Smithsonian launches skate collection

With a vintage 1980s-era skateboard belonging to Tony Hawk, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has begun a collection of artifacts focusing on skateboarding and skate culture.

"Skateboarding is a sport that highlights the inventive and entrepreneurial spirit of our nation," said Brent D. Glass, director of the Washington, D.C.-based museum. "Tony Hawk strongly embodies this spirit, and for this reason I am pleased that his deck launches our collecting initiative."

Hawk, 42, donated the pro model by Powell-Peralta after skating on it at the Quiksilver All '80s All Day Vert Jam, held at Surf Expo in Orlando earlier this month. Wearing 80s-era garb, including a flyaway helmet, fluorescent Jams and knee high-socks, Hawk performed inverts, McTwists, and Madonnas. And just like the old days, he won against a field that included some former competitive rivals such as Christian Hosoi, Mike McGill and Kevin Staab.

"It is one of my personally used signature decks that I saved from 1987," Hawk said by e-mail, referring to the donated board. "I rode it briefly back then but dismantled it for some unknown reason and kept it through the years. The trucks are original Tracker magnesiums and the Lapper is one of few still in existence. The wheels, however, are relatively new."

Adapting to the old board was not easy though. "It was challenging because the tail is much wider than anything I've ridden in the last 15 years, the wheel base is shorter, and it has no nose," Hawk said. "My front foot came off many times during practice because I would slide it too far forward."

Hawk said the Smithsonian inquired through his foundation about acquiring one of his boards."I was excited, but confused as to why they wanted a retro board instead of a modern one," he said. "But now I understand; it is a time capsule that represents a significant era in skating."

Hawk's board is the first artifact in a broader collection focusing on skateboarding and skate culture by the museum's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, according to spokesperson Kate Wiley. The museum is interested in the material culture of skateboarding, including archival items, equipment, technology, tricks and other paraphernalia such as video games.

Wiley said interest in skateboarding grew out of an exhibition from 2009 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian called Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America. The Lemelson Center already has a collection dedicated to snowboarding.

The graphics on Hawk's deck feature a familiar image from the 1980s, with the skull of a hawk superimposed on an iron cross. It was designed by Powell's in-house artist, Vernon Courtland Johnson (VCJ), who helped create the skull and bones imagery common in skateboarding.

"Skaters have always been known to be unique and artistic, so the lifestyle encompasses much more than the physical act," Hawk said. "It has influenced art, music and fashion, and helped to redefine sports in our country."

Hawk's board will join a 1978 Honeycomb Pool Board donated by Stacy Peralta, and another Powell board in the museum's permanent sports collection.

Wiley said the museum has no plans to display the boards yet.