How Extreme Is Too Extreme?

By Tony Hawk

If you had asked me 10 years ago would the things people do now in skating be possible, I might have said no. The idea of switch skating—skating backward and doing maneuvers in a mirrored version of how you would usually do them—was something of a novelty a decade ago. The tricks that were being done switch were not nearly as difficult as the tricks that were done forward. Now there's almost no distinction. Skaters like Paul Rodriguez have figured out a way to look as if they're skating naturally in either direction—a huge shift in how people approach the sport. Now skaters are doing things we couldn't even have imagined: they do 720s regularly in competition, and they can flip the board into a really difficult trick and flip the board coming out of it. It may be subtle to the outsider, but it's monumental to people who have been skating their whole lives, and when you see a new move it's a milestone. It's the end result of hundreds and hundreds of tries, a deep appreciation for the physics behind the moves, and maybe even years of attempts.

Now that the physical aspect of the sport has advanced so far, one of the biggest issues is safety. One thing that has been scaring me in recent years is the movement toward gigantic jumps. There is a new sort of danger when your starting point is a 30-foot-tall ramp that I think a lot of people are ignoring. It's not that I want to see it stop, but I do want athletes to recognize their own mortality. I saw a couple of pretty heavy accidents in the past couple of years, as everyone else has in the X Games. The good news is that skateboarders have started to rein in the progression toward ever bigger jumps and ever more dangerous maneuvers. At the same time, the drive toward innovation has opened up new opportunities. There's a big push toward bringing skateboarding into the Olympics, which I have advocated for a long time. But there are different paths to success in skateboarding. A lot of skaters don't like the competitive aspect. They get into it because they like the individual expression, but they still want to be making a career out of it. Some of those guys are the ones who are doing those big stunts. They're showing that you don't have to be the No. 1 competitor to be recognized or be legitimate in this career. You just have to do something new.

Hawk, a skateboarding legend, is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy (, a group of 46 of the world's greatest living sportsmen and -women.