HERE'S TONY HAWK, opening the door of the Original Pancake House on a warm November morning in Encinitas, California. He's wearing loose-fitting jeans, skater shoes, a brown T-shirt with QUIKSILVER screaming across the chest, and mirrored aviator shades. His gait is athletic with a dose of Shaggy, because he's tall and lanky, and, it appears, a bit tired. When he approaches to shake my hand, I see that he's got a day's worth of stubble and a lot of the whiskers are gray. No way, I say to myself. The Birdman has gray hair.
We take a seat at one of the many empty tables and Hawk points out that the waitresses are staring at himnot because they recognize him as a skateboarding god but because they're confused. He comes here all the time, but always much earlier and "wreaking havoc" with his kidsRiley, 14, Spencer, seven, and Keegan, fourwhen he wants to get them out of the house. He sounds hoarse and keeps clearing his throat. He is tired. He should be: He spent all day yesterday, Sunday, in Beverly Hills skating with Shaun White, Bucky Lasek, Andy McDonald, and other pros at a fundraiser for his foundation, which builds public skate parks. They raised $900,000, of which $7,000 came from actor Michael Rapaport, who won a bidding war for Hawk's board by doubling the previous priceas long as White's board was thrown in.
Today, White's late meeting us. At 11:20 a.m., he texts Hawk to ask when he's supposed to be here: 11 or 11:30? It was 11. "This is so Shaun," says Hawk. "I was telling him yesterday, 'We're on for tomorrow, right?' And he says, 'Tomorrow? Oh, are we gonna skate tomorrow?' 'No, Shaun, we have an interview at 11. Remember?' 'Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Pancake House. I'll be there.' "
I almost hug Hawk. It's been hard enough to schedule a sit-down with the 38-year-old grand master of action sports and the lovable champion who, at just 20, seems destined to be the freckled face of the ascendant industry for the next, well, it could be a really long time. If White had blown this meeting, I might have given up.
But... here's Shaun White. I can tell because Hawk is looking past me and smiling and shaking his head, and because I can hear hyper chuckling from behind my shoulder. Then the kid is upon us and he's grabbing at the menu and the vibration of the whole room kicks up five notches. Now Hawk and I are laughingbecause White is laughing, and because the Olympic gold medalist has a shocking case of nuclear-orange bed head. He just got up. He's in a white printed T-shirt and skinny black cords, both from Volcom, one of his sponsors. His white Adio signature shoes are spray-painted a glossy red, because he recently shot a cell-phone commercial with Motorola, a partner in the Red campaign, the charitable business venture launched by Bono that has companies donating a percentage of sales to buy AIDS drugs for impoverished Africans.
Of course, Motorola plucked White to be a spokesman for Red partly because of his iconic mop. But the role is one more indication of the Flying Tomato's transcendent commercial allure. As he heads into the Winter X Games in Aspen, in late January, White is a marquee attraction, a rare two-sport superstar who's one of the world's best snowboarders and vert skaters, winning a silver medal on the halfpipe at the 2005 Summer X Games. Rarer still, he's an action-sports icon with the crossover marketing appeal attained thus far by only Hawk and Laird Hamilton.
White is certainly lucky. He took center stage in Turin while Americans like Bode Miller were fizzling. He's hitting his stride as skate, snowboard, and surf labels flood shopping malls, racking up annual sales of more than $11 billion. But he's also a remarkable athlete, having swept the five Grand Prix snowboard events leading up to Turin. He's smart, too, and with guidance from Hawk, whom he's known for more than a decade (they met when White was a snowboard prodigy and have skated together since he was nine), is astutely managing his public image and commercial partnerships to build himself into an enduring brand.