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Tim Layden
June 10, 2002
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June 10, 2002

Making Millions


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The line begins forming shortly before noon, as children and their parents assemble on the sidewalk of an upscale outdoor shopping center in West Hollywood. This is long before the velvet rope is put in place to organize the queue, before the three beefy security officers arrive and before the guest of honor, a gawky 34-year-old "retired" professional skateboarder, takes his place at a table inside the front door of a pristine new skate and apparel shop that bears his name: Hawk Skate. The line grows in the cool spring sunlight. Adolescent boys and girls wearing long, baggy surf shorts and clunky skate shoes carry battle-tested skateboard decks plastered with Hawk logos. Older shoppers shuffle past, befuddled. " Tony Hawk?" says a bald man in plaid Bermuda shorts. "Never heard of him."

You and three other people on the planet, Grandpa. For nearly two decades, Hawk has been a legend in the world of skateboarding, a waif genius who began competing at age 11 and was soon reinventing the underground sport, creating close to 100 tricks, dominating competitive vert (halfpipe) skateboarding and, by age 27, ushering in the X Games era. "He's the Michael Jordan of skateboarding," says Tommy Guerrero, a former pro skateboarder who competed through the 1980s. "He's the guy with all the talent, creativity and competitive drive."

Logically that should have been the end of the story: "The doctor, the best contest skater there ever was," says Jake Phelps, longtime editor of Thrasher magazine, one of the edgy publications that speaks to skateboard culture. But it has not ended there. Long past the age generally associated with skateboarding yet still at the top of his game, Hawk has crossed over, dragging his rebel sport (and several others in the X Games bracket) into the mainstream. If you are between ages six and 18, or are the parent of a child in mat demographic, Hawk probably resides somewhere in your house. In the Xbox, perhaps. Or the PS2 console. Maybe in the CD player. On the bookshelf. On the television set. In the garage. In the dresser drawer. In the freezer. "He's the man who skates with a wallet in his back pocket and a Lexus in the parking lot," says Phelps. " Tony Hawk means ka-ching.?

"Tony is the first skateboarder who has given the world a face to put on the sport," says Stacy Peralta, who directed the critically acclaimed skateboard-roots movie Dogtown and Z-Boys and has known Hawk for 20 years. "He has become a part of American pop culture."

In an online poll conducted by teen marketer Alloy last week, Hawk was voted the "coolest big-time athlete," ahead of Tiger Woods, Jordan and Derek Jeter. "If you're a manufacturer and you've got a product that you think will appeal to an audience that's under 21 years old, you've got to look real hard at Tony, maybe even more than some of the big names in mainstream sports," says Keith Bruce, senior vice president and director of sports marketing for Foote, Cone & Belding, an international ad agency that does not have a relationship with Hawk.

In the past four years Hawk has become a one-man marketing phenomenon. Sales of Hawk-branded items generate more than $250 million annually, and Hawk himself has earned an estimated $10 million in each of the last two years. He is represented by the William Morris Agency and has a personal publicist. His sister Pat, a onetime backup singer for John Denver and Michael Bolton, runs Tony Hawk Inc., which employs 75 people. The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game series has amassed about $450 million in sales since its introduction in the fall of 1999.

In '92 Hawk took out a $40,000 second mortgage on his small home to start Bird-house Skateboards, a board and accessories manufacturing company, and Blitz Distribution, a company that distributes six other brands of skateboards and accessories. The combined sales for Birdhouse and Blitz—which Hawk owns with former pro skateboarder Per Welinder—approach $25 million a year. Hawk started his own clothing line in 1998 and sold it within two years to board-sports clothing giant Quiksilver. The line did $13 million in sales last year.

Hawk also has licensing agreements with Adio Shoes to market Hawk Shoes; with Mattel Toys, which uses his name and image on Hot Wheels miniature cars and a remote-controlled skateboard; and with Heinz, which pays him to serve as the spokesperson for Bagel Bites and Hot Bites frozen snacks, a product line that has enjoyed a 20% jump in sales since signing Hawk. "Face it, the guy is totally golden right now," says pro skateboarder Bucky Lasek, who performs on tour with Hawk. "He could put his name on toilet paper and sell it to the world."

In February, Hawk made his first appearance on Jay Leno, and in May he did David Letterman. He does a cameo, as himself, in the high school movie The New Guy and is one of the principal stars of Disney's Ultimate X, an X Games IMAX film in which one fan says, wide-eyed, " Tony Hawk is god." In late April, Hawk shot a sitcom pilot called What I Like about You, starring Jennie Garth (formerly of Beverly Hills 90210) and Amanda Bynes (of Nickelodeon's The Amanda Show), again playing Tony Hawk, celebrity skateboarder. The show has been picked for the WB's fall season. Hawk will provide the voice for his own character in a fall 2002 episode of The Simpsons in which Bart joins Hawk's traveling skateboard show—and Hawk duels Homer in a vert-ramp showdown. Each summer Hawk does a multi-city skateboarding tour with Birdhouse team members; last year it was condensed into a series of one-hour shows, Tony Hawk's Gigantic Skatepark Tour, for ESPN. (Hawk-owned 900 Films produces the video.) A Saturday-morning cartoon show featuring Hawk is in development, and Disney has bought film rights to his autobiography, Hawk: Occupation: Skateboarder.

On May 5 Tony and his wife, Erin, were driven in a limo from their home in Carlsbad, Calif., to Hollywood for Movieline magazine's Young Hollywood Awards, where Hawk—seated at a table with LA. Confidential director Curtis Hanson and American Beauty's Thora Birch—was presented with an award as Cultural Icon.

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