HAWK EYES BOARDERS AND MORE

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The 30-year-old X-Games poster boy has announced plans to introduce skateboard looks for juniors, launched a signature line of boys' skateboard apparel, signed an endorsement deal with Diesel and been photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the Got Milk ad campaign. "Tony's milk ad represents the greater acceptance of alternative sports, which he's had a tremendous influence on," said Ron Semiao, director of programming for ESPN2 who developed the concept for its X-Games. "What he's accomplished in and out of his sport is probably why many parents allow their kids to skateboard. It's not an underground, outlaw sport anymore."

In the past four years, Hawk has finished first or second at nearly every major skateboardcompetition. Known for his high-flying acrobatics on the half-pipe -- an 11-foot high, U-shaped ramp -- he has created 50 skateboarding stunts, including the "720," his signature move -- two airborne, back-to-back somersaults, and the "Stale Fish," a maneuver that requires reaching between your feet and around your back leg to grab the bottom of the board.

Despite the antics, Hawk doesn't fit the rebellious skateboarder stereotype. He is a successful businessman, married, the father of a five-year-old. After turning pro at 14, he bought his first house for $124,000, and now Hawk's annual endorsement salary is nearing $1 million, industry sources said.

Unlike sports with lots of female role models, skateboarding relies more heavily on men as image-makers. Women's action sports are gaining acceptance less quickly than men's because there are few competitions in them -- especially televised ones, Hawk noted. Hawk has cultivated a strong following among female and male skateboarders alike through his six-year-old skateboard company, Birdhouse Projects. Last year the Huntington Beach, Calif., firm's sales exceeded $14 million.

Now Hawk plans to suit them up with skateboard apparel through his new company, Hawk Clothing Co. He decided to go after the apparel business after many parents in their 20s and early 30s spoke with him at skateboard parks about the void in the market.

"We want to make the kind of clothes teenagers and young adults would buy -- not cutesy, teddy bear stuff," Hawk said. "They like to be cool, too."

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Wholesale prices are expected to range from $7 for a T-shirt to $22.50 for corduroy pants, said Pat Hawk, Tony's older sister, who is the designer for Hawk Clothing Co. Items have Velcro closings instead of buttons, which can cut a skateboarder if she falls, Pat Hawk said.

Hawk Chicks will be available at surf and skateboarding stores, resort pro shops and specialty stores for fall 1999.

Until then, some stores expect Hawk's new line of signature skateboarding apparel for boys to appeal to teenage girls. About 25 percent of the retailers that will carry the boys' line this spring will be targeting girls, Pat Hawk said.

By the end of next year, Hawk's boys' and junior lines are expected to generate at least $2 million at wholesale, she said. Both lines are heavily influenced by what Southern Californians are wearing for surfing and skateboarding.

"We want to see it thrive. This is not something we're doing because we think it would be fun for a while," Tony Hawk said. "We want to see it all the way to the end so it keeps its integrity."

Earlier this year, Hawk was seen skateboarding in the Gap's "Khakis Rock" commercial. He recently ended a 12-year relationship with his footwear sponsor, Air Walk, to endorse its rival, Audio.

"I want to skate for a shoe company that focuses on skateboarding. Air Walk lost that focus when they got so big," Hawk said.

As the sport goes mainstream, he said, companies need to stay focused without losing their edge.

"There are all these big companies coming into the market, but the hard-core kids are not going to buy their skateboard shoes," Hawk said. "There's always going to be a group of underground skaters who don't care about televised events and all that."

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"It promotes it in a positive light," he continued. "Before, skateboarding wasn't portrayed as athletics. It was about eccentricities, flamboyance and rebellion that are part of it, but that's not the big picture. It's a sport that's acrobatic, athletic and very creative. Now we've finally gained that recognition and we've gotten a lot more acceptance."

Last year, skateboarding was the sport that gained the most participants, according to a survey conducted by the National Sporting Goods Association. There were 6.3 million skateboarders in the U.S. in 1997, a 36 percent increase over 1996. Women accounted for 21 percent of that figure.

As part of his endorsement deal with Diesel, Hawk will appear next year in ads for the company's 55DSL, an athletic-inspired sportswear line. While meeting with Diesel executives at the company's headquarters in Italy last month, Hawk offered comments on the design of the line, which is taking more of an alternative sports edge.

To lure more female and male surfers, skateboarders and snowboarders, Diesel recently tapped snowboarder Steve Gruber and long-board surfer Joel Tudor to endorse the 55DSL line, said Rob Harmsen, merchandise manager, who is in charge of redefining 55DSL's image.

"We want to attract new customers and stores -- not just the ones that already carry Diesel," he said. "We want to grow slowly to make sure we have the right people, the right image and the right customer."

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