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Until The Wheels Fall Off cements Tony Hawk’s celebrity status as the world’s most famous skateboarder while exploring some of the more difficult parts of his life. Using never-before-seen interviews from friends, family, and skateboarding veterans, it delves into Tony’s history as a teenager and his rise to stardom, while documenting his personal struggles and increasing physical vulnerability.
While producers Mark and Jay Duplass are fans of Hawk, the documentary brings their signature desire to look deeper into the subject at hand to try to uncover what’s going on beneath the surface. And though Hawk has been the subject of countless interviews, pieces of TV coverage and videogames, we finally have a documentary that presents him as an individual rather than the icon we so often put on a pedestal.
Until The Wheels Fall Off
Director: Sam Jones
Release date: March 13, 2022 (SXSW)
Rating: Not yet rated
Until The Wheels Fall Off opens with shots of Tony attempting and re-attempting to land a 900 trick in an indoor skatepark. Immediately subverting our expectations of the flawlessly-executed jumps we are so used to seeing, he falls after every jump. Becoming increasingly frustrated, he’s visibly in pain from the impact of the falls and eventually slides onto the floor of the halfpipe, defeated. This opening reveals everything we need to know about the documentary: it’s not just going to be a publicity tour for Tony, but will instead reveal more of the truth about who he is as a person.
While producers Mark and Jay Duplass are fans of Hawk, the documentary brings their signature desire to look deeper into the subject at hand to try to uncover what’s going on beneath the surface. And though Hawk has been the subject of countless interviews, pieces of TV coverage and videogames, we finally have a documentary that speaks to him as an individual rather than an icon.
Over the course of 2 hours we cover a lot of ground: from Hawk’s childhood as a not especially physically promising, but determined, child; to him turning pro at the age of 15 and then his meteoric rise to fame. It’s easy to forget that he was just a child at the time, and his being invited to join the famous Bones Brigade in the 1980s was just about the dream for any teenage skater. Even this elite group of skaters whom the community looked up to in awe, were just a group of kids finding out who they were and looking for a sense of belonging. The uniting factor for all of them was their talent for skateboarding, and interviews later reveal that several of them are friends to this day.
The filmmakers also take the opportunity to interview his brother and sister to get their input on Hawk’s home life, and considerable time is spent examining Hawks’ relationship with his father, who like many fathers of successful athletes pushed his son to do his best, while also coming across as overbearing and interfering. Nevertheless, we get the full picture of Tony as a child and the cost of his early fame.
We then follow his trajectory into a premature adulthood with a wife, children and multiple mortgages; and before we know it, vertical skateboarding as a spectator sport loses its popularity, and by 1991 the Bones Brigade has disbanded and its members have become increasingly jaded with the sport. The film shows these years as a difficult time for Hawk, and down the line we even see him have to sell the house he first bought with his prize money as a high-schooler, dismantling the skate ramp he built with his father in order to move and not get into debt as the skating income dried up. The ramp is literally an unkind metaphor for the rise and fall of a star – though luckily here, what falls down, gets back up again.
It’s only really when the X-Games were formed in 1995 that Hawk began to rekindle his passion. He and a team of other young pro athletes threw themselves into the new endeavour and, a few years’ life experience behind them, they made a fresh start. As it turns out, they become heroes in the X-Games world and it’s the platform where Hawk finally pulls off his legendary 980-degree trick – the first athlete ever to do so. Many had tried and come close, but attempt after nail-biting attempt finally pays off for him and he solidified himself as a skateboarding champion.
Hawk himself isn’t initially that forthcoming: it feels as though interviewers and his family, friends and peers give much more information than he initially does, and it takes a little while for him to reveal his thoughts and feelings. The doc characterises him as someone who struggles to process his emotions – his family describe how, from a young age, he was a difficult person and finally used skateboarding as a way to channel his energy and focus rather than confronting problems. As it turns out, this repression kitted him out for a successful career, but not for his personal life. Hawk described going through multiple failed relationships and neglecting his children, which is more insight into the star than we might have known from his extreme fame and popularity.
There are a few warning signs, too, and the filmmakers go to lengths to show how dangerous some of the stunts can be, especially for riders who have been active for close to 40 years. By the end of the doc, though, things are on a much more hopeful note. As of 2021, skateboarding has officially been recognised as an Olympic sport – and, having only increased in popularity, Hawk has become well-known in younger generations for his legacy.
The doc ends by highlighting his philanthropic work in founding The Skatepark Project, an organisation that builds skateparks in local communities and has donated to over 600 recipients, with a total of nearly 6 million visitors. The film shows that at the age of 53, Hawk now still skateboards but is much more focused on his family and especially his children. Overall, Until The Wheels Fall Off covers a lot of ground, and though the 2-hour-plus runtime feels as though it could be trimmed down, it’s a unique doc that challenges some of the preconceived ideas we may have about the person who is known as the face of skateboarding.