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An ode to a legend and his sport

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk talks to a group during YSU’s Thomas Colloquium series.

For the last week or so, I’ve had a hard time finding the words. It’s wildly different from my usual writing efforts, but this felt like a once-in-a-career chance to write about a sport we never get to talk about.

From the moment Youngstown State announced that Tony Hawk would be speaking as a part of the Thomas Colloquium series, I was beyond excited.

I reserved seats instantly, and then remembered something. ‘Wait. I write about sports for a living. Skateboarding is a sport. Maybe I could do more than just attend this thing.’

And I was excited not in the ‘Oh what a great story’ way, but ‘Wow, a sports icon is coming to Youngstown,’ kind of way. Admittedly it was hard to not fanboy just a little.

I wasn’t able to score an interview, but I still went, because there was no way I was going to miss it.

That being said, it was an awesome experience.

He detailed the crowd on his rise through the ranks, officially becoming a professional skater and now his work with the Skatepark Project, building skateparks in underdeveloped areas.

He also gave the crowd a few tips, like life advice and his favorite way of preparing ramen.

“Put an egg in it and it’s like a gourmet Top Ramen,” Hawk said.

After mentioning his steady diet of ramen and fast food burritos, which I found intensely relatable, Hawk talked about ESPN calling him with their plans on the X Games.

While a little put off initially, in just a few years, the X Games would become where Hawk would cement his status as a legend of the sport.

In 1999, Hawk would complete the first ever 900, two and a half rotations in the air, a feat which was considered near-impossible at the time and is still a rare achievement to this day.

The accomplishment sent an already-successful Hawk into the stratosphere of popularity.

Being a small child of the late-90s, early 2000s, it was hard to escape the world of skateboarding, and the 1999 X-Games is a big part of that.

It felt like every commercial featured skateboarding in some fashion, there was Rocket Power on Nickelodeon, punk music was rising into the mainstream again and of course, video games. The man himself bears a lot of credit in that.

The first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game released 23 years ago today, the date of publishing this in fact. That’s really what pushed me to write this. The games were my first, I guess you could say in-depth exposure to the sport and skating culture as a whole.

Last summer, I spent an ungodly amount of time playing the remastered game. Like if I wasn’t working, odds are I was playing the game. Same with back in high school. The game Skate 3 was and still is a real go-to game for me.

It seemed like skateboarding was always around me. I was never directly a part of it though, despite my near-lifelong fascination. Seriously, if I tried to do an ollie right now, I’d probably wind up on a stretcher.

Just consider this little column my way of showing appreciation for the culture. And not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but I think hearing the first-person tales of the man who pioneered the sport absolutely sparked something in me and I felt compelled to write something.

The writer’s block is really taking over, so I’ll end things with this excerpt from his speech that really stuck with me. Out of all the feats he’s accomplished, his work with the Skatepark Project and being an ambassador is what he hopes defines him down the road.

“I hope that my legacy is that I provided more of these facilities because it meant so much to me as a kid,” Hawk said. “(Skateparks) were my home away from home. It gave me salvation, it gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of identity, a sense of culture.

“People often say to me, ‘The soundtracks for the Pro Skater games are so cool’ like people value it as much as the gameplay. That’s the music I heard at the skate park. That’s what I’m sharing with you. That’s how much it meant to me. So I guess in closing, I’m just so thankful to still be here to bear witness to the rise of skateboarding to see how far it’s come.”

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