Tony Hawk on Looking Back at Iconic Skateboarding Career, Mental and Physical Challenges in New Doc

Tony Hawk chats with PEOPLE about his life becoming the focus of a new documentary streaming on HBO Max

Tony Hawk at the premiere of Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

By Tony Hawk's own account, he has fractured his skull, broken both his pelvis and elbow, knocked out teeth, rolled ankles, and had dozens of concussions over the course of his 44 years skateboarding.

Yet, even at age 53, he's still skating — and still injuring himself.

Hawk just recently broke his femur while on his board, although it did not prevent him from attending the March 12th South by Southwest premiere of the documentary film about his life and legendary career, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off. Nor did it stop him from walking on stage and presenting at the Oscars on March 27 with Kelly Slater and Shawn White.

In a new interview with PEOPLE, Hawk says that presenting at the Oscars gave him a timeline and goal to be able to walk again after his March 7 accident.

With that achieved, he says his new goal is to be able to skate again at his Weekend Jam event in Las Vegas, May 12 through 14. "I'm fixated on trying to do this event. And that's an early timeline. They don't think it's impossible, and they don't think I'll be at a hundred percent, but that's my goal right now," he says. "And then after that, I have plenty of time to really get back to what I was doing."

Hawk is driven and clearly doesn't let things like injuries, or age, get in the way of his skating goals. Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off, which streams on HBO Max starting Tuesday, is a look at how he's overcome the challenges of being a pioneer of modern vertical skating who still likes to push the limits. The documentary features never-before-seen footage, and interviews with Hawk and prominent figures in the sport including Stacy Peralta, Rodney Mullen, Sean Mortimer, and Christian Hosoi.

The documentary's director Sam Jones is also a lifelong skateboarder, who, years ago, spent time at some of the same parks in California as Hawk.

"I was around the entire time, and I used to see Tony skate in 1983 at Del Mar," Jones says. "I would go down there and skate and he would be there with his friends, and I was too shy to approach him because, even at 14 years old, he was already just phenomenally talented. So, when he came on my show, I told him all this and he was blown away, and then we became friendly after that."

Throughout the process of filming Hawk at his home in San Diego, all during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones says he was also impressed by Hawk's honesty about the struggles he's incurred along the way as a father and a husband, and his own mental, physical and emotional health.

"We did 30 hours of interviews," Jones explains. "And I didn't want to influence him or tell him he had to be emotional. I just asked for his honesty. ... And to his credit … He just tried his best to answer everything. And I think as the sessions went on he opened up more."

Hawk, for his part, says that seeing all of the interviews of skaters from the early days and the footage that Jones was able to procure surprised him.

"I was honored with the things they said or what they observed," says Hawk. "I think that it's funny when we premiered [the film] at South by Southwest there's that whole segment doing the 900 [at the] X Games, I've seen that footage so many times. But [Jones] managed to secure other footage from people that were there with their own video cameras. And obviously, I know the outcome, but when the whole theater erupted in applause when I did it, it was emotional."

Tony Hawk
Tony Hawk at 18 in 1983, skateboarding in his backyard in Carlsbad. He turned pro at 14. Paul Harris/Getty Images

Hawk also compared the climate of skateboarding now — and seeing his son Riley, 29, develop as a professional skateboarder — with how things were when he was coming up and competing in the '80s and '90s.

"You know, we were bullied. We were expected to perform at the top at the highest level," Hawk explains. "And no one really understood how to keep your mental health in check. And I feel like a lot of my peers suffered."

He continues, "There were a lot of people that came out of those years, addicted to drugs with a lot of mental health issues, and not everyone made it through. I feel like skateboarding itself can be so beneficial to your mental health because it'll teach you so much about what you're capable of and finding your own path. In terms of competition, that's a whole other can of worms and all I can lend is my experience, but also to say, 'Hey, embrace the support that they give now. Cause we had none.' "

Hawk, as witnessed in the film, seems to have grappled with many demons over the years but now finds himself in a healthier place with who he is, what he's accomplished, and with his family.

"I had to make sure that I knew skateboarding was for enjoyment. And to never lose sight of that. And especially now, it used to be my escape and in a lot of ways my distraction from dealing with my real-life problems," Hawk explains. "And now it's just a form of entertainment and joy and exercise. And it's not like I'm running away from my issues anymore. But skating keeps my mind free."

Now besides more time with his family — including his daughter, Kadence, age 13 — Tony is involved in his Skatepark Project, a nonprofit organization working to increase access to outdoor recreation and free play through the creation of safe and inclusive community skateparks.

He's also looking at the next generation of skaters and has his eyes on a few of them. "Lizzie, Armanto," he says, "I knew she had something special. Rafa (Raphael) Ueda, I think is gonna be one of the best park skaters. We sponsor Reese Nelson, she's nine years old and she is doing tricks on a vert ramp that are extremely difficult and dangerous. She really is a prodigy. [Sakura] Yosozumi who won the gold medal at the Olympics for park skating. She's only gotten better since then."

When Hawk looks to the future of skateboarding, he says, "I'd like to see skateboarding more widely recognized, especially internationally. With more support, more skateparks and more kids having the opportunity to try it, because they learn a lot about themselves when they skate. Not because they're trying to make a career out of it, but just because they enjoy the process, they enjoy the community, they enjoy what it brings to them. And I think kids all over the world should have access to try."

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