By Steve Brand
SAN DIEGO—It’s only a matter of time, say Tony Hawk and Willy Santos, before someone turns a 1080 on a skateboard. Just don’t expect it to be them.
“Shawn White has attempted a 1080 on a snowboard,” said Hawk after addressing a packed Sports at Lunch gathering Wednesday at the San Diego Hall of Champions.
“Snowboarders go faster and higher, so it’s just a matter of time before skateboarders learn how to twist their bodies in the air enough to do it. But I won’t be trying it on a skateboard. Maybe someone else, but not me.”
The legendary Hawk, who has his own permanent display at the Hall, glanced over to Santos, who quickly added, “no, not me either.”
Then again, Hawk, 41, said when he first started on the streets and schools of Tierrasanta, a suburb of San Diego, he never imagined himself and numerous others doing a 900. Nor did he foresee skateboarding taking off like it has, as a mainstay of the X-Games and a television favorite.
“People looked at skateboarders as subversive back then, it was a rebellious activity,” said Hawk, noting that before skateboard parks, kids used school and building ramps, which didn’t always go over real well with the general public.
“I certainly didn’t expect to make a living out of it. We were skating in the streets back then and the only difference between an amateur and a pro was which box you checked when you entered a competition.”
He recalled a check for $4.25 and one he kept for 85cents in the early pro days.
“Skateboarding was something you hid from your friends,” said Hawk, “it was like saying you were a pro at yo-yo or Frisbee. You’d go to photo shoots because it meant appearing on a full-page ad for your sponsor and all the exposure you’d get. You didn’t make any money. In my first three years as a pro, I earned a total of $600.”
Hawk says he has been credited with inventing more than 80 tricks, but it is fleeting fame, unless you count his numerous video games.
“You can work on something years but if others look at like a circus act, like twirling a baton, it’s to no avail,” he said. “Even new tricks get old after a year.”
Because of athletes like Hawk, the sport skyrocketed to the point that there are skateboard parks everywhere. Even in the inner-city areas, thanks to Hawk and his foundation.
“We’ve build 450 skateboard parks in low-income areas, spending more than $3 million,” he says proudly. “The thing about skateboard parks is they’re used sun-up to sun-down.”
Whereas Hawk was praised by Santos as an innovator, Hawk came right back to credit Santos as a master technician, something he says is far superior to trying a trick 100 times and getting it right once.
“Willy makes a difficult trick look very easy, and he does it consistently,” Hawk said of the resident of Mira Mesa, another San Diego suburb just north of Tierrasanta.
Santos, 34, comes right back at Hawk.
“He was my hero, he was always on TV and he was always trying something new,” said Santos. “I think it’s amazing how much the sport has progressed because of Tony.”
Santos was asked how he invents new tricks and he responded that while he could work on something for years, failing at trying a common trick could plant a seed to make a minor adjustment and that would be construed as a new trick.
Both agreed that the sport will keep evolving, even if that doesn’t mean necessarily going higher and doing more turns in the air.
“A lot of the tricks they’re doing now I never even thought about or if I did, I said they’d never be able to do them,” said Hawk.
Santos said that the mental barriers fall quickly when athletes try new things and accomplish them. Those who follow know psychologically it can be done.
But a 1080? Absolutely, just not either one of them. At least until someone else shows it can be done.