How Tony Hawk
For The UK
It’s over 20 years since Tony Hawk changed sports sims and the perception of skateboarding in the UK forever.
Today, there isn’t a town in the country that doesn’t have a skatepark, where boarders hang out to show off their slappies and perfect a pivot grind. But it wasn’t always this way. Skate culture owes as much to Neversoft and their chosen figurehead as it does to Ollie, Dogtown and punk rock.
1. A Brief History of Skateboarding
Though mankind has probably been skateboarding since the invention of the wheel, skateboarding as a sport and subculture originated some time in the 1940s and 50s.
The pursuit grew out of surfers looking to hone their technique when the waves were flat. California is regarded as the birthplace of skateboarding.
The first skateboards were nothing more than a rudimentary plank of wood with wheels added. The pastime became so popular that it wasn’t long before companies began commercially manufacturing boards for the growing gaggle of “sidewalk surfers”. By 1963, over 50 million skateboards were sold worldwide. But skateboarding is more than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle, a passion and a way of defining individuals and the groups they hang with.
Skateboarding as a culture exploded in the 1970s. The first dedicated magazine to the sport arrived in 1975 and while earlier gliders had taken to parks, urban spaces and empty swimming pools to practice their tricks, dedicated skate parks began springing up in the decade of flares, platform shoes and disco.
2. Tony Hawk - The Phenomenon
By the mid-80s it was possible to earn good money as a pro skater. Into this world exploded a hyperactive kid whose parents encouraged him in his skateboarding obsession as a way of expending his excess energy.
Born in ‘68, Hawk turned professional at the age of 14. “Birdman” quickly came to dominate the National Skateboard Association (NSA) Tour, winning multiple titles.
After a career of firsts, innovations, technical advancements and a whole load of apparel bearing his name, Hawk landed the first ever 900 in 1999. Describing it as the best day of his life, he decided to retire on the ultimate skateboarding high.
3. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 and 2
Soon after his final bow, three guys - calling themselves Neversoft - had developed a skateboarding video game with modest hopes of selling a few and perhaps even making a sequel. Hawk was as keen a gamer as he was a skateboarder. And right from the off he bought into the game which bore his name and was integral to its development in a way more than anyone could have imagined.
A few years before the first THPS, Sega had enjoyed a hit in the arcades with Top Skater and there had been a couple of skateboarding games which had done alright in the burgeoning console market. Neversoft hit on skateboarding culture in a way which would guarantee their piece became an iconic hit which is still played in arcades, bedrooms and open entry tournaments to this day.
Hitting the shops in ‘99, the Sony Playstation transformed console gaming. As much as anything, it offered button combo controllers which were ideally suited to whacking out crazy moves in everything from kung foo fighting to leaping a bandicoot through colourful worlds.
People who had never skated before were suddenly sharing how to press square, circle and triangle in a specific sequence to pull off their favourite stunts. The simple joy of hitting the freestyle areas to see what would happen was underpinned by the name of each move appearing on the screen. So simple. Yet genius.
Selling 5 million copies in its first edition, all of those players now knew what a tailgrab, heelflip and madonna with nosegrind and boardslide were.
Skating terminology entered the mainstream at a time when the sport’s earlier explosion as a culture was enjoying ricochets, after tremors and tsunamis.
4. How THPS changed the perception of skateboarding in the UK
Until THPS hit the UK, skateboarding had been seen as something that feral youths did in the corner of the local park to keep themselves out of trouble. Either that, or it was what Americans did down by the beach.
THPS made the coolest subculture even cooler. And in a way that meant skateboarding lifestyle influences music, fashion, art and edgy trends to this day.
5. Upon the 20th anniversary of THPS,
Hawk himself said:
“Many people have told me that the game kickstarted their career in music, sports or film-making because they saw that we – as pro skaters – had a different, more refreshing approach to life.”
And that is all you need to know.