SXSW 2022: ‘Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off’ is Perfect Vulnerability

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Tony Hawk Until the Wheels Fall Off - But Why Tho

I love sports documentaries. There is something about watching the people who have defined their sports and are at the top of craft talk about how and why they got there. But the strongest thing a sports documentary can do is bring out a vulnerability in its subject and show the importance of their craft beyond medals and trophies or records. Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off does just this.

An HBO documentary directed by Sam Jones, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off chronicles Tony Hawk‘s life as he developed his deep love and talent for skateboarding. Jones takes us through Tony’s childhood, his family life, and the adversity of being the odd-kid-out at the skatepark. Scrawny and focused on finger flips, Tony’s path to success looked different than everyone else’s. Jones maps out how Tony crafted his identity as a skater differently than his peers. While they focused on power, Tony focussed on finesse.

A visual sport, it would be easy to just pack the film filled with tricks and flips, and the archival footage Jones uses offers that to an extent. But every trick and every skate session chosen is done so to push the film’s focus on Tony’s growth both in and out of a drained pool.

For starters, early footage of Tony skating is used to highlight his familial relationships, particularly with his father. By having family members and Tony speak over and through archival footage, Jones uses skate sessions to tell a story, not just to look cool. As he progresses, the footage is used to frame a conversation with his peers, many of which appear in the documentary—such as Stacey Peralta, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill, Duane Peters, and Christian Hosoi. While we get to see Tony’s career unfold visually, we also get to see it retold by those around him, even the harder parts like having beer cans thrown at him or being on the outside.

All of that said, it’s how Jones uses the 900 as a character in Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off that makes this documentary something special. Opening with brutal slams from failed attempts, we see a 53-year old Tony trying to land the trip that made sports history at the X-Games. He slams hard. His board goes flying. He screams. In this one trick, Jones sums up Tony’s experience as a skater.

Tony Hawk is an icon because of how much he’s done for skateboarding, but more importantly, it’s because of the drive and singular focus he has dedicated to his craft. Repeating a trick as many times as needed to get it done, the 900 becomes a summation of his career but also a way to engage with the reality that bodies do break—especially after 40 years of skating.

Not only do we see Tony’s vulnerability here, but we see all of the pro-skaters in a different light. This vulnerability is how the film’s final act hits a climax. That said, Jones never loses sight of Tony as a person throughout the entirety of the documentary. We see Tony’s relationships with his father, mother, and siblings and ultimately his wife and kids. These moments are tender, but they also show how Tony is fallible. He opens up about his struggle with intimacy and how skating was a way to help him through problems, and a way for him to turn his back on them too.

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off is about skateboarding and Tony Hawk’s impact and legacy in that world. But it’s also about who he is as a person and how he has grown as a person since the first time he stepped on a skateboard. There is a perfect vulnerability that is woven through the documentary that makes it more than just “athlete was the best, the end.” Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off is a wonderful, vulnerable, and beautiful addition to the genre. Tony Hawk is a legend, but Jones doesn’t forget that he’s human too.

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off premiered at the SXSW 2022 International Film Festival and will be available to stream on HBO Max April 5, 2022.


Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off
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    Rating - 10/10
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TL;DR

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off is a wonderful, vulnerable, and beautiful addition to the genre. Tony Hawk is a legend, but Jones doesn’t forget that he’s human too.