Column: Tony Hawk blends philanthropy, fun during coronavirus crisis
Skateboard legend and Encinitas resident aids health care workers as video game launch nears
Snapshots of Tony Hawk’s life already include a ridiculous amount of, well, ridiculousness.
The San Diego native and skateboarding pioneer glided through the White House. He gripped the back of Evel Knievel’s motorcycle to hitch a ride while wearing the daredevil’s iconic red, white and blue jacket. He’s been a character on “The Simpsons” and contestant on “The Masked Singer.”
Why should a pandemic slow him down?
On his recent birthday, No. 52 for the those counting around the vert ramp, he got a text from actor, comedian and musician Jack Black. As part of the All-In Challenge that raises money to combat hunger, Hawk offered private lessons before revealing a personal inspiration is … Weird Al Yankovic.
When informed that his life is, quote-unquote, something else, Hawk hardly quibbles.
“It’s wild, right?” he said.
That’s what makes the Encinitas resident with 4.3 million Twitter followers and seemingly as many epic skateboarding stories slightly disarming. He’s normal, or as normal as anyone who has tangoed with gravity for decades can be. He’s relatable. He kick-flips pretension to the curb.
Hawk and Activision just announced they will release another in a line of video games, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2. The games helped spike Hawk’s net worth, as one report framed it, to more than Larry Bird and Charles Barkley combined.
No biggie, apparently.
Instead of hunkering in his home, backstroking through all that green like Scrooge McDuck, Hawk has jumped into a flurry of philanthropic projects — from Direct Relief that benefits health care workers to his own Tony Hawk Foundation.
In the most Hawkian way possible, he steers a question about why he stays so involved and connected to noted philosopher Spider-Man.
“I think it’s the best use you can make if you have a voice that has some reach,” he said. “The best thing you can do is give back. Mostly, I try to build public skate parks, but during this crisis other things should take priority.
“With great power comes great responsibility, I guess.”
There’s a humble playfulness about Hawk that’s grounding and uplifting, all at once. He’s cruising through life, doing his thing — and helping so many others do their thing at the same time.
The glass, half full. The sun, rising soon.
Asked about the skate park at his home that gobbles up some of the self-isolating time with his family, Hawk paused.
“The most difficult thing was getting it approved,” he said. “At some point, let’s put it this way … it was a long time ago, so this probably won’t haunt me. I submitted it (for zoning) as a koi pond. When it got down the line for approval, they said, ‘C’mon, this isn’t a koi pond. We know what this is.’ So we submitted it as a handball court.”
How many times has he played handball there?
“Yeah, none,” he said.
Unpeeling the thinking of Hawk reveals an openness — of mind, heart and wallet. Circling back to Yankovic, the musical comedian, shows a thoughtful consideration of someone who some consider a pop culture blip.
“I’m fascinated by Weird Al,” Hawk said. “I think he’s had a really fun and interesting career. I’ve met him a few times and he’s such a great guy and a really talented musician. I think people lose track of that.
“He has amazing staying power. Think about it, I was listening to (the Queen parody) ‘Another One Rides the Bus’ in the early-80s.”
Hawk shows his humorous side on Twitter, where he mastered storytelling about random interactions with fans. One example:
TSA agent (checking my ID): “Hawk, like that skateboarder Tony Hawk!”
Her: “Cool, I wonder what he’s up to these days”
Recently, it happened again when a young fan sniffed out Hawk at a convenience store — coronavirus mask and all. An appropriately distanced selfie followed.
“I’m always surprised when somebody recognizes me, even when it happens without a mask,” he said.
Hawk’s legend was cemented in 1999 when he became the first skater to land a “900,” a trick that requires 2 1/2 rotations, in competition. During the health crisis, he’s trying to master something new.
The father to four children and two stepchildren was starting to embrace the quieter side of life. Now, three kids are roaming the house.
“We were almost empty nesters when this thing started,” Hawk said. “Now they’re all back. It’s a little overwhelming with dishes, laundry and all the hustle and bustle.”
Now that’s a trick.
-- Bryce Miller is a sports columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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