Up above the maelstrom of the eyes, the heat and the block-rockin' beats, Tony Hawk tilted against the lip of the little abyss and pushed himself free.
He is tall, and as his skateboard rushed down the half-pipe rising over Polo Park's southern parking lot Monday afternoon, his lanky limbs ticked to angles that pulled him into balance: One foot slid back on the skateboard, lightly. An arm stretched out from the shoulder, lean muscles pulled tightly.
Then Hawk's skateboard raced back to the lip of the half-pipe and launched up into empty space, a few feet of air between anything solid and where his body whirled in place: once around, then a half-time around again, while flipping end-over-end.
The event's MC breathlessly announced the trick in the arcane terminology of skating life. "A MCTWIST!" X-Games host Corbin Harris shouted. It's a pretty trick, and the crowd below -- some of whom got up at 5 a.m. to meet Hawk at an autograph session earlier -- threw up their arms and cheered.
The diversity of those voices and upturned faces revealed the cultural depth of one of skateboarding's living legends: Many of the hundreds who turned out on Monday were well into adulthood in 1999 when Hawk capped his competitive career by landing a ridiculously difficult 900-degree revolution.
Many other fans, though, hadn't even been born -- and before taking to the half-pipe, Hawk laughed over that fact. "It just shows how far we've come," he said. "The fans are so fun. They span so much different cultural and age range now. It's amazing that skateboarding has really transcended that."
No small credit to the man himself, of course: Hawk is simultaneously a 45-year-old father and filthy rich philanthropist, a rippin' skateboarder and a 30-year-old brand. Of all the skaters that turned a board and wheels into a sport and almost, at times, an art, Hawk is the most mainstream, borne into the biggest cultural sea by video games and clothing lines and sponsorships of all sorts and kinds.
Indeed, he brought his crew -- which included five skaters, from veteran Kevin Staab to 16-year-old phenom Mitchie Brusco and Lizzie Armanto, one of the rising generation of women skaters -- to Winnipeg as part of a three-city Canadian tour to launch a new line of Quiksilver clothing at Sport Chek.
After the 45-minute show, Connie Lee stood near the edge of the empty half-pipe as her eight-year-old daughter Jade perched on her skateboard. At first, Lee was worried the sport risked too many busted bones, but eventually agreed to let her daughter try, and the little one fell in love with the sport.
So when Lee heard on the radio that world-famous Tony Hawk was coming, she decided to bring her down to see the show. "It gave me a different perspective of skateboarding," she said, pointing out how often even the best skateboarders fall, fail or bail. The thing is, they get back up and keep trying to land the trick. No coaches, no lessons, just pushing for something inside themselves. "That's a good thing for kids to see."
Before the show, Hawk echoed some of the mother's words. If skateboarding has grown up, from the shenanigans those darned kids were doing in the 1980s to a globally popular sport generating its own celebrities and culture today, it's because you can come to it from all over, he said. "You can do it in any style or technique that you want, but still be part of the community," he said. "It's not like there's a strict set of rules you have to follow. It's not like we have to go listen to a coach to succeed."