If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to be a pro, read this book. And I don’t mean what it takes to get a board with your name on it, but what it takes to really earn the title. There was a time when turning pro was much harder than it is today, when skateboarding itself was virtually invisible outside the skateparks that harbored it. Only a handful of top skaters held that title. Hawk was one of them: “I can’t remember being super hyped that day and jumping around with a massive smile stuck on my face. When I told my parents I turned pro, they said, ‘That’s nice.'”
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He’s also the only pro from the early 1980s to continually progress, and who is still one of the sport’s primary innovators. He’s lived the life for almost two decades, and has seen everything that’s happened to skateboarding from that unique vantage of his. No one in this sport has lived quite the life he has and experienced as much, from competing, to running a company, to raising a family. In HAWK: Occupation Skateboarder he delves into all of it, from the high points (“The best part of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video-game deal was getting to sit in front of the TV playing video games, and I was working.”) to the downright dregs, like the death of his father or the time he was too sick to skate a demo in Brazil: “The place was packed and the crowd of 4,000 turned into an angry mob. They started chanting ‘Son of a bitch!’ at me in Portuguese while I attempted to explain my situation. Ah, the perks of a professional skateboarder.”
One of Hawk’s personal and professional highlights, he writes, was the night he pulled the 900. The book’s introduction describes that fateful evening last year at the X-Games in San Francisco, as do the final chapters: “Everyone else had stopped skating. I remember thinking since the time limit was up I wasn’t going to win the best trick with a 9, but it wasn’t about the contest anymore.”
If you’re sick of hearing about it, just read the middle. You’ll learn just how unlikely an athlete he was, and how he developed a love for skateboarding that pushed him to overcome his skinniness: “My arms and legs poked out from my safety equipment—I continued to wear elbow pads as kneepads—like malnourished twigs. I was so weak at the time, I couldn’t do a handstand.”
HAWK: Occupation Skateboarder is the story of how a kid became a champion, an icon, and a mainstream media superstar—all in the pursuit of fun. Written with longtime friend Sean Mortimer, the book reads like a long confession and testimonial in which Hawk admits his own shortcomings (“Even though I’d made an effort to adapt to different terrain, I would always be known as the circus skater, with the robot style, who could only win contests at Del Mar.”), and gives credit where he feels it’s due: “Rodney Mullen figured out how to ollie on the flat ground, and street skating wouldn’t exist without the ollie. Every time you ollie you should get on your knees and thank Rodney or take him out to eat if you see him skating around Los Angeles.”
Wherever possible, Hawk seems to steer the narrative away from himself to discuss his family and his community of skateboarding friends, the things they did, the places they hung out, and the sport they love. Someday, some other pro may have the opportunity to write a memoir about all the significant things they did in their lives and careers, but I can’t imagine a personal history more relevant to the sport than Hawk’s. He’s probably skating somewhere today, doing something remarkable, setting some milestone for skateboarding that’s as relevant as any of his accomplishments chronicled in HAWK.
I just hope he’s taking notes for Part II.