Tony Hawk In The New Yorker

“The Birdman: Tony Hawk–part Michael Jordan, part Evel Knievel–is the star of a multimillion-dollar industry that still can’t shake its outlaw image:” That’s how the July 26 issue of that East Coast media standard, The New Yorker dives into its 10 page story of Tony Hawk and skateboarding.

Written by Mark Levine, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the story covers the topic rather straight up. Tony and Jamie Thomas should be happy. They did a great job helping the writer understand what skateboarding is about.

The piece begins with a trip to the Carlsbad Skatepark with Tony, rolls into a short historical overview with Michael Brooke (the author of “The Concrete Wave”) before meandering through the evolution of Alan Gelfand’s contribution to skateboarding. After all this Levine finally gets to the “Hawk was born in San Diego in 1968” profile section, takes a detour through skate industry demographics, sponsorships and the X-Games trials in Richmond, VA. After a short profile of Jamie “the darkness to Hawk’s daylight” Thomas and the infamous Leap of Faith Levin concludes with what ESPN’s Chris Fowler dubbed “The Holy Grail of Skateboarding,” Tony’s X Games 900.

It’s great to see skateboarding getting straight up coverage in a respected magazine like The New Yorker. It’s also good to see a great guy get the proper respect he deserves in front of an audience that probably knows nothing about him. Unfortunately, it seems that whenever highbrow magazines cover skateboarding, or any other action sport for that matter, they have a habit of dumbing everything down.

For instance, why must the writer, or the editors at The New Yorker hang on to their annoyingly superior habit of putting all skate terms in “quotes?” Are words like “air,” “lip,” and “discipline” really that difficult to figure out? Does “Levine” really “believe” that the average reader of The New Yorker (a group often considered the most literate in the world) can’t figure out what “air” and “lip” mean in the context of his story? Probably not, why then does this story have that tone that suggests the writer is translating some strange Pacific Islander ritual for their slow uncle back in “the big city?”

That said, “The Birdman” is a great introduction to skateboarding for the masses. When Levine compares Tony to Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, or Evel Knievel it puts Tony and skateboarding in terms that the average white, upper-middle class, New Yorker reader can understand. And anything that can help that group of people get a better grip on what skateboarding has got to be beneficial.

The last section of the story recounts how Tony gave the writer a longboard and told him that learning to ride it would take some practice. It’s only after Levine rolled around the parking lot of his motel that he has an epiphany: “The nearby San Diego Freeway hummed, muffling the Pacific surf beyond. The cement vibrated pleasantly. It was a new discovery of the paved world below.”

Hopefully, The New Yorker readers will have a similar experience.

Random Quotes from Mark Levine’s story taken completely out of context: :

“Skateboarding, I was beginning to realize, involves an almost masochistic willingness to fall, again and again, in the pursuit of a perfect landing.”

“In Thrasher and it’s rival skateboard magazines like Big Brother, which is published by Larry Flynt, the sport’s most beloved heroes are the renegades who persist in doing their stuff outside the bureaucratically sanctioned skate parks.”

“Like Wayne Gretzky, he Tony is not exactly one’s image of a perfect physical specimen.”

“Hawk, like most top skateboarders, is now a virtual billboard on wheels for his sponsoring firms.”

“Unlike baseball, skateboarding was not to be analyzed, it was to be experienced.”

“The ollie. . . has become an essential part of every serious skateboarder’s repertoire–the equivalent of a pli’ for a ballet dancer.”

“It the olllie is the skateboarder’s way of expressing his desire to fly.”

“The rap on Andy Mac, though, is that he is a bloodless wonder in a sport that’s all about passion; he is much admired, but not much loved.”