In the rareified world of pro skateboarding, Tony 'The Birdman' Hawk is undeniably the man. Bringing skating to the masses, he has personally invented over 80 tricks, and - after five years of trying - became the first man ever to pull off the fabled 900. That's five 180-degree turns, maths fans. Despite retiring from competition in 1999, Hawk is still the popular face of the sport, and of course the phenomenally popular videogame, now in its seventh incarnation. Not bad for sliding around on a plank on wheels.
Game number seven is entitled Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, and he's come to a patch of uniquely British wasteland to promote it, bravely swapping the West Coast for West London. Sandwiched incongruously between the Trustafarian chic of Ladbroke Grove and the antique dealers of Portobello Road sits the BaySixtySix Skatepark. I hear it before I see it, with the half-term squall of board-riding chavs drowning out the traffic passing overhead on the famous Westway.
Finding the entrance, I announce that I'm here for The Hawk, and am wordlessly ushered in. Spotting a blonde throng of PR, I make myself known and swiftly get the cheek-kissing duties out of the way. Taking an impromptu seat, the pleasantries are barely under way when a loud clatter announces the arrival of an airborne skateboard. As if in slow-motion, it glances off the back of a PR woman, who luckily manages to take the momentum out if it, thus saving your correspondent from yet another Reality Check-related injury.
Somewhere among the morass of flying boards and screaming kids is The Hawk, and I'm here to find him, interview him, and, if possible, have a go on his board. I've already been told that he won't be doing an interview with PC ZONE, as, with TV crews and national press circling, we come somewhere beneath The Framley Examiner.
SKY'S THE LIMIT
Naturally, I take this edict not so much as an instruction but as a challenge, and set about stalking my prey. The biggest ramp in the park would appear to be the obvious starting point, so I elbow my way past the ankle-biters and clamber up a rickety ladder for a gawp. And there he is, sweating like a beast in heat while being interviewed by a Sky camera crew.
Up close, Hawk looks much older than in the games, and there is an argument that this is no way for a grown man to spend his time. As if to directly counter that argument, he embarks on a series of tricks that at this distance are frankly stunning. It's frightening enough simply being this high up, let alone launching yourself down a vertical ramp on a plank and spinning around like a whirling dervish in knee-length shorts. Spins, flicks, tricks, he's got it all, and the crowd are suitably awed.
He's probably barely stretching himself, but nevertheless he pushes it slightly too far and makes a horse's arse of one trick, tumbling to the ground in a mess of flailing limbs. The pain on his face seems genuine - either physical or psychological - as he hauls himself up for what must be the umpteen thousandth time.
Scooping up his board, The Hawk has clearly had enough and barges through the crowd toward his dressing room. Seizing the opportunity, I swiftly follow him and wangle my way in by posing as the photographer from The Daily Star. By posing, I mean actually taking their photos, for free.
It buys me a few minutes though, and I ask Tony how he found the ramp. Resisting the opportunity to say he turned left at the tube, he surprisingly claims: "This is really small." Apparently, Tony's used to 13ft and not the 10ft out there. The UK isn't a compete loss though, as "in Surrey, there's a really good ramp"