What Does Tony Hawk Have to Do with Writing and Creativity?

Do you know who Tony Hawk is? The only reason I know about him is because of his video game that was super popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m pretty sure my brother (who’s also named Tony) had the game for his PlayStation.

Tony Hawk is the most famous and best vertical skateboarder in the world, and I remember years ago he made news for doing a complete loop on his skateboard. I saw some video clip of him talking about what it was like to fall over and over again before finally accomplishing the goal.

It was that video clip that made me click immediately to watch the new HBO documentary called Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.

It opens with Tony skating on the ramps in his warehouse, getting enough speed and air, attempting a trick, and falling. He does this over and over and over.

There is no music. No voice over. Only the sound of the wheels on the wood and he skates back and forth. Then he falls and it’s the sound of the board clacking, plastic pads and helmet hitting, and his body sliding down to the floor.

This happens over and over.

He climbs the stairs to the top of the ramp. Stand there, staring down for a few seconds, holding  his board with one foot on the edge. Then he drops in and skates up one side, back to the other, and on the third time, he’s high enough to turn in the air. And then he biffs the landing. Over and over and over and over.

Then he picks up his board and does it again. And again. And again.

He must fall at least twenty times.

On one fall, he lies there and lets out a scream. Pain? Frustration? Probably both.

This goes on for nearly the first five minutes of the documentary.

It’s painful to watch.

When the voiceover finally starts Tony says, “If you’re convinced that you are going to fail, that will come to fruition.”

What they don’t tell you until about halfway through the film is the trick he was trying to land. It’s called the 900 and, not only was Tony Hawk the first person to land it, but he did it in front of a screaming crowd at the X Games—after ten failed attempts.

The 900 is a big deal in skateboarding because the 540—1.5 turns in the air—was a big deal first. Then it was the 720, and then the 900: 2.5 turns in the air before landing.

Look, I couldn’t care less about skateboarding. Seriously. I am not into it. I don’t follow it. The only skateboarding name I know is Tony Hawk. And the only reason I watched this documentary is because of how many times the man falls before he lands.

The documentary tells the story of a scrawny, skinny kid who never fit in with a sport that he loved. Everyone made fun of him for how little he was (until he grew to be 6’3”), for his weird techniques that weren’t like theirs, and because of his dad’s involvement in starting the National Skateboard Association. He was even on the verge of bankruptcy at a low point in his career in the early 1990s, when skateboarding had declined in popularity.

And yet, in spite of all that, Tony Hawk became wildly successful. He is the best skateboarder in the world. He is the reason that skateboarding grew in popularity until it became an Olympic sport—for both men and women—in 2020. He is a multimillionaire.

And he is fucking inspiring.

To watch the scene of this guy attempting the 900 over and over at the X Games is to feel his frustration. More than once he lands it, but the board slips out from under him and doesn’t count—CURSES!

And then, finally, he lands it. People rush out to him, cheering. His smile beaming.

It gives me goosebumps every time.

Why? Because it’s the feeling of sheer joy and satisfaction of believing you are capable of something and knowing that, yes, you actually are capable.

Man, what a feeling.

I feel this way when I see my clients experience a breakthrough. When one of them gets their book published (like my client, Susie Pratt). When one of them signs with an agent (like my client, Molly Katt). When one of them is a finalist in a manuscript contest (like my client, Christina Larocco). When another one of them, after years and years of working on it, finally finishes their manuscript (like too many of my clients to name).

At the end of the Tony Hawk documentary I told my husband Jeremy that the reason I find his story so compelling and inspiring is that it’s a visual, tangible representation of literally getting back up after you fall.

For those of us who are writers and creatives, our failures are private or unseen, because they happen internally—in our mind. But can you imagine falling over and over again in front of a crowd? While being filmed?

I don’t know about you, but that thought alone makes me want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head, and hide until everyone gets so bored waiting for me that they all just leave.

So let this be your solace:

If Tony Hawk can fall over and over and over and over and STILL land the 900, you can certainly still accomplish whatever it is that you’ve been telling yourself that you can’t do.

In fact, you CAN

  • Submit your work again after being rejected over and over
  • Sit your butt down in the chair to write or engage in your creative practice even if you haven’t done it once this year
  • Finish your manuscript even if you have been working on it for years and years

If Tony Hawk can land the 900, you can land your creative tricks too.

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