“There’s three sides to every story: there’s my side, your side and the truth.”
—Tas Pappas, All This Mayhem (2014)
The opening quote to last year’s Tas and Ben Pappas documentary by Vice Films was rather telling. By now, as most of you probably know—the film chronicles the tragic and important story of Tas and Ben’s rise to stardom and subsequent fall—one that would leave Ben Pappas and his girlfriend dead while leaving Tas to live in a private hell of his own making—before ultimately finding redemption and crawling back up to tell his story.
Without taking anything from the heartbreaking string of events described in the film; from Tas’ battle to finally make the 900, Ben’s murder/suicide, and even the loss of Tas’ father; discussion of the film’s subplot, where somehow Tony Hawk and all of skateboarding has conspired to keep Tas out of the ’99 X-Games Best Trick contest—has continued to grow unabated—almost eclipsing the documentary itself as people on social media and message boards worldwide debate the “facts” surrounding the world’s first 900. While there might always be three sides to every story, only two of them can ever actually be true. I’ll leave it to you to decide what the truth is. But for the first time in an official interview—here’s my attempt at getting Tony’s side.
ME: Hey man, thanks for doing this. I was surprised no one else had asked you about it. That’s pretty amazing actually.
Yeah. I don’t know. I think that it just hasn’t been on the radar of many of the legitimate skate mags because it was just his (Tas’) thing and whoever caught the documentary. I don’t think most people realized the amount of accusations being thrown at me by everyone. I’m just like “Holy shit!”
Yeah, it wasn’t really on our radar until a little while back. I had posted an old photo of you on the Transworld Instagram and there were just all these gnarly comments. I was just like, “What the fuck?” I hadn’t even watched the documentary (All this Mayhem) at that point so I watched it and I was pretty blown away. I mean they make some serious allegations.
Yeah, exactly. I don’t think it’s on anyone else’s radar because they’re not getting those comments.
In the beginning of the documentary they have a quote like, “There are three sides to every story. My side, your side, and the truth.”
Right. It’s just amazing to me that you can just have one person telling a story and that becomes the ultimate truth. That’s unbelievable to me in today’s society. It’s like someone told me recently, we are proud of being stupid.
Well that’s where I thought it would be useful to get your side of it.
Absolutely. I mean the facts alone about his contest rankings and stuff stand by themselves. They totally refute anything that he says. You can go look for the facts and they’re right there.
I guess I’ll just go through the questions as I had them and we can build from there.
Yeah. That’s fine. Let’s do it.
Let’s start with some background, how soon after you made the 720 did the 900 get discussed?
I started trying it two years later (—Ed. Note Tony Hawk landed the first 720 in 1985.) So that would be ’87. I started trying them in Bourges, France because I was at a skate camp there. They had this huge ramp for the time, and you could get a lot of airtime. So I decided to start trying it. They were horrible attempts. I was landing backwards. I couldn’t get the spin fast enough or the commitment to land it, so I kind of put it on the shelf for a while. Then started actively pursuing it again around ’94-’95.
You obviously saw the Danny Way attempts around 1990. He supposedly landed on one at Le Grand Bornand contest in the French Alps in 1990 but fell, and then of course had the footage of the attempt in Risk It (’90) that cuts away before he lands.
Yeah. When I saw that footage, that’s what gave me the idea that like, “Oh this really is possible. This can be done.” And for sure at that point everybody thought that Danny was going to do it. We saw him land on the ramp right there and he was the only one that could even spin it. Then a few years after that, when I started spinning it around completely, and pretty much getting my board back on the ramp—then it was just more like one of us was going to do it. There was a bit of a race, but it was almost more like a collective effort, like “Somebody is going to make this. It’s got to happen.”
By ’94-’95 was it still just you and Danny? I feel like Alf (Alfonso Rawls) had an attempt spinning one in Next Generation (’92).
I didn’t see that. As far as I knew it was Danny and I, then Tas and Sluggo (Rob Boyce) started spinning them. When I saw Sluggo trying it I started watching him more closely because he was a gymnast.
Was this before or after he landed the backflip?
I’m not sure about the time frame on that one. (—Ed Note: Sluggo’s first backflip was on the cover of TWS in March 1998.) But the irony in that, because now there are people claiming that I studied the sequence of Tas trying it—the only sequence I ever saw of anyone trying the 900 was of Sluggo. It was a printed sequence in a magazine of him bailing. That was the only one that I ever looked at, and I definitely took notice because I was like, “Oh shit, Sluggo’s really going for it. He’s close.”
This was all still before your attempts in The End (’98)?
This was still way before The End. Basically, I finally put one down at the Plan B ramp in ’96. I rode to the flat and broke my rib. That sequence ran in Big Brother (Big Brother Magazine, No. 25, 1996) and for me, that was the moment that I knew that it was possible for me to do it. But it also gave me pause in that I knew that I could really get fucked up. I think that slam was really what prevented me from making it in The End. There are no excuses, but in the back of my mind I was sort of thinking, “If I get rocked again, I’m in Tijuana right now.” Those were things that I couldn’t ignore.
Was it kind of the selling point, to make the 900 for that video? Like was the whole bullfighting arena and all that geared towards the 900?
Honestly, everyone… everyone else wanted that to happen for that video. It was more the team going like, “You have to do the 900 for this video.”
And you got the loop too before that (Airwalk ad, 1995) and redid it for that part.
Yeah. Basically, the 900 was supposed to be the last day, the last shooting thing we did because I knew I would probably get hurt. And when it came down to it, I think I just couldn’t get over that fear I had from the broken rib attempt and the fact that we were in Tijuana.
Have you watched the documentary all the way through?
I’ve seen parts of it.
So a little before The End, back in ‘96—they claim that you walked up to Tas after the 1996 Hard Rock contest in LA (which he won to take 1st place standing overall) and told him that you should have won. I had a hard time picturing you doing this. Do you remember any of this? He and Ben calling you an old man and saying you couldn’t flip your board or whatever?
Oh no. No. There’s no way. That never happened. He’s twisted the facts about it. At some point in an interview somebody asked me about that event, I think it was in Transworld. Someone asked me like, “How did you feel about that?” And I said that I thought the judging was inconsistent. Because basically it was three runs, and the best run counted. I did a run, and then he did a run, and I beat him. And then we both did pretty much the same run—I actually upped the difficulty factor in my run—and then he beat me. I don’t care how people want to see that, but I was just pointing out the obvious inconsistencies in that instance. The judging was inconsistent at that one event.
Either way, that’s pretty different from walking up to the guy at the event and telling him you should have won.
Yeah. Oh. Never. I’ve never done that, ever, in my life. That’s the thing too. Somehow these specific contests are supposed to have meant the most in the world to me—those were like 1 of 150 events that I’ve been in. That whole year or whatever, when he was killing it—that’s kind of a blip on my radar.
What about the “old man” quote of you not flipping your board?
He never said that to me directly. No. I think one time he asked me about that Transworld interview. And I just told him I thought the judging was inconsistent. That was when he looked at me and told me, “Well, you don’t flip your board.” And I was like, “Okay, that’s fine.” But I was never saying that my skating was better. That’s completely subjective. I would never say that anyone’s skating is better than anybody else. I’ve never held it so dear that it’s like, “I’m the best. Or he’s the best.” Fuck that. That’s just like a jock mentality.
Leading into the ’99 X Games, had you heard that Tas was getting close to 900s?
Hold on. Back it up. That’s another misnomer. He was trying 900s at every Best Trick event those years. So to say like, “Had you heard…” like it was some secret—it was fully public. Our attempts were all well known to everybody. I mean there was a 900 Challenge in ’95 or ’96. Globe put up money for a 900 contest specifically because they wanted it to be Tas’ event. So to say like, “Had you heard…” like it was some secret. Everybody knew. Everybody that skated knew. It was at fucking ASR for God’s sake. It’s all such distorted nonsense. There was a 900 Challenge Best Trick event at ASR, there was another event in Melbourne, Australia—the Globe 900 event—where they wanted Tas to do a 900 and he couldn’t do it. I skated in both of them.
Did you try them at those?
I tried them at the 900 Challenge event but I remember it vividly because it was the day before I tried my first loop. I remember thinking like, “I don’t want to get fucked up here and then not be able to do the loop.” They were already building me the loop.
This was the Airwalk ad one?
I didn’t even remember those 900 events. So basically Tas had some chance to land it?
There was also another Best Trick event at the Warp Tour that year where he was trying it too. There was no secret about it.
You mentioned that at that time only five people had been able to spin it. They would be D.Way, Sluggo (Rob Boyce), Tas, yourself, and ______?
Giorgio Zattoni (Ed. Note: Eventually the second person to land a 900 in ‘04.)
So finally getting to the core of it. ’99 X-Games in SF. Break down your day. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’ve heard you had no preconceived plans of trying the 900 that day. It just started seeming possible, is that true?
Yeah. No. Not at all. That was not on my list of tricks I was even going try.
Again, I just want to challenge narrative that the whole industry somehow conspired to make you land the 900, get the video game, etc… (—Ed. Note: just for conspiracy buffs out there, it’s worth noting that development for Tony Hawk Pro Skater began in 1998, a full year before the 900 was made in SF in July of ’99).
Sure. Of course. So I had basically planned on a varial 720, because at that point I think that I had made it once before. So that was my plan. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to make that, so I did… I’m pretty sure I did a trick even before the varial 720, just to have a make. I think it was a Gay Twist 360 varial—so your board does a 720 and your body does a 360. I’m pretty sure I did that right away. And then was going to try the varial 7. But I ended up making the varial 720 really fast. And that was all I had planned. So I was like, “Jesus, now we have like 10 minutes left. I guess I’ll try 900s again.” Because in my wish list of tricks, that was next after the varial 7.
Then it just started feeling proper?
Yeah. That and also I think just the fact that I was in a venue where I wasn’t worried about getting hurt. All the other times there was something at risk if I got hurt. And then that one time that I had actually tried to make it, I really did get hurt (broken rib). So that was sort of my mindset. But in that venue, I just felt like, “Fuck it, I’ll go to the hospital. I don’t care.” Only because I was starting to put them down too.
And the crowd was going nuts.
Yeah. All of those factors definitely helped me.
Was there ever any mention at all of Tas? I mean did you have any knowledge of his whereabouts during the whole thing?
Well to be honest the Best Trick event to me had usually seemed sort of like a sideshow. My main focus was the vert event—always. So I think that when I went to the Best Trick event I didn’t really know who was invited. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. When the event started, and I saw who was there I was like, “Oh, okay, this is who they invited”. And I understood why because all of those guys were doing well in Best Trick events. They had Best Trick events through the year and those were the guys who were competing and placing in them.
“It’s unfortunate that his reality, or his story is not the truth.”
So they basically just make a list of names?
I think so. I have absolutely no knowledge of how they pick people. I wasn’t part of that. Regardless of what I say, people are going to believe what they believe—but there’s no way I could have had any hand in deciding who was invited to any event at the time. But just speaking logically, those were the guys. Bucky (Lasek), Andy (McDonald) and Bob (Burnquist). Those were the guys that placed in the top 3 every time. Along with Colin (McKay). So those seemed like the obvious choices. Tas only tried 900s at the Best Trick events, and never made one—so he never placed.
He just didn’t have the track record to qualify?
Right. That’s not a strategy for Best Trick. To only try a trick you’ve never made. The strategy is to try something you’re sure you can make, and then go from there.
On a hypothetical front, if he had been in there trying the 900—wouldn’t that have maybe hyped you up anyways? To have someone else battling with you?
I don’t know. I don’t really know what I would have thought one way or the other. I don’t know if that would have pushed me or detracted from me doing it. I don’t know if I would have been like, “Oh, well that’s what he (Tas) wants to do, I’m not going to try that then.” There is a bit of that, especially during a Best Trick. If somebody’s trying a specific trick you’re not just going to go and trump them.
That’s true. I guess that would sort of be a kook move. Especially for a never-been-done trick.
Yeah. And honestly, if I would have just made that varial 7 and walked away from that event. I would have been hyped. That would have been great. I mean that might have been a winning trick on it’s own. I just made it so early that I didn’t know what to do. I really thought I was going to struggle with it.
On a side note, who would be best to talk to in terms of the contest organization? Don Bostick?
He’s the guy. He could certainly explain the process.
At least refute the allegation that it wasn’t a conspiracy to keep Tas out?
Yeah. What else did he say recently? He said that I should have given more credit to Dave Duncan. Because Dave Duncan was the one who encouraged me to try it.
I saw that Tas was sort of going at you on Instagram.
Yeah. Of course. Well that’s all he has. He has to hold on to that. It’s his whole link to glory. And honestly, I wasn’t talking about it at all—it wasn’t that I was trying to avoid it. I wasn’t speaking up on my own just because his story is so tragic. It’s so awful that I really do feel like it’s trivial for me to straighten out this Best Trick contest. It’s just so unimportant to how heavy the tragedy of his story is.
Compared to the loss of human life?
Yeah. I mean of all the awful things that happened. I think compared to it all, it’s like, who cares?
When was the first time that you heard about Tas saying he was barred from competing in it?
Only when they released that documentary. And I mean you just look at who they interviewed for it and you can get a pretty good idea as to how true it can be. They’re not even mentioning the people who first started trying 900s.
They say that they reached out to you for this documentary is that true?
That’s true. Yeah. But I knew that if I was going to be a part of what he was going to say—nothing good was going to come of it. I could already tell the angle that they were going for. So I didn’t want to do it. And neither did anybody else. I mean Danny (Way) didn’t either. They asked Danny to be in it too. Jason Ellis wouldn’t do it. Danny wouldn’t do it. Everyone knew that there wasn’t going to be due diligence. There wasn’t going to be a truthful angle. We all knew that. We just know that about the way that he (Tas) operates.
Is there any way at this point to reconcile this whole thing? Could there ever be a way to squash it, make peace somehow?
That’s the thing. It’s a bummer that people take this at face value. It’s a bummer for me. It really hasn’t affected my life, or my career, or my happiness. But it definitely is frustrating at times. And so, I’m not sitting here stewing about this smear campaign. And I’ve definitely seen it happen, especially on Instagram—where people do go looking for other opinions, and they find them—and then they believe the non-truths anyway. Some people are just going to believe whatever they want to believe. Like one guy on there was just like, “Hey, fuck it man—Prahran locals—we stick together.” Like, “Okay, well there you go then.”
It can be completely made up but they’re still going to back it just because.
Yeah. Because of whatever allegiance they have to his area. I don’t know. It’s just sad to me that this is his link to fame. Like, go accomplish something—positive.
Well, he landed the 900.
Yeah. And you know what. I was happy for him. I really was. I thought that was cool. I’m surprised he didn’t do it way before, considering that he and everybody else in this documentary said that he was so close.
I had really forgotten about all those 900 events that you mentioned. But it seems like there were plenty of opportunities.
Not only were they opportunities. They were tailor made for him. You know what I mean. His sponsor, Globe, put up the 900 challenge, and put up money so that he would do it. And he couldn’t do it.
When I watched the film, it’s such a sad story—the fact that this is what has hi-jacked the conversation—out of all that tragedy, this one Best Trick contest, is just crazy. I’m glad to hear you give your side of it.
One more thing too. Just in terms of technique. There’s no way that I was taking cues from him. They said that I hired Grant (Brittain) to secretly take photos of him trying it. And that supposedly I went and studied the sequences. I never saw any photos that Grant shot! I mean, as far as I can tell, Grant went and shot it because Tas asked him to, because they were shooting an interview.
Either way, you had already landed on the trick two or three years earlier. You could have studied your own sequence.
Yeah. And any skater knows—you’re not going to look at a sequence—especially of a crazy vert trick and learn it from that. We’re not even talking about video or digital film. We’re talking an old school film sequence. It’s crazy. I think anybody with the slightest amount of common sense could understand that the story doesn’t hold up.
That was pretty much all the questions I had. Was there anything else you wanted to add?
No. I guess from a skater’s perspective—as someone who truly worked and earned this myself. Skating is not so simple as watching somebody do something and then go and do it before them. It never has been. The thing that we’re doing is incredibly difficult. And dangerous. And you have to do it on your own.
What would you say to Tas, if he reads this?
What would I say to him? I guess that it’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that his reality, or his story is not the truth. That’s how I feel.
It goes back to the opening quote—“ …my side, your side, and the truth.”
Yeah. To be honest this whole thing has made me question a lot of Vice coverage. I used to be intrigued by it but now I’m sort of like, “I don’t know about them.” I think they might be skewing a lot of stories. It made me question their ethics. I want to see journalism with integrity.
When was your last 900?
I think it was four years ago. It was a big demo; it was my girlfriend’s birthday. So I guess I had some incentive. But, it’s still really gnarly. It hurts my neck just thinking about it.
Thanks to Tony for sharing his perspective and rest in peace Ben Pappas, Lynette Phillips, and Bill Pappas.