Back when fabled pro skateboarder Tony Hawk was a kid, making a living in skateboarding seemed like a far-fetched option for the future. But times have changed, thanks, in part, to the trailblazing 44-year-old himself, who, after going pro as a teenager, has become one of the most famous skateboarders in the world and helped turned skateboarding not just into a sport, but an entire industry.
"When I started, it was almost impossible to make a career out of it and now it's a legitimate career," Hawk tells omg! from Yahoo!. "There are all kinds of different ways to go about making a career in it now, either competitively or artistically, you know, videographers, things like that. It's definitely for the better."
But the biggest change? "It's an accepted form of sport for kids and parents encourage it. When I was a kid, no parents wanted their kids skating."
The sport has become so mainstream, in fact, that Tony Hawk is now a household name with his own video game series, apparel line, skateboarding gear, and a philanthropic organization, The Tony Hawk Foundation, which provides grants to build high-quality skateparks in low-income communities around the country. Hawk says the idea for the organization came to him 10 years ago when he noticed two things about most of the skateparks he saw being created: They were in affluent areas, and the work was often shoddy since local governments were simply hiring the lowest bidder. "I decided I wanted to change that tide and to try to direct the funding more to the kids that are in need," recalls Hawk, "and to have a resource center for people to come if they want to get a skatepark built and get recommended builders and to encourage the cities to have the kids help design the park."
A decade later, Hawk's foundation has awarded over $4 million to more than 500 communities and on Sunday, Hawk will participate in the 9th annual Stand Up For Skateparks benefit in Beverly Hills, a family-friendly day that features musical performances, food, games, and, of course, Hawk and other pros hitting the half pipe to demo their moves for the crowd, which is often filled with various celebs and their kids.
"Sean Penn, Jon Favreau, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Leeza Gibbons have been most supportive in the past and I think mostly because a lot of them have kids who are interested in skating and they see the positive effects it has on them," says Hawk.
The pro skater himself is a single dad of four, with three sons ranging in age from 11 to 19 (eldest son Riley has followed in his dad's footsteps and skates semi-professionally) and a 4-year-old daughter named he had with his third wife, Lhotse Merriam, from whom he split last year. Finally having a little girl was a bit of an adjustment for a man who spent 15 years raising sons. "It's definitely a different pace," admits Hawk. "She really enjoys quiet time and one-on-one time as opposed to the boys who just want to be around other boys and go crazy all day."
At age 44, the California native is still at it, more than 30 years after he first got on a skateboard. And he has no plans to stop doing what he loves … not yet anyway. "I still enjoy doing it. I feel like I can still justify being a professional so I still get out there and do it on a public level. I wouldn't feel right about it if my skills are fading and I wasn't doing it that well," he explains. "In most respects I feel the same. I mean there are definitely tricks I don't want to put myself through the punishment of just to make one again … and probably in my early or my younger days then I would have."
One trick he probably regrets was the one that led to him breaking his pelvis eight years ago, but the injury also taught him a lesson. "I was doing a stunt and I was a little bit cavalier with my approach to it and paid the price," Hawk confesses. "That was one of the hardest things to come back from just in terms of healing and gaining your confidence and flexibility and everything. That was rough."
Despite first rising to fame on the pro circuit back in the 1980s, Hawk says he gets recognized more than ever these days, often by young people, in part because of his Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game series. "I'm always surprised I sort of managed to bridge that generation gap. There are people that recognize me from my earlier days of skating and then there are kids that are playing the video games and other people who recognize me from being a commentator on X Games or on a TV show or whatever. So, it shocks me every day, the range of people that stop me. It's always an honor, though."
For tickets to this year's Stand Up For Skateparks event, visit standupforskateparks.org.
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