Tony Hawk‘s career is marked by firsts: he’s the first skater to have ever landed a 900 spin on a ramp, the first person to skate on the White House grounds (with permission from President Barack Obama, of course), and the first to be inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.
In addition to conquering professional skating, he’s also made a mark in the video game industry with his best-selling Tony Hawk’s series, Hollywood with cameos in everything from Lords of Dogtown to The Simpsons, and even Twitter with his numerous viral retellings of awkward encounters. The next thing Hawk wants to conquer: New York Fashion Week.
It’s no secret that skating has been having a bit of a fashion moment for the better part of a decade. Supreme is everywhere, there’s been an insurgence of Thrasher tees spotted in paparazzi photos (even on the backs of non-skating celebrities), and pop culture has seen an influx of skate style (Rue’s Peels shirt on Euphoria was undeniably a look). After launching in London, Hawk is finally bringing his Signature Line to New York, just in time for NYFW. With hoodies, crew neck sweat shirts, and tees stamped with imagery from Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer responsible for album covers for Depeche Mode and U2, as well as Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” music video, Hawk’s new label puts a streetwear twist on couture.
Here, Hawk breaks down his thoughts on skate culture being embraced by the fashion world, whether or not helmets can look chic, and all of the life lessons he’s learned in four decades of skating.
What’s the story behind transitioning from your first clothing line to Tony Hawk Signature Line?
We started the Hawk Clothing line in 1998. This is the first high fashion version. It was a bit of an experiment. I think the catalyst was getting Anton Corbijn to shoot imagery. When that idea was floated, I kind of didn’t believe that he would be interested. He said yes, and that’s when we decided this is what we were going to do. I’m really proud. I was excited that he was willing to shoot and we could get into this market, even though through my clothing line, we were already sort of a mass. It’s a totally different trajectory than what people are used to.
What differences do you anticipate to see in the response to Tony Hawk Signature Line in New York versus London?
Not much. I think if anything, there’s a better understanding of skate history here. I mean, there is a skate scene in Europe and in London, but New York has a hardcore, deep rooted skate scene so I think they understand it better. It’s New York, you know.
Where are your favorite New York skate spots?
LES or Chelsea Piers. I like the skateparks themselves, not just skate spots.
It’s been roughly two decades since you started your first line of clothing, and now you’re entering the high fashion game. Have you always felt embraced by the fashion world?
No, I think it’s just more in the last decade that skating has come of age in the fashion world, especially with the success of brands like Supreme, Palace, Dime. All those brands started as skate shops, literally just underground skate shops. The idea that they’re at the forefront of fashion in a lot of ways and some of the most popular is not really surprising to me, but it just shows how far skating has come into the mainstream collective, and how it’s rooted in street culture and kids gravitate towards it.
Skate culture and style have blown up in popular culture especially in the last couple of years, with the popularity of movies like Mid90s and Skate Kitchen, and even shows like Euphoria to some extent. Do you ever fear that skate culture might lose its “underground” element with this much mainstream exposure?
I’ve already seen it come through so many phases. Even with the skate magazines. In the early 2000s, there were all these big advertisers using skateboarding, and me in a lot of ways, and somehow people thought that was losing the heart or the core of skateboarding, but we’re still here and it’s as valid as ever, as hardcore as ever. To have the fashion creeping into the mainstream collective doesn’t change anything. If anything, it just validates the popularity of skating and the lifestyle. People think that somehow wearing Thrasher is appropriating this culture, but it’s like, no it’s not. It’s finally giving Thrasher its due because they’ve been there all along covering skating when there was no financial gain to it. It just shows that it’s still here. It’s still cool. I think it’s hilarious, not in the sense that I would make fun of people, but I just think it’s cool that it’s out there.
Skating can really rip up a good outfit. What’s the oldest piece of clothing you own that’s not totally shredded?
I don’t really hold onto stuff. I’ve been wearing these jeans for quite a while and they’ve got holes from skating. I’ve been through many pairs of jeans, but once I get holes in the knees, then I lose them.
Is that because you don’t want to scrape your actual skin if it’s exposed by the holes?
It’s more of a sign that I use these more for skating than for fashion, so that’s when I either keep them just for skate purposes or I let them go. I don’t have anything that I’ve really held onto. I think I have maybe one or two shirts from the ‘80s, from significant videos. But they’re more like collector’s items that I just keep in the closet.
What’s your most prized possession in your closet?
I have the pink Bones Brigade shirt that I wore for The Search for Animal Chin. That’s a pretty big deal to people.
What was your first major fashion purchase?
I remember when I first started making decent money in the late ‘90s, I went and bought an Armani suit. To me, that was the coming of age. That was the highest in custom, expensive clothing. I’d never owned a suit before, so I was like, I’m going to buy an Armani suits.
Do you like wearing suits now?
No. [Laughs.] It was just a rite of passage. I have it. I have one suit that I wore to our wedding and that’s the one I break out very, very rarely.
What was your first major skate purchase?
It was a Sims Andrecht board with gyros.
What did you feel the first time you got on a skateboard?
I was not a natural at all. I thought I was cool because my older brother was doing it. I rode down the alleyway and I didn’t know how to turn, so I ran into the fence, and got splinters in my hands. Then I turned the board around and went the other way. It wasn’t like a big epiphany, it was just like, oh I could do it. I ended up skating with some friends in my neighborhood because they were all into skating, it was just the fad at the time in 1978. My friend invited me to go to the skate park with him and that was my moment when I went to the skate park and saw people flying out of swimming pools. I was like, whatever it takes, I’m doing that.
How old were you?
10 or 11.
Was your youth something that made you feel fearless enough to do “whatever it takes” to learn skating?
No, because I was so small that I didn’t have an advantage that the bigger guys did. They had this bulk and weight behind them. That’s what it took to fly in the air back then, so I had to figure out my own way to do that because I was so little. I think that because I was young and because I wasn’t at an age where I was trying to choose a career path, that’s what was my right place, right time.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I wouldn’t try to change anything. If anything, I would just give a foreshadow warning of, “You’re not going to believe what’s in store. Enjoy the ride.” One thing I missed when I was younger and competing nonstop, because when I grew up, especially as a teenager, the only thing you were judged by was your competition rankings. No one thought the best skaters were out there and not competing, so you had to prove yourself through competition. I was so focused on competition that I kind of lost myself in that, and I didn’t enjoy the camaraderie of this community that was so fun, so creative, and so unique. I had close friends, but there was a broader movement that I was kind of missing because I just wanted to compete and do well, and I was focused on learning tricks and strategy. So, I would tell my young self to look around and enjoy everything because it’s not just about winning.
There’s always been an intersection between photography and skating as mediums of self-expression, but now social media has blown that way up. If you were a teenager in this current era, how would you handle the fame and attention?
I just had this conversation with Seth Rogen, of all people, where we were talking about how neither one of us got into our respective professions thinking there was fame and fortune at the other end. When that was put upon us, especially the fame part of it, you’re very uncomfortable with it and kind of awkward, and you can be seen as standoffish or pompous because you don’t know how to interact. At some point I realized, these kids just want to meet you. Just break the ice. I wish I had learned that earlier. Growing up now, I think I would have a better sense of that. These people are not judging you, they’re not staring at you because they think that you’re a dick. They’re staring because they want to connect with you. It took me a little while to figure that out, and just to break out of my own awkwardness.
Is that some wisdom that you impart on your kids, since they skate too?
I hope I do through example. I don’t know if any of them are trying to do something that would give them a sense of fame. My oldest son, Riley, is already a pro skater, so he’s already gotten a taste of that and he handles it well. I think he’s seen how I deal with it and he knows that you’ve gotta be engaging but keep your boundaries, and there’s a fine line.
Can helmets be fashionable?
I think there’s cool looking helmets and dorky looking helmets. I don’t know. There’s that age old question of, do you make it mandatory? Because I promote public skate parks, I leave it up to the cities themselves to decide that. It gets tricky because if you have a public facility and you have a helmet rule, then you have to enforce that rule because if someone gets hurt without a helmet, you’re liable. That gets strange. That’s just our litigious society. So it’s more like, we have to let the communities decide for themselves.
Your Tony Hawk’s video game series has soundtracked the upbringing of so many people. You’ve featured everything from the Dead Kennedys to N.W.A. to Johnny Cash on those games. Where do you find your music?
It just came from my history and my culture. Skateboarding was always very eclectic. Rooted for punk rock, for sure, in the ‘80s, but then through the ‘90s it was all hip hop. Then it just became anything goes. There’d be videos with jazz instrumentals, and videos with people like Johnny Cash. It became this very unique community of people that was like, if it’s good we like it. That’s it. There’s no structure or style that we have to go by, but for sure my history in skateparks and my childhood was rooted in punk music. That was the soundtrack to all the skateparks, and that’s what I wanted to bring to the video game first and foremost.
Do you have any plans to expand the video game franchise?
I did work on a mobile game called Skate Jam that is still out there and free to play. It’s got a bit of the same vibe to it, but it’s hard because it’s touch screen. And beyond that, I would love to work on another console game, but nothing right now. My daughter and I play the Nintendo Switch a lot, that’s our thing. We’ve finished every Mario game and now we are playing Mario Party pretty much every day.