SPORTS
10/14/2011 11:55 am ET | Updated Dec 14, 2011

Tony Hawk Builds Skate Parks For Next Generation

Tony Hawk is pretty busy these days. When he's not acting in commercials or creating best-selling video games, he's likely raising money to build more skateboard venues in hopes of keeping America's youth out of trouble and in shape.

In case you don't know about Hawk, he's widely considered the greatest competitive skateboarder of all time, winning nine gold medals at the Summer X Games. Nowadays the 43-year-old "Birdman" is retired. His main focus is the Tony Hawk Foundation, which has raised more than $3.2 million for nearly 500 public skate parks throughout the United States.

"We're giving them a chance to skateboard at a place where they feel like they belong," Hawk told The Huffington Post.

"For the most part when you try to skate, you're going to run into opposition," he added. "The parks create a safe environment, and ultimately we are helping kids because there is such a huge obesity epidemic."

Hawk began skating at age 9 when his older brother gave him a blue fiberglass skateboard to mess around with outside their San Diego home. By the time he was a teenager, he was dominating amateur competitions. At 16, he turned pro.

The stardom Hawk garnered came with a hefty income. He bought his parents a new home. And then in the early 1990s, the popularity of skateboarding came to an abrupt end. No longer were sponsorship deals coming through, and no longer was he making money. But while many others moved on, Hawk continued to skate.

In 1999, after grinding it out for almost a decade, Hawk was poised to take advantage of skateboarding's return to the limelight. He started his own video game franchise, "Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater," and landed the first-ever 900, a spin of 2.5 revolutions that he lists as his career's "best moment because some of us had been chasing it for years."

All of this takes us back to building skate parks. To succeed in anything, you need to practice, and Hawk's goal is to provide more children with a real chance to succeed. "I just wanted to give more opportunities for kids that maybe come from more low-income [homes]," he said.

Hawk also wants to eliminate "the perception that the skating community is irresponsible." He wants people to realize "that the kids are not a nuisance, but it's kind of a catch 22 because you're not providing them anywhere to go." Since 2002, the Tony Hawk Foundation has been trying to fix that.

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