Reflecting on Tony Hawk's 900
Twenty Years, 20 Firsts celebrates the 20-year legacy of the X Games in action sports with a collection of 20 of the most iconic first-trick moments in X Games history. The fan-vote component for the top moment concluded with Elena Hight taking the win just after X Games Austin, but the "World Of X Games" 20 Firsts show will count down the top 20 moments July 19 on ABC.
You can find a variety of ways to qualify the first 900 on a skateboard, which Tony Hawk landed in the 1999 X Games Vert Best Trick competition in San Francisco. The 900 was skateboarding's Holy Grail at the time, perched on the line that separates possible and impossible.
When Hawk, then 32, landed it, on his eighth attempt of the evening, the resulting renown was akin to Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World. It remains arguably the most famous moment in action sports history.
However, to best understand what Hawk's 900 did for the sport, consider this story. In April 2012, 13 years after Hawk's historic feat, a little-known 16-year-old named Zac Rose drove to his local skatepark at the Rye Airfield in New Hampshire. Rose had never tried a 900 before that day, but he figured what the heck and began messing around with two and a half rotations.
Rose's session was not on live television. He was not the most famous skateboarder in the world. It was not the X Games. No filmer was present.
Rose tried the 900 more than 20 times, falling on each. Then, in the dimly lit, 50,000-square-foot hangar, Rose dropped in for one more run on the vert ramp. He launched into the 900, spinning slowly at first, then speeding up his final rotation just in time to stick the trick. He squatted as he rode out the landing, much like Hawk did in 1999.
A friend happened to film Rose's feat on a cellphone, proving that Rose had indeed just become the ninth skateboarder to join the 900 club. (Hawk remained the sole member for five years, until Giorgio Zattoni joined him in 2004. There are now 11 members.)
Still, Rose's achievement attracted almost no attention. "I didn't really think it was a huge deal at the time," he said last week. Even now, the YouTube video of his 900 has been viewed only 6,063 times.
This is what happens when someone sets a precedent, as Hawk did. Once something has been proven to be possible, people move on. Following the first -- despite the fact that the same physics apply and the trick is just as difficult -- is indisputably easier. And seemingly less worthy of applause.
Thanks to his 900 in San Francisco, Hawk's effect on his generation of skateboarders -- many of whom witnessed it in person -- is legendary. To skaters like Rose, who was 4 at the time of Hawk's groundbreaking feat, the trick is simply something they saw on the Internet. Yet its influence on them has been no less impactful.
Take Tom Schaar, for example. He was not alive for Hawk's historic spin. He landed his first nine in 2011, at age 12, and remains the youngest to land the trick.
"When I saw Tony's nine for the first time," Schaar said, "I didn't know how anyone could do that. I was 5 or 6 at the time; it was right after I started skating. My older brother was a street skater and I would always skate with him. But after I saw video of Tony's trick, it inspired me to skate vert instead of street. It kind of launched my whole skating career."
Jono Schwan, who joined the 900 club last April at age 16, said watching the clip of Hawk's nine taught him an invaluable lesson: "You can try it as many times as you want, but you'll never land it until you commit both physically and mentally." Schwan, who was skating with Hawk, 45, last week in a vert exhibition in Melbourne, Australia, added: "The reason Tony's 900 was so incredible was that most thought it was impossible to do, like getting a man to the moon."
Hawk's influence extended to Elliot Sloan as well. When Sloan was 11, he flew from his home in New York City to visit a friend in Florida. Though he didn't watch it live, he remembers hearing about Hawk's 900 the night it happened and sitting in front of the TV, watching the replay time and again.
"It's hard to describe," said Sloan, 25, who won his first X Games gold medal last summer. "But it was so motivating and definitely a huge influence on me wanting to pursue skating on a professional level."
Sloan landed his first 900 on the MegaRamp quarterpipe in South Africa in 2011. He, like Rose, has never landed another.
Schaar went on to become the first skateboarder to land a 1080 five months after he landed the 900. He has yet to attempt a 1260.
"That'll be maybe the next year or two, at least," he said. "That would be next level."
As Hawk proved in 1999, next level means possible.