Remembering Tony Hawk's 900
Over the weekend, the anniversary of perhaps the biggest moment in skateboarding happened. You know what I’m talking about. On June 27, 1999, in a time of Y2K paranoia and genies in a bottle that needed to be rubbed the right way, Tony Hawk landed a 900. It was monumental. It is probably my earliest memory related to skateboarding. Even though this is the 21st anniversary, it still feels significant. It still popped up on social media over the weekend. We will forever be celebrating Tony Hawk’s iconic, instantly indelible moment.
You likely know what a 900 is, but just in case you don’t it’s simple enough to explain but nearly impossible to land. In essence, the 900 is a 900-degree revolution while you are on your board. That’s two and a half spins. It’s an incredible thing in concept. You have to spin so fast, maintain your equilibrium, get a sense of when you’re landing, hope you’ve spun enough to land properly, and then skate away down the ramp. Getting that kind of air, and doing that number of spins, is truly crazy.
I had been intro skating for a couple of years by the 1999 X Games. I was a newly-minted teenager who had gotten on board but couldn’t do jack shit. My knowledge of skating was mostly just dudes on the X Games. Also, in truth, I was only really into watching vert ramp competitions. While I wasn’t hitting the ramp myself when I skated, at the time I didn’t really appreciate street competitions. Now, I prefer to watch videos of skaters taking it to the streets, but at the time I appreciated the immensity of a vert. Dudes were doing spins and nailing huge moves and getting major air. To a teenager, it was way more impressive and easier to wrap my head around how difficult it was.
Tony Hawk was the biggest name in skating, of course. That meant that I was very much aware of him but also couldn’t consider him my favorite skater. I couldn’t be that populist. I was a teenager who listened to punk music and skated, after all. Of course, that didn’t stop me from watching the X Games on the massive ESPN network with all its massive corporate sponsors, but forgive me for lacking intellectual nuance. Like many teenagers, I was dumb as shit.
I was watching the Best Trick competition as it happened. It was a bunch of big-name skaters hitting the vert ramp and trying to do their best move. Hawk was a part of it. I do not recall if I was aware of the legend of the 900 at the time. Maybe I was. This was over 20 years ago. The internet barely existed. YouTube wasn’t a thing. Videos online were barely a thing. Apparently there had been rumors and murmurs of 900s being landed, but they never rose about an urban legend. Nobody had landed a 900. It was the trick to try and land. Most people wouldn’t bother trying. They knew they couldn’t do it. Hawk was different.
Even by 1999, he had nothing to lose. He had no more worlds left to conquer. Making history was about all that was left. I was in my bedroom late in the evening of some summer night watching. The first time he tried the 900 it changed the air in the arena, and I was hooked. The 900 was getting an incredible amount of hype from the announcers, and I really wanted to see history being made. It took him a while. That part of the story is maybe forgotten these days. Hawk tried 10 times and failed each time. A couple of times he came close but then his board would fly out from under him. He kept falling on his ass and wiping out. It had to hurt.
Technically, the Best Trick event had ended. Hawk was so far into his quest there was no way he was giving up, though, and no way anybody was leaving. I was on the edge of my seat. Or, rather, on the edge of the floor of my bedroom. Finally, he landed it. It looked ugly. His landing was far from perfect. It didn’t matter. Tony Hawk had landed a 900. Everybody went nuts. Hawk was psyched. I was psyched. It was the coolest thing I had seen in skateboarding at that point, and it’s still up there. It made Hawk an even bigger star. I feel like the 900, combined with his video game, is what made him a skateboarder that was able to break into the mainstream. The dude was heavily featured in an episode of The Simpsons as himself. Tony Hawk is not just a famous skater. He’s a celebrity. And it all started with the 1999 X Games. I bet he’s happy Y2K didn’t end the world.
Since Hawk, several skaters have done it. Some skaters have even done the 1080s. Many of these people have been helped by the advent of the MegaRamp, which allows way more air. None of that matters. Most people don’t know who Giorgio Zattoni or Mitchie Brusco is. Only one person could hit the 900 first. Only one person was able to do it at just the perfect time. That was Tony Hawk. Hawk, by the way, has done several more 900s since that fateful day. He says he landed his final one in 2016 when he was 48. That one probably meant a lot to him. His first 900 meant a lot to just about everybody. I am no longer a teenager. If you do the math you know I am in my thirties now. Many of my skating memories have faded. Even the ones when I was doing the skating! I will never forget watching the 900 as it happened.