On the Road With Tony Hawk, Who Didn’t Know Skateboarders Could Be Famous

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

Few people on earth travel as often as professional athletes. With On the Road, the GQ Sports Travel Questionnaire, they’re weighing in on everything from room service to flying comfortably to their favorite chain restaurants.

Very few athletes are as synonymous with their sport as Tony Hawk is with skateboarding. Throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, he became a household name by executing death-defying stunt after death-defying stunt, including the first documented 900 on a skateboard. But before that, Hawk was a young skate rat touring the world, hoping to get some shine in magazines or skate videos.

Of course, he wound up with his own video game franchise, skateboard company, and countless appearances in movies and TV shows. His latest venture is a partnership with Starbucks, which finds him pushing back on his famed “don’t try this at home” ethos. A self-professed “coffee fanatic,” Hawk says that Starbucks’ new at-home cold coffee products are “the easiest way to make cold brew at home.” Do, in other words, try this at home.

Hawk’s chill vibes were on display during a conversation with GQ Sports, where he shared his favorite place to skate and his approach to travel, and reflected on a life spent on four wheels and a pair of trucks.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks
Photo courtesy of Starbucks

I watched your HBO documentary, and there’s footage from when you’re really young, piled into a van with a bunch of skaters, touring the country and listening to New Order. Was that experience a bit overwhelming because of your age, or did you feel like that was where you were supposed to be?

Something in between. I started touring at a pretty early age—I was probably 14 or 15 when I started traveling extensively. From about 16 to 20, it’s weird how normal it starts to feel. You’re skating as hard as you can, risking it all, staying in a hotel, getting in a van and driving six hours, then going straight back into a big crowd. It’s almost like…when you don’t have that, you don’t know what to do with yourself.

It’s a strange life to live. It’s kind of like the life of a rockstar, but the difference is that when we got into skating, there was no fame or fortune to aspire to. Suddenly, we found ourselves in it, and it was like, I don’t expect to be famous. I don’t know how to talk to people! What do we do here?

Did you ever sleep in the van? Or was it always pooling everyone’s money together and finding a Motel 6?

It was generally a Best Western, Holiday Inn. Two people to a room, if not more. We thought it was awesome! We didn’t have any standard.

Now that, I assume, you’ve graduated from the Best Westerns and Holiday Inns, what sort of things do you like in a hotel room?

It’s hard to say. The aesthetics really can tell you a lot right when you walk in. There needs to be quality behind the looks of everything. If it’s gussied up, but the functionality isn’t there, it’s pretty easy to tell. The shower can tell you a lot. And honestly, the restaurant. The restaurant at the hotel tells you a lot.

So, are you more room service, or go downstairs to the physical restaurant?

It depends on the time of day. But generally, I like to go experience what they have downstairs.

What about chain restaurants? Are there any places—maybe when you’re on a long road trip, or in an airport—that you go to for comfort? I know what I like there, I know it’s always going to hit.

I try to go with the local flavor. I feel like each city has some unique cuisine or reputation. You go to Austin, you gotta get barbecue. You go to Tokyo, you gotta get sushi. I’m not looking for chains as comfort. I’m looking for the best specialty restaurants in that area.

Where is your favorite place in the world to skate?

Uhh, my ramp. [laughs]

Sick.

It’s my happy place. I don’t have to answer to anyone or perform magic because people are watching. And I don’t have to wait my turn.

“They are skate shoes, but just skate shoes that look cool,” Jones exclusively tells *GQ* about the Adidas Tyshawn II.

What about your favorite place to vacation, non-skateboard division?

Iceland is amazing. My wife and I were always curious about it, so we took a vacation there, and immediately thought we had to take our kids. So, the next time we went we brought all of our kids and stayed just outside of Vik, the black sand beach. It’s magic there, and it’s really fascinating, because it’s several different landscapes all in the same general area. Other than that, we like tropical places like Mexico or Hawaii.

What’s on your vacation bucket list that you haven’t been to yet?

That’s a good question. We haven’t been to Bali or Indonesia yet, and the reason for that is because we usually try to go with our kids, and up until now our kids were in school. It takes so long to get there that we couldn’t really fit it into their vacations. Now, most of them are out of school, and our daughter’s almost 16, so I feel like it might be time to go check it out.

As you began to travel the world and meet more people, were you getting a lot of people who took your Southern California vibes as apathetic, or very low energy?

I think I just saw the other version of it, where I thought people from other places were high strung or high energy. I did notice the difference, but at the same time, I embraced that. I’m fascinated that people from New York never sleep. Dinners start at 9 or 10 pm. Are you kidding me? You travel so much and see how different the lifestyles are, but everyone had the common bond of skateboarding. And coffee. Those are the two things everyone [in my life] has in common.

What are some things you wish you had known as a youngster seeing the world for the first time?

I wish that I would have embraced other cultures more. We had crazy opportunities. I mean, we were traveling the world nonstop and going to these amazing, exotic places. But all we cared about was skating. That was it. That was the main directive for decades.

Young Tony Hawk, always shredding.

Tony Hawk...

Young Tony Hawk, always shredding.
Paul Harris/Getty Images

I didn’t appreciate that we could be experiencing entirely new cultures, cuisines, sightseeing. It was like, Okay, we’re going to France. Well, we have to go see the Eiffel Tower, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. It wasn’t like we had this wanderlust. I’m thankful that I continued to do this, and kept traveling in my adult life. I ended up really leaning into it. But when I was young, I was just this kid from San Diego. Everything was weird. You know what I mean? Going to Europe or going to Japan—the food is weird! The signs are strange! I didn’t think, Oh, this is actually pretty cool.

Did you encounter people who only knew you from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater? I’m sure it’s weird to be perceived as a video game character.

Sure, but I can’t complain. It changed my life. The fact that my name is synonymous with that makes me feel so lucky. I never take that for granted, and I’m really proud of the series, too. It’s not like I cringe when I hear that.

Were you on Rocket Power?

I was on Rocket Power, yes. I had a magnificent skate park that some kids still to this day think is real. It’s an animated show.

Originally Appeared on GQ