By Sean Mortimer

It’s definitely a surreal sight-like an indigestion-induced dream a skate rat tumbled through his imagination. How else would you explain a massive, fourteen-foot-high vert ramp standing square in the middle of a desolate bullring with the burning Mexican sun blazing down. Never mind the fact that Tony Hawk is whipping off insane tricks like twelve-foot-high McTwists and varial 720s. Forget the skating-what sense can be made of a short and very angry bull dropping in on the ramp and chasing Hawk? The only thing missing would be for the dreamer to suddenly appear naked and skating in front of his first-grade class as they threw chicken bones at him, or some other anxiety manifestation.

But it’s not a dream-it’s a segment in Birdhouse’s most ambitious project to date: a movie shot on film with a budget so high it may change the face of future skate videos. For Hawk’s part in the movie, a larger-than-normal ramp was designed: fourteen feet high (twelve-foot transitions with two feet of vert) and 48 feet wide, the ramp has a six-foot channel, a seven-foot-high roll-in, and a loop attached to the end. For six days straight, Hawk skates as Jamie Mosberg (a.k.a. Mouse) and his crew aim four 35-millimeter and three sixteen-millimeter cameras at him and shoot through 14,000 feet of film. With the collective costs of building the ramp, paying workers, permits, house rental, camera rental, and film, the Mexican ramp segment cost roughly 40,000 dollars.

It didn’t start off that ambitiously, though-it started as a joke. Jay Strickland, Birdhouse’s team manager, suggested the Mexican bullring location in a Birdhouse brainstorming session. “I knew I wanted to do something special,” Hawk says. “The bullring was just a wild hair Jay had, and everybody ran with it.”

“I just thought of where we could pull something like this off,” Strickland says. “I knew we couldn’t do it anywhere in the U.S., because of permits. A bullring in Mexico would be the perfect place to build a ramp that big and keep it secret-or at least try to keep it a secret. And if we had any problems with permits or the authorities, I figured we could just pay them off.”

Atiba Jefferson (photographer and friend of Hawk) was doubtful that Birdhouse could pull the “wild hair” off. “It sounded like something that would never happen-mission impossible,” he says. “I mean, come on … finding an empty bullring, and actually being able to rent it-no way.”

Mouse called some film-industry friends in Hollywood who had worked south of the border and was referred to the appropriate contacts in Tijuana, Mexico. The most difficult job proved to be securing the bullring. “It was crazy, they don’t rent that thing to anybody,” Mouse says. “I heard Carlos Santana wanted to play there, and he couldn’t get it.” Mouse spoke with the board of tourism and cut a deal: Birdhouse would donate the ramp to the city after filming was completed and give the board 35-millimeter footage of a live bullfight (Mouse shot an actual bullfight in the same ring a month later to tie in with Hawk’s part). With everybody happy, the ring was rented for eleven days at a charge of 2,200 dollars.

Ramp-builder extraordinaire Tim Payne and his crew spent five days constructing the ramp. A beach house-complete with a guard posted out front-was rented for the crew. On the sixth day, the cameras were set up and ready to roll. This started what would become a favorite pastime of everybody involved in the shoot: the running of the border. When you enter Mexico, a light set up next to the border patrol office flashes either green or red (how it arbitrates is a mystery nobody ever solved). If you get a red light, a customs guard standing off to the side waves you over for an inspection. The first three days, Hawk was inspected, the fourth he miraculously hit a green light, and the last two times he got the red but punched the gas on his Lexus and sped onto the highway. One time he wasn’t fast enougand a guard ran onto the road and waved him over. The guard opened the trunk-which was packed with film equipment and skateboards-slammed it shut, and waved Hawk on his way.

Mouse had his van full of camera equipment, and expected the worst. Whereas Hawk stopped for the first few red lights, Mouse didn’t stop for any. “The guard was waving us over,” he remembers, “and as I headed over, I kept my eye on the rearview mirror to see if the customs guy was still looking at me. He turned, and I just punched it and aimed straight for the highway. Guards were running out and waving their hands.”

Once the first day of border running was complete, Hawk and Bucky Lasek were ready to skate. (Lasek skated for two days before having to fly home to Baltimore.) The first day on location quickly educated all the newcomers to the bullring life. The bathrooms were in a state of decay, and the stench was overpowering. A popular method of bathroom usage was holding your breath, sprinting in, and attempting not to touch anything as you did your duties. And there was no toilet paper. Hawk dealt with this tragedy the first day. “Let’s just say, I had variety of shirts in my car trunk to use,” he says. When questioned about which shirt it was, he hedges, “I used the one with the least amount of bad karma attached to it.” But Hawk isn’t completely gross-he did throw the shirt away.

Once you passed the bathroom and made your way to the ramp, you couldn’t help but notice the giant, red army ants that frantically crawled over almost every unoccupied space in the ring. They were so large you could easily see their gyrating pinchers as they foraged around your feet. “The ants didn’t bother me,” Hawk says. “They definitely bothered Atiba and Riley Hawk’s five-year-old son.”

“They were huge and annoying,” Atiba remembers. “I had to wait in one spot to shoot photos, and I was scared they’d crawl up on me. You don’t f-k with Tijuana ants.” Atiba took immediate action. He stuffed his jeans into his socks and pulled them as high as he could. When everybody started laughing, he sternly pointed at Hawk and instructed him not to tell anyone. “It’ll ruin my street credentials,” he claimed.

While the ants and the bathrooms provided entertainment, everyone was there for one reason: work. Hawk and Lasek had never ridden a ramp that big, so it took some getting used to. “I was scared to go down the big roll-in,” Hawk says. “It was 21 feet above the ground. I thought I was going to either buckle and slam into the next wall or lose my timing and loop out on the flatbottom.”

The big transition also demanded adaptability. “I had to get used to the feeling that I would hang up, because I always felt like I was drifting over the deck,” he says. “It’s a lot harder work, because the pump was more drawn out, but it was so much easier to maneuver in the air.” Hawk “maneuvered” quite a few tricks throughout the six days, including switch 540s, gay twist heelflip body varials, varial 720s, and an array of tricks like heelflip frontside airs, Japan airs, McTwists, Varial McTwists, tailgrabs, airs to fakie, all in the ten-foot-plus range.

Along with all the skating, the theme of the bullfight will be woven into Hawk’s movie part. Birdhouse rented a bull and a matador costume. Hawk, as the matador, skated a bit and Mouse, as the bull, was supposed to chase him. Supposed to. It had been a while since Mouse had dropped in on a vert ramp, and he froze at the top. After half an hour of heckling, he finally dropped in. He immediately received another barrage of abuse from everyone around, because he took another half-hour to make himself do it with the rubber bull head on. (The bull head was pretty gnarly: it was bulky and moved around, and you could only see directly in front of you through painted mesh eyes.) When Mouse did drop in, he knee slid the instant he felt the opposite transition and burned the fake fur on the costume. Hawk’s wife Erin spent the night repairing the burn marks in the bull’s knees.

The loop was scheduled for the second-to-last day in case Hawk broke while trying it. Gymnast pads were borrowed from the Encinitas YMCA and placed at the bottom of the loop as he practiced. The one thing Hawk had been adamant about was that the filmers be queued up so when he felt he was ready, he wouldn’t have to wait. He practiced a few times, fell into the pads, and decided he was ready. Eager to keep his rhythm, he quickly ran up the starting ramp, got in position, and waited. And waited. And waited a little bit more, as the cameras were prepared.

When everybody was ready, he went and slammed. He fell from the three o’clock mark on the loop straight onto his hip and shoulder. He lay still on the flatbottom, like a sack of potatoes. It looked like he broke his shoulder, but all he did was hammer his hip. He slammed a couple more times, Wilsoned a couple of times, and leaned too far forward a couple of times, until he finally pulled it. But he was crouching slightly and wanted it perfect, so he pulled it again-then again. Then one last time with his video camera in hand as he whipped around. On the way home, all the slams caught up with him and he had to buy a bottle of extra-strength Advil.

The last day, some clean-up shots were taken, people came down to visit and skate and look at the ants and make faces as they passed the bathrooms. The ramp was torn down, the border runs were over, and everyone was on their way home. Besides Hawk’s car being pulled over at the U.S. border and Per Welinder (co-owner of Birdhouse, originally from Sweden) and me (Canadian) being hassled and given everything this side of a body cavity search-even though we are legal aliens-everything went smoothly.

A few weeks later, I asked Hawk how the experience had affected him. “For the next two weeks, every ramp felt ridiculously small-like a mini ramp.” Besides the ramp, he felt the effects of skating for six days straight. “Normally, after something like the loop and how wrecked I was, I would go home and take a break for a week. Relax and sleep.”

Some of the Birdhouse team riders went to the real bullfight, but Hawk had declined. “Just seeing a bull running around and getting stabbed? I don’t know, that’s not my thing.” I said my good-byes and walked out the side door of his house. As I passed the washing machine and a full laundry basket, I glanced at a few shirts and the most memorable event of the entire Mexican trip popped into my mind, which, naturally, made me wonder: which shirt did have the least amount of karma attached to it?

the burn marks in the bull’s knees.

The loop was scheduled for the second-to-last day in case Hawk broke while trying it. Gymnast pads were borrowed from the Encinitas YMCA and placed at the bottom of the loop as he practiced. The one thing Hawk had been adamant about was that the filmers be queued up so when he felt he was ready, he wouldn’t have to wait. He practiced a few times, fell into the pads, and decided he was ready. Eager to keep his rhythm, he quickly ran up the starting ramp, got in position, and waited. And waited. And waited a little bit more, as the cameras were prepared.

When everybody was ready, he went and slammed. He fell from the three o’clock mark on the loop straight onto his hip and shoulder. He lay still on the flatbottom, like a sack of potatoes. It looked like he broke his shoulder, but all he did was hammer his hip. He slammed a couple more times, Wilsoned a couple of times, and leaned too far forward a couple of times, until he finally pulled it. But he was crouching slightly and wanted it perfect, so he pulled it again-then again. Then one last time with his video camera in hand as he whipped around. On the way home, all the slams caught up with him and he had to buy a bottle of extra-strength Advil.

The last day, some clean-up shots were taken, people came down to visit and skate and look at the ants and make faces as they passed the bathrooms. The ramp was torn down, the border runs were over, and everyone was on their way home. Besides Hawk’s car being pulled over at the U.S. border and Per Welinder (co-owner of Birdhouse, originally from Sweden) and me (Canadian) being hassled and given everything this side of a body cavity search-even though we are legal aliens-everything went smoothly.

A few weeks later, I asked Hawk how the experience had affected him. “For the next two weeks, every ramp felt ridiculously small-like a mini ramp.” Besides the ramp, he felt the effects of skating for six days straight. “Normally, after something like the loop and how wrecked I was, I would go home and take a break for a week. Relax and sleep.”

Some of the Birdhouse team riders went to the real bullfight, but Hawk had declined. “Just seeing a bull running around and getting stabbed? I don’t know, that’s not my thing.” I said my good-byes and walked out the side door of his house. As I passed the washing machine and a full laundry basket, I glanced at a few shirts and the most memorable event of the entire Mexican trip popped into my mind, which, naturally, made me wonder: which shirt did have the least amount of karma attached to it?