Photo of David Duchovny with the podcast name, Fail Better, written in a serif font

Tony Hawk and the Trick That Changed Everything

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I may not know a lot about skateboarding, but I can recognize the type of relentless drive that fuels Tony Hawk. He’s left his mark on a sport that thrives on risk, which means he’s soared high and fallen hard. On the 25th anniversary of Tony landing the first “900” — a trick where he somehow spins 900 degrees in mid-air — we discuss the years of trial and error (and the broken rib) that led to that fateful moment. I also inquire about what’s kept Tony on the board all these years, and what lessons he’s applied to life off of it.

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David Duchovny, Tony Hawk

David Duchovny  00:00

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pro basketball player. This is up until, you know, 10-11, years old, and my dad was kind of tickled by the idea. I don’t think he had any opinions Yay or Nay, but I had this feeling that I needed to have really big hands to be a basketball player. We’ll forget about growing taller than I eventually did But I didn’t really have a concept of becoming 6’4 – 6’5, which is probably what I would have went for. But I did think I needed to have big hands, and I used to stare at my hands. And if you stare long enough at your hands, you know they start to vibrate in your vision, whatever, and they appeared to maybe get bigger. And I would tell my father, look, look, they’re growing, they’re growing, they’re growing. And he would always laugh, but I was completely serious. Now, Tony Hawk started out as a little guy doing skateboarding. He couldn’t even do these tricks that you need certain kind of power to do. He ended up being six three, though, and he ended up being really strong. So Tony somehow, I don’t know how he did it. Maybe he stared longer than I did, but he got there, and when I watched the early footage of the young Tony Hawk, you know, the 14 year old Tony Hawk. It’s really amazing to see, you know, a kid who has a vision of himself doing these things, but who can’t quite execute it yet. The will is there, but the body’s not yet there. The hands, the hands are not yet there.


David Duchovny  01:42

I’m David Duchovny, and this is Fail Better, a show where failure, not success, shapes who we are. Tony Hawk is the most famous skateboarder of all time, right? He pioneered modern vertical skateboarding and created a smash hit video game. 25 years ago, this month, he was the first person to land an iconic trick to 900 and I talked to him about that, and it’s it’s actually caught on on film him landing that trick for the first time. You can actually see him fail over and over again and then succeed. He’s everywhere in pop culture, from The Simpsons to helping design the skateboard emoji that lives right there in your phone. But his career trajectory not as vertical as the ramps he skated. That was a good one. He tried other sports, including Little League Baseball, which he quit to focus on skating, and his skateboarding’s popularity went up and down. He turned to completely different jobs just to make ends meet, but always kept skateboarding, and he’s still skateboarding today. Tony knows that the art form and sport that is skateboarding is built on failure. It’s literally trial and error, and he’s got broken bones, scars and all these successes to prove it. Tony Hawk, guy never gives up.


David Duchovny  03:14

Hey, man, how you doing?


Tony Hawk  03:15

Good, how are you?


David Duchovny  03:16

I’m really good. Thanks, nice to meet you.


Tony Hawk  03:19

You too, thanks for having me.


David Duchovny  03:20

No Thanks for doing this. I know you’re famous for never bailing, but I’m going to try to make you bail from this podcast.


Tony Hawk  03:27

I don’t know about that.


David Duchovny  03:30

No, I’m so happy to be able to talk to you for for many, many different reasons. But I don’t know much about skateboarding, so forgive me when I sound like an idiot, when I’m.


Tony Hawk  03:41

I don’t expect many to know much about it.


David Duchovny  03:44

Oh, you don’t?


Tony Hawk  03:45

No, I mean, when I started, very few people were doing it so.


David Duchovny  03:49

Can I say I don’t know, make twist from a McMuffin?


Tony Hawk  03:52

That’s fair.


David Duchovny  03:55

But what I what I’m amazed at you, and what I’m so interested in is, I love athletes, artistry, mastery, discipline and perseverance, you know? And that’s what I that’s, that’s kind of what I want to try to talk talk about today. What, what other skateboards describe in you constantly, as I’ve seen, you know, when I’ve, I’ve looked at your stuff and read about you is that, that you don’t bail. You know, that was a dumb joke I made earlier, but that you, I mean, I’m sure you’ve, you’ve built, but that you, when you’re pursuing a trick or pursuing something that that you just you treat failure as feedback, it seems to me, you know.


Tony Hawk  04:37

Yeah, why I agree wholeheartedly about using the failures as learning lessons and instructive. I mean, there’s, there’s part of there’s part of that, that that seems yes, that that is the process and and maybe that’s commendable. But then there’s the other part of it, where I was just obsessed, and so I was going to get it done at all costs. Yes, and so well, when we say bail, bail for us means an intentional fail, right? It means that you just threw it away, right?


David Duchovny  05:08

Well, it’s going bad you see, it’s going badly, so you just cut it off in the middle, or whatever.


Tony Hawk  05:13

Or not, or you have all the pieces, and you’re just scared to really follow through. I think that’s one big part of skating, is you see people that have everything it takes to put this move together or this technique, and they just won’t follow through, and that’s sort of the the line of demarcation for who’s going to continue doing it or be successful at it.


David Duchovny  05:33

Well, let’s say that’s a friend of yours who you see you know, because you guys, you have a real camaraderie in the sport. Do you have a way to talk to that person? Do you have a way to reach that person if you see that they’re in that kind of a that kind of a state?


Tony Hawk  05:47

Yes and no. I’ve definitely had my share of seeing people that just won’t reach their potential, for whatever blocks they they have on themselves. Um, but many other times I’ve been able to convince someone of what they’re capable of, and I think to me, that’s just as gratifying as doing it myself. Because there’s this sense of accomplishment and validation and euphoria that comes with learning something new, especially in skating, when there’s a big risk factor, yeah. And you see it on their face. I mean, it’s, it’s just so it’s so obvious. And if I had something to do with that, then I’m hugely proud of it. And sometimes they need that little push to get them on the edge, or just some small, just some small adjustment in the technique, I would say that’s probably my contribution to them. And that point, it’s just like, Look, if you just move your foot a little bit over, little bit over here, it’s going to help you in here together.


David Duchovny  06:46

You’re feeling at some point that it’s more physical than a mental block at that point, but many times what you’re offering, yeah, yeah.


Tony Hawk  06:55

Yeah, because a lot of, I mean, honestly, a lot of things, I’ve done it at least once, and so I know just that little adjustment that it’s going to take to get them there.


David Duchovny  07:06

Yeah, was there somebody early on in your career and life who fulfilled that role for you?


Tony Hawk  07:13

I think the closest thing I had to that was Stacey Peralta, who put me on his legendary skate team when I was very young. In fact, I was the youngest member of the team, and so intimidated by the other skaters, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Alan Geltham, the inventor of the ollie, you know. And so I felt a little bit like, how could I possibly deserve this? And that kind of kicked my skating into high gear. So it wasn’t like he was telling me the techniques to do. It was just more that he set me up. And it was like, we believe in you, or I believe in you, at least, let’s see what you got.


David Duchovny  07:53

Well, that’s like a great teacher, if you can find somebody that kind of holds your hand over that leap from potential that they see to you know, you seeing that, that potential and how, how? How long do you think it was before, like his belief became your belief? Was it was something that happened quickly, or did it just happen through practice and through experience?


Tony Hawk  08:14

Pretty quickly, I would say within, within a couple years of being on his team, I had turned pro, and that seems like some great accolade, but honestly, it was just me filling out an entry for him to a competition and checking the pro box instead of the amateur box, right? That’s what skateboarding was back then. And then I was gunning for $100 first prize, uh, cash.


David Duchovny  08:37

But that money meant more than anything, any money that’s ever meant anything to you, right? That first 100 bucks, whatever it was, sure.


Tony Hawk  08:44

Well, ironically, they were paying to third place. It was 100 for first, 75 per second, 50 for third, and I got fourth.


David Duchovny  08:53

Yeah, nothing, zero.


Tony Hawk  08:54

Yeah, but, but I eventually made it into the money rankings that year. And I think my from my first year professional skateboarding, I had $600 in the bank, and I bought a Honda Express scooter so that I could get to the skate park by myself.


David Duchovny  09:10

That’s, that’s a smart move. I see that.


Tony Hawk  09:12

It was huge. Oh, hell yeah, it was. I mean, I guess, I guess, if I look back at it, was a business expense.


David Duchovny  09:18

I had a job lifeguarding on Long Island, and I got $12 a day, and I bought myself the biggest speakers you’ve ever seen in your life, and I put them in my little bedroom. And that I I, I wasn’t, I wasn’t as business minded as you. I was just.


Tony Hawk  09:33

Oh, I think my next purchase was the sound system, so.


David Duchovny  09:36

Yeah, you know, if we can talk about your beginnings, you know, we’ve kind of jumped a little forward, but if we talk about, like, the first what, I loved hearing that story about you quitting baseball, and your dad being the commissioner of the league and all that, which is a, you know, we, I’m sure you laugh about it now, but that’s a tough decision to make, to do that with, with your.


Tony Hawk  09:59

Oh, for sure.


David Duchovny  10:00

Yeah, yeah. And I thought, you know, you were sure you were just going to be a great baseball player, and you got out there and you struck out. You were like, That’s it, that’s it. So there’s an example where you quit really fast. It wasn’t like you went and said, okay, I’m going to go to the banning cage. So there was something, some knowledge that you had about yourself. What was the process where, okay, I’m just gonna fucking quit right now, as opposed to try and get better?


Tony Hawk  10:29

Well, I think it I wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t making waves in the skate world, but I did realize every time I went to the skate park, I learned something new, whether it was a small technique or whether it was getting a little bit higher in the bigger bowl, or just something, something that was measured, that I could go home and go, okay, that was that was a good day. And then I would go and play baseball, I mean, sometimes, literally going from one to the next. And I just didn’t feel like I was improving. I felt like I was I was part of the team. I was doing what I needed to do, but I wasn’t that great, and I didn’t see any way forward.


David Duchovny  11:07

You wanted to be great at something, I’m hearing you wanted to excel at something?


Tony Hawk  11:11

Yeah, I think so I didn’t want to just play baseball, to have it as I wasn’t there just for the social interactions of it. You know what I mean, like, I thought, if we’re doing this, we’re doing it this, this is we’re in there here to win. And we were not quite winning. My dad, and also my dad was the coach of the team. And then the year that I really fell in love with skateboarding, he was appointed President of the Little League, um, I mean, there was a little bit of of, I don’t know, attention in that another dad came in to be the coach of our team, and he kind of had it out for me, because he thought I was getting favored treatment from my dad. When my dad was coach, it all rolled up into one, and it was just in some at some point, my mom came to pick me up from the skate park. I defiantly rode back home with my pads on and went to went to the my final, what became my final baseball practice in my skate pads, and told my dad I didn’t want to play anymore.


David Duchovny  12:18

Well, that’s ballsy at 12, that’s very ballsy. What was it? I mean, the learning part, but, but there was, do you remember the moment that you just fell in love with skateboarding? You said, I mean, you did mention that every time you got better, every time you learned something,


Tony Hawk  12:36

I think, I think there was a moment when I learned a trick because there was a trick that I had seen in magazines where a guy went up in the air, he grabbed his skateboard with his hand, and he actually turned it under his feet. And he called it a varial, the way that he did it, I couldn’t do because I didn’t know how to do aerials in that direction. I just wasn’t very good at that type of aerial, but I could go the other direction, which we call backside. And I figured out that if I really reached down and grabbed my board in the sort of mirrored way of him, I could turn my board under my feet, and I was alone in one of the back bowls at Oasis. In fact, this one bowl I skated because no one else skated it, so I didn’t have to wait my turn, and I didn’t have to be on display, and I learned that trick by myself about halfway up the pool wall, and no one cared. There’s no accolades or anything, but the idea that I created something new riding my skateboard that changed everything. I feel like that was my first taste of the buzz that I’ve been chasing ever since, because when I when I wrote out of that trick, it was like I did it. I set up for this goal. I learned something new, and no one ever done it. I had never done it, obviously. And it was just like this, the sense of accomplishment that I didn’t find anywhere else.


David Duchovny  13:54

That’s very interesting, because it’s also a it’s a sport, you know, and it’s not really the competition or, you know, obviously you wanted to place and get whatever money you were going to get. But it seems to me like your initial love impulse came from creation, or creating something new and not beating the other guy, or proving.


Tony Hawk  14:18

Oh, for sure. The thing about the competition is that in the early days of skating, that was the only way to get any recognition or to get any support. So as much as maybe a lot of us didn’t enjoy competing because we didn’t like, you know, we felt like we were, we were to participating in an art form as much as a sport. And it was like, how do you compare the subjective thing, apples to oranges? But it was the only way that anyone gathered together, and it was the only way that you were going to get any recognition or support from a from a sponsor. So they were sort of like this obligation that not everyone enjoyed. Like, I enjoyed it because it was, it was like, the gathering. It was like, that’s when I saw all the my peers. That’s when I saw all the pros from all over, um, skate. And skating was a very small industry then, so I just liked the idea that we’d all get together. And at some point I started thriving in that element. And I managed to figure out how to squelch my nerves.


David Duchovny  15:22

Whoa, whoa, whoa, how? Wait, wait, how did you do that? What’s that magic trick? I figured out how to squelch my nerves.


Tony Hawk  15:29

I started to do so in those days, we would have the the run that was you were given was 45 seconds, if you fall, you’re gonna get marked way down, but you can jump back on your board and try to get back in the rim of in the rhythm. I would practice routines until I was completely bored of them. I mean, it was obsessive. I would go there. I would go to whatever park it was as much as possible before the competition, learn a routine and do it so that I was I was sick of doing it. And then by when the time came to compete, I was just going through the motion again. And then if I got one sort of on the books, one run in the competition, then I would step up the difficulty factor of some of the tricks in that routine.


David Duchovny  16:20

I see, yeah, it’s interesting, because when I prepare for a role, I like to prepare, like, a month in advance, and then drop it like I like to do all the work that I can do. I rarely get that time, but that’s my favorite creative space, is I’ve done all the work a while ago, and I did get bored of it or whatever, and now I’m just going to throw it away at this point, you know, kind of loosely in a relaxed way,


Tony Hawk  16:45

Yeah, I don’t think I could have done it with that gap in between.


David Duchovny  16:48

Yeah, right, right.


Tony Hawk  16:49

But I hear what you’re saying, yeah.


David Duchovny  17:16

You know, I was just thinking about the way, the way you go about creating tricks or new moves, or just the way you go about doing your art. It seems to me that you’re thinking with your body a lot and less with your head, but there must be some kind of interface at some point. You know, where they’re kind of in communications, but I want to know what it’s like to be in your head while you’re doing that, or to be in your body really while you’re doing that.


Tony Hawk  17:46

Um, well, I think that there, there’s sort of a sixth sense of where you are in the air and how your body relates to that that only comes from experience and repetition and, um, and at some point you sort of take it for granted. But I would say, like, if you were to be actually be, in my mind, it would be like, okay, you got that? All right. Make sure you’re in this place. Okay, this is all right. All right. Set up your foot here, get it over. Here it was. It’s all just telling myself these little, these little adjustments the entire time. And then sometimes it’s like you don’t have enough speed for that. What are you doing? Gotta try it anyway. So there is some conflict.


David Duchovny  18:29

Right? Yeah, and your body moves in certain ways that you that you didn’t, that you didn’t plan for, have you ever surprised yourself?


Tony Hawk  18:39

No, sometimes there’s a sense of of spontaneous action, where I’ll throw something I like, I remember. I remember learning this trick called a lean air in a contest, because I was kind of lost in my run, and I had to do one more trick, going in the front side direction. And I did an ollie and as I ollied, I actually grabbed my board on the nose, which I had never done, going front side. And I remember Stacy Peralta said, hey, man, would you learn lean errors? I go just now, right there. And also, in those scenarios, in that hype, when you’re in a competition, and it’s like, this is when it counts. You will take risks. You will take bigger chances with tricks you aren’t sure of, and maybe sometimes that is the first time you’ll ever do it.


David Duchovny  19:31

Yeah, just just under the crucible of that, that pressure, right?


Tony Hawk  19:37

Yeah, absolutely.


David Duchovny  19:38

Take me to the the 900 at the X Games, because that was just, just an amazing piece of footage that we can see. And, you know, this is a move that’s that’s never been done. I’m assuming, I’m assuming, listening to you now that you practice that a lot before you were, oh yeah, do it. And had you ever landed it before?


Tony Hawk  20:01



David Duchovny  20:02

You never, you never landed it, but you’re gonna try it.


Tony Hawk  20:05

No, I didn’t. And I think that the the misperception is that I was planning it there, and I wasn’t. So I had been trying it for over 10 years, off and on, and in those 10 years, I would kind of come back to it every once in a while and realize, like, Oh, I’m a little bit closer. But I never really had the the full picture of it. I couldn’t, I couldn’t fit all the pieces together. I don’t know I had else to explain it, but it was like, I’ve started to figure out how to spin I started to figure out how to get enough speed for that kind of spin. I started to realize the landing is very uncertain because I just couldn’t see and so I had to kind of use the force and my my body spatial awareness. And so I got really close sometime around 1995-96.


David Duchovny  21:05

Very physically painful to even try the trick. I’m assuming.


Tony Hawk  21:09

Just one try, yeah, I mean, you’re you’re dusting about if you’ve been trying it for an hour. That’s probably the the limit, right, of human abuse, because every time you land, if you don’t, if you don’t make it, it’s kind of a car crash, but I had never really figured out how to get my weight shifted the right way to prepare for the landing, and I didn’t realize that at the time, because it’s all such chaos and spinning so fast, it was more like I just wanted to get my body around so that there was some sense of getting to my feet. But around 1996 I did fully commit to making one, and my body was leaning way too far forward and actually slammed into the bottom of the ramp and broke a rib for for all intents and purposes, that was kind of what I thought was my last try, because it was like I did. I had all the pieces of the puzzle. I went to commit to it, and I broke my rib. I don’t have anything else. Like, I don’t. I didn’t learn from that one. That failure was not teaching me anything. It was just more like, I guess I don’t have it? Um, but I’m stubborn. So I did end up coming back to it a couple times. I just could never commit to that landing again, because, because it was so traumatic. And then fast forward to the X Games. They had a best trick event and and the best trick of minutes back then were kind of just a sideshow. It’s more of a skater’s event, not really a fun one for the crowd, usually, because, everyone’s just falling, yeah, um, but there was something special that night, because I had a trick in mind. It was, it was a, it was a variation of a 720 and a 720 is a double spin. So that was as far as I could spin at that time. I had a, I did a 720 varial, actually. So I spun my board around under my feet, doing a 720 made that early into the event, as all of my peers were making their dream tricks at the same time. And really I was there was something in the air, it was wild, because I saw Colin McCabe bomber quest Bucky last like everyone was doing the things they came with in mind and there. And it was like, this is this is amazing. This is an amazing session. And then at some point, the announcer for the live crowd, who I’ve known for a long time, Dave Duncan, he knew that I did what I came to do, and there’s still 10 minutes on the clock, and he’s like, Let’s see one of those nine hundreds. And I just remember dreading hearing that, because I was like, no, not that. Of all.


David Duchovny  23:45

How long is it now, since you’ve attempted a 900 at that point?


Tony Hawk  23:49

Um, probably about a year, since my last one that I didn’t even, I didn’t even commit to, and so my directive was just to show the crowd what it looks like. You know, I had no intention. I had no intention of making it. And then I spun a couple. There was something about that ramp that was much more reliable than the other ramps I’ve written. I mean, every, every back, every skate ramp at that time was homemade, you know, it was, was wonky on one side. You had to adjust. This ramp was built true, and so you could take it for granted and get speed from it. So after about my third attempt, I realized, whoa, I’ve got the speed, I’ve got the spin. Might as well try to throw one down on the wall if I’m ever going to get hurt on it again, it can be here. I really didn’t mind, you know, I mean, I didn’t mind getting hurt again in that scenario, and then, so I’d say somewhere around my sixth or seventh attempt, the time was out. It was, it was running out. It was like the clock was, you know, at the last 30 seconds. So I thought, Okay, I’m gonna try to make it. And when I did try to make it, same thing happened. I fell forward. I. But I didn’t get hurt. And so then I thought, Oh, if I can somehow shift my weight more to my back foot mid spin, I could probably figure this out, because I didn’t have that luxury the last time I got hurt, but last time I heard I was that was the end of the day. Um, so I walked back up the stairs the time’s up. But I didn’t care, because it was just more like, I want to do this for me. I don’t care if it, if it counts on the scoreboard, or if they even show it on TV, like I’m this is the threshold. I’m finally this close to this trick I’ve been trying for over 10 years.


David Duchovny  25:03

Sounds like a, like a, it flipped a switch at that point, and you.


Tony Hawk  25:36

For sure, that was it. That was the that was the moment. And so when I tried it again, I did shift my weight, and I ended up landing and falling backwards. And then that was the that was the tipping point. Because it’s like, okay, if I can split the difference between those two balances, it’ll work. And it the next one worked. The 900 was such a I don’t want to say it was a holy grail, but it was definitely a quest for skateboarding, for for halfpipe skateboarding. There were only a handful of people that have ever even tried it at that point, and some got fairly close. But it was more like this collective effort to to get it done, and so suddenly I was the one that had to to carry that through. I mean, they’re only the only two ways that night was going to end was either me making it or getting carted off in a stretcher. There was not going to be I’m too tired to move over it.


David Duchovny  26:38

Well, you know, it’s interesting to me, because it’s like failure and pain are kind of in the same or injury or kind of in the same box, in a way, and you seem to be able to either not anticipate one or the other or not really react too negatively to one or the other. And I’m wondering, you know, aside from just saying, Okay, I’ve got a big pain threshold, large pain threshold, whatever was there a process? Has there ever been a process of you kind of working through pain, working through failed tricks that result in injuries and pain?


Tony Hawk  27:16

Oh, absolutely, from the from the beginning, my first big injury was concussion, knocked out my front teeth. Someone found me laying in the in that bowl, that bowl I told you about, that I used to skate on my own, someone just found me laying in the bottom of it with blood coming out of my mouth. And when I finally came to they put me in ambulance because my my parents were at work. And I remember, as I was coming back around and getting my bearings, realizing what I had done and what, what mistake I had made, and my first thought was, oh, I gotta, I gotta learn how to do rock and rolls better, it was very matter of fact. So I think that was a defining moment in the sense that I wasn’t, I wasn’t afraid to get hurt for the for the sake of progress.


David Duchovny  28:02

There’s a lot of pain, even in a successful trick. I’m sure do treat that as as feedback as well, rather than just a nuisance or something to overcome.


Tony Hawk  28:12

That’s a good question. I’ve definitely been through some turmoil with getting to land tricks, and eventually do get them. And honestly, the the pain that I feel the next day is rewarding. Rewarding. It is, yeah, because it’s, it’s that is the remnant and the symbol of what I went through to get to that success.


David Duchovny  28:36

It’s a wonderful, I think it’s a wonderful mind trick, I mean, but it seems like you taught yourself that somehow, or you just came into the world knowing it somehow from somewhere.


Tony Hawk  28:47

I think it was, it was only later that I came to appreciate that aspect of it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, like it sucks, like being in pain still sucks, and I’m old and my neck hurts and I’m still out there beating myself up, but, but, but in those moments, especially of of success, and the immediate time after the success, when you’re still in pain from it, it’s amazing. I mean, it’s kind of like when you see, you see the the sports movies, and you see baseball players or or football players, and they’re in their ice bath, and they just won the big championship. But they are in pain, but they’re just reeling in it.


David Duchovny  29:27

Well, I, I don’t know if you had these scholastic books when you were growing up, but you could at school. You could send away for paperbacks for a nickel or a dime.


Tony Hawk  29:37



David Duchovny  29:38

And I would always get these sports books, and that was one called winners never quit. That was like my Bible, and you’re reminding me one of the stories in that and there was, there was a race car driver named Jim Hertibas. I don’t know how to pronounce his name, but he, he had a terrible accident, and he was, he was in a fire. His his car caught fire, and he lost the use. Mobility in his hands. And this defined my life. When I read this, this just changed my life. He had his hands. They could only be in one position, you know. So he had them in the so he clamp them onto the the wheel of a car, you know. And it’s, it’s, to me, it was like I wanted to find that kind of passion in sports, or to be there was something so beautiful about getting to the point where you could give your body, where you could sacrifice your body, where you could say, I love this thing so much, that I’m going to hurt myself.


Tony Hawk  30:36

I mean, I feel like that every day, without question. I have a story similar to that about one of my friends who I toured with for a long time, Matt Hoffman, who’s the godfather of BMX riding. He actually did the very first 900 ever on his bike, but we were on tour and he had fallen really far and fractured his wrist or did something to it. I don’t know what. I don’t think he even went to the to the doctor. But in order to perform at these top level shows that we were doing, we were doing like, four weeks that there was no downtime, and he was definitely one of the headliners. So people expected him to perform. He taped his hand to his handlebar so that he could reach his break and and because he didn’t have a good grip on it, because it was so it was so injured, but that’s exactly it. I mean that because he loves it so much, not because he feels the pressure of the crowd, right, not because we’re imposing on him, that it has to be done. He just loves it, and he wants to do it, and he wants to be in the mix.


David Duchovny  31:43

It’s kind of the most beautiful thing that I know when when you can be in a position, no really, when you can be in a position to sacrifice parts of yourself to something that you love, you know. And I think what strikes me about your career and your your soul and your personality is that you were able to ride, you know, skateboarding to a height, like skateboarding is kind of oscillated while you’ve been involved, and it’s gone up, it’s gone down, it’s gone up, it’s gone down. It’s got like, three different cycles. So most people don’t get to answer the question, would you do this just for love, but you’ve actually, right, been forced to answer that, and you’ve answered it in the affirmative in your life, where you’ve continued to skateboard when nobody’s watching, when nobody’s paying, when nobody’s really.


Tony Hawk  32:33

Oh, for sure, I would do this for free any day of the week. This is, this is living the dream truly. And I think the the one, the one advantage to when it does have, have be successful, is that I was able to do it even better, because I could devote myself more to it. You know, before it was like I want to do this, but I gotta make a living, and I gotta pay bills, and I gotta support a family. So skateboarding is not providing that. I mean, it was in a meager sense. I mean, I was doing doing video editing jobs in the early 90s, yeah, to make ends meet. And then when it turned around and X Games got big, and our video game got big, suddenly it was like, Oh, I get to do just this for a living, and I can do it so much better.


David Duchovny  33:24

But when you, let’s say you’re doing the video editing, are you thinking, Oh, shit, I chose the wrong profession. I’m a failure of some kind. Are you, are you banging your head against some kind of psychic wall where you’re thinking, I’m gonna find something else that I love, or I’m going to find something else did anything ever.


Tony Hawk  33:43

No, I was going to keep skating at all costs. No way, I was still skating as much as ever. It was just there was no there was no audience, there was no career. But that didn’t matter. That was never the motivation.


David Duchovny  33:56

To me, that’s just like, it’s such a gift to be able to realize that that’s in you, you know, to do it without any, any, anybody watching, in a way.


David Duchovny  34:06

I had this experience. I went to the circus with my kids when they were little. And there was a guy who was, he was either juggling plates or or he had, he was stacking plates. And it was amazing. And I thought, This guy has devoted many, many years to this thing, and nobody cares. And I thought, and I thought that’s the best thing about it, like he must care, and his care is the only thing that’s motivating this artistry, not the fact that he’s, you know, under the big top. That’s not, not such a big deal. But I was like, I started to cry watching this guy because I was so moved by the fact that it wasn’t basketball, it wasn’t baseball, it wasn’t these things that people get paid immense amount of money and millions of people watch them. It was like, just this thing that he obviously devoted his soul to.


Tony Hawk  34:06

Oh, for sure.


Tony Hawk  34:58

He’s a maestro.


David Duchovny  34:59

Right, exactly.


Tony Hawk  35:00

And I respect that immensely. I mean, I’ve definitely seen the same thing. There are jugglers that, you know, that kind of go beyond what people think is possible and can do. I don’t know how many 14 objects and all of that, and there’s a very finite audience for that, but it’s right, it’s so commendable.


David Duchovny  35:21

But I was just thinking that, because there’s been cycles in your sport, it was, it’s almost a gift, you know, to go up and down with it. I guess, I’m sure it’s painful in the time, and a pain in the ass on the time. But, you know, it’s like, it’s an amazing journey to me, and.


Tony Hawk  35:40

I’d say that the toughest pill I had to swallow during the sort of second downturn was that people were still interested in skating, but they thought I was too old, and I was 24 so I had to be the consultant for for Hollywood shoots or for companies where it’s like, well, who should we get? We’re, you know, we’re the kids. I’m like, I, I can do it if you want. Like, no, no, we need, we need youth. Like, we need teenagers. That’s skateboarding, so Hollywood people knew my name still from the 80s, and this was early 90s, and they said, Hey, we want to do a commercial. I think it might have been for Sprite, and we need a young skater, and we need him to be flying through the air. And can you, can you coordinate that it was, there was never the talk of me being in it, right? Um, I set up the show. I was almost like his stand in, and so I’m doing the exact launch that they want to see from him over and over until they get the framing right. And then they got him in, and he did it right. And I got paid 500 bucks.


David Duchovny  36:56

Did you get a Sprite at least when you?


Tony Hawk  37:00

I might have taken, I might have stolen […]


David Duchovny  37:30

What are your one of your fellow skaters said this amazing thing, and I wish I could remember his name. He was in the documentary. He’s very kind of a Zen, Zen Dude.


Tony Hawk  37:39

Oh yeah, Ronnie Mullen.


David Duchovny  37:41

Yeah, that. He says this about you when you know you’re at the top of your game, he says, you make it. Quotes Nietzsche, he says, you make it to the top of the mountain. What’s left with the lightning? I was like, fuck that dude’s deep.


Tony Hawk  37:54

And well, he experienced that too, because he was the absolute number one in his discipline. He, he won every single event that he entered, except one.


David Duchovny  38:05



Tony Hawk  38:06

Yeah, I mean, he’s the guy, he’s the guy that created the kickflip. He’s the guy who figured out how to ollie off the ground like he’s he’s the godfather of modern skating, as far as I’m concerned. So he, if anyone knows that feeling of being at the top of the mountain and being what, what is there here?


David Duchovny  38:23

So what was, what was that for you? What was that moment like for you? And I think where we’re going here is like, once you took the competition out of it, you know, you’re at that, you’re at the top of the competitive heap there. I feel like taking competition out of it was was a blessing in disguise, because it really inspires your creativity. Because, oh, absolutely, when you’re competing, you’re, you know, you’ve got a set thing that you’re trying to do, you’re trying to win. You’re not trying to create so much.


Tony Hawk  38:50

No, well, my, my most innovative moments were the day after a competition, because I would go straight back to the ramp or the bowl or whatever it was, because then it was I was freed from the confines of of trying to be conservative and stay on all the tricks. And then it was like, oh, this is possible. This is possible. And that’s when I would learn most of my tricks. Was just like immediately after a competition. And so when I did finally start, decided to stop competing and not put those pressures on myself, it was hugely liberating.


David Duchovny  39:24

It seems almost as if the brain, one’s brain, when it locks into a competitive mode, there’s certain kinds of forms and safety that you go to, you know, to win, and then when you turn that off, some other spigot turns on. I don’t know if that’s making any sense.


Tony Hawk  39:40

Oh, that’s right, yeah, absolutely.


David Duchovny  39:42

With my own work, when I’m trying to do something for love or for money, there are different parts of my brain that are gonna fire, and it’s extremely obvious to me, the feeling is different.


Tony Hawk  39:54

Yeah, no, I agree. These are some of the most fun days for me, because I don’t have those pressures. I, I dictate my own schedule and interests, and with the explosion of social media, I’m able to share what I’m doing in real time and not have to wait for the big event.


David Duchovny  40:12

But you’re also older,


Tony Hawk  40:14

Much older.


David Duchovny  40:18

Can you talk about the aging process for you as an athlete. I mean, you’ve been at it. You’ve been at it for a long time. You started super young.


Tony Hawk  40:27

45 years, yep.


David Duchovny  40:28

Yeah, that’s a crazy that’s a crazy athletic career that doesn’t exist in another sport. Really, you’re a complete outlier there. I would think.


Tony Hawk  40:37

I think so, yeah. I mean, I my focus on how I skate has shifted, and it’s, it’s less, it’s, it’s more low impact and more technical now, and that’s kind of where I’ve been able to still be creative, but also do without so much risk, and I still love it just as much. And you know, I don’t, I don’t have, I’ve never made ultimatums for myself. I don’t have some master plan like this age, that’s the end of it. I mean, I can feel my just my physicality is not what it used to be. I broke my leg couple years ago. That didn’t help, but it also kicked me into high gear that I need to be proactive in in this approach. So if that was the silver lining of getting so hurt at my age, was like, Oh, I do have to work at this now, much more than ever. And so now I’m working out a few times a week. I’m actually stretching before I skate, which I never did, and all of that was foreign to me.


David Duchovny  41:43

So you didn’t have, you know, obviously, didn’t have trainers, you didn’t have no diet dietitians.


Tony Hawk  41:49

This was not, I mean, it was, this was not an Olympic event when I was young, it is now but.


David Duchovny  41:54

And how is, how is that actually changing the sport now that these kids are going to come in and they’re going to be stronger, they’re going to be in better shape, they’re going to be better code.


Tony Hawk  42:03

It’s amazing. It’s and they get into it at a young age, and they have support for it. Then parents are encouraging of it. I mean, it’s just, it’s, these are the best days for skating. Um, I mean, hey, the first female did a 900, 25 years after mine.


David Duchovny  42:19

I didn’t know, that’s amazing. What’s her name?


Tony Hawk  42:22

Arisa Trew.


David Duchovny  42:26

I was going to ask, how do you coach? How do you parent a kid like you? You know, if your kids are like.


Tony Hawk  42:34

Well, we have several, my wife and I, we have actually six total, and a couple of them are, are very much the way I was. Like, for instance, there’s one that was always the wildest he would try anything, and he had no concern for his mortality. And at some point, I had to convince him, like, there are stages to learning to do this thing you want to do, you can’t just go straight to the top. And it took a while, but he finally listened to me, but he went through some horrific injuries in the process.


David Duchovny  43:07

He must have been terrified.


Tony Hawk  43:09

Yeah, yeah, scary, for sure.


David Duchovny  43:12

I mean, you’re, you’re probably way more terrified for them than you are for yourself,


Tony Hawk  43:17

Absolutely, yeah. And they all skate, right? So I’ll give them pointers. This is just a small example. I’ll give them pointers in skating, and they won’t listen or they won’t follow the instructions. Someone else will tell them the exact same thing, but someone that they have respect for in a different way, and then they do it. And then I’m like, I that’s exactly what I told.


David Duchovny  43:43

There’s something I want to talk about. I want to read you this Yates. WB, Yates quote, which is the the intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life or of the work. And what I’m really struck by with your story is, you know, you’ve kind of taken this incredible discipline, and I think that’s a real by word for you, and it is for me too. I’m a big fan of of discipline work, and you’ve applied it to your home life in a way. I’m just wondering where that came from. How did you get inspired to actually realize that that discipline was going to carry you through this part of your life as well and make you a more loving person.


Tony Hawk  44:34

Just from suffering or choosing the same cycles of behavior over and over because I was so fixated on the skating and the success of my skating that my personal home life was not the priority, and at some point, realizing that I want to have better balance and and to be available to the people I love and to not be such a disaster. I’m outside of off my skateboard, and I think at some point I just realized, like, you gotta, how do you redirect the same discipline, the same energy, to having a stable and healthy home life and private life.


David Duchovny  45:16

Exactly? That’s the how, that’s the how. Because, you know.


Tony Hawk  45:19

Yeah, I mean it, you know, it was, I was a work in progress, right? Um, and it wasn’t, there wasn’t some switch just turned on. But eventually I found that this is, this is the new normal. This is how I love being this. This is way more satisfying and gratifying and full of of love than I ever imagined it could be. And so when I did finally commit to being the person I always wanted to be, it was huge. And I’m definitely super old. You know what I mean? Like, it’s it came at a later age, but I’m hugely proud of it and and I just feel like if you have had some success as especially as a skater or whatever you do, and you’ve had that intense focus and that discipline to cut everything out just to succeed at this thing, you are capable of doing that in other parts of your life.


David Duchovny  46:19

Yeah, but I think in both cases, love drove the discipline. I think that’s was the lucky part for for you, for anybody so.


Tony Hawk  46:27

Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I had a family that I wanted to be the best for, and that was a huge factor.


David Duchovny  46:34

But even their first love, skateboarding drove the discipline. And that created.


Tony Hawk  46:39



David Duchovny  46:40

That created that muscle, and you were able to transplant that discipline again. But I’m so I’m just sitting here thinking that somehow, love drives discipline, or, you know, trying to impart the lesson in some way, but.


Tony Hawk  46:54

I think so, I mean, it’s, it’s at a subconscious level. That, you know, when I when I was driven to skate and to learn all these tricks? Sure, I loved it, but I don’t think I could have conveyed that to anyone properly, or how much it meant to me. I just had to do it, I had to.


David Duchovny  47:16

That’s what it felt like.


Tony Hawk  47:17

That’s what it felt like. Yeah, I had to do it to live, skate or die.


David Duchovny  47:24

Yeah, thinking about Tony Hawk talk. Hawk talk, yeah, you know, I started with a joke that I didn’t know McTwist from McMuffin. I thought it was pretty clever. And Tony, he just said, that’s fair. And I was like, fuck, I already blew it. He already thinks I’m a fucking idiot, because I don’t know that much about skateboarding, right? So I thought I’d make a joke about that, you gotta, you gotta realize the timing you’re doing interview. Like, it’s a lot like a first date, you know, and it’s just that’s like, you know, sitting down at the table and just farting. I mean, that’s basically what that was, yeah, hey, let’s have a great dinner now. But he was kind, and I think he got over it, and we warmed up to one each other, another, one another eventually. But geez, you know the compulsion like me, I always think, you know, I’m gonna be funny and disarming and you know, then we’re gonna smooth sailing from there. But you know, it’s not always. I guess it’s insecurity there just be real, you know, just if somebody’s real with me, that’s the most disarming, and that’s what I’m learning in this process of, I guess it’s called interviewing, you know, you just want to know a human being is on the other side, and not an entertainer, and not somebody who’s got an agenda, even if they do in this case, to talk about failure, which I’m sure he knew going in.


CREDITS  49:13

There’s more Fail Better with Lemonada Premium. Subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content like more of my behind the scenes thoughts on this episode. Subscribe now and Apple podcasts. Fail Better as a production of Lemonada media in coordination with King Baby. It is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Dani Matias  . Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Our SVP of weekly is Steve Nelson. Our VP of new content is Rachel Neil. Special thanks to Carl Ackerman, Tom Karpinski and Kate D. Lewis, the show’s executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova, Kramer and me, David Duchovny, I mean, the company dammit. The music is also by me and my band. Lovely Colin Lee. Pat McCusker, Mitch Stewart, Davis Rowan and Sebastian […]. Special thanks to Brad Davidson. You can find us online at @LemonadaMedia and you can find me @DavidDuchovny, you know what it means when I say at David Duchovny. Follow Fail Better wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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