Executive Suite: Tony Hawk leaps to top of financial empire

Tattooed employees tap at computers. Snazzy skateboards hang from the walls. Hawk airs his radio show from a glass-encased broadcast booth. In a cavernous back room, he and his friends practice on the giant half-pipe skateboarding ramp to the thrashing sounds of the Clash, Slayer and Metallica. "They had to raise the building roof 10 feet to make room for us," says Hawk, grinning like a mischievous kid.

Hawk's sister, Pat, a former backup singer for John Denver and Michael Bolton, is general manager of the business. She runs the daily operation, while Hawk is the public face and creative force.

"All of this is his vision, his passion," says Pat Hawk.

Friends say Tony Hawk brings the same intense drive to skating and business. In trying a dangerous new trick, he'll break down the moves, adjust his body or angle of attack, then go for it until he perfects it.

Likewise, Hawk and his team spent years creating, planning and perfecting the Boom Boom HuckJam tour, a multimillion-dollar project with more equipment than a Rolling Stones tour. No one had attempted a daredevil sports event like it before.

Colleagues credit Hawk's success and Elvis-like appeal among youths to his marketing chops, his respect for the skateboarding culture and a surprising lack of ego for a megastar. It's not unusual to see Hawk flying coach, riding in friends' old cars, and gobbling down hamburgers while traveling, says Jesse Fritsch, a skateboarder and co-host of Hawk's radio show.

"He's a real dude," Fritsch says. "I've never seen someone so successful be so down to earth."

Hawk walks the fine line between corporate dealmaking and keeping his street credibility with skateboarders. His support of the sport and its athletes has blunted criticism that he's sold out.

Keeping it real

Hawk's entertainment attorney, Jared Levine, says Tony Hawk has turned down many lucrative commercial deals — from food products to toys and games — because the companies and marketing approaches were too hokey or not realistic portrayals of the skateboarding culture. The Hawks have the final say on marketing strategies. "There are plenty of product ideas out there," Hawk says. "But are they authentic, are they real? Most don't feel like the right fit."

Even with Hawk's influence, though, the fast-growing U.S. market for skateboarding and other board sports may be slowing. Many in the youthful X Generation, who fueled the extreme sports boom, have grown up and left the sports.

The upside: Millions of those consumers now are family men, and they're turning the board sports into family activities for kids and spouses. Case at Board-Trac says that a birth rate surge in the 1990s will lead to another boom soon in the board sports, as those babies become teen consumers of extreme sports goods.

Today, the extreme sports market also attracts consumers in their 40s and beyond. They buy everything from surfer's shorts and T-shirts at Macy's and Nordstrom to skateboards and other gear at small sports specialty shops.

Action sports also are going global, as millions of youths in Europe, Canada, Russia, Mexico and elsewhere embrace the activities and apparel. Sales data are sketchy, but global revenue and the number of participants are rising, and Hawk and other extreme sports figures are widely admired, says Gasperini at Label Networks.

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