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 Tony 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 list of tricks the Birdman 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 - a feat that many believed just wasn’t possible.
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.
To understand the impact of this achievement you have to look at the people who followed Hawk in landing the 900. Tom Scharr for example wasn’t even alive when the first 900 was landed. In 2011, aged just 12, Scharr became the youngest person to ever achieve the 900.
"When I saw Tony's nine for the first time," Schaar said, "I didn't know how anyone could do that. I was five or six at the time; it was right after I started skating. My older brother was a street skater and I would always skate with him. But after I saw a video of Tony's trick, it inspired me to skate vert instead of street. It kind of launched my whole skating career."
Tony Hawk isn’t just the greatest skateboarder of all-time, he’s the sport’s greatest pioneer and the 900 and its impact on the next generation of half-pipe heroes 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.