One of the greatest professional skateboarders to ever step into a pair of Half Cabs, Tony Hawk, 43, tells Details about his Taco Bell diet, what he's listening to when he's grinding, and what it's like to skate through a bombed-out school in Sierra Leone—and then he leaps into a bowl at Manhattan's Chelsea Skate Park.
DETAILS: The 900 was the Holy Grail of skateboarding for a long time, and you nailed it. What's the next challenge?
Tony Hawk: Ten-eighty. I know for a fact it's doable. It'll happen very soon; I've seen a couple guys put it down. It's going to happen. I just know it.
[Editor's note: Twelve-year-old(!) Tom Schaar did in fact nail the 1,080 on Monday, March 26, 2012—just two days after this interview was conducted.]
DETAILS: Will you be one of those guys who does it?
Tony Hawk: I killed myself enough trying 900s.
DETAILS: What are you listening to these days?
Tony Hawk: Just got the new Shins. I like that a lot. When I skate, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Dead Kennedys. My new playlist would be Modest Mouse and Jet and Wolfmother, even the newer stuff. I think it's pretty good.
DETAILS: You must reflect on how far skateboarding has come in the past few decades, from a fringe sport by teens who snuck into people's empty pools to an industry worth billions with events broadcast on TV. What strikes you when you look back?
Tony Hawk: I guess through my early years of skating, I never understood why it wasn't more popular, why there was such a negative stigma attached to it and more kids didn't embrace the daredevil aspect of it as well as the creativity. So I guess in a sense I'm not surprised it's popular, but I'm surprised at the staying power it has now. It doesn't seem like it's wavering in the way it has in the past and is more appreciated.
DETAILS: What do you think finally sold it to the mainstream?
Tony Hawk: I think with the advent of things like the X Games and video games, they really help to bring the limelight to fans who don't want to skate themselves but appreciate it. It brought a fan base of nonparticipants, and it broke through the ceiling. In the past, the only people that liked skating were the ones that skated themselves, and now kids who play the video games know what a 360 kicker grind is.
DETAILS: Whenever a sport gets big, some of the people who were with it from the beginning inevitably start complaining that it's gotten away from its roots and what it's really about. What does skateboarding have to do to avoid that?
Tony Hawk: The core and the heart of skating hasn't changed much. I guess the only difference now is some kids have different motives, they want to get rich and famous—maybe that's why they start. Those kids tend to fall off. The kids with the passion are the ones who stay.
Also, I've learned through the years that people only call you a sellout when things start to sell.
DETAILS: The Tony Hawk Foundation has helped create 500 new skateparks for kids across the country. Do you get into the nitty-gritty of, say, the design of each of these parks?
Tony Hawk: That's my main job at the foundation: The park submissions and plans come to my desk and I make comments on them. That's the thing that I spend most of my time on.
DETAILS: The Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise is getting a long-awaited renaissance with a new game out this summer. Do you play yourself in the new game?
Tony Hawk: I do play myself, because I know all of my moves and my special tricks. Inevitably when it hits the shelves, kids will try to challenge me. I'll feel it's more appropriate to play my own character.
DETAILS: I've always wondered if you have two pools, one for swimming and one for skating.
Tony Hawk: I do, yeah, the one for swimming came with the house, though.
DETAILS: When skateboarding suffered a lull in the nineties, you fell on lean times and could only afford to eat at Taco Bell . . .
Tony Hawk: Taco Bell and Top Ramen.
DETAILS: What was your menu at Taco Bell?
Tony Hawk: Two bean burritos, no onions, and a Pepsi. If I was really going to splurge, I'd get a crunchy taco, too, but that was rare.
DETAILS: If you'd never picked up a skateboard, where would you be?
Tony Hawk: Probably behind a computer, editing video. I used to do it quite a bit. I picked it up early on, with the first nonlinear consumer system, and I learned the ropes on that.
DETAILS: Looking forward to any particular videos or films?
Tony Hawk: I love David Fincher. I'm really excited about the new Ridley Scott movie, Prometheus. And having worked with Stacy Peralta through all the years, I've come to appreciate his work.
DETAILS: You recently visited Sierra Leone and managed to find a place to skate with some kids. It must've been pretty surreal experience.
Tony Hawk: The only cement that I found all day was this bombed-out school, so I skated the hallways. They call it "roller boogie." It was fun to show it to someone with brand-new eyes. It's like they think you're on a magic carpet. I mean, their faces would light up, and I'd lift them up and put them on the board and go down the hallways, and it was like freedom for them.
DETAILS: You're launching a new YouTube channel called RIDE. Where will we see your hand in it?
Tony Hawk: I interview different celebrities and musicians that interest me, not necessarily skate-oriented, but I'll try to cover that if they have any skate history. And I have a segment called "Tony's Crew," which is my team and friends and the tours we do and the appearances we make . . . for instance, we just did a three-week tour of Australia, and all the highlights are in the video. I'm overseeing all of it. We have a ton of shows we're rolling out—some 900 through the year.
DETAILS: You've also been doing Twitter Hunts (which are essentially international scavenger hunts) for a while now, but they've grown much more elaborate. How much do you manage to do yourself?
Tony Hawk: The first one was all me. As it has come to grow, it's really hard to monitor people finding stuff all day—we're putting out anywhere from 50 to 70 packages a day.
—Michael Y. Park