Tony Hawk will be honest with you. He hated high school. When ESPN asked him to return to one of the three high schools he attended to film an episode of "Homecoming" with host Rick Reilly, he said no way. Then he agreed to do the show provided he could return to his middle school, where teachers supported his skating and he was just one of the kids. In high school, he was shunned for being different. He was a skinny kid with a funny haircut who spent his afternoons at the skate park instead of on the baseball or football field. He didn't hang with the "in" crowd, so he was treated like an outsider. Since graduating from Torrey Pines (San Diego) in 1986, however, the legendary Hawk has built an empire around his success in the sport of skateboarding. It's just too bad back then he was the only one who saw it coming.
ESPN RISE: What do you miss most about high school?
Hawk: At that age, there was this sense of newness and every day was a learning experience. I was trying to come up as a skater and it seemed like there was this blank canvas in front of me. But there's not much I miss about high school. I was considered an outcast because I skated. I was a ghost.
ESPN RISE: Do you still keep in touch with any high school friends?
Hawk: I changed high schools three times because my parents moved. I had one friend my freshman year named Miki Vukovich. Miki and I were the only skaters in our high school. He runs my foundation now.
ESPN RISE: Who were your influences back then?
Hawk: Skaters I thought were innovative -- Steve Caballero, Christian Hosoi. I didn't emulate them, but I enjoyed their styles.
ESPN RISE: How did the independence you gained from skating carry over into high school?
Hawk: I was a lot more cultured than the other kids in my high school. Because I traveled, I understood different cultures and had a more worldly view. Most of the people I went to high school with had never been outside of California. Because of that, I think I was more accepting of other kids and what they were into than they were of me.
ESPN RISE: What were your best subjects in high school?
Hawk: Math. And physics. I was nerdy and really into computers. I was a good student until my senior year, when I started traveling and had a lot of absences.
ESPN RISE: When did you know you were going to make it in skateboarding?
Hawk: When I was a senior, I started making pretty good money, and I bought my first house before I graduated. I thought, 'This is my career.' Everyone else was trying to figure out what college they were going to and what career path to choose, and I knew what I was going to do. I knew the dream might be short-lived, but I had to chase it.
ESPN RISE: What is the best thing you've learned over the years?
Hawk: Do what you love. Follow your passion. In the end, you are going to be happy. It doesn't matter if you are a huge financial success. I went through tough times. But all along, I got to do what I loved.
ESPN RISE: Any final piece of advice?
Hawk: Don't be afraid of girls. That is my big regret. Knowing what I know about girls, I should have just gone for it. Guys are such wimps.
Interview conducted by ESPN The Magazine's Alyssa Roenigk