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Getting answers from Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk has the presidential seal of approval: "Best skateboarder in the world." Ben Riches

What more can, or should, be said about Anthony Frank "Tony" Hawk? Tony Hawk is a professional skateboarder. Somewhere along the way he became a global ambassador for skateboarding -- a sport he still palpably loves.

The dust jacket on Hawk's recent entrepreneurial autobiography "How Did I Get Here?" describes him as "founder, president, and CEO of Tony Hawk, Inc." Mainstream news organizations often describe him as "wholesome," "driven" and "market savvy."

And yet it is a reporter's responsibility to encourage the subject to say something candid, newsworthy, "off-message" or even controversial. Given Hawk's stature, this task can seem more than a little daunting.

Skateboarder magazine recently reported that Hawk's pet peeve is the sound of people chewing ice. Thus, I had considered chewing ice while asking the last few questions of this interview to see how Hawk would respond. Throughout the interview, I even went so far as to keep a glass of ice water in arm's reach. But as the conversation wound down, I somewhat guiltily glanced at the untouched ice water and chickened out/had second-thoughts.

Was it ultimately a really lame, sophomoric idea, or was it simply a loss of nerve? What happens to a joke deferred? Does it rot like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode like ice being crushed by someone chewing it loudly and obnoxiously just to get a rise out of the "most famous skateboarder of all time," who still does 900s (two-and-a-half midair rotations) well into his 40s and whose charitable Tony Hawk Foundation has helped build more than 500 skate parks in low-income communities and whose eponymous video game series, "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater," ushered skateboarding into millions of living rooms?

Perhaps Tony Hawk has the answers.

I. Tony Hawk does interviews

ESPN.com: Before we begin I'd like to put you completely at ease. Occasionally people, such as yourself, who have not given very many interviews can become nervous during the interview process. But I assure you that's OK. I'll just ask you a few questions about who you are. Simply answer them to the best of your ability. I'm sure you'll be fine. Just be yourself.
Hawk:
OK. Sounds good.

I am totally joking. I can only guess how many interviews just like this you have given. What's the strangest interview you have ever had?
I think the strangest one I have ever had, the interviewer … it was kind of a Maxim-type magazine and the interviewer wanted to play me in Scrabble, while they were trying to distract me with a girl in a bikini. It was really awkward. But I ended up beating him in Scrabble and finishing the interview. So I guess I wasn't too distracted.

Well, that sets the bar very high. I have nothing like that planned at all. This will be decidedly boring in contrast. What is the classic "lamestream media" question that journalists pose to you? Such as: "What is your favorite color?" "How does the board stick to your feet?" and "Does it hurt when you fall?"
I think, uh, not necessarily the questions but when you're doing TV interviews, I've literally heard, "Well, we want you to skate out from the back to the interview area, to the stage, and can you just do, like, a 900 on the way?" They just think you have learned to levitate and that you have just somehow learned to fly around any room.

What was the quintessential Thrasher or Transworld skateboard interview in the 1980s like? What question did they ask in every interview, perhaps to the point of becoming boring or irritating?
In the '80s? I think back then, it was all so new I didn't know what a bad question was and what a good question was. I remember when I was really young getting interviewed about groupies. And I didn't know what "groupies" meant. And so I just answered to the best of my knowledge of people that try to hang out or pretend to know pros.

So you were like, "I love groupies. I have a lot of them … I think."
I said, "I guess. I don't know. The typical groupie hangs out at the park and says he knows that professional skater." I had no idea what they meant.

How innocent you once were. I watched a "60 Minutes" episode in which they had you and Shaun White do frontside airs over the correspondent, Bob Simon.
Oh, yeah.

Was there anything fun or unusual about being on "60 Minutes"?
I guess the only difference is usually when I am on any show like that, it's more about me as opposed to someone else. And it's a little awkward to be singing praise to someone when they're standing there in front of you. That was a little bit awkward. But I believe in Shaun so I was happy to talk about him.

You were also on the "Charlie Rose" show. I'm totally fascinated by Charlie Rose. He just stares at you in that dark room.
Well, you don't see any cameras. So you go in and you really don't know when the interview starts. There's no sign. There's nothing that tells you. You're just talking to him and all of a sudden you realize you're so deep in conversation that they must be filming it.

II. Tony Hawk is a parent

One of the themes in your memoir "Hawk: Occupation: Skateboarder" is the prominent role your parents played in organizing the skateboard competitions when you were growing up and how it was both a blessing and a curse. At a certain point, you had to assert your autonomy. Now you play a high-profile role in the skateboard industry, and yet you are also the parent of an up-and-coming, highly talented skateboarder, Riley Hawk. Is it a similar situation? Is that an easy balance to strike?
Well, I don't want to say it's similar. There are some small similarities. But, I guess, I learned to appreciate having my space and, if nothing else, demanding it.

But Riley's situation is a lot different in that I am a pro skater, and so he needs to have his own identity and not just live under my shadow. So I definitely try to step back as much as I can … while giving him advice but not meddling in his business. So I think that he and I, I would say in the last three or four years, have really understood how to make that dynamic work.

I saw his bluntslide-to-crooked grind in the current The Skateboard Mag. I don't know if you've seen it.
Oh, yeah. I've seen the video.

My understanding is Riley will appear in your video game series, "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater," for the first time. Any idea why he did not want to be in the previous games? What were those conversations like? I think it's safe to say that is an issue unique to the Hawk household. "Dad, I am sick of you trying to put me in high-profile video games. Get off my back!"
I think it was more he didn't feel like he was established enough to be included in one of the games. And to be honest, it wasn't me requesting it. It was more the developers. Because I knew he didn't really feel like he was deserving of it at the time if he was just a skater who wasn't related to me.

So I would ask him, as a courtesy to both parties. Riley would always say no. So this time I came back to him … I was hoping he would say yes, because he had come of age and he really had the respect of the hard-core skate community. But I still thought his answer would be no. But he was excited.

Parents all across America would like to know how they, too, could get their children as interested and committed to skateboarding as your own children appear to be. What is the secret to your success? Did you ever accidentally put too much pressure on your children to excel at skateboarding? I imagine Christmas cards attached to brand-new skateboards that read, "Enjoy this but make sure to master it."
No. Nothing like that. [Laughs.] I definitely wanted to facilitate, if they did want to skate. With my other son, we have a skate park in our backyard, and we have skated together sometimes. But it's not their main hobby or outlet.

But with Riley, I saw that he had a talent very early on. But he was also dabbling in other sports and was talking about maybe getting a little more serious in other sports. But I knew that he wasn't as advanced in those other sports. So I actually sat him down one day and I said, "Look, Riley, now I know you like to do those things and I know maybe skating, you don't want to take it that seriously because of who I am or whatever, but I am telling you right now you're really good at it. You're really good, not just for your age, but you're really good. But I think you could take that a lot further if you chose to do it. And I am happy to kind of stay out of your way. "

I think he took that to heart and he got a little more serious about it.

Was there a specific moment, or trick, where you thought, "He's getting really good. He can do something I can't do"? I know you've joked about wanting to learn switch flips from him.
He learned 360 flips, oh, man, when was that? I think he was, like, 8 or 9 years old. The board was gigantic compared to him. And he'd do a full 360 flip underneath him, off this jump ramp. I thought, "Wow. He really has something different."

Of course, in 2009, you were invited to the White House as a notable parent for a Father's Day festival and unintentionally created something of a firestorm when you tweeted pictures of yourself skating at the White House. Leaving that controversy aside, what were your firsthand impressions of President Barack Obama? He personally introduced you as the, "best skateboarder in the world." How do you keep perspective and such an even keel and not get a face tattoo?
[Laughs.] It was just an honor. For me growing up as a skater and being chastised for it because I skated … to come so far as to be invited to the White House because I skate, to me that was my celebration. That's really why I skated there. That's why I brought my skateboard at all. I was invited there because of how far I had come by skating. And so, to me, it was super exciting. It was just the culmination of that sort of recognition. [Obama] was super cool. Especially to me. He joked that he wished he could build ramps at the White House for me to skate.

If I could give you a quick snapshot of my parents: They live in San Francisco and remain blissfully unaware of popular culture. They prefer to spend their time reading serious, contemporary literature by such authors as A.S. Byatt and V.S. Naipaul and watching movies so long as they are set in Romania or Kabul. But I asked my mom if she knew who you were. And she said, "Of course." Then she said, "Didn't he sign your T-shirt one time?" In fact, that was your Bones Brigade colleague Tommy Guerrero who, when I was a small child, once signed my T-shirt. She did know who you were. But she confused you with Tommy Guerrero. The point is, when Michael and Jane Rice know who you are, you have truly penetrated American consciousness. You're literally known the world over. Does it feel strange?
It's all still surreal for me. I don't take it for granted at all. I don't expect to be treated special. I'm still excited and surprised when it does happen. And I never thought, "Oh, yeah. This is what I'll deserve in the future." To me, it's just super exciting that skateboarding has come that far. You're treated well for being a pro skater, or being recognizable. So, yeah. It's weird.

I definitely have come to be comfortable with it, in a sense. Especially going to a skate park, I know what to expect. I know I am not just going to be skating with the locals and I'm going to be put on display. In some ways that's a challenge, because maybe you're not there to put on a demo. Maybe you're not there to try a new trick. Maybe you want to try a trick that's never been done. So if you go to a skate park and you're just bailing all day, that has a lot of resonance. [Laughs.]

III. Tony Hawk does stuff on the Internet

In other news, social media giant Facebook has announced that it will acquire photo sharing service Instagram, though Instagram has only 12 employees and has yet to post any profits. At this point, you're a veteran of both the skateboarding and the corporate world. What do you make of this acquisition? Does it seem sound to you?
You know what? I've seen Instagram explode over the last two years. So it doesn't surprise me at all. In fact, I'd say in the last couple months, when I do get recognized, the thing that people say to me most often is, "Oh, yeah. I follow you on Instagram."

They have the users. And if nothing else they know that the people are there … I don't know what the term is … but people are locked in and looking at Instagram for long periods of time. More than most websites.

You just completed a worldwide scavenger hunt using Twitter to dispense clues to the public at large. Any mishaps?
It was a blast. This was the third or fourth year we've done it. Two people I work with helped me on the most recent one. And they helped me make sure we tell people once things are found. That's the challenge of it. I don't want people aimlessly looking for stuff once it's been found. It's tricky. Who can you trust in other countries? Who can you send a box of valuable goods to and know that they will hide it legitimately? [Laughs.]

Is there another video game in the works? Where are you in the process in terms of developing your next game? What can you tell us about it?
We're doing a "best of" the first two games, but in HD for the new systems. That's going to be out this summer.

Novelist John Barth once wrote, "Life has meaning to the degree we can follow the script we write for ourselves." Have you been able to follow any script you may have written for yourself? Is this your life as you would like it? I guess that's the question.
Yeah. This is definitely my life as I would like it. I never wrote a script for myself. I set attainable challenges for myself along the way. I never thought that this is the big dream, to be a professional skateboarder. Be widely recognized. Have my own skate park. None of those things was what I was thinking when I was a youngster. I was thinking, "I want to learn that trick. I want to figure out how to do this trick. And keep plugging away at it." So I never wrote a script for myself. I am taking it as it comes and making the best of it.

What are you going to do today?
I am about to go pick up my daughter from preschool and basically spend the day with her and my kids because I'm home for the weekend.