In ‘Tony Hawk: Until The Wheels Come Off’ Skateboarding Legend Takes A Beating And Keeps On Flying

In ‘Tony Hawk: Until The Wheels Come Off’ Skateboarding Legend Takes A Beating And Keeps On Flying

In a famous line from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a battered and bruised Indiana Jones laments the physical toll his adventures have taken on him over time, telling his love interest Marion, “It’s not the age, honey. It’s the mileage.”

The same observation applies to skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. He turns 54 next month, yet it’s not so much the years but the beating he’s taken in “vert” (i.e. vertical) skateboarding that have left their mark. Hawk’s absolute determination to master tricks, regardless of the damage to his body from repeated wipeouts, comes across in the HBO documentary Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off, directed by Sam Jones.

“[People] don’t see the hours or even the years that go into developing those moves… You definitely can take some hits along the way,” Hawk tells Deadline. “It’s not what drove me to the skating. I never got into it because I thought I was some ‘tough guy’ or that I was trying to prove myself in that sense. It was more that it didn’t deter me, and getting an injury, I felt like, well, that’s part of the process.”

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Over the course of his career, Hawk has broken his left humerus (two screws remain in his elbow), fractured his pelvis, sprained his ankles numerous times, dislocated fingers, sustained multiple concussions, and gashed his shins often enough to require hundreds of stitches. Last month he broke his femur while skateboarding. At a screening of the film in Santa Monica last week, Hawk leaned at times on a cane.

“[Surgeons] put a titanium rod in” the leg, Hawk explains, “and then they also put some screws into my pelvis because I had broken my pelvis 19 years ago and they could still see the crack in it. So while they were doing surgery, they just made sure that was solid too.”

Following his March mishap, Hawk posted an X-ray of his snapped bone on Instagram, writing, “[T]his recovery for a broken femur will be much harder because of its severity (and my age). But I’m up for the challenge. There is a strange irony that this happened on the eve of HBO releasing a trailer for Until The Wheels Fall Off, Sam Jones’ documentary about my life & career, which has a strong focus on the philosophy of how I/we do this at our age. The answer is complicated, but ultimately it’s because I have found my sense of purpose and shaped my identity through skating, and it nourishes my mental health immensely. I’ve said many times that I won’t stop skating until I am physically unable.”

Jones, an acclaimed photographer as well as filmmaker, says he first met Hawk in 1983 at the Del Mar Skate Ranch north of San Diego, where Hawk got his start.

“I’ve never seen a more incredible person on a skateboard,” Jones told the audience at the Santa Monica screening. “I also recognized parts of myself in this skinny, undeveloped kid who was picked on and who sort of had to make his own gang of people and do his own thing because he wasn’t readily accepted into the social groups and the cliques… That was me, too.”

Jones was able to work with ample archive of the young and gangly Hawk. The skateboarding greats of that era did not embrace the future star or his style. He looked different on the skateboard, in part because of his rangy body type – a contrast to some other skaters who were shorter and more compactly built.

“I got tall around age 17, 18, and it really allowed me more strength, honestly. It was an advantage at that point,” Hawk notes. “I was still very flexible, so even though I was tall I could ball up and that’s how I do all the spins and things. But I think there are advantages to both [body types]. When you see someone who has a lower center of gravity, they’re able to generate speed easier, so they’re usually more high-flying. And then when you see people who are tall they have ‘big ups,’ so to speak. They can jump and lift and navigate bigger terrain.”

Through sheer drive, Hawk eventually developed moves that no one else was doing. He pioneered over 100 tricks, including pulling off the first documented 900-degree spin. When the sport took off in popularity, he rode the crest. When it dipped, he kept going, and when the arrival of the X Games propelled skateboarding to unprecedented heights, Hawk was still on top. Licensing his name to a skateboarding video game eventually earned him millions too. None of that was planned, he says.

“I never thought I’d be able to make a living — or especially into my adult life be able to make a living [at skateboarding] — because when we were kids, the ‘old guys’ were in their 20s, on their way out,” he says. “We just kept going and figured out a way to keep improving into our adult lives. I’m just blown away that people still consider me relevant, that I had enough history to make a life documentary.”

In the film, Hawk calls fame “the worst drug” and laments making choices that took his focus off his family at times. He has gone through various marriages, but the father of four appears a contented family man now. He shared a vulnerable side of himself with the documentary’s director, a journey of personal growth.

“It was a challenge, but I trusted Sam and when he would dig deep with his questions I tried my best to answer openly and honestly,” Hawk says. “I trusted him to put it together with integrity because you can take all kinds of soundbites and do whatever you want with them and make it sound salacious or self-serving. But I felt like he was very mindful of keeping it authentic.”

Hawk says Jones’ background as a skateboarder made a considerable difference. “He understands all these nuances and what it takes to be a good skater. And it’s not just ESPN highlights.”

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off premiered on HBO Tuesday night. It will later stream on HBO Max. The New York Times gave the documentary a Critic’s Pick designation, with reviewer Glenn Kenny writing, “More than a portrait of an individual athlete, the film develops into a mildly terrifying portrait of compulsion. Although officially retired, Hawk can’t stop.”

It is that compulsion, that single-minded drive, that has made Hawk vert skateboarding’s GOAT.

“I hope people see the film and are inspired to chase their dreams,” Hawk says, “and know that it’s going to be a lot of hard work and to embrace that.”

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