If you were to ask me in February of 2022 what I knew of Tony Hawk, I’d tell you two things. He’s THE most popular skateboarder, and that I owned his video games on PlayStation. Ask me now after having watched “Tony Hawk: Til The Wheels Fall Off,” and not only can I tell you more about the man behind the kick flip, but I can also tell you about his humble beginnings, to the height of his fame, to the downfall of a man who’s only true enemy is father time.
I can also tell you about skateboarding in general. What Hawk meant and still means to the sport, how unique and revolutionary his style was, and the rise and fall and rise again of a fringe pastime beginning in abandoned pools and becoming a global phenomenon.
Regardless of your feelings of Hawk himself, your vast or limited knowledge and even your relationship with skateboarding overall, “Til The Wheels Fall Off” makes a case for all of it. It takes a wholistic approach to an otherwise narrow examination; Tony Hawk is merely the centerpiece with which the whole history of skateboarding is framed around. Admittedly, I never really had a good relationship with the skating culture growing up, so the idea of a documentary examining a man known as the godfather of a sport I don’t care for is pretty easy to dismiss off hand. But again, this is more concerned about the heart of the sport and the man who’s dedicated his whole life to it. To this end, the documentary becomes accessible to everyone, not just fans of Hawk or sick air.
Obviously, the film leans heavily on the life of Tony Hawk. From his humble days as a kid who decided to board differently, to that same kid garnering worldwide attention and so much money he had no idea what to do with, to the inevitable fall from grace that that kind of spotlight thrusting brings about, and the numerous renaissance the sport has seen over the years. We forget, but “Til The Wheels Fall Off” reminds us that there was a time where the only to watch your favorite skater was on VHS compilation tapes made for pretty much no one. There is a pure, organic rise that encompassed the early days of the sport, much of which Hawk was a part of and plays a major role in creating. It sheds a lot of light on a lot of things, all of which really paint a much more complex picture of a larger story.
Hawk himself is rather vulnerable here. He is a man driven by greatness, even at the expense of his own health and well being. But he is also acutely aware of his mistakes, and more than willing to open up about his own past traumas. It is an unfiltered look at growing up in the spotlight, and Hawk’s vulnerability, honestly, and willingness to examine his own life and mortality makes for a really intriguing documentary. He admittedly has spent his entire life chasing air, and even though he’s willing to admit he may not be able to do this forever, he also doesn’t know how to do anything else despite being a pretty diverse commodity.
“Til The Wheels Fall Off” is smart and meaningful, not only offering a new look at a recognizable name, but also capturing a moment in time before skateboarding was anything other than a bunch of young, indestructible boys and girls taking risks for no other reason other than that they could. It is an eye opening documentary, but also one that clearly loves its subject. There’s no malice here; this is a love letter to the sport and the man who had a hand in creating it’s global impact. And it tells us all the good and bad that comes with that, even going as far as to make the harsh truth claim that time, no matter how famous or skilled or important our legacy may be, comes for us all.
I highly recommend “Tony Hawk: Til the Wheels Fall Off.” It’s good enough to go in completely blind and come out with a whole new perspective and respect, and also appeal to those who are entrenched in the culture and want to learn more. There is a danger in chasing your dreams, especially when your body is ready to call it quits, but you just can’t seem to go high enough. Even his peers throughout the film are on the side of him hanging it up, but Hawk is a limit pusher. The film captures this, both the good and the bad of what happens when you simply can’t admit it’s time to hang it up, even when you know logically that it’s best thing to do.
Keep flying high, Tony. Just, maybe…do it on PlayStation.
“Tony Hawk: Til the Wheels Fall Off” is currently streaming on HBO Max. You can watch the trailer below.