"The Brief" from Issue 1.1—Tony Hawk Interview


Tony Hawk on the board that inspired his new board graphic. Del Mar, 1987. // p: Grant Brittain

By Pat Bridges

I’m gonna say it. Tony Hawk has probably been snowboarding longer and has ridden more vertical than you! While Hawk’s day job entails him being one the most famous and influential skaters, hell, athletes of all time, the 53 year old goofy-footer from San Diego, California also happens to be an avid fan of strapping in and surfing the snow, so much so that he has his own mountain retreat in Mammoth, CA.

From his teen years at the vanguard of the iconic Bones Brigade to becoming the most prolific vert skater of all time to developing the ultimate time suck with THPS to creating The Skatepark Foundation (and the hundreds of concrete playgrounds that altruistic endeavor alone has created), Tony’s impact on skating is as obvious as it is unfathomable, yet snowboarding too owes a major debt to the Birdman. Take tricks for instance. Hawk is credited with executing the first stalefish grab, backside to boot, in addition to virtually every 540 and 720 variation imaginable. In 1995 Tony emerged as the face of the Summer X Games, helping to create the foundation from which its winter iteration would emerge two years later, leading to snowboarding’s inclusion in the Olympics and its current place within the mainstream zeitgeist.

Then there is the fact that virtually every pro rider of consequence, since forever, from Terry Kidwell to Jake Kuzyk, has been secretly (or actually not so secretly) mimicking skating every time they hit the hill, or the streets, or the pipe, etc. Even Tony’s older brother Steve was the Editor of Snowboarder Magazine from the mid-to-late ‘90s. All these reasons and perhaps 900 more are justification for K2 to partner with Tony and his company Birdhouse, to create a limited late-release collection. The series, which is available now, includes a classic 1997 Birdhouse Hawk Skeleton graphic on the Party Platter platform as well as a cleaner, more subdued, classic Birdhouse mark emblazoned across an After Black deck. While Hawk’s day job entails him being one the most famous and influential skaters, hell, athletes of all time, the 53 year old goofy-footer

While lapping Mammoth’s main park last spring alongside Tony and the K2 squad, including a cameo from his son Riley, who was trying to learn andrechts on a two story transition, I was able to get a quick one-on-one conversation with the man who has done more to move sideways culture forward than perhaps anyone else in history.

Tony Hawk method at Mammoth. // p: Jeremy Thornburg

Tell me your earliest recollection of snowboarding?

I saw some pictures in Action Now Magazine or Thrasher. I had heard about people trying to figure out how to make snowboards. I knew about the snurfers and ski-fers but they just didn’t feel like the same thing. Like, you had to hold the nose up and that just didn’t seem like the kind of thing that I wanted to do. I got introduced to actually riding snowboards when I won one at a skate event and it was from a brand called Slicker that I think G&S was producing. Then, one time when we were skating at Upland Skatepark, my dad drove us up to Mount Baldy. I tried it on the side of the road because you couldn’t do it at the actual resort at the time. That was probably in ’82.

What did you think?

It was fun. I didn’t quite grasp how to turn. It wasn’t like we were riding good snow or anything. It probably wasn’t until three years later that snowboards came of age with bindings. Once they opened Mountain High up to riding that’s when I took it seriously. I was going there probably twice a week for night skiing.

What were you riding on then?

A Kemper. They sent snowboards and all the gear to pro skaters at the time because they were trying to recruit people because it seemed like the skaters took to it the fastest. I think they were sending gear to us hoping that we would want to turn pro with snowboarding. I didn’t want to take it that seriously. I was just stoked to get gear.

"I tried it on the side of the road because you couldn’t do it at the actual resort at the time. That was probably in ’82."

For example people like Bert LaMar, who you were skating against transitioned over and had success.

It made sense. I understood how and why they wanted to do it. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but once we figured out how to turn on a snowboard doing the tricks came a lot easier.

Tony was catching sky before most of us were born // p: Provided by Tony

Were there ever times that you’d go riding with other pro skaters?

Yeah. Eventually there was a big merging of snow and skate events and there was a lot of crossover then. I did a lot of trips with Andy Macdonald because we both rode for Airwalk in the  ‘90s. Airwalk had a big snow program so we would find ourselves in Switzerland or Japan doing skate demos one day and then snowboarding the next.

What were your thoughts when people like Danny Way started promoting snowboarding products in the ‘90s? Did you ever entertain that sort of idea?

I felt like they could justify it, they had the skills. I never felt like I was going to focus on riding enough to justify a pro model. It was more like you better be at the snowboard event proving yourself for a pro model. John Cardiel or Noah Salasnek, they were at the events ripping it up.

You ever have a chance to ride with Shaun White because I know you guys spent a lot of time skating.

Sure. Usually at the Winter X Games but I’ve ridden at Bear with him, and I think at Copper. Aspen.

Why do you think the skating and snowboarding crossover ended abruptly in the late ‘90s?

I think because the snowboarding tricks sort of went into their own realm in terms of big air stuff. It wasn’t just about doing skate tricks, it was more about doing these really intricate and elaborate flips and spins and it became more like... I hate to say it, but more like diving than skateboarding in terms of double corks and things like that.

Even Birdman flies north occasionally. Alaska. // p: Joe Gall

When did you decide to get a place at Mammoth and why there?

I bought a place in Mammoth in 2004. It’s far away but it is manageable to get up there for a weekend, so that’s why. I didn’t have any sort of connection to the mountain itself when I bought the house. Then I was in touch with Oren Tanzer who was running the Unbound stuff back then and he set me up with a Black Pass. I was already going to be there and I was already going to be buying season passes for my family, but the idea that I could link up so closely with the people who run the mountain and have that sort of connection was a big advantage.

How did the collaboration with K2 come about?

Tim Swart, K2’s Global Director Of Marketing made the connection and he asked if I would be interested. Tim and I used to work together at Airwalk and I always had a good relationship with him, and I was excited. Time has passed, so I’m obviously not trying to make a career as a snowboarder but I thought it would be fun for people to get our iconic skate graphics on snowboards.

Did you have a hand in any of the development or design or the models to do the markup on? 

I obviously had my preferences but my input was more which graphics to use.

And what is your board preference?

My boards are usually a little longer. Not directional. I shy away from park boards because generally I’m just trying to haul ass and go up to the top of the mountain. That’s pretty much my go-to, especially in Mammoth. Just take the gondola up to Cornice and go down as fast as I can, so whatever board suits that best.

You had a chance to ride in Alaska this year, right?

Yeah. We got epic conditions and I brought my board up there thinking it might not be long enough but it ended up working out really well.

Boardslide in Mammoth // p: Peter Morning

Years ago, you had a chance to go out with Jake Burton.

We went on a cat trip to a place just outside of Whistler, BC. We were there with Benji Weatherley. It was awesome, epic conditions and we were there with those guys and Todd Richards. It was a blast.

Nowadays it seems like a lot of the current generation of transition park skaters have found an outlet with snowboarding?

Yeah. I feel like in our generation, you usually started skating and then you found snowboarding. In the new generation, you start doing both probably at the same time and definitely some of the skills cross over. But I feel like everyone skates. That’s my attitude now, especially the snowboarders. They lean more into transition skating and bowl skating. Skating with the K2 pros at the Crowley Skatepark, they can all hold their own. 

And which of the two boards do you like more?

The wider one. The Party Platter.

Is this K2 Collab a one-off or are you guys going to keep the relationship going?

I would love to keep it going for sure. It was really fun to design a board. I think the biggest honor for me was that the team liked it, even the Ride Team wanted to be on our boards. I think that’s probably the highest praise.