Despite his fame, fortune and fervent following among millions, Tony Hawk presents a compelling case for being a reluctant celebrity.
With a somewhat humble persona, he appears almost uncomfortable in the glare of the spotlight and amid questioning of how a ‘little skinny kid’ revolutionised skating to such an extent that it has now surpassed baseball in popularity among youngsters in America.
A reference to his nickname ‘Birdman’ prompts a curt response: “Unfortunately, someone from ESPN said it on the air some time and it stuck. I hope it’s more for the way I perform than the way I look.”
Flying without wings on his board, performing stunts that amazed audiences the world over, the sky was always the limit for this Hawk. But it was not always that way. Just as skating faced a challenge to become a more mainstream sport, Hawk encountered his own obstacles.
“I came in as a little skinny kid, doing different things and they (other skaters) didn’t like that,” he recalls. “There were challenges to be accepted by my own industry. When I started, it was a new sport and I was making it up as I went along. There was nobody to mentor you, all I cared about doing was learning new things.”
Those new things not only gained Hawk respect when he turned professional at 14 and became the world’s best two years later, but inspired a whole generation to this day.
It started out as “fun”, when, aged nine, he was given a blue worn fibreglass skateboard by his brother and did not know how to turn as they played outside their San Diego home. But it soon became serious and eventually life-changing.
Hawk created and cultivated styles that made boarding more than just a fad, and dominated competitions, becoming Vertical Skating world champion 12 times in a row.
A historic 900 – a testing manoeuvre that requires a skateboarder to rotate 900 degrees with two-and-a-half turns in mid-air – assured him of iconic status with signature clothing, video-game deals and movie appearances becoming part of the profile.
“The goal for me wasn’t to win, but to do my best,” says Hawk, who launched skateboard company Birdhouse Projects to overcome financial struggles in the early 1990s.
“All I cared about doing was learning new things. It was more about trying to figure out what was possible; competition came secondary to that. By continuing to push myself, I continued to maintain my competitive record.
“If you are on top for a long time, people will expect much more out of you. When I first started skating I was really small and so it was hard to generate the sort of speed that you could need to fly in and out of bowls or ramps.
“So I kind of developed my own technique, to get into the area and grab it later. No one was doing that then and it was the only way I could get height. It constructed a revolution of how to get higher, and the people who could get speed could get even higher using that technique. It was something borne out of necessity for me.
“People at the time were not into change or different styles. It was very hardcore, with people saying, ‘this is what’s cool, this is what you do’. What I’m most proud of is making a living doing it into my adult life.
"When I was growing up there was no sense of a future in skateboarding. If you were good at it then you just did it until you reached an age of responsibility and then quit because you couldn’t make a living out of it. So to make a living out of it and keep doing it into my adult age I’m very proud of that.”
Even at 45 and strong on social media, Hawk is still trying to change mindsets. Through his Tony Hawk Foundation, he helps build public skateparks in low-income areas where children are not allowed to use public property.
He is eager to highlight how vital that is, not just in America, but worldwide. On an appearance at the Doha GOALS conference in Qatar last month, Hawk was also keen to learn how other sports retain widespread interest and appeal in the face of other activities.
He told Sport360°: “I come from a relatively new sport, something we are still trying to grow and show the legitimacy of it. So to listen to sports that are more established, it’s interesting to hear their perspective and how they stay relevant and popular.
"For example, I talked to some people from the NBA. I’ve never met any of their organisers before, but it was interesting to hear how they treat athletes and keep the press up in extra-curricular activities, not just in the games.
“It’s not a dream to be like the NBA, to be that big, but to gain acceptance, mainstream acceptance. In America, more kids now skate than play Little League – and baseball is our national pastime. It’s very exciting to see that and shows how far we have come. I feel that same effect can take place worldwide.”
It is why Hawk reaches out to the world through his Foundation and other skateboarding initiatives like Indigo Skate Camp in South Africa and Skateistan in Afghanistan and Cambodia.
“It’s about giving opportunities to kids who have never had it," he explains. "Skateistan is the only co-ed sport in Afghanistan, with as many girls skating as boys and that doesn’t happen elsewhere. It would be great to see skateparks in the Middle East too.”
Government support is crucial to Hawk’s vision as he adds: “Yes, absolutely.
“It is changing, slowly but surely. In the US, skateboarding was always considered a liability. They put it on the hazardous activities list so if people took part in skateboarding it was at your own risk.
“That changed everything and made it possible to have public skate parks because then there was no liability.
“Overcoming those hurdles in other countries is the next step. Once the authorities see what good a skatepark can do for communities, then they build more. It just takes getting over that one hurdle.”
No one knows that more than Hawk.
TONY HAWK FACTFILE
Born: San Diego, California, on May 12, 1968
Career: First started skateboarding in competition, aged 11. Turned professional in 1983, aged 14, and retired in 1999.
Records: National Skateboard Association’s Vertical Skateboard world champion 12 times, nine gold medals at Summer X Games 1995-2002.
Did you know?: By the time he was 25, Hawk had won 73 of 103 professional competitions and came second 19 times.
Sporting hero: “That’s a difficult one, but Michael Jordan when I was growing up.”
Following in father’s footsteps: “My oldest son, Riley, is a professional skateboarder and he’s 21. He has his own career, own path and own set of sponsors. My other boys, Spencer and Keegan skate, but they do other activities too.”
Reaching out to the masses: “To bring skateboarding to the attention of others is important. Video games has been huge for me as it has created a fan base for skateboarding, for people that don’t necessarily want to do it, but enjoy watching it. It has raised the popularity.”
Potential for skateboarding: “The Olympics needs a cool factor, something for the younger generation for the summer games, like what snowboarding did for the winter games.”
From hosting international stars to domestic success, it was another memorable 12 months for sport in the UAE.
Here, Sport360° takes a look back at the biggest moments from 2013.
January 18: For the first time since 2007, the UAE proved they were the best team in the region, lifting the Gulf Cup of Nations after Ismael Al Hammadi’s extra-time winner against Iraq in Bahrain. The UAE had won every game of the tournament.
January 20: Headliners Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy failed to make the cut in Abu Dhabi allowing Jamie Donaldson to storm past Justin Rose to win the HSBC Golf Championship.
January 25: Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa Benti won the Dubai Marathon in a time of 2:04:45 while compatriot Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene triumphed in the women’s race 02:23:23. It was a good race for Ethiopia as they took the top six women’s spots and had seven runners in the men’s top 10.
February 3: Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher shot a 22-under 266 to land the Dubai Desert Classic.
February 23: Czech star Petra Kvitova was the belle of the Aviation Club Tennis Centre as she defeated Sara Errani to win the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
March 1: British Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee put in a truly memorable performance as he broke the Abu Dhabi short course record by 29 seconds. Not only that but the British Olympian achieved the feat despite getting lost on the route and adding an extra two kilometres onto his journey.
March 2: World No1 Novak Djokoivc struts his stuff in Dubai as he lifted the mens’ singles title at the Duty Free Championships, beating Tomas Berdych in the final.
March 30: Joel Rosario rode Animal Kingdom to victory in the Dubai World Cup.
April 18: The giants from the Garden City again proved they were the best in the land as Al Ain secured a second straight Pro League title by beating Dubai Club.
May 24: Al Ain were given the Pro League trophy on the final day of the season following their game with Al Nasr. It was coach Cosmin Olaroiu’s second time with the trophy in his hands. But he would soon move on.
July 6: After a month of speculation, Olaroiu stunned Emirati football by leaving two-time champions Al Ain for bitter rivals Al Ahli. A month later he would win his first game in charge of the club against his former team in the UAE Super Cup.
August 31: Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte triumphed in the 50m freestyle to win her fourth gold medal at the World Junior Swimming Championships at the Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai.
September 6: The ‘father of UAE triathlon’ Roy Nasr was tragically killed by a drunk driver while out cycling. Tributes poured in from around the triathlon community for one of the UAE’s most treasured sportsmen.
September 9: The Whites continued their unbeaten 2013 as they defeat New Zealand 2-0 to win the inaugural OSN Cup.
September 27: In an incredible turn of events, former Al Ahli boss Quique Sanchez Flores was appointed at Al Ain, replacing Jorge Fossati who was sacked before the new season, meaning the two biggest clubs in the country essentially swapped managers.
October 27: South Africa won the second Test in Dubai against Pakistan by an innings and 92 runs to end the series 1-1.
November 3: Kimi Raikkonen revealed his pay dispute with Lotus, was sent to the back of the grid after qualifying and then crashed out on the first lap at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, won the race by 30 seconds.
November 17: Former Dubai resident Henrik Stenson completed a near flawless end to 2013 by winning the DP World Tour Champioships and topping the European Money List.
November 27: The UAE qualified for the 2014 World Twenty20 after finishing fourth in the ICC qualifiers held in the Emirates. It was the first time in 17 years that an UAE team had made it to a global event.
November 30: Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah won the Dubai International Rally and retained his Middle East Rally Championship crown.
November 30: Fiji put in one of the Dubai Sevens’ most stunning displays on the final day as they lifted the trophy thanks to a win over South Africa. The Fijians won over the neutrals in the semi-finals after they thrashed New Zealand 44-0.
December 6: Dubai’s Victory 3 team took the second race of the Abu Dhabi GP to claim the UIM Class 1 World Powerboats Championship. Arif Saif Al Zafein and Mohammad Al Merri delivered Victory their 13th title in 21 seasons.
December 14: Fazza duo Arif Al Zaffain and Nadir Bin Hendi take the Dubai GP title and with it the overall UIM Skydive Dubai XCAT World Series.
December 15: On the same day that Olaroiu’s unbeaten league record with Al Ahli ended – thanks to a loss against Al Wasl – he was also suspended for six months by the UAE FA over a breach of his Al Ain contract.
December 28: Djokovic started the new tennis season in style by winning his third straight Mubadala World Championship at Zayed Sports City.
Fencing in the UAE enjoyed a major breakthrough last weekend when the MKFA Gargash Enterprises Mercedes-Benz Cup – the country's first grand fencing competition – was held at Dubai International Academy.
The two-day event – hosted with the support of the UAE Fencing Federation – was action packed, with more than 65 participants in various age-groups enjoying the chance to showcase their talent on the biggest platform the UAE has ever had.
The competition kicked off on Friday, December 20 as the Under-15s battled it out in the qualification rounds, before the eliminations narrowed the category down to the final four.
The second day of the event saw the start of the adult tournament, with the Open Men and Women categories taking place.
The evening of day two played host to the finals for each category.
Dignitaries like HH Sheikh Salim bin Sultan Al Qasimi – Chairman of UAE Fencing Federation, Mr. Ibrahim Belselah – Director at Centrum Investment Ltd, Mr. Avi Bhojani Managing – Group CEO, BPG Group and Managing Director at Innoventure Educational Investments LLC and Mr. Ibrahim Khaled – General Secretary of UAE Fencing Federation were present at the event and the award ceremony.
The founder of MK Fencing Academy Mihail Kouzev was clearly delighted with the event, stating: “It is a dream come true. For some time now we wanted to host such a high-profile event.
"The Fencing community is growing – slowly but steadily – and all the local competitions till now have played a major role for that. It was our desire to contribute for bringing this noble sport on the top level it deserves to be in UAE.
“We are grateful we have met like-minded supporters and we hope together we aim high and celebrate more and better events – both local and international“
The MKFA Gargash Enterprises Mercedes – Benz Epee Cup was organized with the support of Gargash Enterprises Mercedes-Benz, Freeplay and UAE Fencing Federation.
U15 Girls Epee
1. Kim Varnai – MK Fencing Academy
2. Irini Pai-Pai – MK Fencing Academy
3. Huda Tariq – Mubadara Fencing Centre
3. Khulood Ibrahim – Mubadara Fencing Centre
U15 Boys Epee
1. Ali Alblooshi – Al Ain Club
2. Khaled Al Balushi – Al Ain Club
3. Lavlani Shaan – MK Fencing Academy
3. Mostafa El Misky – MK Fencing Academy
1. Nour Farahat – MK Fencing Academy
2. Hala Belselah – MK Fencing Academy
3. Aliaa Malallah – Shabab Club
3. Mira Ahmed – Shabab Club
1. Yasser El Darwani – MK Fencing Academy
2. Mohammed Attia – MK Fencing Academy
3. Laurenz Bissada – MK Fencing Academy
3. Said Taleb – Al Ain Club