The amazing thing about Tony Hawk is that he’s an icon to so many generations of kids. Whether it was his skateboarding, video games, or his general omnipresence in the late nineties and early aughts, many people grew up with Tony Hawk as a household name. So it makes perfect sense that Hawk has gotten his own documentary. Directed by Hawk’s declared admirer Sam Jones, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off tries to give us a well-rounded picture of the legend but mostly remains your standard celebrity documentary, albeit an incredibly enjoyable one.
The format itself is straightforward, telling Hawk’s story from childhood to his ascendance in the skateboarding world, to the ups and downs of his career, to what he’s doing today. A standard theme for these types of documentaries is illustrating what makes someone like Hawk the best at what he does, what happens in between the heart-stopping flips and tricks? Jones nails the first scene, as the documentary opens on Hawk practicing on his home ramp, doggedly trying to land a trick and failing over and over again. For skateboarders, and particularly for Hawk, failing means falling, over and over again, on the solid wood ramp. With no background noise, the audience hears body and skateboard slamming into the ramp’s floor repeatedly. Cut together in quick succession, the audience immediately knows the danger and commitment Hawk brings to every single moment, even in his fifties.
Many of the themes of Hawk’s life echo other top athletes. Despite his small size, his doggedness, innovation, and focus made him the most recognizable skater. Other skaters interviewed talked about how he moved the sport to tricks involving spins and flips and how no one can rival his focus nor his complete commitment to every single trick attempt. Importantly, Hawk himself addresses how much his love of skateboarding made his career possible. Since skateboarding’s popularity can ebb and flow (he was practically broke in the nineties), he credits his belief in himself and his love of the sport that kept him going. Similar to other top athletes, Hawk also struggled with fame and admits, without going too far into details, that there were some dark years where he was not the best husband or father. He went to rehab in 2010.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the documentary addresses the progression of time. Now in his fifties, Hawk has never slowed down. Sure, he doesn’t compete and spends more time with his family, but he still skates hard, as evidenced by that opening scene. There are multiple interviews where fellow aging skateboarders practically scold him for still going so hard, warning that his luck may run out. It all seems prescient when, mere days before premiering at SXSW, Hawk broke his femur and attended the premiere on crutches.
Still, the overall theme is admiration of a great athlete. There’s nothing outstanding about the format or much in the way of innovation. But for those that grew up idolizing Hawk or playing his video games, it’s an incredibly inspiring look at a man that gets to make a very comfortable living doing sometimes he dearly loves.