s weird, you know. You want to monitor it so closely. “Is that cool?” (Art Asylum Vice President Adam Unger interrupts to hand Tony a pair of action figure shorts, proclaiming proudly, “Here’s your shorts!”) Yeah, stuff like, “Do we really wanna have shorts this color?” Down to the nitty-gritty, like, “I
don’t know if the blue shirt should go with the cream shorts.” After a while you step back and go, “Does it really matter?” But, it was fun.

KEITH: Did you have any demands of Art Asylum?

TONY: I just wanted to make sure I was involved really closely, make sure the graphics and the clothes are all represented well. It wasn’t a hard process.

KEITH: Are they going to be sporting gear from Birdhouse and Hawk Clothing?

TONY: Oh yeah, definitely. They definitely have my sponsors involved. Right down to the Nixon watch.

KEITH: Will you be bringing aboard other guys you skate with? How about a Bones Brigade line, based on your old skate team?

TONY: That would be insane! I don’t know. I don’t know what the other guys would say to that. I can picture Tommy [Guerrero] saying, “No way.” Mike [McGill] would be in. Cab [Steve Caballero] would be in. Lance [Mountain] would probably be on the fence. But those are just my assumptions.

ADAM UNGER (spreading out a rainbow of Tony Hawk action on the table): You have to watch out for the brand, and the brand is Tony; it’s a company unto itself. You have to watch what you launch so that it doesn’t hurt everything else. Even the guys at Quicksilver and other companies that we were talking to, to authenticate them, they were like, ‘Well, I don’t know if we want our logo on this Tony Hawk doll.’ Once they saw what we were doing and saw what was going on, everything fell into place.

TONY: I’m just glad that you can’t take the pants off. That was going to be trouble. There’s my only hesitation with action figures—that someone will put them in compromising positions with other action figures.

KEITH: I know skating has been a big part of your life since early on. Did you have the time to get into toys and toy collecting when you were a kid?

TONY: I was into toys when I was a kid, but I didn’t really have a collection per se. I can tell you that I had the Evil Knievel action figure with the wind-up motorcycle and the jump. In fact, someone gave me that recently because they read that I had that as a kid. Any favorite toys now? My favorite toys now are my Nightmare Before Christmas collection. I have the large Jack and Sally poseable figures, complete with coffins and extra heads. I also have a ceramic mayor with a rotating head—happy and worried. I still want to get other Jack versions, an Oogie Boogie man and his cohorts.

KEITH: Are you into video games?

TONY: I used to play a lot, but I just don’t have the time anymore. But sometimes I’ll latch onto a game and I won’t give up on it. Like, I started playing Halo for a while. Halo is consistently challenging. On this trip, we’ve been playing Kelly Slater on the bus. I like Kelly Slater because it allows me to surf the way that I’ve always wanted to, riding big waves smoothly and getting big air.

KEITH: Are you any good at your own video game?

TONY: Yeah, I am. I can beat it without cheating, which not that many people can say.

KEITH: Do you have any favorite cartoons?

TONY: I think The Simpsons never gets old; they seem to always keep it fresh. I don’t collect the toys,
but they gave me a few when I did the show. [Note: Hawk appears in The Simpsons’ 300th episode.) My favorite is the talking Grandpa.

KEITH: Most memorable brush with fame?

TONY: I was once on an airplane flight with Mick Foley—Mankind from the WWF—coming back into Long Island airport after the holidays, and all he wanted to talk about was being with his kids at Disneyworld.

KEITH: Worst injury?

TONY: When I was in Boston, I took one really good hit. There’s this thing in skating where if you shoot on your ass sideways, you get what you call a “butt-splitter.” One cheek grabs the wall and the other one doesn’t, and it’s just like…(deep, pained breath). Everyone saw it, too. All the other skaters knew. I was just lying there, and they were saying, “You got an ass-splitter?” and I was like…(painful nod).

KEITH: Do you get a lot of movie offers?

TONY: Just once in a while, just cameo. Like I did a little thing in XXX and The New Guy, but that’s about it. I don’t really want to try and branch out into acting. I feel like that’s a…that’s like a when a sports star says, “Oh, I’m gonna be a rapper now!”

KEITH: You had a great cameo in Jackass: The Movie.

TONY: Yeah, that was fun. That was during the rehearsal for one of our events. They called me and said,
“Do you wanna do something for the movie?” And I was like, “Yeah, whatever you want to do. But I’m doing three rehearsals for the next couple weeks up in this hangar where we’ve got this ramp.” So they said, “Oh, we’ll do something with the ramp!” So they brought out the fat suits, and Bam [Margera] came out. Bam actually ended up puking from heat exhaustion because of the suit.

KEITH: Now that you have a new game out, what do you have planned for the near future?

TONY: In the near future I want to do this tour again and make more video games. Those are sort of what I want to focus on. And then also, obviously, helping run the projects that I already started, like Birdhouse (Skateboards) and Hawk Shoes and Hawk Clothing. But I don’t want to branch out too much more because I’m too tapped…and I always want the skating to be the top priority.

KEITH: Do you see this toy line expanding in different directions?

TONY: I thought about that: “Where do you go from here?” Where are the extensions? What do you build the line around? Do you make him, like, “Tony Hawk: Action Man”? He does this, he rides skateboards, he saves people. He’s a hero! The last time I saw it, my son had taken the arms off the figure I gave him, and I said, “Why’d you take the arms off?” He says, “Now you can shoot fire out of one and water out of the other.” So now I’m a superhero.

[Fourteen high school girls clambering around Tony seeking photos signifies the end of our time together. The girls cycle through a seemingly endless collection of cameras. One asks for a handshake, and encouraged by Tony’s willingness to oblige, goes in for the hug as well. It’s easy to see how this sort of life could go to a guy’s head, which makes it all the more remarkable that, in Tony’s case, it hasn’t.]

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