Choose Progress Over Perfection | Tony Hawk on Impact Theory | Transcription
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All I ever wanted to do was to keep learning new tricks. I didn't really care about the standings or the perception of my style or whatever. My job was just to keep getting better. And a lot of times when you see an athlete or an artist or whatever, that reaches a certain apex that they think, like, this is the goal. I'm number one. This is it. They lose all their motivation because that's all they were trying to aspire to. And my motivation was always just to keep getting better at skating.
Interview With Tony Hawk
Everybody, welcome to Impact Theory. You are here, my friends, because you believe that human potential is nearly limitless, but you know that having potential is not the same as actually doing something with it. So our goal with this show and company is to introduce you to the people and ideas that will help you actually execute on your dreams. All right. Today's guest is widely considered the greatest skateboarder of all time, often referred to as the godfather of the sport itself. He started skating when he was just nine, turned pro at 14, and by his senior year, he was making more money than his teachers. By the age of 25, he had competed in 103 pro contests, winning 73 of them, and coming in second in an additional 19, giving him a top two finish rate of almost 90%. But skateboarding remained a fringe, often disrespected sport that saw him routinely mocked and picked on, many told him that he should grow up and get a real job. And despite being named world champion of vert skateboarding 12 years in a row in the early 90s, it looked like the naysayers might be right. The popularity of skateboarding seemed to disappear overnight. And not long after that, he and his business partner had to seriously contemplate shutting down their fledgling skateboard company, birdhouse projects multiple times. But instead, he sold his house, tightened his belt, lived off cheap sandwiches, and a $5 a day Taco Bell allowance, and did anything he could to make ends meet, including skateboard demos in the Six Flags parking lot. His commitment, insane work ethic, and a love of progression finally paid off, however, in the late 90s when skateboarding had a massive resurgence in popularity due to the X Games. He once again rose to prominence, dominated the sport, winning nine X-game gold medals, and landing the first ever 900 on live TV. Just two months before the launch of what would ultimately make him one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet, the billion dollar video game franchise, Tony Hock's Pro Skater. Additionally, his won countless awards appeared on The Simpsons, and his foundation has helped create roughly 600 skate parks across all 50 states. So please, help me in welcoming the man whose first skateboard now hangs in the Smithsonian, the New York Times best-selling author of Hock, occupation skateboarder, the goat himself, skateboarding legend, Tony Hock.
Tony Hawk (02:40)
Hey, thank you. Welcome to the show. Mr. Hock, thank you for being here, man. So as I was saying before we started rolling, as a kid and then quite frankly into my early 20s, I really wanted to be good at skateboarding, so I had a skateboard. I was my mode of transportation all through college, but I was really bad at it. And so watching you, I was way into the bones brigade and just really wanted to emulate that was really terrible. And researching you, you said that one of the key moments in any skateboarder's life is the first time they really get hurt and then how they respond to that. First time I got hurt I stopped immediately. But how did you learn to deal with that and really push forward? Well, I think it was the first time I got hurt I got, it was pretty severe. I got a concussion, I knocked out my teeth. I woke up pretty much in the ambulance and my first thought was not what have I done. This is crazy. It was like, well, how long do I have to stay out of my skateboard? That's crazy. It was immediately like, how do I get back? And also I remembered, you know, as I came to, I remember what I had done and what mistake I had made and I was thinking like, well, never make that mistake again. That was really the thought process and it wasn't a matter of mortality or fear. It was just more like, and I guess I realized at that moment, I realized it then but I realized it later that I wasn't really afraid to get hurt for the sake of progression. I wanted to push through and learn from my mistakes and endure injury and pain to get to these goals. And so I think that a lot of friends that I had, they got hurt once and either they quit or their parents told me to quit. What would you have done if your parents had told you to quit at that point? It's a good question. I relied on them so heavily for transportation to the skate park and support in that sense. I probably would have tried to skate and make a go of it, however I could, but I don't think I would have been successful at it because I really, I had a lot of support from my dad, he was basically the chauffeur for all the skaters in our area to go to different parks around the Southern California area. I don't know what other dad would have picked up that slack. And how do you, so I big brother for this kid for a while and because I was in the skating, he wanted to get into skating. So bottom of board, took him to the skate park and he's like the target kid that you've been building, the skate parks for really underprivileged, grew up in Compton. And so it was a cool thing for him to do. And I took him to the skate park, had him in helmets, pads, like the whole nine. And we were there for maybe like 30 minutes and another kid fell and dislocated his wrist. And so his wrist was like this up and back. And I was like, oh, I was freaking out. And I thought the kid that I was with wasn't. And so he just kept doing stuff. And every time he would go down a ramp or something, my heart would jump. Now as somebody who obviously has felt those impacts and you've broken your pelvis and concussions, what was it like for you watching Riley start skating for the first time? Did you struggle with the fear of him getting hurt in a way that you didn't with yourself? I did, but I also saw early on that he had a good sense of his limitations. And he liked, I mean, he was very much like me in the sense that he wanted to push his boundaries, but also not risk his mortality. I mean, he definitely got hurt in ways that I didn't anticipate. He broke both elbows, I mean, before he was like 10 years old, you know, it would full like elbow cast. And that was hard to endear, but I wasn't going to discourage him. And also he kept coming back to it. Did you help him conceptualize dealing with pain and fear? Because I've seen him skate now as a pro skater and he's, I mean, as I feel with all pro street skaters, especially just looks insanely painful. And so he's got some sort of relationship with fear and pain and all of that. I think just more by example, you know, we have four other teenage boys now and they rely on me to sort of assess their injury or to take care of it because I've been through so many. And I think it's just more leading by example and, you know, showing that, well, you know, I don't like to say get right back out there, but the more the sooner you get out moving and stuff, the faster heels really, I mean, depending on the severity of the injury, but I think that that's key. And I'm a living example of that. And do you have any, is there anything you say to yourself, a mantra or whatever when you get hurt? Like are you focused on what you're trying to accomplish? Yes. I mean, it's different now that I'm older. I'm not, I'm not trying to take the risks that I used to obviously. And there are times when I just feel like, you know, my body's not in prime shape or capable of doing, pushing this next limit, obviously. But sometimes the stubbornness overpowers that. It's interesting though, you talk about that internal drive, you're doing it just for you, that really does seem to be the hallmark of how you've been able to have as much success. And I really do want to understand like why you, what is it about you that led you to just keep going to innovate when the sport was dying, to face people making fun of you, when it really seemed like it was over, but you just kept doing it. Well, the thing that I loved initially about skateboarding is that it felt like it was this empty canvas.
There was anything you'd do, even if it's a little tweak, you made, it was a new trick. And so it was like, there's this constant progression. And all I ever wanted to do was to keep learning new tricks. I didn't really care about the standings or, you know, the perception of my style or whatever, as long as I could keep learning these new tricks. And so as I was successful in competition and winning a lot of the events, my drive was just to keep getting better. And a lot of times when you, if you see an athlete or an artist or whatever, that reaches a certain apex that they think like, this is the goal. I'm number one. This is it. They lose all their motivation because that's all they were trying to aspire to. And my motivation was always just to keep getting better at skating. And so, you know, enduring sort of the naysayers was probably helpful. You know, it seemed like I was getting bullied at the time because I did. You know, people like to write me off and say I'm a circus skater and whatever. Because you were doing tricks. Because I was doing tricks and I wasn't focused on the style. I just didn't have the body frame for the big gnarly air as in the flowy style. You know, I was like this scrawny rat. And I just figured out, wait, I can maneuver my board under my feet and in the air and eventually got taller and stronger and I could do it much higher in the air. But still, I was largely made fun of for my lack of style. But that only fueled the fire for me because it was just like, I'm just going to keep doing this and hopefully prove them wrong in the end. And I can't say why me except that I just never wanted to slow down. Do you think that internal driver, because so as I was going, like one of the notes, you would say something and I would take the note over and over again was the intrinsic motivation. Like you were just, there was something in you you were trying to do. So the most interesting part of your career to me is when it all craters and there isn't big money left to be had. And in fact, you're now risking more and more money hoping that it swings back up. And you kept saying like in that time, there were really two things that kept me going. One, I did think that it might come back, but then two, I just love skating. And so I was actually able to make a living doing something that I loved, even though I was just sort of getting by. Is that something you can teach? And I'll frame it this way. The number one question I get asked all the time is how do I find my passion? Well, I guess what I learned through those years and having come through them and obviously having another way of success is that it seemed like in hindsight, it seemed like a struggle. But at the time, I was still getting to do what I loved. And so it wasn't about the cashing in or it wasn't about the perks and the extravings it says it was more like I get to go skate for a living. And I'm paying the rent. I'm providing for a family barely, but it's working. And I enjoy my work. And that was it. And that's what I've learned. And then having come through sort of the not the fire, but this huge way of success to come back to what I feel is important to me, which is the skating. And that's what I enjoy the most. And I wasn't ever doing it. Was I ever doing it for fame or fortune? Those were not my motivations. And so when people see, "No, what's your passion?" All I can say is follow what you really enjoy doing and that will be your success. Because if you enjoy going to work every day, that's the biggest success that you can imagine. As far as I'm concerned, you can be hugely successful financially doing something you don't like and that just doesn't bring happiness. I mean, it's all seems cliche and it all seems kind of basic, but it's definitely what I've learned being through the highs, highs and the low lows of a career. It's interesting. So I mean, yes, that is cliche in the sense that that's what people often repeat. But you've certainly lived that. How do you help people through the, where you can see this sort of heartache of, "I want to do something that's going to be respected externally." There are going to be accolades. There is going to be money. Or even just like, "I haven't found anything that I love enough." Do you find that you fanned the flames of your own interest in skateboarding? Or was it purely just like from the moment you saw people doing the errors in the pool, you were like, "That's it." What I think is important. People find something they love and they're like, "I want to do that." But they don't realize what all that encompasses, the wealth of knowledge you need, even though there's one thing inspires you. And I think what I learned through skating and then eventually through business is that I want to learn all aspects of that. And that benefited me in the end because as I did sort of struggle with skating's downturn, I had this other skill set that I had developed just through the interest of what everything else was in skateboarding. I never thought I would need to know point of sale and net profits and marketing budgets and advertising. I just embraced those things because I figured, "Well, this is what I'm doing." And I really should learn all those things. They might seem trivial or they might seem boring, but that will give you the advantage in the end. That's what I mean. How do you motivate yourself on those things where it's something that you don't have the same intrinsic love that you have when you're skating? How do you get yourself going on something like that? Just embrace the challenge. I mean, I embrace the challenges of skating all through the years and even some things in skating that didn't really interest me. And so I kind of learned how to streetscape by default and it wasn't something that I was like gunning to do or thought that that would be my career path.
Becoming Great (14:43)
But at the same time, I enjoyed it. And there was still a sense of community with it. And we were breaking new boundaries. So I guess that's one example of something that maybe you didn't think you're interested in, but if you're so laser focused on just one part of what you're doing, you kind of miss the big picture and the other opportunities. Talk to me, what is the process of becoming great? Do you think people are born great or do you think literally they can work their way someone like Andrew Reynolds could work their way? I think it's all about the work you put into it. It's sort of the 10,000 hours theory. In the case of Andrew Reynolds, he was the scrappy little sloppy skater. But he was driven and he was his own worst critic and it made him perfect certain tricks that he was doing so that they looked the way he imagined them to look. And now I'm getting a little nerdy here, but if anyone says frontside kickflip, the first thing you think of is Andrew Reynolds. And that's just how it is because he perfected this move, became his signature, and he's great. He's great at it. He's a great skater because he never wavered. He never really gave up and didn't listen to any naysayers. And do you see that process as being sort of blind repetition? I would never say it's blind repetition. I think it's very calculated risk, methodical approach. And I mean some tricks, some tricks are so technical that you try it a hundred times and one works and there's no rhyme or reason as to why that one was different. But other tricks just take a little bit of a nuance to get it dialed in so you get it every time. And that is more a matter of determination, I think.
Learning from Mistakes (16:38)
Not blind repetition, but definitely determination and the ability to recognize your own mistakes. So I wore this shirt grit because looking at your career, that to me is when I think about why I was never good at skateboarding, it was because I really wasn't willing to fall over and over again. And quite frankly I had my heart broken at one point because I was all-ing like a fiend. I thought I was really getting good at it. And somebody goes, you know that your back wheels never leave the ground, right? I was like, get out of here. That's not like, that's not possible. They're like, no, no, no, for real. I actually thought they were kidding. So I said, all right, film me and I've got to see this. I don't believe it. And so they film me and I do the ollie in my back wheels and never leave the ground. And like my whole world came crumbling down. And I was like, how can this be like literally, how can this be possible? First of all that nobody told me until then. And that second, it felt like I was really doing it. And between like what it felt like to fall, which seeing you land on your hip, I know how much that hurts. And I just needed to do it once to know, yeah, I don't want to do that. And then doing that. And when I'm so curious, I want to know time machine, you go back, you're there on that playground parking lot with me, could do you have like magic words, a way to frame it, whatever inspiration to get me to rethink about how I should be approaching this to help me find that thing you had, which was the love of the progression or whatever. Like is there a way to, I really wanted to skate Tony, no bullshit. Like I really feel like somebody with the right words could have made me go, oh, like I have to embrace the pain or whatever. Like have you seen something work? Yeah, I think, well, I think I could have helped your technique for sure. And according to you, if you were doing proper Ollie motion, probably just a little bit of a foot shift would have gotten you into the air a little bit. The thing that I've noticed, especially having so many boys, is that when I give them a little bit of advice, if they do, if they truly do follow it, they do the thing they're trying to do. Because they just won't commit. That's it. You know what I mean? They just won't commit to the thing. And they think that if they move their feet and step back, the board will somehow magically do the thing and then come back to their feet. And that is the most frustrating part of just trying to teach someone because they just are their own worst enemy. They won't commit to this thing fully. You know what I mean? I can scream all I want, like you have it. This will work if you just commit to it. If you just believe it's going to happen and you decide you're going to land, it's going to work. But sometimes that's the stumbling block. And that could be a metaphor for all kinds of things. How else does that play out? Do you see things like that in business? Like, is it just commitment or are there other roadblocks that people have in their own lives? Well, I think it all comes down to risk and your willingness to take risks. That's for sure a thread that I can say is equal in skateboarding and in business for me. And what I learned growing up is that I am willing to take a risk for the sake of progression or for the sake of success and it doesn't always work. You know, I've definitely had failures, big financial failures. But I learned a lot. And I think the other thing is you have to embrace those failures. You have to embrace those mistakes. What do you mean by that? How do you embrace the failures? Well, basically you have to learn that that approach didn't work and you don't want to do it again, obviously. And that if you hadn't had that failure, you might have made a much bigger mistake later on, you know, doing the same exact thing. Getting into business, which has been more like sort of life instructive skateboarding or business.
Inoculating against Haters (20:36)
Well I use all the lessons that I learned from skateboarding in my business. So I'd say definitely skateboarding in terms of what it taught me about persevering and believing in myself and not listening to the haters. Let's talk about that. That's actually really interesting. So first of all, you're getting hated on when you're pretty young. Like how did you inoculate yourself from that? It's funny because I tell this story, you know, sometimes I do public speaking and I tell the story about how the amount of criticism I received as a kid with my strange style and obviously, you know, I'm super skinny and just like, I just look like a giant pad. And the strange, what they called circus tricks that I was doing, I was getting a lot of flack even in the skate magazines, which was like, skating is already this outcast activity of, you know, misfits. And then suddenly, see, I found my people there and then I'm being ostracized from them for my style. So I'm like living in this little bubble of uncertainty and unlikeability. And so I learned that at that time, like, well, don't listen to them. I'm doing what I love. I have. I'm doing that though. Because I had a couple of friends that were kind of in the same mindset. They were young too. They were more into the tricks and we would just skate together and we would bounce ideas off each other and we would all come up with new tricks that we enjoyed doing. And that's all it took was the small community of people sort of having each other's backs.
You had a lot of conviction and it becomes easy to stand up for yourself when you, it's actually not true. It's hard to tell to stand up for yourself anytime. But certainly easier if you have a conviction. But how the hell do you get a conviction? Like when you're 14 and I've seen the photos of you when you first started skating and you really did look hilarious, like you were so skinny. And I just remember at that age, like, how do you get above like what people are saying, especially bigger, cooler kids, you know, even if you've got a couple other kids that are your style, like that would definitely help. But how did you, how did you turn those like, I think this is cool into like, this is so cool, I'm going to stand up for it. And really, truly, can you pass that on? Like how do you teach your kids, which just comes back to the kids? Like, is that something you teach kids? Like without just saying stand up for what you believe in? I think it was more that I did get a few example, well, a few boosts of validation through the years. And do you have anything else in your life other than skateboarding that you feel a similar draw to grow and improve and get better? No, not in that sense. I mean, if anything, it's fatherhood. I'm always learning. I'm always learning to be more effective to be better. And, you know, sometimes it's hard because Riley was sort of the litmus test. And I obviously could have done better in a lot of ways and been more present. And I'm still learning a lot as I go. And I've come through a lot of chaos and turmoil just in terms of success and relationships and things like that. And I think my wife and I have a really good handle on what they need from us and how we can be effective without being overbearing. What is the key to being a good parent?
Key to Being a Good Parent (23:49)
Listening and taking interest, being present. And when I say present, I don't just mean like in the same room on your phone, you know, which is super easy to do. And I fall into that trap too. Because sometimes, you know, we'll be all around a table and everyone's just staring out of screen. And sometimes we just have to, all right, thumbs down. Let's talk. Other than your children, I'm going to completely take them off the table.
Tony Hawk on The Simpsons (24:21)
What is the coolest thing that's ever happened to you? That's a good question. I think being on The Simpsons was definitely one of the biggest, coolest things that could ever happen. Because The Simpsons is such a, it's such a touchstone of pop culture. And what the mainstream audience is understanding and looking at and the fact that they made an episode that focused on me was one thing, but the idea that I was going to play my own voice, it always seems like if The Simpsons has a character and it's not that character's voice, you're, you know, that's the opposite. That's the opposite of cool. I mean, they're trying to diss you, but the idea that they, you know, invited me and they based this episode around me and Bart. It was this huge honor and it still is this day. I mean, like I said, it was, I watched The Simpsons from when it was on Tracey Ullman. What about getting your board up in the Smithsonian? That is a huge honor that I never imagined or fathomed would, that they would be interested in such a thing. And the fact that I've lost so much stuff through the years and given away so much stuff and thrown stuff away that somehow I held onto that board, you know, it didn't, I mean, through my first five or six year of scanning, it didn't have that much meaning. But I was kept it for some reason. And then they contacted me about donating to Smithsonian and I called my brother because it was actually his board that gave it to me. It was his hand me down. So I had to call him for permission. And I said, Steve, they want to put this board in the Smithsonian and he said to me, that's where I thought it always belonged. Whoa. And that was, to me, that was more validation than anything. The fact that, you know, my brother who got me in a skating, who gave my first board, thought that much of it, that we both went to DC and handed it over in White Gloves. That's really cool. It was pretty cool. So a year ago, a little less, I guess, we did a 24 hour live here where I was on camera for 24 hours, I was answering people's questions and, you know, doing obviously a lot of talking at the end of it, I felt pretty good. And then I had, two days later, I had to fly to London and I had another nine hour Q&A. And at the end of that, my voice felt different. There were certain notes I couldn't hit. And it freaked me out because I'd always taken my voice for granted. I'd never thought about the fact, like, what would this look like if I couldn't speak? And then it didn't go away and didn't go away. And then I started feeling like pressure in my throat and it was getting really weird. And like, it made me ask, I realized for the first time that my voice was a part of my identity and I'd never realized it. And so suddenly I felt like a different person and a less person if I wasn't going to be able to vocalize. And so my mind just starts running away and I started thinking like, not only who am I without this, but like, what do I actually do? Like, how do I run the business?
Who are you without your talent (27:26)
Right? So I know at one point you weren't skating a lot in the business and you were focused more on the marketing, but then ultimately realized I need to go back and skate. Like, have you thought at all about like, who am I without this and what do I do? Well, I honestly went through that a couple of years ago. My wife can attest to this, but I started losing sponsors all at once. And I mean, like a group of them. And it wasn't necessarily because of anything I was lacking or doing. It was just more of the business and the way that endorsements were working at the time that it was just like there's no more yearly contracts. You know, everything is more short social media base, but they all came crashing down at once. And I struggled with it. I struggled with my sense of value. I struggled with, yeah, who am I? What is I thought this was what I was doing? I thought this was my purpose, this is my living. And it took a while for me to really come to terms with, I love doing this regardless. But also, even if I'm not doing this, I'm still effective as a person in terms of running a business, being a father, you know, having value, having being interesting, like all those things were things that I had to accept about myself because this thing that I took for granted for the most part that I knew and loved and that I had done for 20 years as a career, more 30 years as a career, was suddenly coming to not a screeching halt, but definitely a slow. And it took a lot of self-reflection to get through that and realize that I still want to do it, even if no, I get paid as much as I was. So what is that next phase?
Tony's Definition of Success (29:21)
Well, definitely I'm hugely proud of what my foundation has created and accomplished over the last 15 years of doing public skate parks and low-income areas and working on a more international level with Skate-a-Stann funding projects in South Africa and Cambodia. And the Olympics are going to come around, so that's exciting to me. I feel like I could not just advocate, but be part of the international accessibility of it. There's going to be a skate team from Ethiopia. There's going to be a skate team from Cambodia. That stuff excites me because we never imagined that there would be any interest of skating or any sort of scene and they're going to have Olympic teams. They're going to have top-notch athletes. And that's amazing to me. And that's what gets me really excited. That's not necessarily what's next for me, but that's what's next for skateboarding. And that's huge. Alright, before I ask my last question, where can these guys find you online? I'm on all the social medias, Tony Hawk, @Tony Hawk. In fact, I had to wrestle my Instagram handle away from someone who was squatting on it. Really? I suppose I was the first athlete on Instagram, but when I went to join, someone already taken Tony Hawk and wasn't posting anything and then they wanted money for it. Sounds about right. How did you get it?
Tony's Daily Routine (30:55)
I think someone from Instagram, it was Kevin's sister, saw that I was on it and I was gaining a following under a different name. And he said, "Hey, do you want your name?" I noticed that someone's squatting on it. Within a minute, I had it. That's awesome. That's awesome. Alright, my last question. What's the impact that you want to have on the world? Hopefully someone that made skateboarding more accessible, someone that brought it into the sort of main, I don't want to say mainstream, but a bigger audience. But selfishly, I just want to be known as someone that was a good skater.
Tony Hawk'S Greatest Ambition
Tony's Greatest Ambition (31:37)
I think you've got that down pat. Thank you. Awesome, Tony. Thank you so much for being here today. Yes. Guys, hey, I can't imagine a world in which you didn't already know Tony Hawk coming into this, but I'm telling you that you don't know the real Tony Hawk. The guy, watch him fall over and over and over and get up and keep going and watch some of the innovative stuff that he's done, which is absolutely insane from doing the loops to him having fun skating in zero G. It was a lot of fun to watch. But the real innovations, things like the 900 being the first to do that, the win percentage of almost 90%. That's never going to be paralleled again in human history. I mean, it's absolutely insane to me. And watching somebody that has that level of grit and perseverance to me is astonishing, especially because it's something that I've tried and I know how bad it hurts. And I think that there really is one thing, as he said, that separates people that go on that do extraordinary things from people that have the talent and the ability, but don't go on to match that. And that is how do you respond the first time that you get hurt? And if that moment breaks you and turns you away, then you're never going to be able to accomplish what you want. But if you can come to some sort of understanding relationship of what you're trying to accomplish, that you're going to have to get past that fear, that you're going to have to learn to deal with that pain, and that if you can wake up from a brief coma in the back of the ambulance and not be thinking about, "Well, I'm never doing that again," but instead saying, "I'm never going to make that mistake again and I'm going to land the trick the next time," then you can do anything you set your mind to. And that, to me, is the most expiring example that anyone can set. I think it goes without saying that he will be remembered as somebody who was a great skater, but beyond that, I think he'll be remembered as somebody who showed just how far you can go if you persevere. So my friends, stick with it, grind it the fuck out. All right, if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe and until next time, my friends, be legendary. Take care. Thank you again. What's up, Impactivists? If you've ever failed your New Year's resolutions, we've created a free guide just for you, the Resolution Reality Checklist. It teaches you how to write smarter resolutions that you will actually crush this year. You can download it today at info.impacttheory.com/resolutions.