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COVER STORY

Phat, Dude! Huge Air!

An Old Man at 29, Tony Hawk Still Dazzles as He Leads Skateboarding's Second Coming

October 05, 1997|John M. Glionna | John M. Glionna is a Times staff writer

Standing in the garage of his new home in Carlsbad, Tony Hawk-the-dad points to the miniature quarter-pipe he built, Frank-like, for his son, Riley. "He could do an ollie at, like, 3 years old," Tony says proudly.

Nowadays, Hawk also has a new lease on his personal life. Too much time on the road helped end his first marriage, he says. He has joint custody of Riley, and Tony and his second wife, Erin--a former professional in-line skater--have talked about a child or two of their own.

Meanwhile, father and son are inseparable. When Hawk is not touring, he drives Riley to swim class to watch him paddle around. Most afternoons, there's Tony, sitting poolside, using his cellular phone while Riley chugs back and forth in the public pool.

Tony would love to see Riley pick up the skateboard but doesn't push him. Encouragement is the key. Let the boy take his own direction.

Just like Frank.

Friends and family say Tony has rarely sought the skateboarding spotlight, so it will be no shock when he finally drops his board for golf clubs. His gift to the sport will always be his fierce longevity, and there are a million other ways Hawk can contribute.

Like working to change skateboarding's bad-boy image, the stigma existing even in his hometown of Carlsbad, where it is banned in many public places. Hawk could be the perfect diplomat to drive home the point that, as the bumper stickers say, "Skateboarding Is Not a Crime."

"People see surfers as rebels," he says, "but in a positive way--and skateboarders as the bad rebels." "What they don't realize is that the kids wouldn't be in their face so much--out there on the street, carving up curbs and park benches--if they'd just provide them some place to skate."

These days, Hawk divides his time equally between skateboarding events and his duties at Birdhouse, which include organizing promotions and supervising the company's dozen sponsored skaters. That's not about to change any time soon.

"I've already been through one surge of popularity in the sport, and I know it doesn't last forever," he says, his voice understated, almost shy. "It's tough, having a family and all, but I've got to skate while the skating is good.

"I have a feeling that I'll know when it's time to hang it up. It'll just come to me."

Still, he is torn. While his greatest fear is fading out, becoming the athlete who stuck around a season too long, something drives him toward the road at the mention of another tour or competitive event.

Leaving for the most recent U.S. tour, he hugged a weeping Erin and said that he wouldn't be doing it much longer, that this might well be his last long trip.

"But," as she noted later, "there's always that qualifier in there."

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