Tony Hawk says Utah event too important to miss, but his return to the ramp is ‘a little scary’

Five months after he broke his leg, skateboarding icon plans to ride in “Legends” session at his free Vert Alert event in Salt Lake City.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skate legend Tony Hawk delights the crowd with an invert as he joins other pro skaters for a community skate during a first look of the new Vans - Utah Sports Commission Skatepark at the Utah State Fairpark on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. Hawk, who broke his leg in March, has promised to return to the ramp for the 'Legends Demo' portion of the Tony Hawk Vert Alert that will come to the Fairpark on Aug. 26-27, 2022.

Tony Hawk’s return to skateboarding after breaking his leg in March isn’t going according to schedule. He expected to be within an ollie of his legendary form by now. His 54-year-old body, meanwhile, must have expected a little more recovery time.

Looks like neither is going to get its way.

Hawk told The Salt Lake Tribune he will participate in the “Legends Demo” session at the Tony Hawk Vert Alert, a free, big-air skateboarding competition scheduled to be held at the Utah State Fairpark on Friday and Saturday. Still limited by his injury, which required a titanium rod to be inserted into his bone, though, he acknowledged he’s not even close to peak form.

“It is a little scary because it’s my first public skate appearance since my injury, and I’m definitely not at the level that I had hoped I’d be,” Hawk said in a phone interview last week. “But at the same time, I can’t miss it. I mean, this event is too important to me.”

For Hawk, the Vert Alert is keeping relevant the ramped, big-air style of skateboarding that made him a household name. Over the past decade or so, vert has fallen out of vogue for broadcasters, event managers and sponsors as the street and park styles of skateboarding gained acceptance due to a surge in neighborhood skateparks. But Hawk believes vert is regaining its popularity among skaters and is still deserving of a place at the table, maybe even at its head.

“It’s definitely an underappreciated discipline of our sport,” he said. “But the irony is that when you look at the bigger events, for instance the Olympics or any of the park events, the tricks that are happening, that are getting the most attention, are vert tricks. And those vert tricks are not of the highest caliber.”I feel like that’s something that’s sort of lost in the noise, and we’re here to make it known.���

Hawk had been puzzling out the idea of a vert-based skateboarding competition, similar to the halfpipe in snowboarding, for years. Then, last year, the Utah Sports Commission offered to host it at the Fairpark in conjunction with the Street League Skateboarding season opener. The SLS will not return this year, in part due to a decision to hold its main events indoors, but the Vert Alert will for a second time. Eventually, Hawk said, he envisions it becoming an annual contest and maybe even a series.

The event will be welcome back in Utah again next year, according to Jeff Robbins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission. The commission named the Vert Alert its 2021 Event of the Year at its State of Sport Awards in April. When Hawk accepted the award at Vivint Arena, it was with a heavy limp and the help of a cane.

“Hopefully we can continue to do it in the future and bring Tony in and build it more,” Robbins said. “And who knows, maybe next year we’ll bring back some of those other events [like the SLS]. But we’re just excited that he would come and do this.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The crowd cheers on the women’s completion in Street League Skateboarding at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Now in its 11th year, the sport’s premier competition series includes more of the world’s best skaters than ever before, with the tour roster featuring 47 athletes hailing from 11 countries, including 21 Olympians and multiple X Games medalists.

Like last year’s event, which was won by Olympians Edouard Damestoy of France and Sky Brown of California/Britain/Japan, this year’s contest will feature a $75,000 purse split evenly between the men and the women. However, this year’s Vert Alert will feature more international talent, including Moto Shibata of Japan and Rony Gomes of Brazil. Free skateboarding clinics will also be presented by Woodward Park City on both days.

Hawk originally envisioned the event as a catalyst to get vert skateboarding into the Olympics. Park and street competitions were included when skateboarding made its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games, and those same disciplines will be featured in Paris 2024. The 2028 Summer Games will be in Los Angeles, which as Hawk’s home and the birthplace of skateboarding culture would seem like the perfect place for vert to make its Olympic debut.

Hawk, however, said he’s “not actively campaigning” to make that happen.

“I just feel like we’re trying to make enough noise that they can’t dismiss it,” he said. “It’s more that we just want to build something where it is undeniable that it is something valid and that should be included. But that’s not the ultimate goal for me. The goal is just to raise awareness and to have these incredible skaters get the respect they deserve.”

One of the best ways to draw eyeballs to his event is for Hawk himself to skate in it. That’s why he committed to participating in Friday night’s “Legends Demo” alongside the likes of Bucky Lasek and Cara-Beth Burnside.

It will be Hawk’s first time back on the ramp in front of an audience since before he broke his leg while skating in late March. He didn’t generate enough speed to stick the landing on a 540-degree aerial rotation — a trick known as a McTwist, which he’s done thousands of times — and snapped his right femur. In an Instagram post he made the day after the injury, he acknowledged the injury may be the biggest test of his lifelong creed that he will continue skating until he physically can’t.

That day, he said, hasn’t come yet. The Vert Alert beckons.

“I made a promise a long time ago that I’d be there,” he said. “So I’m obviously not going to be at my usual capacity, but I’m making it work and, you know, I’ll do what I can.”

Tony Hawk Vert Alert

When: Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.

Where: Utah State Fairpark, 155 1000 West, Salt Lake City, Utah

What: Big-air pro skateboarding contest and clinics

Cost: Free