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We’ve talked about many different kinds of entrepreneurs in this column, and they come from all sorts of backgrounds, but we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about sports entrepreneurs. Granted, their journey is different than that of your typical self-starter businessman, and a lot of them run into financial trouble after their athletic careers die down (Lawrence Taylor and Lenny Dykstra being just two examples of this), but there are some guys whose business mind is as agile as everything else. One of them, coincidentally this week’s subject, is Tony Hawk.
Hawk is pretty much the only guy most people think of when they hear the term “professional skateboarder,” and he was a pioneer of vertical skateboarding (aka skating on a halfpipe ramp) in his prime. To give you some idea of his athleticism, he was the first skater to complete a 900-degree aerial spin (two-and-a-half mid-air revolutions), and can still do it today. He’s also a 12-time National Skateboard Association world champion who turned pro when he was 14.
Hawk also displayed early signs of a self-starter. He was a hyperactive kid who pushed himself really hard, which sometimes masked his 144 IQ, and wasn’t afraid of taking risks if he knew they teach him something useful and/or lead to greater opportunities. He started his own skateboarding company, Birdhouse, in 1992, a time when the industry as a whole was kind of in the toilet. Hawk thought that his company would take him out of competitive skating, but he found that his skills and easy-going personality made him an ideal ambassador for the company. Plus, he was winning X Games events left and right, which probably helped his brand a bit.
As he started making money, he branched out into promoting, and put together a show tour called Boom Boom Huckjam in the late 1990s (the time period should explain the silly name). It featured motocross and BMX in addition to skateboarding, and toured in 31 cities around the US, including some Six Flags amusement parks.
Hawk also played a big role in developing the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game series after being signed by Activision, the series’ developer, in 1999. Hawk did motion-capture for the game and used his expertise, connections, and direction to guide the developers through making a skateboarding game that didn’t suck. Considering the amount of critical praise that most of those games have earned, he did okay.
More recently, Hawk put together the Tony Hawk Foundation, which builds skateparks and supports other projects in low-income areas, after seeing how the demands of younger skaters weren’t being met by their communities.
Hawk has had some failures – his idea for a high-end denim company died on the vine – and he sometimes downplays his own business acumen; HYPERLINK “http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/203408″he once told Entrepreneur.com that “when people start talking about venture capital and finances…it’s like sitting in an escrow meeting when all you want to do is buy a house.” Whether that’s true or not, Tony Hawk is an extremely driven and determined guy, moreso than a lot of people with better traditional business education, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Here’s another interview he did with Entrepreneur.com last May that touches on his Foundation and its vision.