- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

LOS ANGELES

The Hawk doesn't have to fly. The youthful cast members of Nickelodeon's "All That" stand on a Hollywood sound stage in awe of their guest host, and all he needs to be is himself — the greatest skateboarder of all time.

"It's so cool. I can't believe I'm working with Tony Hawk. My friends talk about him all the time," 15-year-old actress Giovonnie Samuels squeals with delight.

Moments earlier, she did a skit with Mr. Hawk for an episode of "All That" — best described as a children's version of "Saturday Night Live" — (Saturdays at 6:30 p.m.). It's a faux "Oprah" segment in which she interviews the athlete once described by the New Yorker as a cross between Michael Jordan and Evel Knievel.

Mr. Hawk, 33, reacts to such adulation with a nervous laugh. And he dismisses persistent talk that he will leave skating soon and move into acting.

The rumors have been fueled by a couple things: Most participants in his sport hit their peak about age 21 and, besides the recent "All That" taping, he's also appearing on Nickelodeon's skateboarding cartoon show, "Rocket Power" (Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.).

"It's not like I'm going to be an actor in the traditional sense," he says, laughing. "If I were to do some big project, like a movie or a television series, I would want the focus to be on skating. And I can do the acting as just a means to an end."

At skateboarding competitions, Mr. Hawk has raced up the gigantic wooden ramps and done death-defying leaps and twists high above the hard ground, pulling off stunts that most others can only fantasize about.

Mr. Hawk not only invented the 900, a vertical leap with 2-1/2 turns in midair, but in the two years since he landed it in competition at ESPN's X Games, no one else has been able to do it. Mastering the maneuver was an accomplishment the Los Angeles Times compared to gymnast Nadia Comaneci scoring perfect 10s at the 1976 Olympics.

So it's no surprise to see actor Shane Lyons arriving on the set of "All That" with a shiny new skateboard.

"I know a kid who'll pay 5,000 bucks for a Tony Hawk autographed board," the 13-year-old says.

"But if he signs it for me, I'd never sell it," he quickly adds. "It'd be just too good of a memento."

Mr. Hawk's first skateboard was a hand-me-down that his older brother gave him when he was 9.

"I wouldn't say when I first started I was a natural by any means," he recalls. "But I kind of liked trying things out, the process of learning something new but not having to follow a practice schedule or rely on other people to make it happen. That was really what the draw was for me."

At 14 he turned pro. Three years later, about to graduate from high school and trying to figure out what to do with his life, he realized: "I already had a career, by default."

He had one that was paying the 17-year-old $70,000 a year, and soon he had a line of clothing, a line of skating equipment, sponsors and TV commercials.

Not that making it big on a skateboard was easy. There were practices from sunup to sundown, years of eating bad food and staying in cheap motels while skateboarding slowly gained public acceptance, mainly among teen-agers, and the first-place prize money rose from $150 a competition to $20,000.

"I broke my elbow a few years ago," he says, rolling up a shirt sleeve to show the scar as he is being made up with fake blood for a contrived TV fall.

He insists that was his only serious injury, discounting the broken rib and the compressed vertebrae he suffered. He doesn't even mention the broken teeth.

Still, Mr. Hawk — who has a wife and three young sons — looks none the worse for wear.

And with a board tucked under his arm, the lanky, blond athlete — standing 6-foot-2 in his oversized, untucked shirt and baggy shorts — could easily pass for a slightly older version of one of the daredevil kids you find every day on beach boardwalks and school playgrounds as they try to soar like the man they simply call the Hawk.


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