Skateboarding is a sport built around falling on your ass, followed by getting back up and figuring out why you fell on your ass, and then almost immediately falling on your ass all over again. Some people can do this and get pretty good at it. Some even get to do it professionally, and have corporate sponsors that help pay for them to fall on their ass. Others, well, they just fall on their ass. I fall into the latter category, and during my skateboarding peak, I was an expert at falling on my ass. This is largely the fault of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.
The game came out in September of 2000, which is right around when I started high school. Of course I had dropped plenty of hours into its predecessor, but it was nothing compared to the sequel. I started skateboarding a little bit before I started the ninth grade, but it was just a hobby. I was never very good at it, and my balance left a lot to be desired. Falling on my ass became a regular pastime. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 came out, and at the time it was a big deal. The game featured amazing new levels, a few more playable characters, and even a level creator. This game was going to be something really special.
Since I had yet to own a Playstation, I wasn’t able to play the game on a regular basis until the Nintendo 64 version came out the next year. Of course, that version was gimped due to cartridge space limitations, but by the time it had come out, the game was already burned in my brain. Friends and neighbors owned, and it quickly took over a lot of the time we spent together.
The reward for finishing the game with each character was a skate video set to one of the pieces of licensed music from its soundtrack. Each one featured clips of the playable skaters showing off their moves. Even the hidden characters had videos, so unlocking everything became a real treat. My friends and I worked at it to unlock a specific video, and it was at this moment that everything changed.
Within those 45 seconds, something happened. Rodney Mullen quickly became my favorite skateboarder of all time, and a whole new world of majestic flatland trickery was opened to me. As a skater, I never got into riding ramps or jumping off of insane ledges. Not only was I afraid of getting seriously hurt, but it just never appealed to me. I quickly learned that most of these crazy tricks and maneuvers Rodney Mullen did were actually invented by him. As insane as the skateboarding was within the game, Rodney Mullen was chaining it all together in real life. He was the real deal.
Because of that, I got a lot more into the sport. It consumed my life as I started trying to imitate and recreate some of the unbelievable things I watched this man do. I knew how to perform a kickflip, but that wasn’t enough. I had to learn new variations. I had to do whatever it took to try and chain these maneuvers together the way that Rodney did. It was truly inspirational. The way he did it made it into a creative art, one I hoped I could somehow replicate.
My friends and I really took to learning some of these crazy tricks, and for a while we built our own ramps and grind rails to play with. Sure it was dangerous, but it didn’t matter. We just wanted to skate. One time in particular, we stole a couple shipping crate bases from a grocery store and used those to build a box. We ended up connecting it with a ramp and we could chain together our own runs. It was much better than going to the junior high school and getting kicked out by the cops, something which happened every time I went there.
Another time we were stuck indoors due to a foot of snow on the ground. School ended up getting cancelled for a couple days because of it, and we came up with a plan. One of us had an unfinished basement that was fairly large. His parents were at work for the day and wouldn’t be back until later that evening. With this in mind, we set our plan in motion.
We managed to move all of our ramps and boxes down the stairs and into this basement. I don’t remember the layout of the house, but I remember that the entrance to the garage was close to the basement stairwell. Suburbia was kind to us in this regard. The basement itself was mostly empty as is, and it made for an excellent, impromptu skate park. It had a hard concrete floor, and for a basement, the ceilings were unusually high. It was perfect to set up our own little skate course. The rest of the day was spent skating around this makeshift basement skate park and listening to terrible CKY records. I remember the excitement that came when we started jumping between the boxes as we grew comfortable with our basement haven. Tony Hawk had put all kinds of crazy ideas in our heads, and we were out to live the dream.
It wasn’t just the skateboarding. It was also the music. The Tony Hawk games were known for their licensed soundtracks, which by the time Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 came out, featured a mix of punk rock, hip hop and a smattering of metal. I was mildly aware of punk rock at this time. I had listened to Green Day and the Offspring and I’d heard a couple of Blink 182 albums. Tony Hawk 2 helped introduce me to the real thing, with songs from bands like Bad Religion, Lagwagon, and Millencolin. I grew to love them all.
Having recently gotten a broadband internet connection, I got on Napster and started downloading all I could find. It really led me to a musical renaissance. Throughout high school I got more and more into ska and punk rock, and even started playing guitar. By the end of my high school career, my tastes were starting to drift more towards indie rock, but punk and ska were still close to my heart. I grew out of a lot of it for a while, thinking it to be juvenile noise, but in the last few years I’ve really fallen in love again. It makes up a big part of who I am and it helped open me up to a whole other world outside of the radio’s brand of corporate butt rock. It isn’t unusual for video games to have licensed soundtracks, but I feel like it is rare for one to fit the setting as well as the early Tony Hawk games did.
I don’t actually skateboard anymore. I’m 26 and I’m kind of afraid to get back on the board. I do still have the last skateboard I bought, though if I ever decide to get back on it, I may as well just replace everything. The wheels are worn, the bearings are shot. The deck itself is a bit tore up, and I’m not sure how sturdy it still is. I’m worried to ever go back to it because of the amazing experiences I had when I was younger, and I’ll admit, I am terrified of seriously injuring myself. I also don’t know if skateboarding at 26 will give me that same excitement. Rodney Mullen is 45 and still pulls it off, so maybe I’m just over-thinking it.
The game just set a real fire under me. I’ve been playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 again lately, trying to discern if it really was as fun as I remember. Not only do I have most of the game committed to muscle memory, but it is just as good as it was over ten years ago. Few games can ever pull that off, and for everything it did for me, I’m proud that this one made the cut.