Closing Shot: The 900
The summer of 1999 contained two pivotal moments in the evolution of modern skateboarding and the growth of the action sports industry.
With the backdrop of San Francisco and the fifth Summer X Games, famed skateboarder Tony Hawk won the Best Trick competition by landing a 900, a difficult, 2 1/2 spins maneuver that had been out of reach (but on his bucket list) for more than a decade. Hawk had failed on at least 10 consecutive attempts that night. But each fall and climbing of the halfpipe ladder added to the intensity of the crowd, the competitors and the ESPN telecast.
“I tried it hundreds of times before that night unsuccessfully,” Hawk said. “So even though they saw a dozen attempts, there was a foundation of years behind those.”
Before “going viral” was a thing, Hawk and the 900 saw massive media pickup in the weeks that followed. Hawk had been making a living as a professional skater since the early 1980s, but the summer of 1999 was a turning point in how consumers — beyond core participants — bought into skateboarding.
In August, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” was released on PlayStation (the first edition of the gaming console). Developer Neversoft (soon acquired by Activision) worked closely with Hawk on the details.
“Because I meticulously included the look, feel and soundtrack of real skating into the game, it was rewarding to hear non-skaters talk about 360 flips and kickflip McTwists in a way that was understood and respected,” Hawk said. “[Landing the 900] gave ‘THPS’ a kickstart of awareness since I was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Having that immediate recognition just before the release was like a perfect storm of events.”
In fact, the 900 was a last-minute addition to the game, a special trick available when playing as Hawk’s character. The game spawned a series of popular sequels that became one of the top-selling franchises of the early 2000s.
Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020, are the Olympics the next “900” moment for skateboarding?
“The Olympics will be helpful in the global awareness and international growth of skating, but the competition itself won’t hold any more merit in the skating world than other events throughout the year,” Hawk said. “And there will still be a hardcore contingent of skaters that would rather hop fences to skate pools or schoolyards than watch televised competition.”