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HBO Doc Explores the Singular Focus of Tony Hawk (Review)

In the new HBO documentary ‘Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off,’ we spend time with the most famous skateboarder on the planet. We also see him at his most vulnerable.

The film, directed by Sam Jones (‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart‘) and produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, begins with a sequence of groan-inducing failures. As the opening credits roll, we watch for nearly five full minutes as Hawk freefalls countless times while practicing a skate trick. It’s hard to watch, mostly because I think we want to view celebrity athletes as invincible gods who cannot do anything wrong.

When you see the man who is arguably the greatest to ever grace the sport having consistent difficulty while he pushes himself physically, it opens your eyes to just how challenging it is to pull off. It’s probably, in part, due to the fact that Hawk is now in his early 50s. No matter how good you are, time takes its toll on your body. The lesson that is learned here (even if it is somewhat stubbornly) is that you can do anything you set your mind to.

His career has been documented thoroughly. This film is able to use footage from the majority of his life, even before he went pro at 14. It’s clear even from early shots of him at skate parks that he was driven to success from the beginning.

Celebrating the 900

Friends and family members speak throughout the documentary, but a lot of the observations are straight from Hawk himself. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s all here, building up to the eventual nailing of the first-ever 900 in competition at the X Games 5 back in 1999.

We’re on hand to hear Hawk’s dissection of his relationships and the perils of being a famous father. His own father had been a huge part of his professional career. For Hawk, the job ended up keeping him from spending time with his own four children.

I wasn’t expecting a movie about Tony Hawk to make me teary-eyed, but this got me a few times. Footage of Hawk visiting his mother, who died at the end of 2019 after battling with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, in a nursing home facility is so personal and intimate, it almost feels like we shouldn’t be watching. It helps you get a better sense of who he is as a person, inside and out.

Tony explains it best on his Twitter:

Tonight is the HBO release of “Until The Wheels Fall Off.” It is not only about my life/career, but about the essence of skateboarding. It’s about being an outcast, getting bullied, forging your own path, not giving up, the trappings of success and the price you pay, both physically and emotionally, for being singularly focused on something. I hope that it gives some perspective on why we do this and why I haven’t quit; it’s never been for fame or fortune (as they were not rewarded to skaters when I started), but I’ve had my share of both through this journey and neither compares to the feeling of riding away from a trick that you’ve battled for hours, weeks or years. I continue to do it because I can still be creative in a way gives me a personal sense of pride and validation.

Backed with a rock-powered soundtrack that includes The Clash, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, T.S.O.L., and Buzzcocks, this is a staggeringly solid documentary about the pursuit of success and, ultimately, happiness.

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off‘ recently premiered at SXSW 2022 and is streaming now on HBO and HBO Max.

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