- Movie Rating -

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022)

| April 5, 2022

Needless to say, every sport has a hero who rises beyond the competitive arena and becomes a household name even to those who don’t follow it.  Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Venus and Serena, Shaun White, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Walter Payton, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Phelps all have names their defy their discipline and are known even to those who haven’t spent five seconds watching ESPN or the Olympics.  Into that fray is Tony Hawk, the world’s most famous skateboarder, a man who has become a legend and a hearty brand name.  And it is not unearned.

Sam Jones’ loving documentary Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Come Off (now playing on HBO Max) make the point over and over that Hawk is no sell-out.  Yes, he has his named attached to everything from T-Shirts to video games but there is something to the man, a sense of perfection that comes with anyone who rises to the top of their profession.  At 53, he’s still a perfectionist.  The film opens with an eye-opening sequence in which, over and over, he tries and fails to nail the 900, rising to the peak and then falling on his face.  There is almost something of a Greek tragedy in this man who has achieved perfection but can’t seem to rise to the occasion again.

Jones’ documentary is not exactly unique.  After that very telling opening, it switches to a very conventional narrative that follows the rise-to-power story of any famous athlete that you could name.  It is structured chronologically as a series of events that follow this young kid and his ambition to become the best in a field crowded with punk skaters who had little patience for him or his technique.  He was a game changer before he was even a teenager, offering up a smoother alternative to the cresting harshness practiced by his twentysomething competitors.  It was the 1970s and he fell in with a clique of skaters known as the “Bones Brigade,” a group of top skaters led by the legendary Stacy Peralta.

Hawk’s unusual techniques did not sit well with the more seasoned pros, all of whom are now older and grizzled and some of whom are quietly seen here as more or less elitist doucebags who, at the time, were quick to twist their noses at outsiders.  This fell hardest on Hawk mainly because of his age and the fact that his father was Frank Hawk, who was instrumental in the foundation of The National Skateboarding Association.  It was a nepotistic shadow that young Tony had to work his way out of.

More interesting (for me, anyway) was the way in which the popularity of the sport wavered with the interests of the public and with it, Hawk’s ambitions.  From this, most of his contemporaries faded into obscurity as age and the need to make a functional living set in.  Hawk himself went through a period of working odd jobs.  He was able to pull himself out the doldrums thanks largely to the X-Games.

I didn’t know this stuff, but (and this is crucial) it didn’t make me want to learn more.  I was interested in the price of fame, but I was more interested in the kid that grew up to be Tony Hawk, the kid that we learn was, from an early age, hard on himself.  He pushed himself to succeed and beat himself up when he didn’t.  Once, I learned, he was so distraught over striking out in a baseball game that he hid in a ravine until his father had to coax him out.  It makes those opening scenes of Hawk failing to nail the 900 over and over and over sting all the more.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary