At the time, Hawk remembers being "just a kid from San Diego" who loved to skate. He wouldn't go pro until he turned 14, but at 11 Hawk was good enough to be sponsored by Dogtown Skateboards. Although it was an informal sponsorship, Hawk says Dogtown would send boards to him every once in a while.
But the freebies stopped coming one day. That's when legendary skater Stacy Peralta, who had started his own skateboard company a few years earlier, called Hawk about how Dogtown went out of business.
When one door closes...
In 1978, Peralta had teamed up with George Powell, an aerospace engineer who launched his own skateboard manufacturing business, to create Powell-Peralta, an elite pro skateboard company. Peralta was assembling young, emerging skaters like Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, and Rodney Mullen, to join his company team, known as Bones Brigade. It would become the most famous skate team in the history of the sport. Peralta saw potential in Hawk's unique style of skating, and wanted him to consider joining the group.
"I hadn't received that kind of feedback back then; I was honored," says Hawk. "But I was also intimidated because I was thrust on a team with skaters who were of high caliber, people I felt I couldn't compete with. But Peralta had an instinct that I would continue to challenge myself."
A mentor for the Bones Brigade
Once Hawk joined the Bones Brigade team, Peralta looked out for him and showed him the ropes, forming an informal mentorship. The opportunity would soon would help Hawk, and his teammates, Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen, and Lance Mountain, become some of the world's most famous skateboarders.
In 1987, Peralta released The Search for Animal Chin, which was the first narrative-based skate video. In it, the Bones Brigade kids go out in search of the fictional godfather of skating--a man named Won Ton a "Animal" Chin--and his legendary skate ramp. (The skaters don't find Chin, but they find his ramp sitting in the desert.)
The Search for Animal Chin was low-budget and a bit racially insensitive, but it turned into a cult classic. Its influence across skate culture can still be felt today. But Hawk says shooting the movie was difficult for the young skaters.
"We were working hard and traveling all over; we were all complaining and we thought we should be getting paid for our time while shooting," says Hawk. "But Stacy told them, 'Guys, this video is what is going to help you become successful. This is going to be a marketing tool.' It was a harder lesson for us to understand until it came out."
As a pre-teen, Hawk didn't understand what Peralta meant in the moment, but when The Search for Animal Chin hit, he understood what Peralta meant. "Thirty years later, people are still coming up to me quoting the movie," Hawk says.
Peralta started competing at 11 and was an original member of the Z-Boys, the Zephyr skate team, which rolled out of a surfing clique in Venice, California. He rose to prominence at 19 as one of the best skaters of his time. He knew what it was like to be young and at the top of his field. (Peralta, who is now a director, made a documentary film, Dogtown and Z-Boys, which is about the Zephyr skate team, and won the Sundance Film Festival for best documentary in 2001.)
From skateboarding to scaling a business
As Hawk got older and gained fame, Peralta helped him navigate the change from an unknown kid to someone everyone wanted to talk to. Peralta also showed him how the business world works. Peralta helped Hawk understand how to build a brand around his own distinct identity and taught him how to keep evolving for the next great opportunity.
"He gave us the blueprint on how to do it ourselves," says Hawk.
In 1991, Hawk started Birdhouse, which is his board and apparel company with its own skate team. Hawk would eventually make a series of video games and a media company, too. His video game series, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, has made over $1.4 billion through a licensing agreement with Activision.
"I emulated Peralta," says Hawk. "With my own company Birdhouse, I wanted that same team-vibe, which I learned from Stacy."
But the greatest thing Peralta gave Hawk was recognition exactly when he needed it as a young kid.
"I would've struggled for validation. His support meant a lot to me and I think without it I would've been constantly trying to prove myself," says Hawk. "He helped me build confidence that I didn't have before."