It wasn’t that long ago when skateboarders were promoting the motto “Skateboarding is not a crime.” As the extreme sport was gaining in new levels of popularity in the late ’90s, it was often demonized by authority figures over fears of lawsuits, vandalism and property damage.
Oh, but times have changed.
On the south steps of the Utah Capitol Tuesday, Gov. Gary Herbert gave skateboarding an official nod of approval. Standing by his side at a press conference was Tony Hawk, the legendary skateboard icon, who rolled into Salt Lake City this week to promote a new skate park built by Vans, the Southern California-based shoe company.
“When I think of ‘cool’ and look up ‘cool’ in the dictionary, I see Vans on one picture and Tony Hawk on the other picture,” Herbert declared to reporters. “They are the cool kids.”
The new park is located at the Utah State Fairpark. Built in partnership with the Utah Sports Commission, it’s an Olympic-class facility featuring old-school concrete bowls and street elements, somewhat similar to parks like Portland’s Burnside and San Diego’s Washington Street Skate Park. It was built to coincide with the Vans Park Series World Championships, a tournament for pro skaters happening Friday, Sept. 6 and Saturday, Sept. 7.
At the news conference, Hawk, 51, opened up about how much skateboarding has changed over the years—see-sawing between waves of popularity and disrepute.
“I grew up in a time when skateboarding was the furthest thing from cool that you could possibly do, especially in school,” Hawk told reporters, some of whom (including myself) clamored for selfies with the vert ramp maestro after the press conference concluded.
“We had to hide our skateboards for the most part, for fear of being bullied,” he added. “I always wondered why it wasn’t recognized on a larger scale—something that was healthy for youth, something that provided a way of being active and healthy outside of traditional team sports.”
As the years went on, Hawk played an integral role in making this vision come true. He began his career as a teenager in the 1980s, winning gold medals at tournaments across the country and appearing in now-iconic videos like 1987’s The Search for Animal Chin as a member of the Powell-Peralta skate team. He later founded his own skate company, Birdhouse, and throughout the 1990s, he pushed the sport to new levels: He landed the first 900-degree aerial spin at the 1999 X-Games, and that same year he served as the namesake of Activision’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game, which soon became a best-selling series.
Now, skateboarding is set to debut as an Olympic sport at the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. Companies like Vans, meanwhile, have turned into global brands—the new SLC skate park is the fifth the company has built in the past five years. Sister parks can be found in China, Brazil, France and Canada.
“When people ask me, are you surprised that skateboarding has come this far? Not really. I feel like it’s about time,” Hawk said.
Salt Lake City is now under consideration for being the site of the 2030 Winter Olympics, but it’s also long had a thriving skateboarding scene, which helped make it an ideal site for the new park. Gov. Herbert didn’t grow up skating himself, and sadly neither he nor Hawk brought a skateboard to the press conference for a demonstration. As a kid, Herbert actually was a roller-skater—the precursor to rollerblading, skateboarding’s mortal enemy.
However, Herbert made clear his appreciation for the kickflipping pro skaters of today.
“What these world-class athletes do defies gravity, defies reason,” Herbert said. “It’s very remarkable indeed to see these men and women perform.”
For Hawk, this kind of support was a long time coming.
“I didn’t want it to be a crime, it just was,” Hawk told City Weekly after the press conference when asked about the “Skateboarding is not a crime” days. “Nowadays, the fact that it’s embraced and that we are at the Capitol with the governor I feel like is validation for pushing through all those years and pushing through that negativity.
“Skateboarding, it still can be a crime. There’s still plenty of people who want to go skate the forbidden handrails and things like that. But for the most part, it’s not,” he said. “We’ve finally come of age.”