Chairman of the Board

Tony Hawk Airs on the Side of Commercialism

Tony Hawk is the ambassador of skateboarding, the guy the mommies in the minivans recognize, but ask the kids at Owl's Head skate park in Bay Ridge, the kids with dried blood on their bruised limbs, about him and you get an idea of how skateboarding is undergoing a revolutionary change.

Mike, a 12-year-old, admits that he used to like Tony Hawk—"when I was little." Mike adds, "I used to look up to him, like, 'Yeah, he's the best.' Now I don't."

Why would a kid trash his idol? Maybe because what used to be rad is now OK with Dad. Last year, according to at least one research firm, more kids skateboarded than played baseball. Thanks to television and the X Games, skateboarding has reached the point at which it is becoming a spectator sport. And this is where Hawk comes in. Because he recognizes all this, and because he is the only skater popular and wealthy enough to do so, he has created a nationwide action-sports arena tour called the Boom Boom HuckJam, which will arrive in the New York area for two shows, first at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on November 7, and then at Nassau Coliseum, in Uniondale, on November 9.

Big wheels: the Huckjam Stars pre-show
photo: Amy Pierce
Big wheels: the Huckjam Stars pre-show

The Boom Boom HuckJam is a choreographed action-sports spectacle featuring the top athletes from vert skating, BMX stunt, and freestyle motocross. The BMX and skateboard athletes flow through rehearsed runs on a massive ramp set, while the motocross athletes launch through the air, pulling tricks. Meanwhile, one of several big-name punk bands, depending at which venue the 22-city coast-to-coast tour is stopping, thrashes out a live set to all the action. The sets are at least as complex as those for a Madonna show. What was once a rebel activity is now flush with corporate sponsors plying the crowd with such 21st-century snacks for the whole family as pudding in a tube.

The HuckJam is like the Ice Capades on amphetamines with a punk score.

"To me it's like the Monterey Pop Festival, pre-Woodstock," says Jim Guerinot, a HuckJam producer who's spent more than two decades as a music promoter. "Like 'Wow, there's a lot of people here. This rock thing is not a fad, it's here to stay.' To me, the Monterey Pop Festival was the birth of the rock and roll era. It became clear that it was going to mature. The modern touring business sprung out of that era. That's when you saw the whole circuit of touring start to take shape. You would find promoters in towns. That's what this is like."

On a Wednesday night in Portland, Oregon, more than 10,000 people turned out for the HuckJam.

"This is catching up with the culture. It's blown way past this 'fad,' " says Guerinot. "It has become a clearly defined athletic persuasion."

Athletic persuasion. Pro street skaters, the heroes to most actual skateboarders, don't even compete. They earn their money by capturing their tricks on video and selling them to skaters. It's important to note that there are no street skaters in the HuckJam. All the skaters in the show ride vert, which means halfpipes. And because there is no market for vert-skating videos, these guys must compete for their cash.

The skating in the HuckJam also does not reflect the somewhat hardcore lifestyle portrayed in the skateboarding industry's magazines and videos. But if the tour is successful, it may come to represent skating in the public consciousness. Still, that dissonance doesn't mean the skaters at Owl's Head won't go see Hawk's show when it arrives in the New York area. After all, those kids have been seduced by skateboarding through events such as the X Games. They have become religious about skating, and religion is full of contradictions, and well, Hawk still goes off on a halfpipe.

Remember when in 1991 Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell adopted the term Lollapalooza for his new idea of a touring alternative-music-and-lifestyle festival? Alt, or "college music," had been underground up to that point, and then the whole genre burst into the American consciousness. In Seattle, Nirvana went from recording their first album for $600 to becoming chart-toppers with their second disc. The disillusionment of being a "grunge" rock icon contributed to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's suicide in 1994, effectively ending an era of great original music. Meanwhile, Jane's Addiction broke up and Farrell fell into a period of drug abuse. Now what we have in popular rock almost 10 years later are legions of addled screaming imitators who are being thrust on the public by unsympathetic record labels.

Likewise, Hawk has coined Boom Boom HuckJam for his unprecedented action-sports and music and lifestyle show. There are currently other tours with the same mix of sports and music, such as the Vans Warped Tour, but the HuckJam differs in one fundamental way: The action sports take center stage, and the live music is ancillary.

"The idea," says Hawk in his nasal California accent, "was to bring us as the focus of a show instead of us always having to be the sideshow to the music tours."

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