The 2021 summer X-Games, the premiere competition for extreme sports, came to a close on Friday and like every instalment, it was an absolute cracker. Team GB Tokyo 2020 star Sky Brown was phenomenal as she clinched gold in the Women's Skateboard Park event, while 12-year-old Gui Khury became the youngest gold medallist in the competition's history after landing a whopping 1080° spin on a vert ramp.
On both occasions in Southern California, watching on was a bona fide icon of extreme sport: Tony Hawk. 'The Birdman', now 53, is the most famous skateboarder alive and were it not for his heroics on four wheels, there's a good chance that we wouldn't be seeing either Brown or Khury make history this summer. In fact, without Hawk, we might not even have the X-Games. And it all started with a trick that many believed couldn't be done.
There’s a fine line between the possible and the impossible. The 900° is considered one of the most technically demanding tricks to be performed on a board and back in 1999 it was the Holy Grail of the skatepark.
“This is the best day of my life,” said a 32-year-old Hawk upon completing the apparently impossible on June 27 at the fifth instalment of the summer X-Games in San Francisco.
Since its inception in 1994, the X-Games have found a home for some of the most mind-boggling, gravity-defying and physics-flouting tricks to ever be performed in the world of extreme sports. The first-ever snowmobile front-flip? Check. The first ever freestyle motocross double backflip? Check. The first landed triple cork in a snowboard competition? Check. But it’s the 900, of all the outlandish tricks to ever be successfully completed, that’s still the most revered.
The 900 had been at the top of Hawk’s trick wish list for over a decade, the final entry on a page of tricks Hawk wished to complete before he hung up his helmet and shin pads for good - last on the list because it would, of course, be the trickiest. By the time 1999 had rolled around, the ollie 540, kickflip 540, and varial 720 had all been scratched off, leaving just the small matter of completing two and a half revolutions in the air.
As Hawk stepped up for his tenth attempt at the 900 on that cloudy San Fran evening at the X-Games’ Best Trick event, perhaps he even doubted the probability he’d ever land it. He’d gone well past the allotted time given to each rider to perform their tricks, but to the protest of some skaters the announcer boldly announced, "We make up the rules as we go along. Let's give him another try."
Then he landed it. Two and a half full rotations of the board as he reached the lip of the half-pipe, his hand barely grazing the ground as he landed. The crowd went wild and Hawk was left in utter disbelief, taking a while longer than anyone else in the arena to realise what he’d just accomplished. When it finally hit him, he stood triumphantly at the centre of the half-pipe, his skateboard held aloft in the air - Holy Grail achieved.
Tony Hawk isn’t just the greatest skateboarder of all-time, he’s the extreme sport’s greatest pioneer and the 900 and its impact on the next generation of half-pipe heroes like Browne and Khury shows that. He retired from professional competitions shortly after landing the 900 at the ‘99 Games but don’t worry, he’s certainly not got rusty in retirement - on June 27, 2016, 17 years to the day after he first landed the 900, he repeated the trick once again. He was 48.