I like to think I’m not easily impressed. It takes something pretty incredible to drop my jaw and leave me wide-eyed and gaping, but this past Saturday, I was awed by something that usually doesn’t leave me gaga: skateboarding.
Here’s the thing about action sports like skateboarding: From far away, and through a TV set is pretty far, they don’t look that hard. In order to complete the spins, twists, kicks and grabs that make up modern vert skating, and land back on their boards, the top skateboarders move very, very fast. It’s easy to lose track of just how complicated and difficult their moves are.
Unless, that is, you’re standing within talking distance of a handful of the world’s best skateboarders while they engage in a casual demonstration of tricks that seem to disprove the laws of gravity. That’s where I was Saturday, eating a sundae, stunned, watching Tony Hawk, Shaun White and Andy McDonald (who also graduated from my high school -- go, Newton North!) as they flew above a vert ramp constructed on top of a Wynn pool.
Back for a second year, the Tony Hawk Foundation’s Stand Up for Skateparks benefit invaded the Wynn this past weekend, bringing with it things the resort isn’t exactly known for … like kids, make-your-own sundaes, punk music and guys who make their living riding skateboards. Even Steve Wynn himself, walking the red carpet outside the event, admitted that his casino doesn’t usually play host to action sports or their stars.
“He’s such a great guy, we just decided to cooperate with him, and here we are,” Wynn said of working with Hawk on the event.
And here on Saturday was an extreme carnival with food, music from DJ Z-Trip, live and silent auctions, celebrity appearances and action sports swag from brands like Nixon and Dub. Proceeds from Stand Up for Skateparks went to the Tony Hawk Foundation, which is dedicated to building skate parks in low-income communities. And wherever Hawk hosts a party, he also builds a park.
Last year’s benefit raised $78,450 to renovate Freedom Skatepark in East Las Vegas, whose groundbreaking Hawk attended Sunday. At this year’s benefit, guests raised donated $71,050 for work on a skate park in Rotary Park across from Hyde Park Middle School on the west side. Hawk also pledged an additional $25,000 from the Tony Hawk Foundation and $10,000 from his Birdhouse Skateboards company.
The highlight of Saturday’s benefit, however, wasn’t just the impressive sum raised to support construction or celebrity appearances by Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Oscar Goodman. And it wasn’t the auction with items like a signed Hall and Oates guitar or the chance to ride with Hawk’s entire skate team or the feel-good video about how much skating can help kids. (It does, of course, but anyone who didn’t already know that, probably wouldn’t have paid $350 to attend the benefit.)
The highlight was watching the Birdman do his thing on the vert ramp surrounded by local skaters who gazed awestruck at his every move. Taking turns with pros like Olympic wunderkind White, McDonald, skate legend Bucky Lasek and an 11-year-old up-and-comer who successfully threw a 540 during the 45-minute demo, Hawk did one better than telling the crowd what happens when kids have access to skate parks—he showed them.
Of course, not everyone with a place to ride in the neighborhood will master Hawk’s moves. In fact, few will ever come close to that pre-teen’s 540, let alone the three-man midair sandwich created when White, Hawk and McDonald all took to the ramp at the same time and crossed over one another in perfect unison.
But when I managed to pull my eyes from the skating for just a second, I saw that nearly all the children around me were staring with the same dropped jaws and wide eyes. The expression on their faces wasn’t just admiration; it was inspiration. Which really is what Stand Up for Skateparks is all about.