There are some things that skateboarder Andy Macdonald does not
do. He does not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or take drugs. He
does not eat red meat. He will not drink coffee. He so dislikes
television that one of his old skateboard designs featured a TV
getting smashed. He did not even own a television until two years
ago, when his good friend and vert partner Tony Hawk bought him
one so that he could watch videotapes of the pair's spectacular
victories in the X-Games over the past four years. Andy Macdonald
is 28 years old, and he does not cuss in front of company.
This is an article from the Aug. 20, 2001 issue
Macdonald's vices include ice cream and candy. He also suffers an
addiction to 20-foot roll-ins that propel him many feet above the
deck of a vert ramp, where he nails aerial tricks as smoothly as
any skater alive. He stands 5'8", weighs 165 pounds and is known
for wearing his protective padding even in informal street
competitions, when the other skaters have tossed their pads
aside. He sports an excellent set of large white teeth and keeps
his dark brown hair cropped above his ears. His favorite movie is
Harold and Maude. This, children, is not the skateboarder your
parents warned you about. "We call him mother-approved," says
Aaron Meza, the editor of Skateboarder magazine. "He's one of a
In March, Macdonald married his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca
Filman. "My parents were happy when I told them," Rebecca says.
"My dad's a microbiologist at Harvard, and he had some concerns
about how long a career like Andy's could last. But they weren't
upset that I was marrying a skateboarder. They know the kind of
guy Andy is, and they know how good he is."
The Filmans got an emphatic reminder at last year's Gravity Games
in Providence, where Andy and Rebecca's families converged for a
meet-and-greet. Between brunches Macdonald won the vert event
with a gorgeous run in the finals that sent the crowd leaping. To
celebrate, Andy sprung for a round of cones at Ben & Jerry's.
If past is prologue, Macdonald's new in-laws could well see
similar heroics at the X-Games this weekend in Philadelphia. Five
years ago, in the second X-Games, Macdonald launched himself into
the skaters' pantheon by defeating Hawk in the singles finals.
Since then Macdonald has won eight more X-Games medals, amassing
a haul that comprises a silver and six golds in vert (two in
singles, four with Hawk in doubles) and two silvers in street.
The rare skater who competes at a high level in both vert (his
strength) and street, Macdonald has been World Championship
Skateboarding's best all-around boarder for three years. "Some
skaters might raise their eyebrows at Andy or call him dorky,"
says Steve Caballero, a legend in the sport who's in his 23rd
year as a pro. "But everyone respects the way he skates. No one
is having a greater influence on skating."
Perhaps no sport is so rooted in antiestablishment ethos as
skateboarding. Trade magazines, written in language that would
make George Carlin blush, include articles on how to make a bong.
One popular skateboarding website offers a wide selection of
completed research papers for high school students who'd rather
skate than do their homework. The bowls of older skate parks are
often decorated with classic graffiti philosophy like, A FRIEND
WITH WEED IS A FRIEND INDEED!
On a bright August afternoon Macdonald went to wire a few tricks
on the vert ramps at San Diego's Mission Valley YMCA skate park.
Several highly ranked vert pros were also working runs, including
North America's No. 3, Pierre Luc-Gagnon, and No. 9, Mike Crum.
With this season's WCS circuit about three-quarters finished,
Macdonald is ranked No. 1 in vert, and he was the one the kids at
the park flocked to watch. Before beginning his runs Macdonald
autographed helmets, skateboards, shirts, pants and photos of
himself. "Keep rippin'," Macdonald says to one youngster as he
signs Andy Mac 2001. "You watching too much TV?" he asks another.
"I get letters from parents saying they're afraid to buy their
kid a skateboard because of what it might lead to," Macdonald
says. "I tell them to forget the perception. A skateboard leads
to skating. It doesn't have to lead to anything else. Are you
telling me there aren't kids playing baseball or football and
doing drugs? At events moms thank me for giving them the
confidence to buy a board."
Also skating the verts at Mission Valley that day was Tas Pappas,
25, who's ranked No. 16 in North America and who attracted his
own clutch of young autograph seekers. Pappas is revered for his
exceptional skills, though he lacks consistency in competition.
He has long blond hair and huge tattoos on both arms, and he's
pursuing a second career as a singer in a heavy-metal band. He
spent his practice session at the park wiring a difficult
Frontside 720. When he landed it, Macdonald and the other pros
applauded, then came by to slap his hands. "I'm on the other side
of skateboarding from Andy," says Pappas. "The rock and roll
side. Skating's getting too soft, you know? Me and Andy, we're
two different people. He's into the Brady Bunch thing, and that's
cool. Let's just say it's not my cup of tea."
Sitting on the vert deck moments after he snapped the 720, Pappas
showed a visitor his promotional video on a small camera. The
tape opened with Pappas on stage, head back and belting out a
metal tune. From there clips of Pappas executing skating tricks
were interspersed with the video's parallel narrative: He had
hired, in his words, "a couple of L.A. strippers" for the video.
They were skimpily dressed and draped over Pappas, who was
sitting on a bench. After a clip of Pappas doing, say, a Backside
Tailslide on his skateboard, the video cuts to the strippers
performing something that might be called a backside tailslide
upon Pappas himself.
Macdonald's promotional video features clips of fabulous skating
tricks as well. It shows excerpts of his appearance on The
Tonight Show (he began by doing an Ollie onto Jay Leno's desk) as
well as the public service announcement he did for the
Partnership for Drug Free America. ("That's my idea of getting
high," Macdonald says over a silhouette of him whirling in
midair.) In 1999 the Partnership invited him to Washington, D.C.,
to introduce Bill Clinton at a press conference. Macdonald strode
into the White House wearing cargo pants and carrying a
skateboard that he threw down for a cruise on the marble floors.
("Those floors were dope," he says. "Smooth.") Before introducing
Clinton, Macdonald spent five minutes campaigning to the press
for skateboarders' rights. "I said it was ridiculous that I could
skate inside the White House but that if I skated on the sidewalk
I could get arrested," Macdonald says.
Another highlight on Macdonald's tape shows his 52'10" jump in
October 1999. Macdonald and a building team spent three days
constructing a 41-foot-high, 300-foot-long ramp in a friend's
backyard near Macdonald's father's house in Lansing, Mich. The
eight-foot roll-in at the peak of the makeshift run was only four
feet wide and swayed in the breeze.
Macdonald spent eight hours doing run after run (about 60 in all)
and often toppled onto the landing ramp. For his historic leap he
soared over four parked cars and stuck the landing. That was the
world's first Knievel-style skateboard stunt. "Before he went up
the first time, he said, 'Dad, this is scary,' and that got my
attention," says Andy's father, Rod Macdonald. "But I'm used to
seeing him do stuff. He's been falling off his skateboard
Andy's parents divorced when he was young, and he spent summers
with his father in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the school year with his
mother, Trudy, in the suburbs of Boston. He got his first
skateboard at 11 and immediately abandoned all other sports. In
winter he would shovel the sidewalk and lean plywood ramps
against snowbanks. In dry weather he spent afternoons in skate
parks and empty pools. "Guys got on me for not smoking pot," says
Macdonald. "They'd say, 'You skate too much,' and I'd be like,
'Is that even possible?'
"I'd be skating with my friends, and all of a sudden I'd be the
only one out there. Everyone had gone somewhere to get stoned. I
didn't mind. I guess it helped them. They'd come back, and I
could tell they were really on, skating better than before. If
pot got them in the right head for skating, that's fine with me.
I don't preach. One prerequisite for doing the Partnership spot
was that I wasn't going to say, 'Don't do drugs!' or 'Don't
drink!' All I say is that I haven't done either myself."
Macdonald began winning amateur competitions in high school,
inspiring him to move to San Diego after graduation in hopes of
landing sponsorship. Squeaky clean, however, wasn't a good sell
in skateboarding circles. Although Macdonald attracted notice as
a skater, major sponsors weren't biting.
"Andy had a rough time getting accepted," says Michael Furukawa,
a marketer at Powell Skateboards, which signed Macdonald in the
summer of '97. "In this business it's easier to go along with the
image. Some other skaters feel the way Andy does about a
clean-cut lifestyle, but they don't say it. Andy makes his
opinion known. If you think he's putting it on, you're dead
wrong. I know him well--we just saw Les Miz together with our
wives--and that wholesome image, that's the way Andy is."
Andy and Rebecca live in a Spanish-style stucco house on the
crest of a suburban hill outside San Diego. A willow branch hung
with hollow wooden apples adorns a wall of the immaculately kept
sitting room. Good books line the shelves: Tolstoy, Ellison and
Guinness World Records 2001, which celebrates Andy's jump. After
winning an event, Macdonald has given his board to the first kid
who has shown him a library card.
Macdonald spends most mornings in his home office. He consults
with skate park designers and potential funders, arranges his
skating demonstrations in Europe or Asia and talks with his wide
range of sponsors, which include Lego toys, Swatch watches and
SoBe drinks. He is one of the sport's most richly compensated
athletes, earning a couple hundred thousand dollars a year.
After his morning's work, Macdonald shimmies down the 26-foot
fire pole he installed upon buying the house. He goes into the
backyard to bounce on a trampoline and get his body warm. Then he
picks up his skateboard and heads out to a park or an abandoned
pool. "By now a lot goes into business stuff and organization and
being, I don't know, this figure," Macdonald says. "But it all
comes down to one thing: Every day I'm going to be somewhere in
the world riding my skateboard, which is all that I have ever
wanted to do."
"Andy's into the Brady Bunch thing. Let's just say it's not my
cup of tea."
given his board to the first kid who's shown him a library card.