Tony Hawk is 41 and a father of four, placing him on the outer edge of the demo for both the thing that made him famous—skateboarding—and the thing that helps fund his pretty fun life: video games. Just in time for the holidays, the tenth iteration of his Activision series, Tony Hawk: Ride, is out, and he’s hoping it finds its way into enough stockings so there’s an eleventh. The game is played by balancing on a motion-sensitive skateboardlike controller; you step on its tail to jump, and if you lean forward and place your hand in the range of four infrared sensors, it lets your avatar grab the board and do tricks. Hawk always chooses his own avatar, “because I know all my tricks.”
You can work up a sweat doing it, as I do in his room at the Crosby Street Hotel, which is cluttered with his 17-month-old daughter Kady’s toys. Earlier in the morning, the toddler had toppled a table trying to touch a picture of a cat. “I just caught the end of it, the impact when the table came down on and trapped her beneath it,” he says, stroking her head. “Now, that was scary.” A funny thing to say from a guy who, ten years ago, became a legend in his sport for having landed the first 900 (2.5 revolutions) at the X Games, which is incredibly difficult and dangerous.
But is he creating a generation of carpet-riding virtual skate rats, unfamiliar with the scuffs and broken bones of the real thing? “I believe that our game inspired people to go out and try the real thing,” he says later, over beef Stroganoff at Balthazar, with his petite blonde wife, Lhotse, and the squirmy baby. They’ve brought out crayons and have both their iPhones running videos to try to entertain Kady. “The skating population increased dramatically after the release of our first few games. I don’t think that was a coincidence.” Besides, he thinks people who give Ride a chance will get better balance, and maybe even lose a few pounds. He hopes it sells. “I’m really proud of it,” he says. “I mean, I would hate for this to be the end of my place in video games.”
If anything, it’s a safe alternative for Hawk’s friends who have injured themselves trying to get back on their boards to keep up with their kids. Hawk himself is retired from competition. He runs the Tony Hawk Foundation, which helps fund skate parks in low-income areas. Over Kady’s strenuous objections, Hawk pauses a video she likes (it’s of herself; “We’re trying to convince ourselves that we’re not raising a narcissistic baby,” he says) to show off photos of him skating during the visit he made last month with his team of riders from the skate brand Birdhouse, to an area under the Manhattan Bridge on the Lower East Side. There, Hawk’s legend didn’t count for much. “The kids were stoked to see me, but a couple of hard-core street guys on our team they were super-stoked to see,” he says. “I’m known for skating ramps. I’m not on the cutting edge of street tricks and stuff.” But, he adds, “there were plenty of kids walking by on their way home from school who don’t skate and recognized me—and they were excited.” He’s not skating to be recognized: He’s just a skater. “I don’t have plans to ‘hang it up’ as long as I am able to stand on my own,” he says. “I just won’t be doing it in public as much.”