January 08, 2001 12:00 PM

Ask Tony Hawk about on-the-job hazards and he’ll start with his emergency-room visits: a broken elbow here, a blown-out knee there, cracked ribs, more sprained ankles and wrists than he can count. “My upper front teeth are fake,” he says. “I broke them out three times.”

Such is the toll on a professional skateboarder who has spent much of his 32 years airborne, flying off ramps on an 8-in.-by-32-in. board with no seat belts. Not that the punishment hasn’t been profitable. His high-risk style has earned him a huge following—and millions of dollars—from endorsements, a clothing and shoe company, two top-selling video games and an autobiography that’s flying off the shelves, “without a doubt Tony Hawk is one of the greatest in the sport,” says Mark Whiteley, editor of tile fan magazine Slap, “He can get his body to do what his brain sees.”

That vision came to him first as a hyper 9-year-old in San Diego, where Tony spent hours at the local skate park. “We were really happy he was taking his energy out on that skateboard instead of us,” jokes his widowed mother, Nancy, 75. (His father, retired Navy officer Frank Hawk, died in 1998 at 72.) Hawk was happy too. “It was just all about self-expression,” he says. After earning a high school equivalency degree at 15, he turned pro, leaping to the top of the sport with unprecedented tricks like the 900, which involves three complete revolutions in the air. “I was either going to make it or be carried off the ramp on a stretcher,” he says.

Thanks to the clean-cut Hawk—who lives in a 5,000-sq.-ft. home in Carlsbad, Calif., with wife Erin, 28, a former figure skater, their 19-month-old son Spencer, and Riley, 9, Hawk’s son from his first marriage—his sport isn’t popular these days just with Generation Xtreme. “People are finally recognizing skaters for their skills and dedication,” he says, “as opposed to their daredevil behavior.”

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