Review: HBO Documentary Film: ‘TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF’

TONY HAWK: UNTIL THE WHEELS FALL OFF

Centering around intimate new interviews with Tony Hawk himself, the film is an all-encompassing look at the skateboarder’s life, legendary career, and relationship with the sport with which he’s been synonymous for decades. Hawk, a pioneer of modern vertical skating who is still pushing his limits at the age of 53, remains one of the most influential skateboarders of all time.


Tony Hawk kicks off his big HBO documentary by falling down. A lot. Like, 5 solid minutes of eating it all over the ramp. It’s a bold, remarkably human way to start a documentary about a 53-year-old icon who many in the non-skating community would still consider the most famous skateboarder of all time (this reviewer raises his hand). Heck, my wife knows more about Tony Hawk than I do.

The complete list of things I knew about Tony Hawk before watching this documentary:

  • He was (probably) the most prominent skater in the world
  • He was the first skater to land a 900 (a crazy trick where you shoot off a ramp and spin 2.5 times in the air before landing)  I also learned this from his video game series, Tony Hawk Pro Skater
  • He has a hilarious Twitter feed

And yet, I left Sam Jones’ Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off feeling pretty invested in skateboarding. Jones’ documentary benefits not only from extensive access to Hawk and his skating peers but also from a wealth of archival footage and clips that help these interview recollections resonate. Sure, you learn about Hawk’s upbringing in San Diego, and his dynamic with his strict father – but what really resonates is the sense of purpose uniting these passionate young skateboarders. You really get the spirit of the community. Tricks and success in this sport are the product of individual inspiration, yes, but also due to watching and learning from both your rivals and teammates. Hawks’ contemporaries are real unique characters, too. I particularly loved hearing from Rodney Mullen, who applies the principles of Nietzsche to the act of launching yourself off a skate ramp without a hint of irony.

I also appreciated the documentary’s balanced romanticism surrounding skateboarding. There are the obligatory skating montages, but there’s also a blunt assessment of the risks (and honestly, the near foolishness) of Hawk refusing to set aside his board at 53 years old. We’re talking about guys for whom broken bones and near-constant concussions seem to always be part of the deal – it takes a lot to make these folks nervous. Hawks’ peers speak frankly and graphically about the risks he’s taking on. Given Hawks’ prominent association with this documentary, I was surprised he didn’t push to edit some of those comments out of the final product. I appreciated that Jones included them.

Ultimately, this feels to be an honest portrait of a complicated legend who became a pro athlete before he had his learner’s permit. It strives to connect viewers to the deep connection skaters have with their art, it clues you in on Tony Hawk’s countless contributions to the sport, and acknowledges that most guys in their 50s shouldn’t be on fast-moving, narrow objects.

You see Tony Hawk falling down a lot. But he also executes tricks that seem to scratch the surface of immortality. Unless you’ve skated a mile in his shoes, can you really pass judgment? One thing’s for sure – after seeing this documentary, I’ll be firing up my wife’s copy of Pro Skater.


Debuts Tuesday, April 5 on HBO and will be available

to stream on HBO Max

Director: Sam Jones

Executive Producers: Mel Eslyn, Jay Duplass, and Mark Duplass


ABOUT SAM JONES
Sam Jones is a director of documentary films and narrative television. He most recently directed an episode of “Ted Lasso” and a film in post-production: “Running With Our Eyes Closed, A Film about Jason Isbell,” which is being co-produced by the Duplass Brothers and Jones.

Jones is the creator and host of the documentary series “Off Camera with Sam Jones,” which had a 219 episode run on DirecTV’s Audience Network from 2013-2020. Jones is also an acclaimed commercial director and recently wrote and directed a series of commercials for OnePlus featuring Robert Downey Jr. He directed the Showtime series “Roadies,” created by Cameron Crowe, and also directed and produced the feature-length Showtime documentary “Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued,” a film that reexamines Bob Dylan’s “The Basement Tapes.” In 2002, Jones started his documentary career with “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” which chronicles beloved indie-rock band Wilco’s tumultuous recording of their acclaimed fourth album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Rolling Stone named “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” one of the best rock films of all time.

Jones began his career as a photographer and quickly gained acclaim for his seminal portraits of cultural icons. His work has appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Time, and many others, and he has had several books published. Jones lives in Los Angeles with his daughters and still loves to skateboard.