Tony Hawk savaged as a ‘cheat, sellout’
Tony Hawk has opened up on being labelled a "cheat" in his early days by people within the tight-knit skateboarding community, before his astounding success saw colleagues attack him for being a "sellout".
The skating icon, whose net worth is estimated at $AUD215 million, has been the face of the sport for more than two decades and shot to worldwide fame in the 1990s because of his exposure at the X-Games and through the huge popularity of his video games.
Hawk made history by becoming the first skater to complete a 900 aerial at the 1999 X-Games but the defining moment of his career may never have happened had he listened to the noise from critics when he was finding his way.
Turning pro at 14 and buying his first house at 17 while still in high school, the teenage prodigy wasn't always welcomed by fellow skaters. Talking to Joe Rogan in an episode of the UFC commentator's podcast during the week, Hawk revealed as a small, skinny kid he was mocked for his "robotic" style that prioritised tricks over looking stylish on his board.
Street and pool skating was hot at the time, which Hawk said was "all about your style and how you flow and if you're doing aerials it's gotta look cool". He simply wasn't physically strong enough as a youngster to skate like everyone else so invented his own unique approach that was widely mocked.
Skating was far from mainstream in the 1970s and 1980s and Hawk became ostracised within what was already a small fraternity.
"I was doing these tricks where I'd spin my board under my feet and do these weird sort of handplants and aerial tricks and things where that wasn't the normal and it wasn't considered the cool way to skate," Hawk told Rogan.
"They called me a circus skater. They were like, 'There's Tony with his circus tricks'.
"I was an outcast in this outcast activity and it was really isolating."
Hawk is what's known as a vert skater. Instead of grinding handrails and kickflipping down stairs on the street, he does his best work with a ramp. It wasn't a popular form of skating when he was starting out, but the 52-year-old figured out a way to compensate for his lack of size and generate serious airtime.
Unfortunately, that led to even more drama.
"In order to do aerials at a pool you had to reach down and grab your board and muscle it into the air and above the coping," Hawk said.
"I learnt how to launch into the air without grabbing my board and then grabbing it at the peak. That allowed me to get the height when I was still really scrawny and weak.
"They said that technique was cheating. They literally wrote that in Thrasher magazine. 'Tony Hawk cheats, because he ollies into his airs and that way he can just grab his (board) wherever'.
"I was like, 'Yes! That's exactly it, that's what I'm trying to do!'
"It (claims of cheating) was from a skater that I really respected too. He was quoted in the magazine and it was crushing.
"There was this old guard in skating and they didn't like to see anything new or fringe."
Despite the strong words from the haters, Hawk's style eventually caught on among his generation and "that became the way to skate".
While basketball fanatics may have wanted to "Be Like Mike" during the 1980s and 1990s, there's no doubt every kid picking up a skateboard during that era would have been inspired at least in some way by Hawk, who took skating to never-before-seen levels of popularity.
Competitions were being broadcast on TV and video games bearing Hawk's name became staples in households around the globe.
But while the California native was helping drive the skating boom - and reaping the lucrative financial rewards by pursuing a burgeoning number of commercial opportunities - there were some who accused him of losing his way.
"Then it was like, 'Oh, you're just a sellout', because of the video game and the endorsements that followed from that," Hawk told Rogan.
"I was doing stuff for Jeep, for McDonald's, for Doritos, and they (critics) were like, 'You're just a sellout'.
"When I turned pro at aged 14 if McDonald's had asked me to be in a commercial I would have jumped on it. Are you kidding me? I was eating McDonald's my whole life. I still do.
"They thought I'd changed my values and I was like, 'I haven't changed my value system, it's just that I'm getting these opportunities, finally. I've been doing this for most of my life'."
Things have changed a lot since Hawk's early days. Instead of reading criticism in a magazine, professional athletes are more likely to see an abusive tweet (or 50) the moment they check their phone in the morning.
Most of the world only sees the fame and fortune Hawk has achieved by building his $215 million empire, and the man himself says those hardships he faced means no amount of faceless online attacks can dampen his mood in 2020 - a lesson plenty of other sportsmen and women would do well to heed.
"That steeled my resolve. Once social media came into play and people were talking s**t online I was like, 'You're not getting to me, through this media'," Hawk said.
"People used to say this to my face, used to write about me in magazines. You're hiding behind you're Twitter username, I don't care."
Originally published as Tony Hawk savaged as a 'cheat, sellout'