Tony Hawk Reflects on The Search for Animal Chin - Rolling Stone
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Tony Hawk Reflects on ‘The Search for Animal Chin,’ the Greatest Skateboarding Video Ever

Bones Brigade reunited after 30 years to reflect on the film and the most iconic skate ramp of all-time

Animal Chin, Tony Hawk, Skateboarding, Bones Brigade, Steve Caballero, TAnimal Chin, Tony Hawk, Skateboarding, Bones Brigade, Steve Caballero, T

Tony Hawk decided it was time to build a replica of the original 'Animal Chin' ramp.

Eric Hendrikx

In 1986, members of the legendary Bones Brigade skateboarding team – Steve Caballero, Tommy Guerrero, Tony Hawk, Mike McGill and Lance Mountain – journeyed to Oceanside, California in their search for wise sage Won Ton “Animal” Chin. Their quest would lead them to skate what would become the most iconic skate ramp of all time – a ramp that only existed for three days before it was torn down. The legendary sessions were documented in Powell Peralta’s charismatic classic film The Search for Animal Chin. Since its release, Animal Chin has become a generation defining cult classic and the most successful skateboarding video of all time.

Thirty years later, Hawk decided it was time to build a replica of the original Animal Chin ramp and, in essence, get the band back together to recreate historic photos and video of the Bones Brigade shredding on the long lost ramp. “My wife suggested I get in touch with Neal Hendrix to see if Woodward would be interested in building a new ‘Chin’ ramp as a permanent destination,” recalls Hawk. “A few phone calls and meetings later and it became a reality. This is Woodward’s gift to the skateboarding community because now, anyone can come ride the ‘Chin’ ramp.”

Under the guidance of Tim Payne, the original Animal Chin ramp builder, a new ‘Chin Ramp’ was erected at Woodward West Skatepark in Tehachapi, California for the 30th anniversary of the film. The outcome was a near-identical ramp complete with extensions, channels, mini ramp on top of the deck and a full vert spine – a feature that hasn’t been attempted again since it’s original creation. “The original ‘Chin’ ramp had the first vert spine ever built and there hasn’t been another vert spine since 1986,” says Caballero.

“Let’s call that a bad design,” snickers Mountain, glancing over the daunting vert spine.

The Bones Brigade filtered into Woodward West for the inaugural skate session before unveiling the new ‘Chin Ramp’ to the world as a destination for enthusiasts of all sorts – beginners to pros – to enjoy in the coming years. Even Powell Peralta founders George Powell – who piloted his own “ripper” 4BB airplane over the ramp on his way in – and Stacy Peralta made the pilgrimage. “It’s pretty emotional,” says Peralta. “They really push each other and it’s for a different reason now, so many years later. It’s for the joy – not for a board company or brand. And they really like each other now. It wasn’t always like that.”

Over the course of three days the Bones Brigade systematically conquered the new creation, from inverted handplants to tailtaps in the air and beyond, until they ultimately passed the torch to the skateboarding community to relish in the first-time opportunity to skate the legendary ramp – just the mention of its reincarnation drew skateboarding’s brightest vert legends Christian Hosoi, Bucky Lasek, Pierre-Luc Gagnon, Kevin Staab and Neal Hendrix, along with a long list of fresh shredders, armed-at-the-ready to drop in and deliver the goods. “I grew up fantasizing about skating the ‘Chin’ ramp,” recalls Hendrix. “More than anything, skating the new ramp gave me a deeper admiration and greater appreciation of how insanely talented those guys were thirty years ago. It blows my mind that the stuff they did in that video still stands, not just relevant, but significant in 2016.”

Rolling Stone joined Tony Hawk and his fellow Bones Brigade teammates at the private gathering and maiden skate session to witness the remake of some of their historic imagery and watch the guys pull off some never-been-done tricks on the reincarnated ramp. In between shred sessions on the ramp, we sat down with Hawk to get his immediate reaction to skating with his lifelong teammates, reflect on some early Bones Brigade memories and describe what a forty-year ‘Animal Chin‘ reunion might be like.

Animal Chin, Tony Hawk, Skateboarding, Bones Brigade, Steve Caballero, T

It’s been 30 years since the original Animal Chin ramp was built, skated and torn down. What inspired you to reincarnate the ramp?
Steve [Caballero], Mike [McGill] and I had been skating together over the past few years and had just signed a bunch of prints of that iconic invert shot by Grant Brittain. We started talking about recreating that photo and looked into building just the spine for that purpose. The expense was significant. I thought – if we’re gonna go that far with it – lets just build the whole ramp and see if that would interest someone. I knew that Woodward would be a permanent home for the ramp and that it would become a destination in itself. They’re the reason that future generations will get to ride the Chin ramp. Who knows? Maybe they’ll have an Animal Chin getaway weekend.

Once you guys nailed the invert photo, it seemed like there was a resounding relief and you guys jumped into some really gnarly stuff for the video.
For sure that was the moment when we were unleashed and everyone wanted to figure out how far we could take it. It was also the moment we crossed over from obligation to enjoyment and I felt validated in putting the whole thing together. We were getting quality footage – not just the old guys playing the hits. This was for real. When we did those tail taps over the spine in the original film – that was hard. I didn’t expect we were going to get it again. It’s funny, I just saw the original photo on Instagram and we blew it – we fucked up the direction of it. Cab went under me and Lance was supposed to be going under me, so they are grinding the other way. I guess we can just chalk that up to being old and senile. [laughs].

No one has ever built a vert spine like the one on the original ramp, until this recreation. Why is that?
I know why – it’s frightening. But I would think that someone would have done it. It’s so gnarly. I didn’t air over it because I remembered how hard that was on the early Chin ramp and I didn’t think it was going to be any easier.

Do you have a favorite memory from the early Bones Brigade days?
I think it was just traveling because I didn’t really experience traveling as a kid. I mean, my dad would take us on road trips, but I never got to go out of the country. Then suddenly, we were thrusted into doing demos for big crowds and going to faraway places – Japan, Australia, Europe. That was super exciting and frightening at the same time. It was just all so surreal to me, especially being fifteen or sixteen, and back then, those guys seemed so much more experienced than me even though they’re only two years older than me. I really felt like a little kid compared to them.

What do you recall about the original Animal Chin ramp?
The original Chin ramp wasn’t the dream scenario. The ramp was so busy that it was kind of hard to focus on tricks. And we were expected to do our hardest stuff. So we had to figure out how to ride that vert spine – they didn’t exist beyond four feet high before then. It was up to us. No one was going to teach us how to do it. That was a bit daunting, but in that respect, I loved skating the ramp. We skated it for a total of three days and then they tore it down.

Animal Chin, Tony Hawk, Skateboarding, Bones Brigade, Steve Caballero, T

Stacy Peralta said it was during the filming of The Search for Animal Chin that he felt you came into your own and really soared as a skater, dominating over the others. What’s your take on that?
I’d like to think that I was doing pretty well before we started making Animal Chin. But I definitely felt more versatile afterward, because we had to skate all kinds of stuff – pools, street, launch ramps, vert. And starting with the Chin ramp, there were some things that either I hadn’t done before or had only done a few times and so that was the beginning of my realization of what was possible with videos. I would never try a lot of those tricks in contests, and so filming became the venue for trying new stuff, except for demos, but demos didn’t really resonate like that. So yeah, I felt like maybe I was really gaining confidence. Before Animal Chin, I was mostly known for skating Del Mar. So that’s what I took away from I – that I could skate other things and still succeed.

Do you still have close relationship with the other Bones Brigade members?
I think we have an eternal bond after all we’ve been through over the years. I see Mike and Steve once or twice a week. We don’t hang out a whole lot, because we have a ton of responsibilities including children. So it’s not like were at picnics together. But we definitely make an effort to skate or do things together. Lance lives in Seal Beach, so we don’t see him as much. And he’s still the most hesitant to commit to any skating thing. But we definitely find reasons to get together.

It’s weird, because I always felt closest to Tommy in those days because we were closer in age, we liked the same type of music, we both liked to drink a little more than the other guys did, and so we really bonded. When we went on tour, he and I were always roommates. The irony is that he’s the one we see the least. But mostly because skating is not his big thing now—that’s not his career.

Was it emotional for you, getting back together and skating with the Bones Brigade after all these years?
Yeah, definitely, there was a sentiment that – Well, I couldn’t believe we hesitated to do this. There was an outpouring of stoke. At the end of the trip, Johnny Rad played and no one wanted to leave – some guys didn’t. I feel like I was the one who sort of put this whole thing together and I was feeling self-conscious going into it – that I was forcing these guys to reunite and I was asking a lot of their time. I didn’t want anyone thinking that I was out trying to cash in on the whole thing. I just think it’s a cool project and I believe in it. But the best validation, for me, was that George [Powell] and Stacy [Peralta] came and thought what we were doing was cool. I was so worried that somehow they thought I was commandeering the whole ‘Animal Chin’ brand, rather than celebrating it. That was my darkest fear.

It was incredible watching you guys skate the new Chin ramp, recreate iconic tricks and even get some new tricks on it. Lance Mountain was relentless – he seemed like he didn’t want to stop skating.
Well that was funny. Leading up to all of this, we had a group text about it. Most everyone was hesitant about committing so many days to skating it, because not everyone is skating as much as they used to. And I think that I naively just assumed everyone was ready to try. As those texts passed around, Lance was very quiet and would text me on the side, ‘Hey man, I don’t skate half pipes anymore. I don’t think I’m going to perform like I used to.’ And then he ended up skating the most.

I think he’s been skating pools for so long that he realized the potential of flat walls and what he is capable of beyond what he’s been doing in pools. Like, ‘Oh, I can stall inverts again and rely on this wall not to change when I ride it.’ I was blown away that everyone got so into it. I actually felt bad quitting before them. I’m the one who kind of pushed this whole thing to happen with some reluctance and here I am getting tired.

After the initial Bones Brigade session, who are you most excited to see skate the Chin ramp?
I feel like Jimmy Wilkins and Trey Wood would probably open up new possibilities on the ramp. But then Bucky [Lasek]—he’s the perfect blend of our generation and the new generation, because he can do all the super difficult vert tech tricks but he’s also grounded in this 80’s old school trick set that he can pull from anytime. There are some super insane vert girls that I’m sure will kill it there too.

Earlier this year, at age 48, you did a 900 spin on your vert ramp. How did that come about and were you serious when you said you wouldn’t try it again?
I had been skating a lot and I had my spins to where I was doing 540s and 720s consistently and so I thought maybe I could bring the 900 back around. The last one I had done was five years prior. I had been through a string of injuries and I couldn’t overcome those to make it happen since. But I feel as strong as ever now and I tried to do it at a demo in Mexico City earlier in the year. I had the spin but the ramp was so slippery it really wasn’t possible, because I need some friction when I land.

I realized the time frame – the date was coming up on the anniversary of my original 900. Coincidently, it’s also my wedding anniversary and my wife was in Africa on this women’s charity trip, so this was the best distraction for me. Plus, there’s no saying I’ll be able to do this at 50. It took longer than I thought, about twice as long as what I had imagined. By the end of it, I had taken so many hard slams, I felt like I was done with it forever. In hindsight, maybe I can do it again.

Well, congratulations on a successful 30-year Animal Chin reunion. What will the 40-year reunion be like?
[Laughs] Maybe Chin as a mini ramp or a wheel chair ramp. I definitely felt like this was the perfect moment in time. In 10 years, even in five years, we may not be capable of doing handplants or even be able to skate like we can now. 

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