Tony Hawk on 'Selling Out' for Bagel Bites and Skateboarding at 51

Our Q&A with Clio Sports' Lifetime Achievement winner

On June 27, 1999, Tony Hawk became the first skateboarder in history to land a "900," completing two and a half mid-air revolutions on his board. "This is the best day of my life," he said after the feat, which he performed at the X Games. 

Life's been pretty good to Hawk in general. Ten days from now will mark the 20th anniversary of the legendary trick, and the San Diego native, now 51, remains the most famous skateboarder in the world—even as the sport has grown under him. 

He rode the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater to significant personal wealth, and has been a savvy marketer—of both himself and his sport—over the years. Last year he even launched a hybrid brand consultancy and creative agency called D/CAL with some ad industry friends—a partnership that recently produced a new campaign for Bagel Bites starring Hawk himself. 

A teaser for the Bagel Bites campaign played around with the idea of selling out: 

The full spot (below) pitched a Father's Day concept called #RadDads. 

"In our hyper-connected, over-scheduled world, kids need someone to show them the lost art of spontaneous joy," the brand said of the work. "We believe there exists a type of dad that's highly-skilled in this regard. They've evolved beyond classic maneuvers like 'Hey, pull my finger.' They'll do the floss in aisle nine and join a tiny tea party anywhere, anytime. They're the raddest dads in America. And with the help of the raddest dad of them all, Tony Hawk, we're gonna find them." 

Muse caught up with Hawk at the 2019 Clio Sports Awards last Thursday night in New York, where he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award (presented to him by comedian Michael Che). 

We spoke to Tony—who still exudes the laid-back vibe of California teen—about D/CAL, social media and how he's still able to walk the walk in the skateboarding community into his 50s. 

You started D/CAL last year. How's that been going? 

It's been good. We just did that big Bagel Bites campaign recently. We've been doing a couple of smaller things—for StockX and a brewery. We're still moving forward. 

What kind of clients are you hoping to get through that?

Not necessarily a wishlist, but anyone that wants to connect with more of the street culture that we're familiar with, that we grew up in, and wants to do it authentically—that's what we're trying to get through. Any startups, really, would be great, but even if it's a brand that's already established, and they want to connect with a younger audience or maybe a hipper audience, that's what we want to do. 

You're such a creative athlete. Do you think that kind of creativity translates to the business world? 

Yeah, I believe so. I love looking for new ways to either promote skateboarding or to connect skateboarding to a bigger audience, and a lot of that's through advertising. And I like to think of using other people's marketing dollars to actually market skateboarding in general, not just me personally. I think there are ways to do that authentically—ways to do it creatively that don't just scream of talking points and promotions.

Where is skateboarding today? Kids are distracted by so many things now.

I think it's in a really good place. The industry is a little bit more splintered now, just because of how things work in terms of business and social media and factions of skaters. And so, it's different. It used to be there were only a handful of big brands, and those were the ones that were succeeding. Now it's dozens of smaller brands with their own little scenes, which I think is great for the growth in general but hard to make a sustainable business out of. But I think more kids are skating than ever, and more kids have embraced it than ever. And with the inclusion in the Olympics next year, it's just going to go big on a global scale.

You've done so many ads over the years. Do you have any favorites that you've shot?

Wow, that's hard. I did a Doritos commercial that I thought was really cool. And honestly, the most recent Bagel Bites spot that we did I'm really proud of. I had a big part in creating it, and creating the dialogue for it, and we're trying to be very transparent about "This could be considered selling out" if you're promoting something. But at the same time, I believe in the product, and I'm helping build public skateparks. And we did it very tongue-in-cheek, but I think the message was well received. 

Pro Skater has been such an enormous success for you over the years. Are you a gamer? Do you game with your kids? 

I mostly play games with my daughter, so we're more on a younger track right now with Mario games like Mario Kart and Smash Brothers and stuff like that. That's how a lot of our quality time is spent. I don't get into the serious first-person shooters or anything, just because I barely have enough time to skate during the day and take care of kids. But I appreciate how far it's come, and I appreciate that kids are very good at it. And that is how they connect with each other.

Do you think skateboarding has a future in esports?

Sure. There's been sort of a hiatus in skating games in recent years, but I think once the game is introduced, that will be an obvious inclusion to be online and be an esport. 

You're big in social media. What's the value for you there? 

I think it's one of the most valuable ways to connect with your fans. For me, it's not only that, but it's also one of the best sort of test audiences for anything I want to do, and to read the vibe of how something is going to be received. And it's very immediate. It's very honest, and there's no filter. It's not a focus group, per se. It's more of the people who really want to see what you're up to and to engage them as well. To be available. To engage them in conversations, I think, is the best way to connect to the audience. It's amazing that we've come that far, that professional athletes can actually talk to their audience directly and get direct feedback. I grew up in the '80s and '90s of sports. Professional athletes back then were untouchable. They were set on a different plateau. You couldn't get to them. They weren't allowed to connect with you directly.

You're still skating. A lot of athletes have an existential crisis when they get older. What's your secret to staying connected to the sport?

I want to walk the walk. I don't want to just be promoting skating or myself or my brands if I'm not actually out there doing it. I understand my age and my limitations, and I accept that. I'm happy to go out there and sort of play the hits, do the tricks I know I can bank, do it for crowds who will appreciate it. I still stay progressive in some ways in terms of tweaking stuff and learning new techniques. Those are things I didn't focus on when I was younger because I wanted to do the bigger and more dangerous stuff. 

It sounds like skating still comes first. 

For sure. That's the beauty of skating. It's not a traditional sport, so I don't have to be out there competing to prove myself. There's so many ways to provide content, to provide evidence of what you're doing, obviously through social media, but by other means as well. 

It's a creative sport too. An art form, almost.

I've always said skateboarding is as much an art form and a lifestyle as a sport. Now I've come to a place where I can refine my skating and still be progressive with it, but lower impact. I don't know how long that'll last, but I'm enjoying it for the moment. 

Profile picture for user Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and the founding editor of Muse by Clio.