Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) is a vertical skateboarding legend who enjoys household name status these days, but as we learn in discussing his book How Did I Get Here?: The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO, the journey’s been far from easy.
[Featured photo by J. Grant Brittain via Tony Hawk’s Instagram]

What We Discuss with Tony Hawk:

  • Why taking risks is important for the sake of progress.
  • How personal success can be gauged independently of financial success.
  • Why your personal brand needs to be genuine and something you’re willing to protect.
  • Why it’s important to learn everything about your craft — even if you’ve “got a guy who handles that.”
  • What The Tony Hawk Foundation does for underserved communities.
  • And much more…

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How Did I Get Here?: The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO by Tony Hawk and Pat HawkSan Diego native Tony Hawk has been blowing minds with unparalleled feats and firsts in the world of vertical skateboarding since the ’80s. Now a household name with various franchises under his belt, Tony joins us to talk about brand protection, the part he’s played in the recognition of skateboarding as a legitimate sport, what kept him going even through the tough times of Taco Bell and Top Ramen sustenance, how the Tony Hawk Foundation benefits low-income communities, and more.

On this episode, you might be surprised at how someone so famous for flying can be this down to Earth as we discuss the adventures from his book How Did I Get Here?: The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

Please Scroll down for Featured Resources and Transcript!

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Jordan Harbinger meets Tony Hawk!

Jordan Harbinger meets Tony Hawk!



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Transcript for Tony Hawk | How Did I Get Here? (Episodes 324)

Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. As always, I’m here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most brilliant people, and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave, and we want you to become a better thinker. If you’re new to the show, we’ve got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, and more. So if you’re smart and you like to learn and improve, then you’ll be right at home here with us.

[00:00:41] Today on the show, something from the vault, the legendary Tony Hawk pro skater and business mogul. We’ll uncover why taking risk is important for forward progress. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a big deal there, but when Tony tells it in his interesting and sort of trademark unique way, you’ll really get a kick out of it and why you can’t be afraid to slam and get right back up again. A pretty apt skating analogy for business that I can readily identify with myself. And why your personal brand and being real are something that we need to be and something that we need to protect at all costs. Now, this might not sound like groundbreaking business information, but any interview here with Tony Hawk is always going to be a fun one. And he’s got a few funny stories about his face being printed on things that let’s just say you don’t want your face printed on.

[00:01:27] If you want to know how I managed to book all these phenomenal guests. Well, it’s through my network. I manage relationships hundreds — maybe thousands at a time — using systems and tiny habits. Check out our Six-Minute Networking Course, which is free over at By the way, most of the guests here on the show actually subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us and you’ll be in great company. Now here’s Tony Hawk.

[00:01:54] I’d read the book about How Did I Get Here? Jason, who’s my producer, who’s also on the line, has followed you for — how long, Jason? Like a long time.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:02:01] I think, Tony, you signed my first shirt at the first Trashmore contest in ’85.

Tony Hawk: [00:02:05] Oh, awesome.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:07] Yeah. Nice. I also watched Bones Brigade and the Bones Brigade video led me to ask just why skating in the first place because in the Bones Brigade video, it starts off with this — pardon me — but like a freak show of guys, right? That we now think are awesome, but they’re all talking about how outcast they were as kids. So how did you even get interested in something like this? How did you get into something that was just like this underground, nobody-is-doing-it type of thing? It almost doesn’t make sense.

Tony Hawk: [00:02:35] Well, I picked up skating at the tail end of its first boom in the ’70s so in my eyes it was popular. My older brother was doing it. A lot of my friends in the neighborhood were doing it, and so I did it more based on that was the trend. And then when I discovered the possibilities or when I saw the possibilities, I think it was the first time I went to the skate park. I literally saw people flying out of empty swimming pools and that was my wow moment. I wanted to learn how to do that. I wanted to learn how to fly. I mean, I would probably be diagnosed with ADD or something nowadays, but it spoke to my instant excitement, gratification-like. I don’t know if I was considered a daredevil, but I wasn’t really afraid to try new things and learn flips and things like that as a young child. And there was like a danger factor. There was this edgy factor and I just devoted myself to it.

[00:03:24] Around that same time, my friends quit all my peers, my classmates, they grew out of it. There was a trend and they were over it and they moved on to the next thing. I couldn’t give it up. I felt like it was finally something that I kept improving at that I got a feeling of self-confidence that I had never found in any other sport. I just stuck with it and suddenly found myself in with all these oddball characters like skating really attracted people who were willing to try something different, who wanted to be set apart from the status quo. And I loved it. Then they were all artsy, kind of strange, but really creative.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:01] What sort of subcultures do you see now that are as skating was back in ’79, ’80? Do you see something starting now where you’re like, “Ah, this is kind of like how skating started — let’s see where this goes”?

Tony Hawk: [00:04:12] In terms of activity?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:14] Yeah. It doesn’t have to be a sport or anything. It could be yoga for all I care, but that’s too mainstream now. Do you see anything that started off sort of niche with a bunch of oddballs that you’re thinking, “Ah, that’s kind of what we looked like back in ’79 skateboarding in someone’s pool before the cops came”?

Tony Hawk: [00:04:28] My best example is my 17-year-old son is really into electronic music, but I’m a very certain type of electronic music. I call it Nintendo rave music, for lack of a better term. He goes to these shows and he actually performs. He has his following and there is something there that is really unique. You know, all these people have sort of found each other and I feel like they feel like outcasts in the world of electronic music even. I’ve kind of watched it blossom. It’s slow, but I feel like they have that same connection with each other that we had as skaters, where we’re doing something totally different. We truly enjoy it and it’s fun.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:03] Aside from the fact that you had so many injuries and so many hospital visits that your doctor pulled you aside and asked if your parents were abusing you, for guys who considered yourselves nerds and outcasts, you are pretty tough. It seems like.

Tony Hawk: [00:05:15] That is the defining moment if you want to do the seriously or continue to do it — is the moment you get hurt — is that do you love it so much that you’re going to push through this and learn from your mistake or is that the sign that you have to stop because you don’t like getting hurt. From the very beginning, like one of my worst injuries in the beginning was I got a concussion and I knocked my teeth out. I knew when I woke up in the pro shop of the skate park that I wanted to get back out there and do it. And it wasn’t going to stop me, even though I had this extremely tragic injury for the most part.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:46] Yeah, I know that the second I knock my teeth out doing anything, it is probably the day that I stopped doing that activity. But I definitely understand the compulsion to become obsessed with something like this and just become great with it. And as I was talking to a lot of my friends, I was stoked about this interview, of course, and said, “Hey, I’ve got Tony Hawk coming on. Isn’t that cool? Do you have any questions for somebody like that?” The overwhelming number of parents especially said, “Oh yeah, you know, my kids were doing that for a second, but they don’t like doing it because they keep falling. ” And I thought this is exactly what Tony’s talking about when he says, “Are you going to push through it?” Because the people who get really good at anything, skating or otherwise are the people that do slam and then come back from it and say, “Yeah, you know, a sensible person probably wouldn’t keep doing this to themselves, but I’m too into it. I can’t quit now.”

Tony Hawk: [00:06:31] Definitely, there’s a happy medium too. There are plenty of people that enjoy skating that don’t want to push it too far, don’t want to risk themselves, but still enjoy doing it. So nowadays, especially, there is a stronger foundation of people participating because of that. But in our day, that was it. It was like, you’re definitely going to get hurt learning to do this, and are you willing to push through that and keep going and risk your body. And obviously, some people get away with less injuries. I had a string of pretty bad injuries through my years, but they would come in waves — you know when it rains, it pours. I think I had two knee surgeries over the course of a year and a half.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:07:08] No, I was going to say, I remember when I broke my leg skating and I was laid up. It was like I was in the middle years of high school. There weren’t that many skaters around, but as soon as I was laid up, all my skater friends kept bringing me all the latest TransWorld and Thrasher and occasional Playboy to get through the day. And all I could think about though was I cannot wait to get back out there. I want to get back on my board. I had no idea. It’s whatsoever that, you know, this was like, “Oh, I got hurt. I can’t do it anymore.” The first thing I wanted to do as soon as I was done was get back out on my board.

Tony Hawk: [00:07:35] Yeah, and especially when you do it on a professional level, that just comes with the territory. So, you know, it sucks getting hurt. It sucks to see people get hurt, but we know that they’re going to come back. Like that’s just given.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:47] It was actually kind of tough to get you to do the interview because you’re a busy guy and also because you control your brand very strictly. And I thought that was kind of interesting and obviously very normal for somebody in your position. I was entertained by this Fruit Loops story, which is one of the kickoffs for you controlling your brand very strictly, and I think that’s hilarious.

Tony Hawk: [00:08:04] Well, let’s see. That was around, I want to say ’97-ish. The X-Games were just sort of coming on the scene and Fruit Loops wanted to do what they considered an extreme promotion with some of the X-Games stars. And so they brought me, they brought Mat Hoffman, Jonny Moseley, maybe a rollerblader at the time to New York, and they wanted us to do this press event. I had never been part of a press event before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. And we had like media training the night before and our talking points and what we do on interviews. And basically what they were doing was they were going to have us do a skate/BMX exhibition and then do interviews with media outlets. But the interviews are supposed to be talking about Toucan Sam as if he’s a real person, and that he’s into our sports now.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:53] Oh my gosh.

Tony Hawk: [00:08:53] A real entity, real toucan. And at the time, I didn’t know any better. And I was like, “Well, that’s weird. Would you really do that?” And they’re like, “Well, yeah, you know, that’s the idea is that Toucan Sam is hip now. He’s into your guys’ sports.” And we wore these Fruit Loops shirts and they bused in all these school kids to be the cheering section. And it all just felt so forced to me where there could be an easy way to connect Froot Loops to — let’s say our sports in a much more natural way.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:21] Right.

Tony Hawk: [00:09:22] You know, we’re like pimping Toucan Sam as the next superhero of our sports, and it just felt cheesy. And at some point, I was like, what am I doing here? You know this is so strange but luckily the people that they chose to do it with me were hilarious. And so we kind of made it our own funny, ridiculous event. I mean Jonny Moseley was announcing the vert exhibition and naming tricks as cereals.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:49] Oops.

Tony Hawk: [00:09:50] Because he didn’t know what the skate tricks were.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:51] Right, yeah.

Tony Hawk: [00:09:53] And then he got scolded because he was using other cereal brand names.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:57] Right. So it’s like, “Tony Hawk with the Grape Nut,” but then is not really remembering, “Hey, this is supposed to be Fruit Loops centric.”

Tony Hawk: [00:10:04] Yeah, exactly. Like, “Oh yeah, that’s the Lucky Charms twist.” So, you know, we made it fun, but I don’t want to do things like this, even though the money was ridiculous. Like it was more money than I got paid for any promotion in my whole life. I got an agent and explained that situation to him and he was an agent to a couple of pretty big TV stars and he said, “Oh yeah, no, don’t worry.” He said, “We’re going to put an end to all that stuff and you’re going to have control over these promotions and how you’re presented,” because I would literally have this conversation. There was a lot of humiliation for a lot of money, but it wasn’t worth my integrity.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:39] Right and long term if you were doing stuff like that now, your company would be a joke.

Tony Hawk: [00:10:43] But at the same time, because I fought for that control and because I had such a good track record going forward from there, people do trust our instincts with how marketing goes. In those days and even for a few years after that, a big company was not going to hear that you didn’t like their marketing because they went to college for that and they did target groups, focus groups, and they know what they’re talking about. And I’m like, “But this is not skateboarding. And this is not how skateboarders should be portrayed.” It does us an injustice. Maybe it does something for you and your resume, but this is not how you treat what we do with respect. It was a struggle, but we’ve come through and shown that we can be successful and that we were a little more savvy to what the kids wanted.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:28] This is an extreme lesson for you to learn. Do you even have the toilet paper incident? Was this before or after that when you walked into the office of some schmuck who was printing your name and brand on some just terrible piece of gear and there was a roll of toilet paper that said something like, Tony Hawk brand?

Tony Hawk: [00:11:43] That was the first go-round for me. That was actually in the 80s so that came before. In the 80s, I didn’t have any business sense, you know about what any of them meant, like endorsements, licensing and whatnot. And I was signing every offer that came across my desk because there were guarantees and there were royalties and the contracts that I was signing were actually conflicted with one another over what products they could do.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:05] Oh man.

Tony Hawk: [00:12:06] So I was already in breach of contract by signing them. Then I went to this company that was making the original fingerboards were — you know, what became eventually like Tech Deck type of stuff but these were like plastic and I had signed away my name for them to do pretty much any accessory they wanted. And so they were making really cheesy Velcro wallets and the fingerboards and just tchotchke that had no place in skateboarding. And the logos that they were coming up with were just straight ripoffs of other skate companies logos. And I went in to try to talk to them. I go like, “You know, you can’t do this. You can’t take a Vision Street Wear logo and put my name in it and think that that’s okay.” And he’s like, “Well, yeah, actually we can. We have the rights to your name.” And as he’s talking, there’s this roll of toilet paper behind him with my name on the outside of it. And I was like, “What is that?” And he said, “Oh, that’s a joke. Because one of our retailers said, ‘Well, you know, you can put anything with Tony Hawk’s name on it and it’ll sell — even toilet paper,’ and so we made that for them.” And I think at that moment I realized that I was not a person to them. I wasn’t someone to be respected. I was just a name, a brand, and for them to make as much money as they wanted. And I ended up paying to get out of my contract with them. That was my first lesson in terms of keeping control of a brand.

[00:13:22] And so fast forward to 10 years later, and then I realized like, “Oh, this is what happens when you’re part of a big marketing campaign.” So I think between those two is what my big lessons in terms of how to keep your integrity, how to control your brand. And luckily I survived that wave in the 80s and there was no YouTube back then to document every mistake.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:44] Yeah, although people are probably on eBay right now looking for some Tony Hawk toilet paper and velcro wallets.

[Tony Hawk: [00:13:49] I did end up buying one of those watches — somehow remained that these guys may have had — no quality control, just super cheesy, and I ended up buying it on eBay a couple of years ago.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:00] Just as a reminder of what not to do. Never again. Do you have people going through and looking for unlicensed stuff and just getting ancient stuff that looks bad and just snagging it?

Tony Hawk: [00:14:09] I used to, but it’s a little easier now with trademarks and with social media. Like if something comes up and it just immediately comes to your attention.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:17] Right. Yeah, that’s true. You can nip it in the bud. It doesn’t end up with massive distribution, and then you’ve got to find the end product. You can go to the source.

Tony Hawk: [00:14:24] Yeah it seems very easy to sort through now.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:26] Yeah. Google alerts of your friends, I suppose in this.

Tony Hawk: [00:14:29] Maybe.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:30] You’re still skating and innovating. I mean, you did the 900 which I know was in 99 but most of your tricks now seem to be a little bit more technical and maybe less dangerous, which probably makes sense given that you’re — I’m not trying to say that you’re old, but I am and I’m 36. I don’t know if I’d want to be flying through the air.

Tony Hawk: [00:14:46] Oh yeah. I fully accept that.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:48] Sorry.

Tony Hawk: [00:14:49] Yeah, I’ve kind of learned to refine my style to much more technical and low-impact type of tricks, and that has allowed me to continue doing it at my age. It’s not some great secret. And you know, some of the stuff, not that it doesn’t necessarily resonate across the industry, is what the next new hot trick, but it gives me a sense of creativity and there’s something unique about it. You know, where people would go, “Oh, no one has ever done that,” and you know, to do NBD in skateboarding is a pretty big deal. So the fact that I still get to get a few under my belt is pretty exciting.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:18] Yeah, it seems like you have to constantly be innovating and pushing your own abilities. Otherwise, you think you’d lose interest in it if you weren’t progressing all the time?

Tony Hawk: [00:15:27] That’s funny. I think I had this discussion with my wife just the other night and I was trying to figure out like, “If I don’t feel like I’m continuing to progress, would I be so excited to keep skating?” I probably would, but it’s hard to project that far down the line for me.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:41] Yeah, fair enough.

Tony Hawk: [00:15:42] But I see plenty of my peers. They’re not necessarily doing anything new, but they still love it. And they love getting to travel the world, getting to do it to a new audience, to more appreciation. And I feel like I probably would come to terms with that. And I have in some ways, I mean there are definitely some events I go to. Like there’s this owl event in Sydney, Australia every year I’ve been to the last three of them. And my routines in that bowl are not necessarily getting any more progressive but I really enjoy it. The crowd and the whole experience is kind of like a reunion every year. I guess I am learning to accept that, but it’s weird to just be playing the hits for me. I guess that’s the crossover. It’s like the band and maybe their new stuff isn’t as popular or maybe they’re not getting any new stuff at all, but they go out there and they play these songs that everyone knows and they still like it.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:16:35] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Tony Hawk. We’ll be right back.

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Jason DeFillippo: [00:17:35] Yes, super cool looking like black checkers.

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Jason DeFillippo: [00:18:26] You mean that biker wallet that I’ve had since high school is really not in fashion anymore.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:30] You’ve got the chain wallet.

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:40] What? Oh, because you’re sitting on it.

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:42] Yeah, that’s true. If you are sitting on your wallet that’s really, really bad for your hips and your back. I forgot about that. So I’ve kept my wallet in my front pocket for years. But yeah, when it gets big, it looks like you’re carrying a freaking Sony Walkman from the 90s like a cassette tape player in your front pocket. And it’s like, “What’s going on there buddy?”

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[00:20:34] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit Don’t forget we have a worksheet for today’s episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Tony Hawk. That link is in the show notes at if you’d like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don’t miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Tony Hawk.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:14] What’s one modern 2016 type trick you’d love to bring back in time if you could and pull off in the 80s just to blow people’s minds. Do you have anything in mind?

Tony Hawk: [00:21:24] Oh, wow, that’s a good question. I mean, anything Switch would have been unheard of. So I did a Switch McTwist in ’98. If that had happened in the eighties no one. People just would not have understood anything because even our skateboards were not ambidextrous. You know, skateboards were meant to go one direction. There was no nose on the board. The idea that you’re skating backwards was incredible. The idea that you’re actually skating in Switch and doing these tricks as if your opposite stance — it would be like you came from a time machine.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:55] That’s right because skateboards when I was a kid — I forgot — they were kind of fish-shaped, right? Like there was —

Tony Hawk: [00:22:01] There was definitely a nose and tail that were defined as such. And in the 80s there was no nose. No one had a purpose for that. So your nose was like three inches pass the truck and that was it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:12] I forgot all about that. We’re cleaning out my buddy’s garage probably last summer, and he had one of those like Nashua or whatever, skateboards with like the grainy, basically little blue crystals glued on it for grip and giant wheels. And it had, yeah, like a little fishtail and a little pointy nose like a mini surfboard, and the thing was enormous, and I remember comparing it to modern skateboard and it looked like a completely different animal. It was just unreal how bulky it was and everything.

Tony Hawk: [00:22:38] Yeah. It’s funny because those shapes are kind of coming back in fashion for a lot of the older generation.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:44] What would you have done if you weren’t a skater? Do you ever think about that? Like what would you have gotten into if skating didn’t exist?

Tony Hawk: [00:22:50] Well, I was always really interested in electronics and technology, and I learned to use the computer very early on. I learned how to do video editing on a video toaster, the first sort of consumer-level nonlinear editing system. So I dabbled in that, and I obviously did it with skating a lot, but at some point when my income was drawing up from just skating, I started to actually do freelance editing for companies.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:18] So there was a point in time around the early 90s where you were doing this not making enough money. I know you’d just had a kid and you were eating a bunch of ramen all the time.

Tony Hawk: [00:23:25] Yes.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:26] Why did you keep going? Because at this point, it’s looking pretty bleak. You’re not waiting out, “Oh, skating is going to get popular again. It’s just like, this is my life now. What am I going to do?”

Tony Hawk: [00:23:35] There was a little bit of that, but every once in awhile some opportunity would come up, like as minimal as skating in a Six Flags parking lot for like a promotion they’ll do for a week and getting a hundred bucks a day for three exhibitions a day. And that paid the bills, you know, and then it allowed me to skate. So it wasn’t like, “Oh, I got to do this.” It was like, “Oh cool, I get to skate and people are going to be there watching and I get paid.” It was for a 10th of what I usually would make, but it made it happen. But there were a couple of times when those were not coming in as frequently, and we were struggling. Like I’d started Birdhouse a skate brand. We are struggling with that. The sales weren’t there. And so there were a couple of times where I almost gave up on skating or the skate industry as a career but I never thought I’d quit skating. I just didn’t know if I’d be able to actually make a living out of it anymore.

[00:24:25] I adjusted my life accordingly. Like I moved into a smaller place. I was saving my money. I was like you said eating a lot of Top Ramen and Taco Bell and peanut butter and honey sandwiches at the time, and I just had my first child. It was definitely a challenge, but I was willing to do whatever it took to continue to skate.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:43] When you were 16 you were making more money than your high school teachers, and then, of course, the skating industry slipped into that coma. The ESPN X Games popped you right out of it. It seems like your love for the game — your love for skating is what enabled you to be ahead of everyone else when the world was ready and threw gasoline on the fire through the X Games. It seems like this is something that you had been practicing the whole time because you loved it so much and that’s why you were ready for action when the spotlight was on you.

Tony Hawk: [00:25:10] Yeah, I think so. I mean, especially when those first X Games came, they wanted to do vert as an event and vert was mostly — I don’t want to say it was dead — it was not the chosen style of skating at the time and the vert skaters that were the ones that were progressive, especially in the late 80s, early 90s weren’t really skating that much, mostly because they didn’t have the facilities, but also because there was just no living to be made in it. And I never had quit. Luckily, you know, I lived in Southern California, so there were some vert ramps around here, and that was still my forte. That was still my strength.

[00:25:46] And so when X Games came, I guess I was ahead of the game. I had never quit. I still have my skill set. I was still learning new things, and it was kind of like I had the advantage of having a name that people already knew, not that that had anything to do with my success as a competitor, but definitely my success as a recognizable name that people would tune in for.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:06] You’ve got a lot of great business takeaways from this, from your experiences as well. I mean, never get cocky because good luck turns bad fast was something I saw in the early part of the book, and taking pride in being obsessive and putting in the time to get great is what, in my estimation, at least from the history here, is what made you ready for the limelight. You take a lot of care in explaining that once you’ve achieved proficiency, you have to take your specialty to a new level. That fellow specialists can actually appreciate and you continue to innovate from there and that’s what sets you apart. It sounds like a long way of saying, “Be so good. They can’t ignore you.”

Tony Hawk: [00:26:40] That and as well as go outside your comfort zone, learn everything about your craft. I mean that for me, I grew up skating in swimming pools and then eventually on vert ramps, but at some point, I realized my skating would probably be better and more well rounded if I do break out of this and go learn some of these street moves and some of these kickflip moves and things like that. And that was not something that was considered necessary for the type of skating I did. But then eventually I learned that in business like I wanted to start this business, I had to jump into how to do purchase orders, how to forecast, what’s a POP like, net and gross profit, and all that stuff. I could have ignored because I did have people that were qualified to do that stuff, but I dove in because I knew that based on my previous success, that it was only going to benefit me in the end. Being obsessive, but being obsessive about the entire industry of what you’re doing.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:34] How do you balance that? You mentioned in the book, the more you make it in the corporate world, the more you need to prioritize spending time on the street. How did you learn that lesson and how do you balance that now?

Tony Hawk: [00:27:44] I walk the walk. I go skate. I mean, that’s my best explanation is that I’m still out there skating. I’m watching the events. I’m hanging out with the kids, with the ones that are considered the contemporaries now. I do it because I love it but as long as I have my finger on the pulse of what is happening out there, I can at least adjust my products in my career to be progressive as well because I don’t want to get stuck in a rut.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:06] There’s a lot of hustle and grind, especially throughout the books, and it’s really easy, I think for outsiders to just kind of assume you caught lightning in a bottle because skating was trendy and you were in the right place at the right time. You admit a little bit in the book. Look, there’s a little bit of luck. ESPN revived the brand, skyrocketed it. But what if that didn’t happen? What was the plan and do you think that entrepreneurs and business people should hope for something like this? What advice do you have to prepare people for something like this or a lack of something like the X Games really launching them up and get fame and fortune, so to speak?

Tony Hawk: [00:28:38] Well, I think that following your dreams and following your passion, sometimes it is a struggle. And for sure there were moments when we started Birdhouse that we were about to give up. We anticipated skateboarding coming back into fashion on some level, but it took a few years longer than we anticipated. And there were a couple of times where we’re like, maybe this isn’t going to work, but I also believe that if you’re just scraping by doing what you love, you’re going to be infinitely happier than wild success doing something that you feel like you’re selling yourself out for, that you’ve lost your integrity for.

[00:29:13] Because I still love going to work every day. I loved going to work back then, even though it wasn’t really paying that well but at some point, you have to live in the real world. And can you afford to live there with your passion? Maybe not. Maybe there’s a way to alter that, that approach. Maybe there’s a way to start working with someone else that’s doing it — that you appreciate or that you respect. But yeah, I mean, at some point you can’t just have some money drain.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:40] A lot of folks come on and say, “Look, it’s important to follow your passion,” but a lot of the same people are also having kind of a hindsight bias, right? It’s like it worked for you because you worked really hard and everything came together, but there’s a lot of people who follow their passion right into their parents’ basement. So you have to really be prepared to ask yourself, am I willing to do this even for a non-living wage or just barely a living wage? If so, continue to do it. You’ll experience that happiness that you’d mentioned before. But if not, it might just have to be a hobby and that’s okay too. Or you might have to be the video guy for somebody who’s doing what you eventually want to do, and you have to be cool with that.

Tony Hawk: [00:30:17] Yeah. And then that’s the compromise. You have to decide for yourself. And how far are you willing to take that? And for sure, that’s a perfect example. Like, yeah, maybe I’m the video guy that covers this industry or this action, but it keeps you in it, and maybe that’s good enough.

[00:30:31] When I was skating in the mid-90s and barely getting by, I still loved what I did. So  I considered it a success regardless of not being able to get a new car or any other sort of luxuries, but it was something that I looked forward to every day. Something to look forward to doing. And I don’t think people — everyone could say that about their job.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:51] I know that you’re super concerned with authenticity in the video game and the print ads and things like that. There was one example. We had some print ads and the models were holding skateboards, but they were holding it in a way — you could just tell like, these people have never held a skateboard before. You’re cringing and you’re thinking, “Nobody’s going to notice,” and the photographer and the media company saying, “Look, nobody’s going to notice. We don’t even see the problem.” But you knew any skater would immediately go, “These people are fake. They don’t really do it.” Why is this something that’s so important to you?

Tony Hawk: [00:31:20] Well, obviously, because I want it to be authentic because I want to represent skateboarding the best I can. I mean, beyond wanting to be successful or to have successful products or things that people enjoy, I do want it to represent skateboarding in a way that people would be proud of it, who’ve grown up with it. It’s been my identity for so long and I wouldn’t want to exploit it in a way that makes it any less important. And so when I got to do big promotion — especially when I was doing big promotions like on the heels of our video game success, I made sure that the skateboarding that was shown was authentic, that the lingo was authentic. That it really spoke to hardcore skaters but on a bigger level. That I was using these marketing dollars of people like Frito-Lay and McDonald’s to promote skateboarding to a bigger audience. That was the more lofty goal of all of that stuff was that I get to use these huge marketing dollars campaigns to show skateboarding to an audience that has never seen it, and in a way that represents it well.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:22] Obviously, you care deeply about it because you’ve always had a lot of skin in the game at all times. For example, you invested a lot of your royalty checks back into your own business. You invested into Boom Boom Huck Jam type stuff with your own money. So you’ve had a lot of skin in the game and you’re not afraid to — both in skating and in business — take a slam if you want to progress. Do you think you learned that through skating or do you think you always kind of had that hit, fall, get up again before that? Do you think that something has developed your skating and is now present in your business or am I reading into it too much?

Tony Hawk: [00:32:50] No, for sure that the idea of taking risks for the sake of progression, that is exactly in tune with my business ethics. Someone’s got to do it, someone’s got to do it first, let’s try it, and it doesn’t always work. And luckily I’ve, you know, had enough successes that I was allowed those failures. But definitely in a case like what you said, the Boom Boom Huck Jam, the idea was that we would do a tour where our sports — skateboarding, BMX, and motocross — are the entertainment, not the sideshow to a bigger event. That’s how we did our exhibitions. It was like, “Oh, we’re the halftime show for the football game.” We’re in the parking lot of the big concert going on inside. And I was like, “I think our sports have enough recognition now and enough appreciation that we could be the center of an arena tour.” And I drew up a ramp system that filled an arena floor and started looking for any kind of help and people were just dumbfounded. They’re just like, “You’re crazy.” And so I eventually wrote a check for the ramps and just set it in motion. And once we got something that was more viable, once we had the ramps in place, once we had the crew, we started picking up sponsors and we got the whole thing underwritten but it took that leap of faith. I was willing to risk, literally, millions of dollars because I believed in it.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:34:09] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guests, Tony Hawk. We’ll be right back after this.

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:34] And you have a lot of huge successes. I mean, first of all, the video games, there’s like 80 of them now, right? Across various platforms.

Tony Hawk: [00:37:40] I don’t know. Do you know something I don’t?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:42] I don’t know. I feel like I looked it up and there was just a bunch of different results and some of them sure are like, “Hey, here’s the mobile version of this and here’s the — ” There’s a bunch of different versions and international versions and stuff like that I think are probably counted in that total. But how do you deal when things don’t work out? I mean, for example, Skate Jam, if that sounds like it rhymes with Space Jam. You know what I’m talking about here, right? Skate Jam back in action, which was supposed to be the skateboard version of Space Jam with you instead of Michael Jordan. It went all the way up. You’re taking meetings, everyone’s laughing and basically popping over champagne. You hop on a flight to Australia and never heard from anybody again.

Tony Hawk: [00:38:19] Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:20] How do you deal with the disappointment/rejection of projects just not following through or bombing? It seems like those take out a lot of people. A lot of people don’t come back from that stuff.

Tony Hawk: [00:38:29] Well, I have so many experiences like that early on of big promises that I learned to take every claim like that with a grain of salt. I just learned like, “Oh, well yeah, maybe something like that will happen, but I’m not going to count on it,” because it was too hard. I mean, especially in the lean days when things would come up like, “Oh, you might be in this commercial as an extra or as a stunt double.” And if I relied on that and it didn’t come through, I was crushed or I’d spend the money before I got it. And so I just learned like if it comes to comes, but I’m not going to count on that stuff.

[00:39:01] This was a super exciting prospect. I was meeting with Warner Brothers. We had a handshake deal. They had offered me money and we were going to bring back the Looney Tunes characters in the form of a skate movie, like Space Jam, and that was amazing. But at the same time, I just had too much experience with Hollywood and with other disappointments where I was like, you know, I’m not going to believe this until we’re actually on a set shooting this. And they were so excited about the project and so excited to get it going. They met me at LAX restaurant when I was flying to Australia for a week to shoot a movie, a different movie, and it was all happening and we were going to put the whole deal together. When I got back, from the time that I left till the time I got back, they had premiered the movie with Brendan Frasier. What’s it called? Back in Action. And that flops so hard that they said, “We’re not doing Looney Tunes stuff.” That was it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:51] Geez. So then that was it. And it’s just like, “All right, I didn’t cash any checks I didn’t have.”

Tony Hawk: [00:39:56] They didn’t say that like that’s just what my agent figured out later. Because I kept asking like, “What is going on? They’re supposed to get back to me.” And they finally said, “I think that on the heels of the flop — that was this movie — they’re not going to do anything with Looney Tunes.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:10] Have you ever confronted Brendan Fraser? Thanks for ruining my franchise, bro. We can’t really yell at Bugs Bunny. All right. Well, one thing I thought that was really funny in the book is I think it was Kids’ Choice Awards or something. You’re walking by all these A-list celebrities in the front row — maybe it wasn’t Kids’ Choice, maybe it’s something more serious — It’s like Puffy, Jay-Z and you’re still wearing your helmet.

Tony Hawk: [00:40:32] Yeah. MTV awards.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:34] And then you felt a little bit self-conscious. You even noted that in the book. I mean, what lists do you think you’re on if they’re A-list? What lists do you think you’re on when it comes to these guys?

Tony Hawk: [00:40:42] To put it in context, I remember what you’re talking about now. What happened was we did an MTV awards show and our video game was up for a soundtrack award and they wanted to do something surprising for the crowd. They turned the stage into a skate park, basically like all at once where you had no idea this was coming. And then we all started skating in there. There were obviously huge stars in the crowd, and I had my helmet on, but I was dressed for the event. So I did this whole thing and then I went up and presented an award and totally forgot to take my helmet off. And then I’m walking by all these huge stars like Jay-Z and like giving him thumbs up. And he gave me this funny look and I realized like, “Oh, geez, I’m wearing my helmet.” That’s when I felt self-conscious because I looked so ridiculous walking through the crowd in the suit and in my helmet. Like I could’ve just taken it off just after we did the skating, but I forgot I was too nervous.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:36] So they’re thinking, interesting fashion choices, a suit and the skate helmet.

Tony Hawk: [00:41:39] I just felt dorky. That’s all. But on full display of like, yes, the A-listers of the time. I don’t really consider myself on any list. I mean, I can’t believe people still recognize me or I can’t believe that I get recognized for skating because that was never something that was a goal. There was never something that was an option when I was younger. Like the most famous skaters when I started skating were only known to a very small group of skateboarders. They were in the skate magazines. They were definitely not on TV. They weren’t considered sports stars. I still feel strange that I get recognized. I mean, it’s amazing. Like I get incredible opportunities. I get VIP, whatever passes seating and stuff. I get to do some really rare things with my kids. Then most people would never get to experience, but I’m always thankful for it. I never expected it, and I don’t know what list that puts me on. But you know, I don’t get invited to the Academy Awards.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:33] Not yet, but I’ll tell you a long time ago — well, I don’t know a year ago or so — you and I were at the same event, speaking at the same event. I took a photo with you after you had done a talk at this house outside where there was a pool and a fire pit. That’s all I remember. I posted it on Facebook from my phone and the caption didn’t come through. And then I noticed it and I thought, “Oh, I’ll fix that later. No one’s going to comment on it because it just looks like me and some friend of mine hanging out.” And when I came back and checked the photo later that night, there were dozens of comments like, “Holy shit, that’s Tony Hawk. How’d you meet Tony Hawk?” So I don’t know what list you’re on, but tons of people recognize you immediately. People that I don’t think ever owned a skateboard, at least now for the last couple of decades. Every single one who commented was enthralled. It wasn’t just, “Oh yeah, that’s that Tony Hawk guy.” It was, “What? Where did you meet Tony Hawk?” So you still got that?

Tony Hawk: [00:43:19] Oh, that’s pretty cool. Well, thank you. I don’t want to think that I have more whatever recognition than I do. And like I said I don’t take it for granted at all. You know, I don’t expect people to recognize me. And the weird thing is that it happens more now than almost ever. And I have no explanation for that because it’s not like our video game series is still on top and I’m not doing big marketing campaigns so much anymore but it’s amazing.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:45] When you fly, do you take the skateboard with you on the plane or do you check it?

Tony Hawk: [00:43:49] I usually take it with me, and it’s funny because people think that’s like me trying, being pretentious and like, “Hey, here I am. Here’s my skateboard.” I usually take it with you because if I can do it without almost any of my bags that I check-in except my skateboard.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:04] Right. It might be tricky to go and buy a new skateboard and do a demo at whatever hour of the day it is that you arrive.

Tony Hawk: [00:44:10] Yeah, and my board is very specialized. We don’t make that shape. I have size 13 feet, so it’s very important that it arrives with me. That being said, when you fly to certain cities in Europe, you cannot put the skateboard in the overhead bin.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:25] Because it won’t fit? Or they won’t let you?

Tony Hawk: [00:44:28] No, it’s their policy. So I’m well versed in which airports I can fly through with a skateboard and which I can’t.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:34] That’s funny. And people must look at you like, “Who is this guy trying to be relevant with his skateboard, who is this guy?”

Tony Hawk: [00:44:42] Or sometimes they just think it’s me being pretentious with it, that it’s like, “Check me out and here I am. Here’s my skateboard.” It’d be like, you know, some famous guitarist walking through with his guitar strapped around his neck.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:54] Right. Like, “Oh, they won’t recognize me unless I have my skateboard. Let me put some stickers on it.”

Tony Hawk: [00:44:58] Yeah, exactly.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:59] Tell us a little bit about the foundation and why it’s important.

Tony Hawk: [00:45:01] Well, the foundation, we started 14 years ago, and it was my way of giving back, obviously, to the industry and the community that had given me so much, but for me, it was a reaction to a number of skate parks that were being built at the time. This is around 2001 2002 and they’re mostly in affluent areas. And they were mostly being built by city councils that were just doing it to congratulate themselves for being so cool that they would build a skate park. But in reality, it was that they would hire the lowest bidding contractor for the job, which was usually someone that just poured concrete for sidewalks. And they were not consulting the skaters of the community, and they would just go ahead and full steam ahead with no consultation of people that were experts in the field, and then they’d build these parks that were terrible. You know, they were poorly designed. There’d be like a set of stairs that met a wall. I went to a couple of these grand openings because I was invited to go and I would say, “You know, this park is terrible.” And they would say, “That’s what the kids would say but we said, ‘Wait until Tony Hawk gets here and shows you how to ride it.'” I think at that moment I realized that there’s this disconnect between the kids who need these facilities and want these facilities and the entities that are providing them. But more than that, these facilities and this funding should be going to much more needy areas, much more low-income challenged areas where the kids don’t have many outlets for activities. I decided I want to do something about that and bridge that gap between the kids who need these facilities and the people who are providing them hopefully provide funding but mostly provide resources on how to get it done and how to communicate clearly with the kids that want these parks. The seed money for the foundation came from me being on the Celebrity Edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and we got to $125,000 with the help of my brother as a lifeline.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:51] Is he an especially smart guy, I assume, or does he just really good at Google?

Tony Hawk: [00:46:55] He’s a writer. He’s an editor and he has a literature degree, and the quote was about Hemingway, so I called him up and he didn’t answer it immediately. And I got nervous and I could hear him typing. And so he was doing a Google search and this is 2002 so you’ve got to realize that that was not how these things go. And so I started panicking because I could hear him typing and he immediately said the answer and he had got it through Google search.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:20] Nice. Yeah, of course. Luckily, he got it right. That would just be horrendous, right? If he blew that for charity, you guys have done a phenomenal job. It looks like, at least the stats that I got, which might not be up to the minute, but 572 skate park projects in the US have received funding from the Tony Hawk Foundation, five and a half million awarded to help create public skate parks, 400 worldwide projects with training and different foundation. That’s in 2015. And there are millions, by the way, of people using these every year. They’re not just sitting kind of idle, and it’s a huge accomplishment and a huge piece of legacy. Do you think about that when you create these things? Like what am I going to leave behind other than some really awesome videos and some video games? I mean, is this part of your legacy that’s important to you?

Tony Hawk: [00:48:01] I have never been so concerned with that aspect of things. I mean, I am hugely proud of what I’ve helped to accomplish and create in skateboarding, but I’ve never been one to be like, I need this on my gravestone. I’m just stoked to see skating grow and to have been a participant in that or to have been some catalyst, and that is rewarding enough for me.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:21] One of our show fans asked, “Is there anything you would have liked to accomplish professionally that you have not?”

Tony Hawk: [00:48:27] Professionally, that’s kind of a broad term. I think that I would have liked to have taken the Boom Boom Huck Jam concept internationally on tour. I think that that could have done really well in places like Europe, in Australia, and even Japan, but our stage set up was so cumbersome and it would have taken a big sponsor and a big influx of cash to take it overseas. For anyone that knows what concert tours are, generally, you have about four to five semis that carry all your gear. We had 14 semis carrying our gear, and so to take that on the road and another country was a huge cost and a huge undertaking, and I never got to do it, but I would have loved to.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:10] How do you stay motivated to innovate and not kind of get caught up in the celebrity of everything? Like how come you’re a really grounded guy? You do a lot of community service, even meeting you in person, just totally normal conversation. I’ve also met a lot of other people and that’s not the case. Do you know why that is? I mean, are you actively working to stay a normal person, for lack of a better world?

Tony Hawk: [00:49:29] No, I think it’s come with having experienced the highs and lows already. I mean, I had a great bit of success in the 80s. And I did, you know, I was young and, and I felt invincible then. So probably if you met me back then, I might’ve been a little bit more of a dick, but having had a sort of downfall of success and learning that I truly do love this and I would never give it up through the sort of darker days, and then having it come back in a way that I never imagined or dreamed. I mean, that’s been incredible, but I never lost sight of what got me here, and that is the skating and that is the being a genuine person. And so it’s not an effort, but it’s definitely just who I am now. It takes being knocked down to get there I think. You know, it’s weird skateboarding now, some people get into it to be rich or famous. When I got into it, neither one of those things was even possible.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:22] That was nothing on the horizon for them.

Tony Hawk: [00:50:24] No.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:24] It was like when you’re learning a new trick, you mentioned this in Bones Brigade, “Learning tricks from people who’ve done it already. That’s easier. It sets up everyone’s beliefs that it could be done, but If nobody has done it, then it seems like it might be impossible.” So for you, having done that with skating, you see that probably a lot with new entrance to the arena is they’re looking at it like, all right, skate work hard…fame and fortune and video games. And that for you was uncharted territory. And so the idea that you could fail and just be normal Tony Hawk — a guy who used to skate — was always something that was maybe in the back of your mind. That was always a possibility.

Tony Hawk: [00:50:58] They’re very transparent. The people that get into it because they think it’s their ticket to fame or fortune are the ones that lose their motivation quicker than anybody. Because once they get a taste of that, they think that’s it and that they can just ride along, cruise it for a while, and you’ve got to keep challenging yourself. And I think that’s the mark of a true champion of what in any sport is someone who continues to challenge themselves regardless of how they’ve compared to everyone else.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:22] Tony, thank you so much, man. This has been amazing. Everybody who asks questions got their question in. I really, really appreciate your time and we really appreciate everything you’ve done for the sports and of course for the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Tony Hawk: [00:51:34] Well, thanks for having me and listening to my stories.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:38] Big thank you to Tony Hawk. We’ll link to him in the show notes. Links to everything is always in the show notes, the sponsors, the guest, everything. Please use our website links if you bought any books from these guests because well, that helps support the show as well. Also, in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode, so you can review what you’ve learned here from Tony Hawk. We also have transcripts now for every episode, and those can be found in the show notes as well.

[00:52:02] I’m teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems using tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at Now, don’t do it later. If you try to kick the can down the road, you cannot make up for the lost time when it comes to relationships and networking. The number one mistake I see people making is postponing this and not digging the well before they get thirsty. Once you need relationships, you are too late. These drills take a few minutes a day, just a few, hence the name six-minute networking people. Come on. It’s not fluff. It is crucial and it’s free over at

[00:52:39] By the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribed to the course and the newsletter. So come join us and you’ll be in smart company. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and/or follow me on social. I’m at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.

[00:52:53] This show is created in association with Podcast One. This episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, engineered by Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola, and I’m your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yeah, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer and I’m sure not a doctor or a therapist. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who likes skating, likes Tony Hawk, and might combine that with a little entrepreneurship in business, well send them this episode. Hopefully, you find something interesting in every episode, so please do share the show with those you love and even those you don’t. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.

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