This Saturday, Tony Hawk walked on water.
Actually, he skated on water.
The legendary skateboarder and nine-time X Games gold medalist took over the Wynn Las Vegas pool Saturday afternoon, covering the pool area with flooring, erecting a massive vert ramp and welcoming guests to his foundation’s Stand Up for Skateparks fundraiser, held for the first time in Las Vegas.
The seven-year-old Tony Hawk Foundation raises money to build skateparks in low-income communities across the U.S., and in its short life it has already helped fund more than 400 parks all over the country. Last year, the Tony Hawk Foundation built a park in Compton, Calif., and on Saturday, the Tony Hawk Foundation turned its attention to Las Vegas, bringing its twice-annual fundraiser to the Strip and raising money to revamp East Las Vegas skater haven Freedom Skatepark.
“The Freedom Park is really outdated and not a good facility as it is,” Hawk explained as he walked the red carpet outside his party. “We thought we could really update and revamp that and show that we’re really giving back to this community as we do our event here.”
Local kids who use the park were on hand, as well, trying out skateboards on the makeshift floor and busting moves on a handful of rails alongside skate legend Bucky Lasek.
“I would like to see something that handles all skill levels, that handles modern skateboarding and BMX riding, and do whatever we can to help fund that,” Hawk said of his vision for a new and improved Freedom. “It’ll all unfold here.”
Unfolding at the same time was one seriously skater-friendly party. Usually known as an adults-only escape where dress shoes and heels, not sneakers, are the norm, the Wynn belonged to action sports athletes and fans for the day. Hawk brought out a full parade of celebrity supporters like BMX pioneer Matt Hoffman, local UFC fighter Frank Mir, Peepshow star Holly Madison, E! personality Sal Masakela and six-time X Games gold medalist Bucky Lasek.
Guests of all ages mingled with the celebs around the vert ramp, chowing down on casual cuisine like sliders, pretzels, make your own sundaes and deep fried Oreos. Between snacking, watching Hawk and friends demo on the ramp and listening to a mini-concert from punk rockers Rancid (who played at Hawk’s wedding in Fiji), they tried out new Activision game Tony Hawk Ride, in which players perform moves on a skateboard-shaped controller (minus the wheels) and sampled products from a variety of sponsors. Attendees also anted up in live and silent auctions for items like Lance Armstrong-signed bikes, a quartet of fight gloves signed by all the UFC 100 fighters and even a special edition Tony Hawk Dodge Challenger.
Virtually everyone in attendance had some connection to the world of skate. E! television personality Sal Masakela credited skateboarding with his current career in entertainment.
“I started skateboarding when I was 14 years old, and it pretty much changed my life,” he recalled. “I started surfing and snowboarding shortly after that, and these sports are the reason why I’m even on television today. I started off commentating on skateboarding contests and surf contests and snowboarding contests and moving on to ESPN and now what I do at E!. None of that would have happened if it wasn’t for action sports.”
Masakela still gets excited by the freedom and independence that comes with skating.
“You can have this board and four wheels and can have all the fun you want all by yourself. You can express yourself just by this little contraption. I think it’s the most athletic form of artistic expression that you can have in sports.”
For Las Vegas UFC fighter Frank Mir, supporting Stand Up for Skateparks was also supporting his oldest son Marcus, who skates locally.
“There’s not a lot to do before you’re 21 in Vegas,” Mir said as he walked the red carpet with his family. “That causes a lot of problems. You have a lot of idle time, if you’re not into sports. I think that’s a detriment to a child. If you have things that kids can get into and outdoor activities besides playing video games all day, I’m all for it.”
As far as actually hitting the half-pipe himself, Mir laughed the idea off. “I tried when I was younger. I watched Gleaming the Cube with Christian Slater. I stick to fighting. I goof around every once in a while and get on the skateboard, but I freak everybody out. It doesn’t look too pretty.”
The Tony Hawk Foundation’s Benefit Committee includes other celebrities like Jon Favreau, Sean “P Diddy” Combs and Jamie Lee Curtis, whose ties to action sports are less obvious.
For some, Hawk explained, “they have kids that skate and they appreciate a lot of what skating has given to their kids as far as an identity and a self-confidence. They want to see that provided to other kids.”
The Foundation does just that and has raised more than three million dollars in its seven years to give out in grants to parks and communities that meet its criterion. “Our foundation is pretty straight-forward. We can provide concrete evidence of the work we’re doing and not a lot of foundations can give you tangible evidence of the work they’re doing,” Hawk said proudly. “It’s fun because you come here and you say, ‘Look there’s this cement park.’ We did the Compton park and the following year we had video of us skating the Compton park and the kids who were appreciative of it. That’s important.”
Perhaps at this time next year Hawk and co. will be able to film a video at the new Freedom Skatepark. The Stand Up for Skateparks fundraiser collected $78,450, enough for all the needed renovations at the East Las Vegas park, as well as an additional approximately $630,000 that the Foundation will give out in grants ranging from $1,000-$25,000. The Foundation also insists that local skaters are consulted and builders with skatepark experience are used when a community receives money.
“[A skatepark] gives a chance for kids that are doing something different to shine, to feel like they’re being looked after, like they’re empowered,” said Hawk of the importance parks have in communities. “I grew up next to one of the last remaining skateparks in the U.S. and it was my salvation. It was the place where I became this. If I didn’t have that place I wouldn’t have been able to take this as far as I have and that’s never been lost on me; I’ve never taken that for granted. I want to be able to provide that same opportunity for kids all over.”