2020 was meant to be a milestone year or skateboarding. While the influence and impact of 365 days can rarely be predicted, with its official debut as an Olympic sport in Tokyo, Japan along with the release of several video games including a revamped Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, and the overall reach and profile of skating in mainstream media, specifically the fashion world, the energy felt aligned for something special, weird, interesting, and perhaps monumental. For the average skater, this means little but for a company owner, a potential market boom could expand their bottom line exponentially.
Historically, skateboarding’s peaks have coincided with the markets in America and aligned with cultural moments, mostly relying on media. In the ‘70s and ‘80s it was television coverage along with Hollywood movies, albeit really hacky caricatures of what skating actually is. In the 90s and 2000s, the line between the larger perception of skate culture and its core drew close enough to drive genuine interest. Sure, the X-Games was a sensationalized version of one sect of skating but the amplification was exciting enough to civilians to influence sales and the reverberations of the original Tony Hawk video game franchise led to Jackass, Wild Boys, Viva La Bam, Rob and Big, Tom Green getting a signature model on Birdhouse, Ashton Kutcher endorsing Zoo York and Chad Muska becoming a socialite.
But as the housing market crashed in the United States, ravaging the industry’s home state of California, the margins shrunk and the media love affair waned. The lean years ensued but as the economy recovered, not only did skateboarding’s profile in the US rebound but through social media, the visibility of global brands did as well. Brands such as Palace, Polar, Magenta, Sour, or Evisen didn’t need an American home base as Flip did in the ‘90s and the average skater no longer needed a hi-caliber filmer to espouse their convictions, just a smartphone and a stolen trap soundtrack. And there are YouTube brands run by Scientologists, Supreme is a billion-dollar brand, everyone in the Silicon Valley “used to skate,” impassioned TED Talks, Mid90s, Skate Kitchen, Betty, Sotheby’s skateboard auctions, and ultimately Coronavirus.
So as we approach the Fall of 2020 everything feels uncertain and I’ll use this platform to make the not so bold prediction that we won’t see a regal debut of skating in the 2021 Olympics without a proven vaccine for COVID-19. What is happening is a spike in the interest in skateboarding that could simply be because it’s one of the only “sports” or things you can do by yourself. As professional skateboarder Alexis Sablone showed us in a recent CONS edit, even the most elite can produce content entirely by themselves without sacrificing quality and while there might be less big box video projects and zero contests, this era of skateboarding has proven that’s not what sparks growth.
One finite occurrence in 2020 will be the release of a new Tony Hawk game on September 4. Do the isolation drills of the COVID-19 world coupled with ample time to control your favorite character translate into another unprecedented rise in skateboarding? Many economists think so, at least in the digital space.
In a passage taken from the Los Angeles Times written by business columnist David Lazarus, video games seem to be a virtual antidote to the COVID malaise:
“It’s fair to say that video games are having a moment right now — a unique and extraordinary time by any measure,” said Stanley Pierre-Louis, chief executive of the Entertainment Software Assn., the leading trade group for video game companies.
“This is an industry that’s about community,” he told me. “Video games are bringing people together.”
Indeed, spending by Americans on video games hit a record $10.86 billion in the first quarter, up 9% from a year before, according to market researcher NPD Group.
Will Ninja stream his Tony Hawk or Skater XL experience on Twitch? I don’t really know but it’s not a stretch to think that some NBA players will or maybe Justin Bieber or Virgil Abloh. We’ll have to see what happens in September. One thing is certain, Activision has a massive investment in the remastered game as you’ve noticed by the wave of media hits surrounding the release that also includes a forthcoming Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater documentary.
With a truly captive audience and both a nostalgia play timed with a cultural interest in the late-’90s and early-2000s, the game and its infamous soundtrack could once again become the adrenaline injection in skateboarding that resonates louder with the mainstream than something as ubiquitous yet exclusive as Supreme. While the game will sell out, it won’t be flipped on StockX as the video game model is not to overvalue 500 pairs of sneakers but to get the product into every possible consumer’s home on whatever platform they use.
If we’re betting or had the opportunity to buy stock in Mr. Hawk, pushing all-in on the Birdman seems bulletproof. He has the track record, the authenticity, and celebrity to power another moment. The variable? Mass energy shortages or Trump banning the game because it hurt his feelings? In a time with no shortage of wild cards, anything truly is possible but as he’s done throughout his multi-decade career, Tony Hawk’s all about one-upping himself. Perhaps we’re on the precipice of another definitive moment in skateboarding or at the least, a nice distraction from virtual learning or our next Zoom meeting. Either way, you have under a month to build up your controller callouses.
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