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