Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022) thoughts

Rated: 4 / 5

My first experience with skateboarding was primarily watching other people doing it, seeing videos of it, or playing videogames on it. Never really tried it myself (I’m not an adrenaline junkie, not like that). Tony Hawk Pro Skater (PS1, 1999) was the big game that the friends of my time (my childhood/teenage years) got into playing. It was one of the next big things in sports gaming. Wasn’t much into sports myself, as the only thing sports-game related I ever really did was racing games, and even then that was rare. But the skateboarding game I got into because most of my friends were into it too.

It wasn’t until seeing that documentary Dogtown and Z Boys (2001), on the IFC channel back when it was good; that was when I truly gained an appreciation for skateboarding, its history, and those who paved the way for what it is today. These teenage rebels who weren’t appreciated until after their time, who mostly didn’t get fame and recognition. Who evolved skateboarding in such a way that many didn’t know what they were seeing and didn’t appreciate the talent being displayed. It’s a solid companion piece to this documentary, and one I recommend watching before it if you’re interested (it’s one of the best documentaries out there, and it also led me to watching a couple similar documentaries on surfboarding).

Then there’s this documentary on the man, the legend himself, Tony Hawk. Showcasing his gradual rise from his youth all the way to where he is today. Very well done, very good true-to-life story. How he was the youngest in his family who always took a lot of shit, even when he first started skateboarding. But over the years, in spite of not being appreciated, he would go on to surpass his peers, become the definitive skateboarding icon, and redefine the sport as everyone knows it today. But with the fame and passion comes the downsides. The corruption. How competitions can suck the fun and passion out of what he enjoys doing. How he learned to get over issues mentally and find a way to get back on top. The effect it has on those around him. The highs and lows. The happy times and the sad times. And how his body breaks apart over all the years of the hits he took performing the skateboarding stunts and tricks (many of which he invented).

The film doesn’t fall into the usual trap that most do when it comes to being judgmental on what being a “never-say-die” fanatic about a hobby/sport/talent can do to someone. About the price they have to pay. Asking the inevitable question, “Was it worth it?” Most would lean towards the side of no. And it does highlight the opinions of those who would say no. But it dares to have the last say done by Rodney Mullen, who makes a passionate case for “yes.”

This is the luxury of having spent my life doing what I love. The cost of that… it sucks. I’m not blind. I’m not numb to the pain. I would argue I’m more conscious of it than anybody else. But I’m also more conscious of what that gives me. And when I’m done with this, that will be what it is and I’ll find a way. But there’s something inside of me propelling, that I’m not going to give up until the wheels fall off. That’s what I’m made of. And I see all the arguments against it. But I wish I could relate the intangibles to you. My guess is that we’re all built the same. None of us are completely stupid. A little deranged would be a strong argument, I do. But ultimately, we also know what we have, and to go and lay down in that sense of it. That’s like embracing what we’ve done with our lives, you know?

Rodney Mullen

It’s one of those things you just didn’t think about back in the 1990s and 2000s, when you’re just some youth who enjoys the stunts and tricks, and also enjoys when the skateboarders fail hard. The slams they take. All those times when the impact is so hard you can’t help but go, “Oooooohhhh!!! Damn!! Holy shit! Jesus Christ! That must’ve fucking hurt! Can we get a replay?” It was our own source of adrenaline as viewers, watching these guys get hurt, and also cheering when they succeeded in pulling off the unbelievable. Happy to see them pull themselves back up after a fall (we never wanted them to stay down; we never wanted it to turn into a situation where they died on the spot). We never considered the long-term repercussions of what happens to those talented prodigies who do all of this. They are not gods who can keep this up without cost and consequence. They are not individuals who get a trick right on the first try. They fail, a lot, over and over again, and go through a lot of punishment through the trial and error until they manage to nail the maneuver. Aside from immediate stuff such as broken bones that they have to go to the hospital for, we didn’t consider what all this punishment does to the body, gradually, over the long haul. The mental damage from all the concussions. The scar tissue buildup, and the weakening of the foundations from all the cracked and broken bones that never fully and properly heal. And even knowing all this, even experiencing/feeling/suffering from all of it, they still continue to do it, even when they’re more than 50 years old. Because they either don’t know how to stop because they don’t know how to do anything else; or because they don’t want to stop.

But who is anyone to stop them if they want to do this to themselves? Who is anyone to say they should deprive themselves of what they love and are passionate about just because it’s killing them? Who is to say that the alternative would be any better, living without what you love and being a bit closer to miserable as a result? What kind of a life would that be?

This is the most refreshing film, let alone documentary, I’ve seen in a long time. No indication of some malicious subliminal messaging for some political (or some such) cause. Just real, raw, simple, down to earth, film-making. If there’s anything I think the film could’ve done better, it would be to add another 10 minutes or so to cover some of the smaller things he was involved in. Like with Jackass and Wildboys (where his worst injury happened on the loop of death while wearing a gorilla suit). Or his brief bit with MXC. But that’s just petty stuff. A single film can’t have everything. For what this has, it’s definitely enough. Highly recommended.

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