While everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere, something else happened at this year’s Oscars. Tony Hawk, the world’s most iconic skateboarder, revealed his latest trick: standing without a stick.
The 53-year-old Hawk took the stage with Kelly Slater and Shaun White to introduce a James Bond movie montage, but it was Hawk’s mobility that seemed most remarkable. Less than three weeks earlier, he had broken his right femur when he misjudged landing in a McTwist, a 540-degree aerial rotation. It’s a trick he’s done tens of thousands of times. That day, however, his speed was down.
“After I fell,” he said, “I turned around and my leg was gone.”
Surgeons repaired the bone with a titanium rod and a physical therapist designed an aggressive rehabilitation regimen, but neither offered a timetable for recovery. His reticence granted the Hawk something like a permit. The next day, he posted a video of himself walking on crutches down a hospital hallway.
A week later, he shared another video of himself tentatively skating down the bottom of his ramp.
His unmistakable goal in an aggressive therapy regimen was to walk unassisted to the Dolby stage. Hawk’s perseverance is legendary: His quest to pull off the sport’s first 900-degree turn spanned four White House administrations, but his approach to this rehabilitation is, technically speaking, bananas.
Hawk’s broken femur came the day before HBO released a trailer for “Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off,” a long-awaited documentary about his life and career that spends a lot of time on his injuries. Directed by Sam Jones, the film explores the roots, scope and complex consequences of his perseverance.
In many ways, the documentary is an unlikely coming-of-age story for both Hawk and skateboarding, with an arc shaped by loss. The loss of innocence, sure, and of his loved ones, certainly and sadly, but Hawk’s other losses have sometimes set him free instead of limiting him. Like most skaters, he sees skateboarding as his medium of personal expression, but the medium is more chisel and stone than brush and canvas. Each failed attempt, each year that passes and each broken femur becomes an insignificant piece of marble that must be discarded for the sculpture to emerge. It is an art that is born from blows, but what many do not see is that the skater is not the one who is polishing with the hammer and chisel; the skater is the stone.
With the documentary scheduled to premiere on Tuesday, Hawk sat down over the weekend to talk about his life, his career and the injury that will require even more reinvention.
This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
How’s the recovery going?
I just had some x-rays done and will see my doctor on Monday. His attitude is basically that my leg is never going to be stronger than it is now, so if I can handle the pain, then go for it. I’m in uncharted waters here, but it’s all up to me. If I can get the cane off until next week, I’ll be on my way.
We have an event the weekend of May 12 in Las Vegas and I want to skate in that demo. Devo, Modest Mouse, Descendents and Warish are playing, and the best vert skaters will be skating all weekend. We’re never going to have that lineup again, so I don’t want to miss it.
His documentary comes out this week. It is an inspiring journey. What made you want to tell your story now?
it was sam. If someone else had done it, the story would have been formulated: you have some ups and downs, then you find massive success, then the credits roll. Sam was interested in the whole trajectory. Anyone would say that my career ended 15 or 20 years ago. I like to think that I’m still relevant and pushing boundaries, and Sam did too. I also feel like I have enough distance after overcoming my own challenges, so now was the right time to tell the story.
The film doesn’t shy away from the challenges you’ve faced on and off your board, but it also gives insight into how much you’ve changed.
my wife catherine [Obreht] It was the catalyst. Our connection was so special, the idea of being able to imagine a life with her, that’s why I wanted to make such a positive change. One of the moments in the document is where Stacy Peralta is calling out to people around me after I took a bad fall. She was worried that I hit like this at my age. One of the first people she called was Catherine. That’s how you get to me. The person I seek advice from begins and ends with my wife.
Another theme of the film is the toll that skating takes on the body, especially as it ages.
Yeah, I didn’t expect that to be so focused. I get it, but when you see so many bad falls in a row, you don’t realize that most of my skating now is messing around with my friends and trying to relearn pretty basic tricks from the ’80s. Before I broke my leg, I think I was skating the best I’ve had in the last five or ten years. It’s not the best I’ve skated, but it is the best in recent years. I got cocky with a McTwist, and that’s my fault. Overall, I feel like I’m a much wiser skater now. I can still obsess over tricks, but I can also relax. Now I am much more calculating, more aware of the worst scenarios. I guess that’s a form of maturity?
Is there anything you want people to take away from the document?
I hope he champions skateboarding for them. Yes, you’re seeing the courage and the hard work and sometimes the setbacks, but I hope the public sees what skateboarding can do for someone; it can give them a sense of identity and self-confidence that perhaps nothing else could. That is exactly what happened to me.
For all the things you’ve gotten from skateboarding, you’ve also given them back. What can you tell readers about The Skatepark Project?
When I was young, I had a skatepark in my area. It was the only place where he felt he belonged. At the time, there were maybe five skate parks in America? I never took that for granted, so when I was in a position of influence, the first thing I wanted to do was provide that kind of opportunity and environment for underserved communities. I wanted to offer that to young people who felt disenfranchised like me. That continues to be the priority, and the staff at The Skatepark Project do an amazing job; they deserve all the credit.
It’s amazing because skateboarding is for everyone, absolutely everyone, and that doesn’t happen with other sports. Go to any skatepark and if there is light, the park is in use. What other sports facility is like this?
I want to put weight on my leg. I want to skate the demo at the Weekend Jam in Las Vegas. Before I got hurt, I was working on a new part of the video, so I hope I can finish it. The irony is that before I broke my leg I was toying with the idea of doing a farewell tour of protests. I don’t know if anyone would be interested in that, but maybe? We’ll see.