Skateboarding is a kind of daily magic that is most obvious when you throw it in slow motion. Played back, the start of an ollie – which, like a jump, is the start of most tricks – makes it seem like the rider is ready to fly. And people can't do that alone, at least not yet.
Tony Hawk is one of those skaters. He has defied gravity since the 1980s when he was a teenager and the sport became a growing subcultural force. "When I first started skating, it was already growing in popularity, so I never knew it was something you want to be professional at," Hawk says when I reach him by phone, "or something that would make you a career Even the best skaters couldn't live by it. While the 80s changed some – "It felt like we were superstars," Hawk says over time – the early 90s saw a real decline in the popularity of skating. The reality began. "Suddenly I was confronted with two mortgages and a child on the way," Hawk says. "And it was like," Shit, I can't … maybe I can't do this for a living. "
Shortly thereafter, skateboarding hit enormously, propelled by a combination of spectacle – the ESPN X Games began in the spring of & # 39; 95 – and the status of outsider. The third point was Tony Hawk & # 39; s Pro Skater, which debuted two decades ago on September 29, 1999. The game was a huge hit, earned excellent reviews from critics, and enjoyed healthy sales. (In total, the franchise has been made around $ 1.4 billion.) Pro skater made Hawk both a millionaire and a household name. "For example, it placed skateboarding on the map as a genre of video games," says Hawk. "It has brought a new audience for skateboarding and not just people who want to try it, but people who learn to appreciate it from the perspective of a fan." It also inspired a generation of successful skaters, Hawk says, and influenced both popular and skate. culture through its soundtrack.
Hawk became involved with Activision, which published the game just after he had finished setting up a separate skateboard game for manufacturers and other publishers. There was pushback, Hawk says, because they didn't think it would be successful or popular. When Activision came to call, he saw what it had completed and immediately signed up for the project. "Every game I was involved in the development," says Hawk. "I would play the builds as I received them." That meant at the time that the disks with the latest build had to be sent in the mail and then feedback had to be sent. Later consoles made that harder because, as Hawk says, it was hard to find a & # 39; giant Xbox developer & # 39; on the road. He said the process was fun, especially in the early games, because Hawk Neversoft, the studio that developed the game, had to give a crash course in skateboarding and skateboarding. They eventually became skaters themselves. In Hawk's memory, the studio used to make a weekly or bi-weekly trip to the nearest skate park and everyone did skating sessions that the skater also attended. ("I think one of them eventually broke his ankle to learn kickflips," he told me.) "At one point, they embraced it so deeply that I didn't have to teach them anything," Hawk says.
That is what I remember best Tony Hawk & # 39; s Pro Skater. Playing it felt like I was staring into another world, one in which the skate culture was dominant and every curb seemed potential for a sick series of tricks. "What I'm proud of is that it represented culture well," says Hawk. "It represented the lifestyle, in terms of the music and the attitude and the actual skating itself." If you do a kick flip in the game, you see what a real kick flip looks like. "It has taught a whole generation of children what good skating can be." The games were too hard. On a recent playthrough of some of the early levels of Pro skater, I remembered how ruthless the game could be, but also how satisfying it felt to land a series of combos. (For those who wonder: yes, Hawk has beaten every game that bears his name.) I asked Hawk how close he felt Pro skater was up to the daily reality of skateboarding, and he humored me. "It's close in the sense that you can create your own challenges and keep coming back to the game and trying ever harder combos and harder movements," he says. "But it's not close to reality in the sense that these combos … some are just physically impossible. And the idea that you can crash and fall on your head and stand up again, that's a slightly different from reality. "
Yet the games manage to capture the magic of skateboarding – from defying gravity (and sometimes the law) to get some tricks. The game persists. "I am proud that people like to keep coming back to it. I mean, to this day, I still hear" I take out my PS2 so I can play THPS, "Hawk says. "I am really proud of that legacy and the fact that many people say it has brought them in for skateboarding or some kind of music that they didn't know or that they didn't like." He sounds like a father, what he is, but he is also someone who is surprised about their fortune, about how a life can turn out.
"Everything is just a nice surprise these days," he says. “I think the most important thing is for parents to encourage their children to skate. That never happened when I was young, ever. "Skating is now part of the mainstream. The children who grew up with Pro skater are now in their second and third decades. Tyshawn Jones, the subject of a recent series of magazine profiles and one of the best skaters on the planet today, recently told The New York Times that he had learned about the sport from video games. Next year, in Tokyo, a team of skateboarders from all over the country will represent the US in the 2020 Summer Olympics, and marks the first year that the International Olympic Committee will recognize skateboarding as an official sport. “It was surreal even today, the idea that I could do it in my adult life as a relevant professional. I never imagined & # 39 ;, Hawk says. “And it stays that way. I'm 51 and yet my main job is to ride a skateboard. "