by Luke Baumgarten

Tony Hawk is, by far, the most marketable name in the weird category of sports our national media has dubbed "extreme." Kelly Slater, Parks Bonifay, Dave Mirra -- none of these big-name surfers, snowboarders and BMX riders approaches the mainstream recognition of Hawk. Not even 18-year-old dual-sport phenom Shaun White, seen on MTV Cribs and in commercials for ESPN, comes close.

Tony Hawk, whose Boom Boom Huckjam comes to the Spokane Arena on Friday, is the first and often only name that comes to mind when non-skaters talk about vert ramps, mostly because of the incredible recent success of his video game franchise. His career, though, began way before Playstation.

Stacey Peralta (who wrote this year's skate biopic Lords of Dogtown) made him part of the Bones Brigade skate team at the age of 13. Since then, Hawk has stayed with the sport through all its ups and downs.

He rode its immense popularity through the '80s before surviving the slacker backlash of the early '90s. Though he had to sell one of his house and his Lexus -- and, according to his Web site, restrict himself to "a daily Taco Bell allowance of five bucks" -- he kept his brand alive and kept skating.

In the mid-'90s, when America's youth once more found riding skateboards desirable, Hawk was there. He ran with the popularity, growing his Birdhouse Skateboards brand and, in 1998, launching Hawk, "clothing for the youth uprising".

Add in the insanely popular Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game series and the Boom Boom Huckjam, and you have Tony Hawk: The Brand, which saw gross earnings in 2003 of nearly $300 million, according to Forbes magazine.

Much of that comes from the video game franchise, which snagged non-skaters with simple and addicting game play. Recently, the game makers have fought to retain that fan base with clever cross-promotion. "Tony Hawk's Underground 2" features Bam Margera, star of MTV's Viva La Bam, putting the franchise on solid ground with people who are less likely to skateboard than they are to videotape themselves seriously injuring their friends. Given the immense popularity of Margera, the testicle-kick set seems to represent a massive hunk of the vital youth demographic Hawk and his companies target.

That is not to imply that Tony Hawk's success is all clever marketing. He is unchallenged as the greatest vert-ramp skater of all time. In 1999, after a decade and a half of innovation and shortly before his retirement from competitive skateboarding, Hawk landed the Holy Grail of vert tricks, the 900.

Until then, no one had ever come off the end of half pipe, done two and a half revolutions and ridden away from it. Only one other person has done it since.

On Friday, Tony Hawk brings both his world class-aerial capabilities and his world-conquering business model to the Spokane Arena.

The Boom Boom Huckjam is an "arena tour featuring the world's best skateboarders, BMX bike riders and motocross lunatics performing choreographed routines on a million-dollar ramp system while punk and hip-hop music plays" -- but to Spokane-area businesses, it's a lot more than that.

At Hillyard Skateboards, for example, Kevin Kilgore expects the Huckjam to bring in fresh business to local skate shops. "[Skate] tours always help. They get kids stoked to try new things," he says.

Kilgore hopes his shop especially will benefit because the Huckjam primarily showcases vert-style skating and his shop is located near the vert-heavy Hillyard skate park. "The kids in Spokane mostly street skate," he notes.

Not everyone is convinced the Huckjam's million-dollar ramp and multi-million-dollar endorsements are good for skateboarding, though. Kynan Ramsey, a Spokane native and avid skate and wake boarder, won't be attending the Huckjam.

He believes the recent hyper-marketing of board sports destroys much of their intrinsic value. "When you watch an event on NBC, and you see Bucky Lasek wearing Mountain Dew stickers on his helmet and other stickers all over his body, I think it detracts from the core of the sport," He said, adding, "It's becoming like NASCAR. I'm just waiting for some 15-year-old kid to drop in with a Viagra T-shirt like, 'I definitely endorse this.'"

On the day I spoke with him, Ramsey was wearing a Volcom sweatshirt. He had scrawled "sucks" in black magic marker underneath the brand's large, bulky lettering. "This is my statement. I'm trying to create a dialogue," he said.

Of course, a valid point in that dialogue would be that skate apparel companies like Volcom have found a way to successfully sell screen-printed hoodies for $70 -- even to their angriest critics.

In the world of business, that's a trick even more hallowed than Hawk's 900. It's a trick that McDonalds, Jeep, and even the U.S. government are amped to cash in on.

So even if you don't skate, BMX, or freestyle motocross -- say, for example, you're a business major or an entrepreneur instead -- you might still enjoy the Boom Boom Huckjam as an extreme seminar on viral marketing, cross-promotion and branding. Of course, there will also be tons of people going big on some sick vert-ramp mania. For its first trip to Spokane, Tony Hawk has made sure the Huckjam has a little something for everyone to get stoked about.

Publication date: 06/16/05

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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.