Tony Hawk’s Desert Oasis

Tony Hawk And Friends Find Themselves Lost In Space
By Miki Vuckovich

Campers enjoying the serenity of the California desert must have thought the CIA was recovering a downed UFO. When the dry lake bed northeast of Los Angeles was suddenly invaded by two semi trucks, motor homes, a crane, an ambulance, three jeeps, a couple 80-foot lifts, other assorted mechanical risers, an outhouse, a helicopter, and a dozen operatives, there was no way of knowing what was about to happen. And when the crew was done assembling their contraption, all indications were that they had set the stage for a close encounter of the third kind.

What the black-ops-style construction crew had actually erected was a 40-foot roll-in tower that dropped into a ramp array designed to fill an arena floor and contain the skate/BMX/motocross madness that is Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom HuckJam tour. The ramp’s 72-foot-wide machined aluminum frame with its Euro-birch skin is awe-inspiring indoors, but way out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, its glimmering columns and arching surface seemed to rise out of the pages of a 1950s sci-fi novel.

The production value was not lost on Hawk, though the whole affair developed from the desire for a “change of scenery” (the impending deadline for Birdhouse’s new video, The Beginning, was simply a catalyst). “The only time our entire HuckJam ramp is set up is indoors,” he said. “I wanted to place it somewhere barren-and scenic-so that we could get some good visuals while trying some of our hardest stuff.”

Fellow flying objects Shaun White and France’s Jean Postec made the trek out to the desert, apparently intrigued by the concept of camping as much as for the opportunity to skate where no man has skated before. “Jean and Shaun took the tent while my wife and I slept in the RV,” said Hawk. “Somewhere in the middle of the night, Shaun barged in and slept on our couch because he was freezing. And (during the trip) Jean had his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich-the French are missing out on some serious delicacies.”

American cuisine aside, the recurring theme of the trip was dust-dust on the ground, dust in the air, dust in your eyes, ears, nose, and everywhere. And when the wind kicked up, gigantic swirls of it would blow though camp and cover the ramp. “The worst ones would completely block out your vision so you could only see about ten feet,” said Jared Prindle, who along with the 900 Films crew did his best to save the video gear from the persistent swarms of dust. “I saw them from the helicopter and they just looked like brown blankets moving across the desert at 20 to 30 miles per hour. They were usually no taller than 40 feet high, so if you were on top of the roll-in, you could escape most of it. But you wouldn’t be able to see the ground.”

Perched above the angry swirls as they made their way across the ramp, Hawk seemed at times to drop into the dark cloud without any regard for the lack of vision or the gritty film that covered the ramp. “It became increasingly frustrating waiting for the gusts to settle and the dust devils to clear the ramp,” he said. “Sometimes I just dropped in after them because that was where the wind was calm.”

From Prindle’s point of view, Hawk’s storm chasing was a little too close for comfort. “Imagine being on the 40-foot roll-in and seeing nothing but dust come through, covering the ramp and going, ‘F-k it, I’m rolling in.’ And then make a dust carve and air the 20-foot gap. Brooms were thrown away-useless. Tony was the man.”

But Postec and White also made their marks, and the 900 crew and photographer Jody Morris kept themselves busy for the three short days the ramp was up. In the end, they captured some epic footage of the power trio enjoying the familiar dimensions of the BBHJ ramp in an unfamiliar setting. And even the skaters captured stuff they didn’t anticipate. “I left one of my windows down when I first parked nnear the ramp, and there is still dust in the crevices of my dash,” said Hawk.

“The motor homes could no longer filter out the dust after the second day,” said Prindle. “It would enter from every crack. Once the motor home filled with dust, the light would hit the dust in the still air, making it hazy. And your f-king teeth-dust on your teeth. The smell took a long time to remove from my car, clothes, camera equipment … “

The list seemingly goes on, but for Prindle the days in the desert weren’t defined by the dust and difficulties, but by the otherworldly spectacle of a million-dollar skate ramp rising out of the parched desert floor, and the skating he witnessed and captured. “All in all, the funnest shoot I’ve ever been in charge of,” he said. “Honestly.”