Rough Times And The Year Of The "9"
The skateboard industry plummeted in the early 1990s. Sponsors faded, prize money dried up, and Hawk's own income dwindled. Facing bankruptcy, Hawk raised enough money to start his own skate company, Birdhouse, with fellow Powell pro Per Welinder. The business was draining, and Hawk budgeted his meager contest winnings obsessively to support his family. The industry got a shot in the arm in 1995, with ESPN's first Extreme Games, which included bungee jumping, BMX riding, inline skating, and skateboarding. ESPN made Hawk the star of the games. Because of the X Game's mainstream success, Birdhouse sales shot up, and sponsorship money began to flow again. He married his second wife, Erin, in 1996. They had two sons: Spencer in 1999, and Keegan in 2001. By 1998, Birdhouse was one of the biggest companies in skateboarding, and Hawk was the sport's unofficial ambassador. Mainstream media latched onto Hawk and made him the most recognizable skateboarder in the world. He still was a leader in competition, and enjoyed skating demos around the world.
Hawk had been flirting with a "900" or "9"—an unheard-of two-and-a-half mid-air spins on the board—since about 1986. He tried it in practice and in competition many, many times, but never could land it. As he tired of winning contests and was facing a crossroads in his career, Hawk became obsessed with the notion of landing the world's first-ever 9. After finally landing one at the 1999 X Games, Hawk announced his retirement from competition.
Retirement meant nothing for Hawk; he was more in demand than ever. He retained his superstar status in the skateboarding world, and starred in one of the most popular video game series ever, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. He appears at countless demos and signed a contract with ESPN to commentate skate contests for the network. In addition to Birdhouse, he also launched the popular Hawk Shoes and Clothing lines. "I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out," Hawk is quoted as saying online at Club Tony Hawk. "I mean, I never thought I could make a career out of skateboarding."