Interview: Tony Hawk

The legendary pro brings skating demonstrations to NYC.

Photograph: Jody Morris

It's been 17 years since the first Warped Tour erected its half-pipes and punk stages in the parking lot outside of Long Island's Nassau Coliseum. It's fitting, then, that the Quiksilver Pro New York festival will touch down in nearby Long Beach beginning September 1 (location, time and price vary; visit for details; Sept 1--15). The two-week event is the first of several stateside action-sports and music gatherings occurring as part of the Quiksilver Pro Global Series (which also hit Australia earlier this year), and will feature skating, surfing, BMX and motocross demonstrations. Plus, attendees can check out live music from an eclectic lineup that includes Interpol, the Flaming Lips, Girl Talk and Wavves.

While most of the action is on the island, the city gets its own skating demonstrating with Tony Hawk's Vert Jam (Hudson River Park, Pier 54, Eleventh Ave at 14th St; Sept 2 at 2pm; free), during which Hawk will show off tricks and sign autographs along the Hudson River. The 43-year-old California native spoke with TONY about NYC's skater scene and about the tour itself.

When you were coming up, what did you think was appealing and different about skate culture in New York?
I'd only heard about the New York skate scene when I was growing up, and even when I was professional. It wasn't until the late '80s, [when I first] I set foot in Manhattan, that I saw firsthand what was there and what the skaters were all about. It would not have been easy to grow up there as a skater. There are very few places to skate; everything's street-oriented. And at the time, if you were going to make a career at skating, it was more about ramp skating. I realized then that the guys who are doing it [in New York] are really dedicated. They're not just doing it as a hobby.

Why do you think the festival's mostly being staged in Long Beach as opposed to somewhere in the city itself?
I think it's more about doing it near [New York City], but [also] for the people that don't live in the city. There's definitely a skate scene on Long Island. To do something at the skate park [in Long Beach] shows we're not just showing up at the glamorous spots. We want to do it where the core scene is.

Are you more excited for the sports action or the live music?
I think the overall experience, but the biggest attraction is that we are doing a live exhibition. We're shipping our ramp all the way from California, and we'll have some choreographed stuff. There will be routines, and we'll try some of our hardest moves. You don't necessarily see that kind of action very much, especially in New York.

One of your half-pipe demos is taking place in Hudson River Park. How will the setup there measure up with what's happening on Long Island?
It'll be a great venue. That is the only time that I'm putting up my personal ramp [from his home in California] on this tour. We really wanted to do it somewhere special and iconic and visually exciting. The good thing about when we bring our own setup is we're not struggling to adapt to it or get used to it. We already know it and we can shine on it.

What's going to impress skate fans most about the BMX demos?
BMX is always amazing to me. The fact that [the riders] can throw these bikes around like they're lightweight, and that they're not afraid to do flips and aerial moves and spin that thing between their legs... I don't know, I'm always in awe of them.

Does the diverse music lineup reflect the evolution and maturation of skate culture itself?
I think so, [because] skating is such an artistic expression and has such a diverse following now. Before, it was a core group of people doing it because they were passionate about it. And they were chastised for it, they didn't find any place they could really do it. Now, [the skating scene is] a much more diverse group but, at the same time, a very creative one, and the music goes along with it. I would say the culture itself is definitely not mainstream, even though it's more popular than ever, and the music reflects that.