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The Eh Game

Tony Hawk returns to Canada, skateboard still in hand

Dustin Pollack
Eh Game

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Tony Hawk will be putting on a show in Toronto on Thursday. (Robert Benson/Getty Images)

It may be nearly 15 years since Tony Hawk last competed in a professional contest, but that doesn't mean the skateboard icon has completely given up the sport.

In fact, that couldn't be further from the truth.

At 45 years old, Hawk, who’s one of the sport’s pioneers, still gets on his board for about two hours a day, taking full advantage of what he once referred to as the biggest perk of working at the Tony Hawk Inc. offices in Vista, California: the half pipes.

It’s not because Hawk still has the itch to return to competing at the highest level, but rather he feels in order to run a successful business selling skateboards and various other skate-themed products including video games, clothing and DVDs he has to be more than just a CEO who works behind a desk inside an office building.

“For me one of my top priorities in being in this business is to be actually physically [skating,]” Hawk said in a phone interview. “I would feel like I was cheating myself and others if I wasn’t actually participating in what I’m preaching.”

For the last few days he’s been doing just that around Canada. As part of a partnership with Sport Chek and Quicksilver, Hawk and a crew of young talent have already made stops in Calgary and Winnipeg to sign autographs and put on a one-hour skate show free for the public to watch. They'll do the same in Toronto on Thursday.

It’s hard to imagine how a 45-year-old’s body can still withstand the jumps, twists, spins and landings that go hand-in-hand with the sport. But Hawk says the fact that he never really stopped – even when he retired in 1999 – skating on a daily basis has helped him keep up on his board. And he’s going to continue to do so until his body no longer allows him to continue.

But it’s not all skating, all the time. There is still a focus on the business side of his life as well and the success he’s had on a board – he won 16 medals at the X Games and was the first skater to complete a 900 – has converted into success in the corporate world. He recalls first realizing that could be the case when Activision released ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ for Playstation in 1999.

“[The success of the game] took me by surprise and the fact that we got to do multiple sequels every time, I’m still amazed that we took it that far,” he said.

Fourteen years and 14 games later the Tony Hawk series has done more than $1.4 billion in sales and according to San Diego Magazine Tony Hawk Inc., which includes the video games, Birdhouse Skateboards, Hawk Clothing, a film production company, a children's book series, a Sirus XM radio show and other ventures, exceeds $200 million in revenues annually.

Hawk is also proud to give back to the sport that allowed him to have so much success. The Tony Hawk Foundation, which focuses on the creation of public skate parks in low-income communities around the United States, has raised nearly $4.5 million since launching in 2002.

That’s not to say everything Hawk has been involved in business-wise has been a massive success. He was quick to admit that in the early 2000’s his company tried to branch out into high-end denim and it failed miserably. He told inc.com that the denim line sucked up his company’s profits for a few years before they ended up selling it off.

“It was way too expensive and we got in way over our heads and lost way too much money,” Hawk said.

With that experience behind him, Hawk would likely be much more cautious before buying into a product that wasn’t entirely skate-related. The popularity of social media – he was more than 3.4 million followers on Twitter – also gives him the opportunity to reach out to his fans and customers and get their opinions on specific business ideas before he jumps headfirst into something.

“For me it’s a way to get immediate and honest feedback,” he said. “It’s not like you have to hire a focus group or anything like that, its just here’s what they think of it. Or you can put it out there [on Twitter] to them and ask ‘what do you think of this?’ and they’ll tell you in all honesty.”

The success he’s had on a board, in business and through charity work are all a part of Hawk’s growing legacy and why he’s often mentioned in the same sentence as athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, stars that will forever be intertwined with their respective sports. Hawk helped lead skateboarding out of the underground and into mainstream culture and though he refuses to take full credit, he’s proud of how much the sport has grown, especially in low-income areas.

Asked if he misses competing at the highest level, Hawk said that while he enjoyed the challenge of trying to outdo himself at every contest, he’s happy to just be doing exhibition performances at this point in his life. And no matter how much success he's found in business it seems there’s still at least a part of Hawk that’s still more of a skateboarder than an entrepreneur.

“My skating is still the priority, it takes precedence over everything else. “I’m definitely very busy doing business stuff and taking meetings and what not, but I feel like I need to walk the walk if I’m going to be doing this type of business so that is what I try to spend most of my time [doing.]”

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