Tony Hawk keeps Olympic dreams alive ... for vert skateboarding

Icon to skate at Vert Alert in Salt Lake City this weekend before championing the sport at Paris 2024 Summer Games.

On the opening day of Tony Hawk’s Vert Alert at the Delta Center last year, 13-year-old Arisa Trew of Australia became just the third woman to perform a varial 540 on a skateboard. In a showcase the next day, as she fought for ramp time alongside the men’s contestants following her win in the women’s event, she became the first woman to stomp a 720. She landed the trick — the same one that put Hawk on the road to becoming a legend — in front of the man himself.

That was just the start for Trew. Last month, the now 14-year-old became the first woman to land a 900 (two-and-a-half airborne twists). Next month, she will be a medal favorite at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

She will have to settle for competing for gold in park skateboarding, though, because vert is not yet an Olympic event.

“There aren’t a lot of vert [contests],” she told the Tribune in 2023. “And I really like vert. I’d rather skate that than park.”

Still, to Hawk, Trew’s progression and the way she’s been able to transfer her big-ramp antics to park competitions illustrates the influence and importance of the vert discipline on the rapidly growing sport of skateboarding. It’s why every summer since 2021 he has shipped his personal skate ramp to Salt Lake City to host his Vert Alert.

This year’s edition of the free event will be held Friday and Saturday at the Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus.

Of course, Hawk, whose vert prowess formed the foundation of his reputation as the G.O.A.T. of skateboarding, wants more for the big-air discipline than to see it recognized as a cornerstone of modern skating. He wants to see it in the Olympics as well.

So far that hasn’t happened. Skateboarding debuted at the Olympics in 2021 with park and street, which center on features found at skateparks or in cityscapes, not on 14-foot-tall ramps like vert. Those same two disciplines will bookend the Paris Olympics, which run July 26 to Aug. 11. However, Hawk’s hometown, Los Angeles, will host the 2028 Summer Games and has already said skateboarding will be included. Hawk hopes vert skateboarding can be included, even if only as a demonstration sport.

“Even if they were to include it as a demonstration sport,” he said, noting he has not received any official indication that will happen, “it would garner so much excitement from the spectators that I sense that they would want to keep it as a discipline going forward.”

In fact, Hawk said he feels athletes like Trew have to water down their tricks to fit them to the smaller bowls, halfpipes and ramps featured in park skating. Even the strongest skateboarders can’t generate enough power on those features to get the air needed to pull off a 900, he said.

“That’s the bottom line. Everything’s smaller,” said Hawk, who plans to attend the Paris Games as an official guest of the International Olympic Committee. “And quite honestly, they have to sort of tone down their tricks for that event. That’s just the hard truth.”

One of the reasons vert was originally left off the Olympic program, Hawk believes, was because not enough competitions existed to showcase and legitimize the discipline. That was a strong driver in his creation of the Vert Alert.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Reese Nelson and Tony Hawk at the women's semifinals, Tony Hawk's Vert Alert in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 23, 2023.

“He’s letting his racket do the talking,” said Jeff Robbins, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission and a former pro tennis player. “He’s coming in and saying, ‘Listen, I want to grow skateboarding. I want kids to have opportunities.’”

This year, though, the issue won’t be a shortage of vert competitions, but rather that athletes are unable or unwilling to go to them. Hawk said athletes who have their sights set on the Olympics, like Trew, can’t risk competing in vert so close to the Games.

“It’s not even the risk of them getting hurt,” he said. “It’s more that they have to sort of shift their style to get back on the vert. And then they would have to go right back into the park style of skating. And there are some similarities, but for the most part, park is sort of its own discipline. It requires a different style of skating.”

One might say a more compressed style of skating.

Despite the absence of Olympic qualifiers and hopefuls, though, Hawk said skating fans won’t find this year’s Vert Alert lacking. It’s still an X Games qualifier, and Hawk will again bring a cadre of buddies in for Friday night’s Legends Demo, in which he also plans to participate. Plus, as illustrated by Trew’s amassment of milestones over the past year, vert skating is on an upward trajectory.

“Seeing the level of skating and how much it has risen just in the last year, it will be on full display there,” Hawk said. “Even though we are missing a couple of key players, I don’t think it’s going to diminish the action at all.”