Bird Man
GQ Style|Fall 2017

Tony Hawk has invented countless tricks, built skate parks around the world, and created a billion-dollar video-game franchise. but his legacy is greater than all that: Meet his son Riley.

Bret Anthony Johnston

Riley Hawk is hungry. In most articles about a relatively famous son and his very famous father, such a statement would be a metaphor for the son’s drive, his ambition, those good old heir-to-the-throne machinations. Here it’s just physiologically true. Riley stayed up late playing guitar and can’t remember when he last ate. Tony Hawk drops a bagel into the toaster and grabs some cream cheese from the fridge. Riley moved out of the house a few years ago, and Tony has clearly missed having him around. He works to play it cool, but he’s stoked his eldest son stopped by. He takes a plate from the cupboard, two coffee mugs. He steals glances at Riley scrolling through his Instagram feed. He smiles.

Father and son are mirror images of each other: tall and loose-limbed, thin and sandy haired. This morning, they’re both limping. Riley has been battling a handrail trick for days and has a gnarly heel bruise; Tony’s knees are creaky from almost 40 years of paradigm shifting skateboarding, and he’s been chasing a few new tricks, too. Both men are also stressed. Skateboarding is in a strange and strangely vulnerable place. It’s bigger than ever—a multibillion-dollar industry and officially heading to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo—but independently owned skate shops and core companies are shuttering in unnerving numbers. Tony and Riley are on tight deadlines to finish filming hugely anticipated video parts, which are the professional skater’s equivalent of an author’s books and which, at such a portentous time in skateboarding, are crucial.

They eat in the elder Hawk’s living room, an effortlessly chic space with high ceilings. Depictions of hawks abound— paintings, sculptures, a stout and intricate Lego construction perched high above with its wings spread. There’s also a lot of Hollywood memorabilia, including an honest-to-God chicken bucket from Breaking Bad’s Los Pollos Hermanos and two pairs of honest-to-God sunglasses from Raising Arizona. They don’t talk much over breakfast, but Tony often seems on the verge of speaking and then thinks better of it, not wanting to smother Riley with questions or affection. Their relationship is surprisingly and poignantly normal. The child is father of the man, and the father will always be putty in the son’s hands. They sit with the same slouch. They have the same habit of clearing their throat before speaking. They wear matching Lakai shoes, one of Riley’s sponsors.

But, of course, every reflection is at once itself and its opposite, identity reversed. Tony is clean shaven and clean-cut, his hair graying at his temples. In his dark hoodie and dark jeans, he looks like a nice guy who made an unexpected killing in Silicon Valley. Riley’s hair is long and tucked behind his ears, his beard stylishly unkempt, his arms mapped with tattoos. A few of his fingers are inked, too, and others are adorned with chunky turquoise rings. His entire demeanor recalls a young Ozzy Osbourne, so it’s no surprise that Riley also fronts the stoner rock band Petyr. “It’s pronounced ‘Peter,’ ” Tony says, proudly blasting some of his favorite songs. That he genuinely loves the band is endearing, not least because his musical tastes skew toward the Cure, Gang of Four, and Modest Mouse.

And then there’s their skating. They are among the best in the world in their respective specialties—Riley skates street, and Tony focuses on ramps— but career-wise, they are at opposite points. Riley turned pro on his 21st birthday, and now, at age 24, he’s more thrilling to watch than ever. There’s a timelessness to his style on and off the board, a flow and power that is again reminiscent of Black Sabbath, the band’s dark and lasting austerity. He’s also fiercely resilient, having overcome numerous catastrophic injuries. “He’s had reconstructive surgeries on both ankles. For most people, those are career-enders,” Tony says. “If I’d gone through that, even with my success, I would have said, ‘Fuck it. I’m out.’ ”

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