Skateboard legend Tony Hawk on the impact of coronavirus: 'I have lost a lot of business'

Vans signed skateboarder Tony Hawk as a global ambassador in April 2020

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Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk might be famous for his mid-air flips and gravity-defying tricks, but like many people, he's now having to pull off business pivots on the ground as lockdowns have put the lid on travel.

Hawk, who shot to fame in 1999 when he landed a 900, a highly technical two-and-a-half revolution aerial spin that was broadcast on ESPN, generates income from his skate brand Birdhouse as well as speaking appearances, sponsorships and Activision video game franchise "Pro Skater."

"I honestly have lost a lot of business recently. I do a lot of skate events and a lot of speaking engagements. And really a lot of that's my bread and butter. So, they've all been obviously canceled," stated Hawk, who spoke to CNBC on the phone from his San Diego, California home.

"We were supposed to be on tour in Australia right now, actually. And I was going from one speaking gig to another, straight to Australia and then back (to the U.S.) for other speaking gigs. So that's all gone, and (I've) just been trying to figure out how to stay productive and how to keep my office employed because I have about 12 people employed," he said.

Hawk, whose net worth is reported to be $140 million, was due to appear in Sydney and Melbourne this month and then head to do a keynote at the Association for Financial Professionals conference in Las Vegas, an event that has been rescheduled for October. Instead, he's been busy autographing prints to raise money for his foundation, participating in celebrity auction the "All In Challenge" for those affected by Covid-19 and playing old versions of his video game, as well as staying business-focused.

"(I've been) just trying to figure out new ways to stay in business. I mean, just in terms of revenue streams or opportunities, different collaborations with brands maybe that I had never worked with before and still trying to plan for the future," Hawk said.

Birdhouse, the skateboard company he set up in 1992 that sells a range of boards and fashion items, has taken a hit. "We do get stuff manufactured here (in the U.S.), we get it manufactured in China and Mexico and we're having to scramble to find sourcing. So, it's not been that the sales are down, it's that they're delayed. We just can't deliver on time," Hawk told CNBC.

One initiative that is going ahead is his role as the global ambassador for skate shoe Vans, a collaboration announced earlier this month with a brand he first started wearing in 1978, when he begged his father for a pair.

@tonyhawk: 1983 / 2020: same locations, same photographer (@jgrantbrittain), same @VANS_66

"If you were going to be identified as a skater, you wanted to wear Vans, and skating came to define my life. And so through my early years, there was only Vans. And through the years, obviously I went to different shoe sponsors and (had) different connections. But I always respected Vans for staying true to the core and skating no matter what," he told CNBC by phone.

Hawk has been a commentator for Vans Park Series, a skateboarding competition that has been running for five seasons, since 2019. Now that events planned for Paris and Montreal have been canceled, fans can still expect Hawk to appear in Vans' social media posts and videos.

"Obviously, I'd much rather be doing more public appearances on behalf of Vans right now. And I wish things were better for everyone financially so that we could really take advantage of this partnership in terms of the types of events … that we were going for, because that was a big part of my deal was to produce some skate events," Hawk stated.

Vans, owned by VF Corp, isn't disclosing the value of its sponsorship. "We've never taken the route to have celebrity endorsements for commercial opportunities. We've always done right for the culture (of skateboarding)," according to Bobby Gascon, director of global marketing for action sports at Vans, who spoke to CNBC by phone.

Hawk is also involved in Foot the Bill, an initiative set up by Vans that sees small skate stores create custom-designed shoes, with the footwear company letting those businesses keep the net proceeds up to a total contribution of $4 million. He nominated San Diego store Carlsbad Pipelines, his first skate shop sponsor, as a recipient.

Life under lockdown has been like "Groundhog Day" for Hawk, who lives with his wife Catherine Goodman and four of their children. "It's kind of a nice change for us. So, I feel very lucky in that, you know, where we have an excuse however strange, that we get to see them more often," he said.

Skateboarder Tony Hawk performs a trick as his role as an ambassador for shoe company Vans.

He also has an eye on creating a best trick event at the skating facility he has at home — abiding by social-distancing guidelines. "It would mean that each person would skate individually and try to do their best trick in a certain amount of time. And then we would do a voting process. That's … basically my next move right now," he told CNBC.

Known as a business legend as well as a sporting one, he has this advice for entrepreneurs trying to do business during the coronavirus crisis: "My best advice is to stay the course. You know, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. It seems further away than ever. But also, maybe get creative with your business or with your skill set."

Is attempting another 900 part of Hawk's desire to get creative? His last was in 2016, aged 48, a stunt that he filmed for his Ride YouTube channel. "That is really hard for me to plan. It usually happens spontaneously, so never say never. I mean, if I were in the right situation and I was feeling loose and I had the right kind of ramp set up, maybe I'd do it. But it's just it's harder than ever," he said.