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Riley Hawk: Pro Skater, Renegade Rider, Shep Dawg for Life

Skateboarding’s heir apparent on his famous dad, doing tattoos and raising maximum hell with his rowdy crew.

In the 1970s, Easyriders magazine rose to peak counterculture fame by featuring a steady and sinuous flow of motorcycles, fat asses and sensimilla. But its true crowning glory were the monthly centerfold paintings created by the biker world’s resident artist, David Mann. His surreal landscapes featuring Harley choppers celebrated a wild and unbridled outlaw lifestyle, one that savored the freedoms of the open road.

Forty-some years later, in the living room of a young skateboarder’s Oceanside home, renditions of Mann’s iconic images are hand-burnished into a DIY coffee table by its owner, Riley Hawk. With beach-blond hair passing his shoulders, unkempt facial hair and sun-seared cheeks, the young and prolific skater, at age 23, has organically infused both persona and lifestyle with a vibe very similar to Easyriders. Garbed in vintage jeans, a shirt featuring an eagle in a headdress and rings made from silver and turquoise, Hawk looks and lives the part. His arms are nearly sleeved with tattoos, some of them done by friends, some by his own hand. “My mom told me not to get sleeves,” Hawk recalls, “but after a bunch of little tattoos, I ended up with them anyway. I did get a portrait of my mom on my left forearm and she loved it.”

Born the son of Tony Hawk, one of the most successful and influential pioneers of skateboarding, it’s no surprise that the young Hawk also became a professional skateboarder. But rather than following his father’s path to vert ramp skating, he celebrated his namesake and talents by taking it to the streets. And in short time, he’s put out a multitude of significant skate parts for Lakai, Baker and Transworld, along with renowned video parts in both the Happy Medium and Shep Dawgs film series. On his 21st birthday, Baker Skateboards turned Hawk pro. And, almost in the same breath, he was announced as the recipient of the The Skateboard Mag’s Year’s Best Am award.

The last time I saw Hawk was at the Shep Dawgs 4 premiere in Carlsbad, California. Over a thousand people showed up in the back parking lot of the old Black Box Distribution building. The lot was littered with retro vans and motorcycles, chicks dressed like they were transplants from the Seventies, shirtless dudes with dogs on leashes and teens drinking and smoking – a scene right out of Woodstock. Stony bands played to the crowd, and when the film dropped, a thousand people cheered in unison to face-melting skateboarding by Hawk and his crew.

Today, we’re at his home, sitting at his handcrafted tribute to Easyriders – a resin-coated coffee table, now dusted with crumbles of pot. During our conversation, Hawk talked tattoos, partying and shared some heavy life experiences in both skateboarding and motorcycle building, two worlds that have more in common than one might expect.

I heard you’re building a bike –
I’ve been working on a bike for about two years now. I originally had a 1999 Sportster that I really liked, but I sold it to a buddy because I needed a little more money to finish this bike. The one I’m building is a 1969 Generator Shovelhead. It’s a sought-after motor that was only built from 1966 to 1969, so I’m stoked I got my hands on one. My friend, Ian Barry, who I grew up skating with, was super into bikes. He was a few years older than me, so I hit him up to help me build one. We had really just gotten to talking about it, and then one night he fell off a cliff in Encinitas and died. It was tragic. He was so loved by our community. His nickname was “Poods,” because when he was a kid he had curly hair, like a poodle. When Ian passed away, they unofficially named the Encinitas Skate Plaza after him – Poods Park.

After Ian passed away, I sort of set aside the idea of building a bike. I had wanted to build one with Ian, but he was gone. I knew Ian’s best friend Chris Henry, who built bikes. He was completely devastated. As time past, Chris and I decided to build the bike in Ian’s honor. He had the big twin motor that Ian wanted to build so we decided it was a fitting tribute. That’s what it’s really about, and why I just want to get it done and on the road.

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Riley Hawk in front of his Shep Dawgs homie wall. Eric Hendrikx

That’s a great way to celebrate your friend’s life. You run with a tight group of friends known as the Shep Dawgs. I know it’s not only about skate films, but tell me about that last skate premiere.
The last premiere was insane, and probably the peak of the Shep Dawgs. We were really the most united and skating together every day. The guys weren’t really filming for other videos yet, since everyone was still up and coming. It took us a year-and-a-half to film Shep Dawgs 4 and it’s one of my favorite videos. It was all about good skating and good music. After the video dropped, everyone was on the map. Guys like Taylor Smith, Rowan Zorilla and Taylor Kirby are all out filming for their own company videos now. Maybe we can do another skate video that’s as good, or better, but we could never recreate the perfect timing of our collective moments the vibe at that time.

Mike Burnett [Thrasher Magazine] said it was the most insane fire hazard he’s ever seen in his life. We had a thousand people in a warehouse with one single door for an exit. Jacob Nunez, Taylor and I were the most stressed-out because we put everything together. The night got so out of hand we decided not to worry about it until the next morning, and just enjoy the ride. You can’t stop that many people from going crazy, so we just said, “Fuck it, whatever.”

I’ve seen video clips of all you guys living and partying together.
My buddy Tyler Hayward had a relative with a house in foreclosure. He was trying to keep the house, so he let us all move in and help with the payments. It was this super nice, two-story, four-bedroom house in a gated community, less than a mile from the beach. I was 18 and living in this luxurious master bedroom with a walk-in closet and massive a bathtub. We were all super young, in our own house with no rules or authority. There were five of us who actually lived there, but there was 15-20 people sleeping there at any given time. We had parties every single day. It was definitely the craziest time of my life, and it was during this time that we made the third Shep Dawgs video.

I guess it’s safe to say you guys didn’t quite fit into the neighbourhood?
Our neighbors hated us. They lived in Perfectville until we moved in. We had music blasting all the time, stuff happening in the yard. Our grass turned into dirt. The association was so pissed. Every morning, when we walked out to leave the house, it was like this walk of shame, where the neighbors would sneer at us, say something about the noise from the night before or complain that someone had passed out in the street or something. We would just walk out with our heads down and try to leave as quickly as possible. The cops showed up all the time.

One night, we were all hanging out on this section of our roof. To get to it, you had to climb out a window and hop up a little gap. My buddy Tanner Cribbs tried to hop up to where we were and he slipped and fell all the way to the concrete. The impact on the ground snapped his arm in half and knocked him out cold. I had to drive him home at 4:00 a.m. He was so confused, because he was trying to move his arm, but it wouldn’t move. I kept trying to keep him still and safely get him home. When we got to his house and woke his parents, he kept saying, “My homies had my back. My homies had my back, dad!” His dad thought he had been beaten up.

We mentioned skateboarding films – what was your biggest inspiration growing up?
The Lakai Fully Flared video was life-changing for me. I was younger when that came out, so those guys were my heroes. Not long after I started watching that video, Lakai started giving me shoes. I couldn’t believe I was being flowed by a company that put that video out. Then everything just fell into place for me. I ended up on the team, and then recently, they told me they wanted to do a shoe with me. It’s surreal, thinking back to those days when I watched that video every day. I don’t know what I did to be so lucky.

Your dad and Ben Harper founded Boards + Bands, a charitable auction of pro skateboard decks with handwritten lyrics by a musical artist. I have seen this summer’s preview of collaborations. There’s a Chris Cole deck with lyrics by Elton John, a Nyjah Huston/Metallica deck and you and Ozzy Osbourne collaborated on a deck.
Yeah, it’s surreal. He’s one of my major heroes, and just knowing that he recognizes my existence is so fucking cool. I’m a big Black Sabbath nerd and have read a lot about them. Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi usually wrote the lyrics to their songs. Ozzy would come up with the melodies, and then the guys would write the lyrics. But Ozzy wrote the lyrics to “Fairies Wear Boots,” and it’s so different than the lyrics to other Sabbath songs. I really want to buy the deck when they auction it, but I’m sure there is no way I’m going to be able to outbid everyone. My dad’s deck with Paul McCartney raised almost $30,000 last year. And I think the Jamie Thomas and Bob Dylan collaboration raised $40,000. For me, just knowing that it happened is cool enough. 

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Riley and his dog Zeus. Eric Hendrikx

You seem to have an great relationship with your dad. Has it always been like that?
My mom and dad split when I was pretty young. So I went back and forth a lot. Each of them remarried. My dad traveled a lot, so I would hang out with my friends and crash out at my mom’s. Then, when I was 17, my dad split up with his wife. He has a guesthouse out back and I moved into it. I think he sort of wanted someone around, and things picked back up to how it was when I lived there before. It was super cool and I got to see my brothers, Spencer and Keegan, a lot more, who are his boys with another wife.

I’ve definitely traveled a lot with my dad and I’ve gotten to see so much. Some of the flights are pretty gnarly. When we went to South Africa, it was an 11-hour flight to London, 11 more to Johannesburg, and then another five to the southernmost point of South Africa. That trip was insane. I felt like I was on a plane for a week. But my dad knows how to keep things fun. One time, he offered my friend, Shay Stulz, fifty bucks to wear his helmet the entire trip home. It was an old Pro-Tec helmet that almost covered his entire head. The flight attendants kept trying to get him to take off the helmet, and we kept telling them that Shay was special and had to keep it on. He wore it most of the way home, but they wouldn’t let him wear it on the last flight. We still laughed about it all the way home, and I think my dad gave him half the money as consolation.

So you’re pretty much touring and filming the entire year? How was the Stay Flared tour?
This year has been so insane. Our first stop on the Stay Flared tour was in Washington, D.C., and Feds [Federico Vitetta] and I got kicked out of a skate spot, so the next morning we decided to get up early and go try it again. Right before we left, Figgy [Justin Figueroa] hit me up. I was surprised, because he was out partying all night and was just on his way back to the hotel. But he hopped in our car and we went and skated the spot, and got kicked out again. Then we went and checked out this crazy kinked rail. Figgy was trying to fifty it, which was probably the gnarliest thing I’ve ever witnessed in person. He almost landed it, but he slipped out of his trick, put his arm back to catch himself and dislocated his elbow. His arm literally popped out. It looked super gnarly. And it was only 9:30 a.m. on the first day of the tour.

We went straight to the emergency room. I went in there with him and he was freaking out. I had never seen someone in so much pain. They were moving his arm around to take X-rays and he was screaming. It was such a hectic scenario. We were there all day. They had to put him under because it was so painful. It took four people to reset his arm. But Figgy is an animal. He actually started skating half way through the tour again with only an Ace bandage around his elbow.

And you’ve been skating with an injury as well, right?
I went to skate Black Box with Figgy and AJ Zavala. I was doing tre flip smith on a rail, came down super weird and tore a ligament in my ankle. It was just rolling and flopping around. Figgy actually had the same injury from before. But he skated on it too soon, tearing it again, which put him right back in surgery. I kind of have this Figgy curse where a lot of the same things have happened to me. I feel like I’m going to wind up needing another surgery too. And now I have all these bone spurs growing in my ankle, which is super painful.

I feel like I’ve had to half-ass my way through the past few months. I can skate, but I’m in constant pain, it’s such a nuisance. I can’t pop off from my front foot, so I can’t do a nollie or switch Ollie because it just hurts and my foot doesn’t really function in that direction. But I would rather stay busy doing the demos and signings, and wait until maybe the winter to get another surgery if I need it. I’ve been dealing with this messed up ankle for over a year.

You’ve done some tattooing too, right?
The first tattoo I did was this little Black Sabbath demon on my leg. We went to this tattoo shop and I was looking at the tattoo rigs and ended up just buying one to see if I could do it. After that, all my friends who saw it wanted me to tattoo them. So then I started doing them on my friends. It sucks though, because if you’re even semi-decent at it, everyone wants you to tattoo them. We would have these parties at the Shep Dawgs house and I’d end up sweating and tattooing all night.

I learned how to do it from an awesome tattoo artist and friend, Roy Leyva. He’s gnarly. He’s tattooed some portraits on me of Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and of my mom. Roy also did the second tattoo I got, which was my dad’s hawk-skull graphic with a little hood over it. I remember my dad telling me, “Just don’t get one on your neck”. That’s all he said.

Have you gotten any tattoos on skate tours?
I got this Skate Rock 2013 tattoo from Nuge [Don Nguyen]. It was the most horrific gun and set up. Someone had stepped on the machine and broke it, and we put it back together. I was on this bed in a hotel room with like 15 people jumping on and off the bed. It actually came out good. I don’t really care; it was more about the memory from that tour. It was a super fun trip that Thrasherput on. We would skate a demo and then every single night there was a show at a bar. It was chaos every night.