Trying To Be as Cool (as Tony Hawk)

Subscribe to Lemonada Premium for Bonus Content

Well well well, if it isn’t skateboarding pioneer, entrepreneur, and total sweetheart Tony Hawk! Tony has been doing some of the biggest and toughest tricks in skateboarding since 1979, and now he’s here! Did you know his first-ever skateboard is in the actual SMITHSONIAN? It’s in history now. Tony dropped in (get it?) to discuss high school, finding community, and what it’s like to do something before anyone else thinks it’s cool. Also, he tells me about the time a construction company unearthed his hometown skate park. You can probably guess what he did before the security guards arrived!

Please note, Funny Cuz It’s True contains mature themes and may not be appropriate for all listeners.

Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

Joining Lemonada Premium is a great way to support our show and get bonus content. Subscribe today at

Click this link for a list of current sponsors and discount codes for this show and all Lemonada shows:

You can find all show transcripts on the Funny Cuz It’s True page here.



Elyse Myers, Tony Hawk

Elyse Myers  01:48

Hello, and welcome to another episode of funny because it’s true. I’m Elyse Myers. Today I’m joined by skateboarding pioneer entrepreneur and total badass Tony Hawk. Tony has been doing some of the biggest and toughest tricks in skateboarding since 1979. And now he’s here with us today. And I just call them Tony as if we’re on like a first name basis. Did you know that his first ever skateboard is actually in the Smithsonian. He is like inside of history now, which is wild. So two things that are funny because they’re true. Number one, did you know that when Tony Hawk first started Skating, skating was so uncool that it would be like one of your friends coming to you and being like, I have this new hobby. It’s jumping on a pogo stick. And number two, after listening to this episode, I realized that I’ve asked every parent that I’ve interviewed if their kids think that they’re cool because of their job. Tony Hawk is the only person that’s ever said yes to me. So let’s get into it. Yay. Okay, Anthony Frank Caulk, like he’s learned your full name. And it made me really happy.

Tony Hawk  02:51

I’ve only ever been called out by doctors and teachers on the first day of school.

Elyse Myers  02:57

Perfect. I immediately regretted saying his full government name as soon as it left my mouth. But here we are. I know that kind of looking at your history, just as the timeline of your life and like stuff you’ve put out. You talked about yourself as like a very competitive child, but also like very hyper. And is that like an accurate representation of kind of how you were as a kid? Did you always know you wanted to be competing against yourself other people with the sport of skateboarding?

Tony Hawk  03:24

I think I always knew that I wanted to set my own challenges and compete against myself. Yes. Okay. I never was a content or satisfied with the performance. I always thought like, oh, there’s something I could have done better. Or I know, I was more capable of this. And I didn’t do that. And so I was always sort of beating myself up over that. And I think in hindsight, it drove me to continue progressing even after I was the number one competitor.

Elyse Myers  03:53

Did that come from your family? Like, was there anybody in your family that you got that from or that kind of was started with you?

Tony Hawk  03:59

I don’t think so. I think it well, I was the youngest of four. And my older brother is the closest to me and age, and he’s 13 years older than me. So I kind of grew up like an only child. And maybe I was trying to stand out or use my voice or something. Because by the time I was born, my parents were much older, and they were kind of over it.

Elyse Myers  04:20

Did you find that you had a totally different childhood as your older siblings since you came so much later? Like, are your memories really different?

Tony Hawk  04:29

Yeah. But I think only in that they were a little more. I don’t want to say transient, but my dad was in the Navy. And so they had to move around a few times. Oh, wow. And so when they finally ended up in San Diego, that was their first time they felt like they had permanence.

Elyse Myers  04:44

I’m really curious if the the way in which your family moved around and then you got the kind of staying in one place if that affected your like success with your skateboarding.

Tony Hawk  04:56

I think it was more a case that I got there. Are you lucky that San Diego had one of the last remaining skate parks in the early 80s? Oh, wow. So to answer your question, yes, but but more so because it was the home of a skate facility. And I was able to go there and hone my skills and and little did I know that. As I dove in headfirst to skating, it was sort of dying as an industry and as a as a trend or a fad. But I, all I knew is that there’s a skate park in my town, and I could go there every day after school. And that’s all that mattered to me.

Elyse Myers  05:35

I’m curious what the difference between that the skate culture in the 80s when you first got into it, versus now How different is it? Which is funny, because you’ve kind of created a lot of the difference. But like, how is it different when you started?

Tony Hawk  05:48

Well, from one, it just wasn’t cool. If you were if you were labeled as a skater, it was more like you were stuck in your in you were a kid. It wasn’t more like having grown out of that yet. And also, they were they were the outcasts like they were really the ones who were kind of pushed aside not considered. I would say if there was some sort of totem pole of cool, we were the furthest down, sort of under the nerds, really. So if you chose to skate, then you had to have a lot of self confidence, because you had to push through all this naysaying and ridicule. But it did foster a very unique identity in that there was a whole culture to skating that included music, fashion, art, and an attitude that was like, we’re not going with the grain. We’re not We’re not falling into mainstream categories. We we live outside of that.

Elyse Myers  06:54

Do you think that you found a lot of confidence when you started skating, or you are so confident that you got into skating because of your confidence?

Tony Hawk  07:02

No, I found that through skating, really? I definitely developed it through my through my skate career.

Elyse Myers  07:09

I guess I never considered how much of a culture comes with skating. Because when I think of skating, I think of you. And so when you first started, did you have a you that you looked up to?

Tony Hawk  07:22

There were definitely a few key skaters, which is funny, because to me, they were so much older, and they were so much more experienced and crazy. And they were maybe four to five years older than me, Wow. Um, but they were the ones that were in the magazines. They’re the ones that were doing the tricks. And I’m, and I gravitated towards all of that, if I had a mentor would have been Stacy Peralta because he was the first one that put me on a legitimate skate team that believed in my skills enough, even though my tricks and my style were largely ridiculed and not fully developed. But he put me on one of the most prominent teams. And then if I had another, the other inspiration I had at the time was a skater named Sal Gara, because he was the one that was doing tricks. And no one was focusing on tricks at the time, everything was about style and air and grace. And I didn’t have those things. I was too scrawny, I was too weak. So when I saw Al Gara, doing these tricks, I said, I want to learn those tricks. Because I know I can, I can at least figure out some of them. I can’t figure out how to do these big aerial things.

Elyse Myers  08:44

The idea of like 12 year old Tony Hawk going out and like hanging out with people older than him, like learning these tricks. It’s honestly so cool that like, you had a mentor that did these tricks that weren’t cool at the time. And it kind of instilled this like fire in you to learn how to do that. And then you’re like, you go on to look create tricks like 900. Okay, before you get too impressed with my skate knowledge. This was 100% information given to me ahead of time. So I sounded cool in front of Tony Hawk. And it turns out, I didn’t even say it right. It’s supposed to be the 900 or a 900, not just 900. So that’s good. These great just aerial like acrobatic flips, like, how does one even begin to make something like that? Where does that inspiration come from? Besides, you know, your role models?

Tony Hawk  09:33

It was always different. I think that when I finally started to get strength, and experience and confidence in my skating, then suddenly, I was doing these tricks at bigger heights, and that that all happened very suddenly. I would say that happened around age 16 or so when I started to get taller and stronger. And then it was like, Oh, now I have this this aerial time. I can do a lot more with these tricks in terms of pushing them doing different variations of them. I think that that through those years it was more How do I combine existing tricks, right. So it was like, for instance, I had created a trick called a backside variable, which is, you take your board and you spin it a 180 under your feet, your feet stay in the same place, then you spin the board 180.

Elyse Myers  10:25

I cannot even imagine being brave enough to try anything like that. It takes so much courage to be like, I’m gonna probably hurt myself and fail the first few times.

Tony Hawk  10:37

Well, I think that the the aspect of fearlessness is not really what it was, it was more that I wasn’t afraid to get hurt, because I did get hurt early on. Right. And that was sort of a turning point where I just went right back to it. And plenty of my friends got hurt doing skating or whatever else. And they quit you know, that was the end of that activity because they didn’t want to go through it again. I really didn’t mind like it wasn’t that i i loved it it was just more that I’m how I will push through this pain and this healing process because I love doing this too much. I mean, that still goes today and you know, maybe to a fault from from my perspective.

Elyse Myers  11:24

Do you see that not I guess fearlessness but that dedication to just like going for it manifests itself in other areas of your life?

Tony Hawk  11:32

Oh, yeah, I think I think it’s it’s opened me up to being much more adventurous and not being afraid to fail at other things. Because that, you know, that’ll keep you from trying so much in life is the idea that oh, I might fail at that. Well, you got to fail at it to get good at it. Right? You got you got it over and over and over. And I’m I’m okay with that.

Elyse Myers  12:00

Okay, we have to take a quick break. But when we come back, Tony tells us about his acting career. When you go into your skating, you know a session whether it’s now or when you were making tricks, like when you were younger, like and you’re still making drinks now all the time, like I’m sure do you go into this like flow state? Are you like hyper fixated? Like what does your brain kind of do when you are in that flow of skating? I guess?

Tony Hawk  14:49

It’s different when I’m in the learning process. If I’m just scanning for fun, that’s more of the flow state where I feel like oh, this this move can lead to this move, and this will keep up my speed and, and everything works the way that I hoped it would. But when I’m in a mode of trying to learn something new, that’s a that’s a different state of mind. Yeah, I usually approach it with the attitude that I have all the pieces to this puzzle. I’ve done every part of it in some form. If I can just put it all together, it will work. And I never considered that it won’t work. I think that I mean, it’s, it’s more like stubbornness or obsession than anything. Yeah. Because when I’m trying something, I’ve always imagined that I can do it, and I will be able to do it. And sometimes I pay the price for that, for having that. Over confidence.

Elyse Myers  15:45

You’ve said a few times obsession of like the obsession of skating. So the way I love things, and I’m creative, and I have hobbies, I don’t ever just have a hobby. It’s like, I am obsessed with it. It is my whole life to the detriment of everything else around me. Did you ever have a season of your life where you felt either embarrassed for how much you loved skating? Or that you wanted to like learn how to like it less? Or have you always been confident in your level of like, obsession with this incredible sport.

Tony Hawk  16:16

I’m not so much embarrassed, I would say but more frustrated.

Elyse Myers  16:22

I understand this. so deeply. This is the perfect word for it.

Tony Hawk  16:25

When like, in the early 90s, I had just experienced have almost, I would say, like five to 10 years of success in skating where I was doing well, I was making a living at it. I had two houses. And I had my own ramp facility and things were you know, it was it was like living truly living the dream and the dream that what I never realized was possible because no one else had had done it before. And suddenly, skating took a dive in popularity. My income was based on royalties from products sold with my name on it. And it started. It might it’s sort of shrinking by half, literally by half every month. And skating was just not cool. My style of skating was considered more prehistoric because I was skating the ramps and everything was going to street. Yeah. So it was more like it was frustrating to be an adult I had started a family. And it was like, What am I doing? I can’t provide. And I still want to do this, like I’m not quitting this. Um, and I had to do everything I could to make ends meet. I mean, I took the weirdest jobs in terms of being like the token skater at a rollerblading event in a Six Flags parking lot.

Elyse Myers  17:52

Yeah, were you pretty young when you became famous, like when you became the Tony Hawk?

Tony Hawk  17:56

Well, I graduated high school in 86. My mom and dad were both very big on education. And they wanted me to apply to colleges, even though I was truly making a good living already. Yeah. But they didn’t know if it would last and I just said, you know, if I, if I chase this full time, I can make more of it. Or what happened in the end was that right out of high school, I got hired to be an actor in the movie, skate movie gleaming the cube. So I was from high school, living in LA, renting an apartment in North Hollywood, at 19. And working on a movie full time movie set for months. And I think that was the moment for me that was like, Okay, this is my career and I don’t need to go to school. How did you get scouted for a movie? Oh, Stacy Peralta was our team, manager and coach. And he was the he was sort of the go to for anyone in Hollywood to to get skaters for for projects. And obviously, he’s going to favor his team. So Tommy Guerrero, who is another skater and I both got picked for acting instant work, which was, you know, for us.

Elyse Myers  19:19

Wow, that was such an early age for all this to happen to you that I feel like was that hard to I guess cope with that so young? Or did you feel like this was I was.

Tony Hawk  19:35

Are you kidding? You’re like, this is the dream? We’re we’re we’re thrust into it. Yeah. And through a route that we never imagined would take us there. Yeah, that want to get into to acting or music or whatever. They do have these huge aspirations because those they’re looking at these giant success stories. We have no mentors like that. We had no giant success stories, and then we’re coming in through the side Door to do Hollywood stuff like it was on it was unbelievable. And then after that we were, we were on tour for two to three months at a time, skating 2000 skating for 1000s of people every single day in every in different cities, different countries. You know, it was it was very whirlwind, but But you definitely get a false sense of security and longevity. Yeah, when you’re that young, and it just keeps coming at you.

Elyse Myers  20:30

And then I’m sure that when that kind of crisis hit for you, in your 20s when you saw the royalties kind of dip, you probably were like, I did not consider this and a possibility.

Tony Hawk  20:40

Not at all. No. And my dad, I was lucky that my dad was proactive in trying to get me to save my money, he actually co signed a mortgage for me, because I was 17. Wow. And then when I turned 18 It was it was mine. But um, but it was all I mean, I paid for it, obviously. And then when I found myself with two mortgages, and the child on the way, and I was, I mean at that moment in time, I was unable to pay my water bill. That’s when that’s when things got real.

Elyse Myers  21:14

Okay. Wait, so you were you were in like a normal high school making? Like good money? Yeah, were your friends just like what is happening?

Tony Hawk  21:23

I skating was still more underground. So you know, I was making money and traveling, say to the east coast on the weekends to go to a skate event and sign autographs, I would come back to school and be a ghost. I mean, I’d like.

Tony Hawk  21:41

At some point, at some point, they knew that like a pro skater went to their school, but no one could have picked me out of lineup.

Elyse Myers  21:48

Did you like that? Or did you wish people like fond over you more?

Tony Hawk  21:52

I mean, it was definitely a weird paradox. But I didn’t really care because I wasn’t looking for their acceptance. I found my community I found my sense of purpose and my passion. So I didn’t really, you know, it wasn’t like I was I was hoping that all the people in high school would like me because I wasn’t hanging out with them anyway. Yeah. When I did have my own place. As a senior that got challenging because, you know, when you’re in high school, and your friend’s parents are out of town, that’s the house where everyone parties out. Yeah. Well, my parents were always out of town. So everyone’s always in my house. So it got tricky. Did you like that? Or was that my neighbors? My neighbors were not very happy. Let’s put it that way. Now, neighbors. We’re not We’re not too excited to have a bunch of 17 year olds live next to them.

Elyse Myers  22:39

Okay, time for another break. When we come back. Tony tells us about the last time that he ever skated at Del Mar skate park. Do you find that like when you’ve found success and you and the finances were set for you and you kind of started setting up foundations? Was that one of your goals was to like you know, create foundations and partner with people that that kind of made skating more accessible More and more safe and more accessible to people and young kids.

Tony Hawk  25:04

Yeah, when I found success later on, in the late 90s, early 2000s, through X Games, success and and video games, my first order of business in terms of giving back to the community was to was to start a foundation for public skate parks, because like I told you, I got very lucky that I live near one of the last parks that was open at the time. And it was never lost on me. How much that shaped me and how I found a sense of belonging, a sense of community in that place, not not just a place to train and learn, but really a place to be accepted. And, and to feel that, that I had a purpose. And so when I found some success, and I saw that there were there was all this interest in scanning. A lot of kids were choosing to skate. And there were no facilities, it was super hard to convince people that these were necessary to communities, and that they will get used. But the best thing about what we do is that we literally have concrete proof of our work.

Elyse Myers  26:21

I’m so curious, is there anything that lives at that original skate park in San Diego? Like, have you gone back?

Tony Hawk  26:26

Oh, it is now a volleyball training facility.

Elyse Myers  26:29

Ah, now, when did that get changed?

Tony Hawk  26:34

Well, here’s, it’s funny. So the the park itself was was buried. And there were lots of rumors that if you just dig it up, it’s all right there. So about it was almost 10 years ago, like eight years ago. There was a bunch of noise on Instagram, actually, of there was a construction crew that was working at that site, because it was just it was it was a dirt lot. And they were tagging all these people that either works at that skate park or skated that park. And they go look what we found. And they had uncovered one of the bowls. The construction crew that was tasked with with clearing this place out for the volleyball site. But what happened was the what they uncovered was the deepest part of the skate park. And it was pretty damaged. Because what we found out once they dug up some other stuff is that is that the construction crew that that buried the park actually destroyed all the bowls.

Elyse Myers  27:40

That makes me so sad.

Tony Hawk  27:42

It was gonna be gone regardless. So it was just this one section of a ball that was like, it was like six feet from the bottom to the edge. And we immediately as the Del Mar skate park Del Mar skate rez, locals. We all grabbed our skateboards jumped on our car. I picked up one of my kids from school, and we drove there. And we skated.

Elyse Myers  28:09

Is illegal that you did that?

Tony Hawk  28:11

Absolutely. And then we skated it, we got to skate it for like an hour. Secure security told us we had to leave after that. Which is weird, because the construction companies are the ones that were showing us. But I don’t think they realize what a frenzy they were gonna cause by doing Sure. It was more like from them. It was like, hey, look, this is cool work. Yeah, we all just work straight there. And then the next day, they hired a security guard to just stand in front of the fence. And so we got to skate Del Mar one last time, and now it’s the wave falling volleyball facility.

Elyse Myers  28:49

You mentioned taking your kid to the thing that was uncovered in skating. Do your kids skate with you? Yeah, yeah. All of them. Yeah. Okay. Do they think that you’re cool? Like, are you a cool dad to them? Or you’re just dad?

Tony Hawk  29:03

Maybe not in the ways that you think but but that’s fair. I think they do. They enjoy the opportunities that come along with my career. So we get to do cool stuff. Like in fact, yesterday, we were all at the Kelly Slater surf ranch.

Elyse Myers  29:20

Oh my gosh, I think I asked this to every parent because like, deep down, I hope that my kids one day think I’m cool for my job. And up until this point, I’ve not really gotten that confirmation. So I think I’m just trying to manage my expectations accordingly. But also like my son’s two and a half, so I’ve got time. I was gonna ask when you first started doing the video game did you feel like you had to have wiggle room in terms of like what your final say was like, how did that come about? And how did you feel nervous to put your name to something that when you were just starting out?

Tony Hawk  29:52

No, but that was more because the group working on it never solved. What was all in on skateboarding. They were willing to learn. They were they were very receptive to my feedback. And we had no, there was no bar set for what we were doing. Right. So we didn’t have great expectations. So we could just go crazy. I mean, we, we were pretty renegade with how the game was put together with the aesthetics with the soundtrack with the skaters, you know, it was all like, whatever you guys say, because no one’s done this before. Yeah. And, and they didn’t even expect great success.

Elyse Myers  30:35

Well, I played it as a kid. And I like the playability was so interesting to me, because it really allowed me to learn. I didn’t have to know anything about skating to play it. And so I always appreciated that.

Tony Hawk  30:46

Yeah, well, thank you. I mean, you know, that was sort of an unexpected bonus to the whole thing is that it brought people in, who didn’t skate maybe never wanted to skate, but enjoyed playing it. And that created a fan base for skating that I feel like is still solid.

Elyse Myers  31:02

Yeah, man, you’ve been doing this for so long. It’s so inspiring to hear you talk about it. I’m curious, I have got to find a different way to transition into questions. Other than saying, I’m so curious. I’m so curious. How has your relationship to skating changed since you started to now?

Tony Hawk  31:22

That’s good question. How has it changed? Not, it hasn’t changed in terms of what I gleaned from it, and how much I enjoy it. Um, it’s changed in terms of my My Risk Assessment, okay. You know, I, I’ve had plenty of injuries and how, probably my worst injury last year, I broke my femur last March. And that taught me that I don’t have to go as hard as they used to that I can still enjoy this on a much lower level than what I was doing even three, four years ago. And that I can do it casually and still enjoy just as much. I think that that’s my relationship. And also just that it’s one of the greatest things to share, especially with my kids. With new generation of skaters, I mean, the idea that I’m still here and considered irrelevant, and that I can still get in the mix with the top modern skaters is is crazy. I mean, I was I was in the X Games last week. And the best trick event and the tricks that I was doing, they’re not moving the needle in terms of progression. But they’re good enough. And people were really, I mean, it was I was blown away with the amount of good of response that I got from being there. And, and the love that I received. And, you know, it could have easily just been Oh, like that poor old guy just can’t give it up.

Elyse Myers  33:05

I’m glad that that’s not the response, though.

Tony Hawk  33:08

And it wasn’t. And of course, I worry about that, too. But it just taught me that I don’t need to do this on the crazy level that I once did, to be able to enjoy it and to be able to still be doing in public.

Elyse Myers  33:20

Huh. So do you think that over time, you’ve kind of found a balance of it not obsessing as much just enjoying?

Tony Hawk  33:28

Yeah, yeah. And I think that definitely breaking my leg accelerated that. Yeah, definitely. Realization.

Elyse Myers  33:37

Yeah, Tony, this has been so informative. I feel like I want to learn how to skate. Now. I shouldn’t because I’m 33 weeks pregnant, so I won’t, but I’ll do it after the baby comes. But you are so inspiring. Thank you so much for being here. This is so cool.

Tony Hawk  33:51

Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Elyse Myers  33:56

All right. That’s it for my conversation with Tony Hawk. If you like listening to this show, make sure you give us a little rating and a review. It helps more people find us. Thank you see you next week. Funny Cuz It’s True is a Lemonada Media and Powderkeg production. The show is produced by Claire Jones, Zoe Dennis and […], our associate producer is Tiffany Buoy. Rachel Neil is our senior director of new content and our VP of weekly production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, Paul Feig, Laura Fisher, […] and me Elyse Myers. The show is mixed by Johnny Evans, additional help from Noah Smith and Ivan Kuraev. Our theme song music was written by me and scored by Xander Singh. Follow Funny Cuz It’s True wherever you get your podcast or listed ad free on Amazon music with your prime membership.

Spoil Your Inbox

Pods, news, special deals… oh my.