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We Revere Tony Hawk's Pro Skater Because It Helped Form Our Identity

I probably speak for many of us in our mid/late-20s or early-30s when I say that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games were a cultural phenomenon that permeated our real lives at a young, impressionable age. We were smart enough to realize that dreams of launching off ramps to land a Kickflip Mctwist or grinding on a 50-foot handrail doing a Casper Slide were well out of reach, yet that didn’t stop us from asking our moms for a cheap deck and a few bucks to buy our new favorite punk band’s album on CD. But while many impulses or fads throughout the years have come and gone, the ones born out of THPS have been ever-lasting.

Seeing the reveal of THPS 1 and 2 remastered was yet another reminder that the storied video game series has, in many ways, significantly helped in forming our identities. I vividly remember watching Tony Hawk himself landing the first 900 at the 1999 X-Games and realizing it was sports history in the making, yet it wasn’t quite the motivation to seek out skating for myself. Participating in the act virtually in THPS bridged that gap and packaged a chunk of skate culture in a form that I did have expertise in: video games. And through the THPS games, I then looked at skating more like, “this shit is cool.”

Growing up in an urban part of southern California, it was common to see older kids violate penal codes by loitering outside taco shops and liquor stores, incessantly trying to land kickflips and grind sidewalk curbs. Skating hit my neighborhood to the point where the city government led a campaign to install steel notches on railing, benches, and any other surface you could grind on. While others may have found skating as a form of rebellion in a relatively quiet suburban community, folks in my neighborhood saw it as a way of assimilation.

THPS 1 and 2 were my gateway: the motivation for an uncoordinated nerdy kid, afraid of falling on solid concrete, to at least give skateboarding a try. Even if I’d be called a poser, I was kind of “doing the thing from the video game.” I’d never get like Rodney Mullen or Eric Koston in their skate tapes, but I was in on it. I knew about the big skaters, their signature tricks, and which brands were more prestigious based on sponsorships. Honestly, I never got any good–I could ollie somewhat consistently, went off a little ramp a few times, rode around the neighborhood and down hills, and ultimately busted my knee caps before giving it up at 14 years old.

Oddly enough, skateboarding itself isn’t necessarily the thing that has stuck with me the most. Maybe that does make me a poser, which I’m willing to accept–it’s fine. More than anything, it was the music. Goldfinger’s “Superman” became iconic and will forever be associated with THPS 1, and it was the first time I heard brass instrumentation fit so perfectly alongside distorted guitars, exposing me to ska-punk and getting me to pick it up. I already had an affinity for punk tunes through the likes of The Offspring and old Green Day, but discovering Bad Religion in THPS 2 opened my eyes and ears to the scene like nothing before.

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Bad Religion’s song “You” delivered catchy, moody, hard-hitting rhythm guitars against fast-beating percussion while the vocals harmonized to create a layered sound that I never knew existed in punk music. I’d feel the hype whenever the song started up a two-minute run in the graffitied Venice Beach skatepark or through Marseille’s vert pipes, and I knew I was going to give it my best. I had no idea what the song’s message was at the time, yet thought, “man, this sounds deep,” which I say in jest, but over the years I’ve embraced understanding songwriting as a way of truly loving it. On my 11th birthday, I picked up Bad Religion CDs and discovered a band that has critically shaped my worldview and become my favorite, all because I was landing gnarly combos to one of their songs in THPS 2.

(Look, I understand that this isn’t some piece of activism in and of itself. I’m fully cognizant of the irony in watching the THPS remaster trailer while a Dead Kennedys song plays and thinking “hell yeah, I can’t wait to give Activision my money.”)

The inherent brash, progressive messaging behind bands like Rage Against The Machine and Dead Kennedys sounded badass to the unsuspecting kid who was just spending summers and weekends skating virtually a whole lot more than for real. Bad Religion’s deep discography is ripe with science-laden, philosophical lyricism to the backdrop of melodic-punk instrumentals, instilling curiosity and educational aspirations that continue to empower me. THPS soundtracks through years have pointed me toward certain bands that’ve sowed the seeds for the values I embrace to this day.

The love for the music, all the silly fashion trends, and the association with skate culture–among many other factors–are all things that affected my social life in middle and high school. We’d spent so much time with the games, but we’d also recognize band shirts of other kids, exchange CDs, and form bonds over the music, too.

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So, why am I going through this long chain of personal events? Because when I play a THPS game today, those are the things that run through my mind, and the reasons why many of us hold these games so dear. Skating, music, fashion, and video games all intersected at THPS, giving kids like me an identity that influenced their formative years, and in some cases, our values. So, when the trailer for the THPS 1 and 2 remaster dropped, all those thoughts and feelings closely associated with the games came flooding back.

Looking back, the craze for extreme-sports games existed in a fairly small window. If you missed it, I can understand being left to wonder what the big deal is. Regardless of whether or not players internalized skate culture, THPS games nailed the sport’s representation and cranked up the wildest aspects of what professional skateboarding looked like. It consistently delivered the thrill of chaining ridiculous combos of tricks and racking up high scores, and each subsequent entry introduced new game-changing mechanics. For as impactful as it was on the outside, THPS was a marvel of a video game series itself.

Over the years, I’ve played several tremendous games that I would rank higher than any THPS on a personal favorites-of-all-time list, but very few have come close to the level of personal significance and influence of THPS. Remastering THPS 1 and 2 is a clear play at nostalgia, but I don’t really mind. We can only wish for the game to play as close to the originals as possible, given the disaster THPS 5 turned out to be. And if it nails it, seeing those old skaters and skateparks recreated using today’s technology with the classic soundtracks will be a trip, and hopefully, rejuvenate the memories of the series we’ve relegated to the past.

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