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VICE vs Video games

We Interviewed Tony Hawk at E3 2015

Tony Hawk is a 47-year-old millionaire who still dresses like he's 14. He is America's Cool Dad. He is probably doing a 900 right now.

Image courtesy of Activision. Photo by Dale May.

Yesterday, Kanye West showed up to E3, totally unannounced. According to GameSpot, his badge just said "Kanye West", which sounds about right. By simply virtue of being himself, West was the most famous person at E3 yesterday.

The day before, the most famous person at E3 was Tony Hawk, who was there to help plug Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5, which comes out this autumn. Because I am a journalist who was at E3 and he is Tony Hawk, I got to interview him.


There is an art to being interviewed. You have to be able to immediately open up to a stranger holding a recorder in your face, and be willing to talk good-naturedly at length about whatever they want. Even under the best circumstances involving metric tons of access and a genuine bond between interviewer and subject, there's always the knowledge that an interview is a performative conversation, one mediated by the fact that the words being said will eventually show up in public in some capacity.

In the context of a massive, press-heavy event such as the gaming trade show E3, this becomes even more complicated. Publicists often schedule several interviews back-to-back-to-back for their clients, who in turn have to be careful not to answer the same questions the same way, not to get frustrated by the throngs of people who inevitably crowd then whenever they enter a public area, and have to remain upbeat and positive while pushing whatever they happen to be pushing. If you're a journalist trying to gather information there, you will discover nothing you couldn't have just found out online. You might as well just go around and ask people about their vapes.

Image courtesy of Activision.

Tony Hawk did not have any of these problems. And for what it is worth, does not vape (to my knowledge).

Tony Hawk has done things that mortal men can only aspire to. He was in the legendary skate video Animal Chin. He was in both Police Academy IV and a Weird Al music video. He did the first successful 900 in 1999, and has been doing them ever since. He skateboarded inside of the White House and did not get tackled by a battalion of Secret Service agents for doing so. He has 6.1 million "likes" on Facebook. He can do five 900s in the time that it takes for you to set up your Wi-Fi. He is a 47-year-old millionaire who still dresses like he's 14. He is America's Cool Dad. He is probably doing a 900 right now.


According to statistics provided to me by Activision, the Tony Hawk video games have sold over 40 million copies, which apparently makes it the third best-selling sports franchise of all time. I have no idea if this is true, but it feels correct. What I do know is that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater helped kick off a generation's interest in punk, skateboarding, and alternative culture in general. Its influence cannot be overstated.

I was obsessed with the original Tony Hawk game upon its release, playing it in my parents' basement until the disc wore out. Though I never was quite punk and was never that good at skateboarding, it made me realize that alternative culture was a thing and that I could be a part of it simply by deciding I wanted to. It's not exactly buying the first Sex Pistols album on vinyl or anything, but hey. We get the world we deserve.

Because of the THPS series, Tony Hawk has effectively become the public face of skateboarding games (as well of skating itself, I suppose), which means he probably has had the indignity of being asked dumb questions about games from skate journalists, as well as dumb questions about skating from game journalists. I'd like to think that I was a refreshing deviation from that trend, because I know precious little about either.

VICE: What role did you play in picking the skaters for the new game?
Tony Hawk: I was right there, every step of the way. I was responsible for the roster in the original series, and with this one I wanted to add newer, contemporary skaters. Me and Andrew Reynolds are part of the OGs, and that's suitable because we're still actively skating and trying to push stuff.


In a lot of ways, being in the first game made the initial class of skaters' careers jump to the next level.
I feel like the roster we've put together is already pretty established. Maybe that'll increase their name recognition, but it's not like we're bringing someone up from unknown status.

Your son is in the game, right?
It was a request that came from gamers. I put it out to him, thinking he wouldn't really want to, just because he doesn't want to be associated with everything I do. He immediately said yes.

What's it like raising a son and being such a big figure?
It's fun. It's obviously a big challenge for him to be able to break away from that shadow. I think he's done a really good job in paving his own way and being recognized for his own abilities. It's more pressure on him than me.

What role did you play in the new game's soundtrack?
I'm still very involved. I try to still bring the culture of skating's punk roots into it. We have a lot to live up to. That's been as much of a discussion as the gameplay itself.

What are some bands you're trying to bring into the game?
I can't really go into that. Some can't really get cleared, and I don't want to disappoint bands that are in it. I will say that I found a couple of bands because they were pleading with me on Twitter. I went and checked out their music and there are a couple that are actually in it.

Did you ever expect to be a big figure in the video game world?
Not at all. When we first did our game, I just wanted it to be something skaters would be proud of, maybe even inspire skaters to play video games. That was the goal for me: something that speaks to hardcore skaters. When it started to take off in the video game world I never expected it. Every time we did another sequel it felt like another bonus. I never set out to start a franchise.


On Noisey: Meet Tony Hawk Pro DJ, a DJ who pretended to be Tony Hawk.

What was it like skating at the White House?
[Laughs] It was fun. I got invited to be a part of a Father's Day event at the White House, and I brought my skateboard simply because if I don't bring my skateboard to events like that people will ask where it is. I found myself in a hallway with an usher, so I was like, "Hey will you grab my phone and take a picture of me skating down the hallway?" And he said, "As long as you don't tell anyone it was me." I'd do it again.

What's the floor like in the White House?
I skated across one marble floor and one brick floor.

What does the White House smell like?
It smells like, uh, dignity.