Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Remains a Shining Beacon of Diversity and Representation
Drop in at a skatepark in Los Angeles or Marseille, you’ll find that the language is different, but the sense of community is universal.
The newest “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater dropped on Friday, introducing a new generation of gamer to a franchise that has always been about authenticity, fun and staying true to the very nature of skateboard culture.
“It's a lot of responsibility, I mean, I know that some people look to me to be some sort of spokesperson or ambassador to skating and that's not a role that I ever imagined or that I ever really asked for,” Tony Hawk tells En Fuego on Sports Illustrated.
The franchise is undeniably diverse—first introducing the world to video game versions of Kareem Campbell and Elissa Steamer in the first game and Steve Caballero in the sequel—and the series has continued to showcase the sport’s greatest quality.
Now Hawk may push back on being a leader in this regard, but his franchise has remained authentic to what you find in skate culture. And that mirror means millions of gamers get to see a little bit of themselves in the game.
“I'm happy to advocate for skating and for all types of skaters,” Hawk said. “If I'm going to do a game, I wanted to represent how inclusive skateboarding is, and especially nowadays with all kinds of people and all kinds of backgrounds. And I think it's hugely important and also that anyone who plays it feels like they have representation.”
John Dobbie, Vicarious Visions studio art director, helped craft a game that is both compelling and true to every last vestige of the sport.
You sense the heart in the game and the love VV poured into its development. Someone like Dobbie succeeds precisely because he cared about the game and its authenticity.
“I grew up kind of a punk rock kid and had skater friends, but I wasn't really into (skating).” Dobbie who had previously worked on “American Wasteland,” Project 8” and “Proving Ground” said.
“And then, you know, along comes this game that has this authentic representation of the culture, starting off with who's in it. And then, the music and the locations.”
Anthrax and Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” featured in “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2,” makes its return in the new remastered THPS 1+ 2.
It’s a perfect hat tip to a skate culture that is as punk as it is ska, as heavy metal as it is hip-hop.
“I listen to so many different types of music,” skate legend Kareem Campbell tells En Fuego. “I listen to Hip-Hop and Lil Baby to old Eric B. & Rakim. It's all about who the people you're surrounded by, your peers. It's like me traveling around the world with a diverse crowd. We're all coming from different places, but you're on tour. You're stuck with 12 people. I mean, you're not going to have the radio and you're not going to have your headphones on all day.”
Eventually, your guard comes down. And something magical happens. “As you give something a try, you actually end up liking a lot of things.”
The game itself had a powerful way of not just making genres accessible but making the bands on the soundtrack that much more visible to a world increasingly more aware of the sport and its now-beloved video game.
“(There’s a) diverse sense of music and what people like to skate to, especially between street skating and vert skating, vert skating with more kind of like punk rock-metal and street skaters kind of embrace the hip hop culture still today,” Skate icon Steve Caballero tells me on a recent phone interview.
While we were all learning tricks and the lingo behind the sport, an enjoyable soundtrack was blaring, delivering subliminal sweetness to the masses intoxicated by this remarkable new game.
“What was great about the game was it did introduce a lot of new music to people that would never be accessible to that or even listen to it,” Caballero explained. “A lot of bands that started off on the game got huge because of the game.”
To someone like Hawk, the music represents a culture that has constantly been ignored or vilified for being who they are.
“It's just more of that sort of disenfranchised youth attitude, and one that I grew up identifying with. So, I think the soundtrack reflects just that. It's the vibe of skating and it shows also the diversity of skating and who is interested in skating in terms of punk to hip hop.”
A Beautiful Sport
This is a meritocracy. Skateboarding, if nothing else, is a group of people that put emphasis on skill.
Cutting your teeth on rails and verts that you may actually cut your teeth on means a large swath of the skateboarding community doesn’t see or care about color or gender rather how you can move the sport forward.
“For me, skateboarding has never been a racial thing, because I don't look at race,” Caballero explained.
“When it comes to skateboarding, I don't claim, ‘That's rad that I'm, you know, I'm Mexican and I get to be in this game,’” he said. “I've never looked at it like that. Skateboarders to me, they are all skateboarders. I don't see race when it comes to our community and our friendships and the people associated with skateboarding. It's never it's never been about race… When you’re a skateboarder, it doesn't matter who you are, what you look like. People are just stoked that you're part of the team.”
The 46-year-old Campbell who made famous the “Ghetto Bird,” echoes that sentiment.
“We really just have each other, and that's one of the things about skateboarding that I learned. You know, from where I came from, once I started going around the world, you really learn to see everybody as equal, as the same. There's no colors or nothing.”
The game is nothing more than a reflection of the sport it honors. That maple wood with trucks and wheels is a pretty profound instrument, moving the skater and the movement forward.
“From the inner-city kids, your suburban kids, you got kids being kids and actually just loving the sport. So, it has opened it up wide,” Campbell said.
“It's actually built a form of a community, of understanding… People being able to meet somebody from somewhere else and being able to see their trials and tribulations, which they normally wouldn't. Their child is seeing it. Because this is bridges, you know, this skateboard, this piece of wood bridges gaps.”
Hawk has seen the sport evolve from one that only really showcased a certain look to one that is far more inclusive and representative of the communities in which it now takes place.
“I think in the early days, skating was more associated with Southern California surfer, white kids. And as it grew more to be a street sort of activity and street culture, then that's kind of when all the barriers were broken.”
Some of that stigma certainly continues to this day, as Hawk explains. But you only need poke your head into a skatepark to discover that it’s a diverse crowd out there. Any genre of music could be in the background. Regardless of ethnicity, gender or age, they’re all skating to the same tune.
“If you really look deep into it, if you go to a skatepark, you'll see that it's all a cast of characters and everyone is getting along,” said Hawk. “It's a sense of community. But at the same time, an individual pursuit. And, so I think those are just antiquated views of skating, because nowadays, you know, it's everywhere.”
To Be Continued
“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’s” legacy is bigger than a fun video game—although it is certainly that. But it also started a revolution.
While we can applaud getting a peek at the music and the language. The game also opened doors to communities that might never have experienced the power and freedom of floating down the street on a board.
“I believe the game really helped take notice to communities how popular skateboarding was,” Caballero said. “Not only do we need baseball fields, football fields, basketball courts, but we need skate parks in every city.”
Hawk doesn’t rest. His cool demeanor belies and undeniable passion to squeeze every last drop of positivity out of this sport.
His foundation is The Skatepark Project, its mission is to help underserved communities develop skateparks that would bring the sport to kids who would otherwise skate in locations that were either dangerous or prohibited.
“I think that's the most important work that I do, or at least in terms of advocacy,” Hawk explained.
The project has been successful and has donated $10 million in funds to hundreds of skateparks and another $150,000 to the Skateistan development in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa, according to the foundation.
“We help to fund skateparks in underserved areas,” he continued. “We are the best resource center for any group that wants to get a skatepark in their community in terms of how to navigate the red tape of their city councils and everything on fundraising. And today we help to fund over 900 skateparks in all 50 states.”
For kids in lower-income areas, there is a dearth of viable locations to get on your board and safely skate. Thanks to the foundation, there are parks for them to feel at home.
And thanks to the video game, his iconic aerial tricks and the legacy he has cultivated over the decades, Hawk has helped make skateboarding more accessible to millions, showcasing a sport that is as inclusive as it is vibrant.
As to what is left to do for such advocacy, Hawk concludes, “I think there is still much more work to be done.”