Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News
Shawn Achor, happiness expert and a New York Times best-selling author, speaks to the crowd during Qualtrics' X4 Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 7, 2018.

Legendary pro skater Tony Hawk said a child once asked him why his parents named him after a video game character.

He said he once met a man who said, “You’re Tony Hawk. My kid thought you were just a video game character."

“That’s happened more often than I care to admit,” he said.

Hawk stopped by Salt Lake City on Thursday for the Qualtrics X4 Summit, where he was interviewed by Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders. Hawk spoke about how he dealt with haters and why skating doesn’t need validation from the Olympics.

Hawk said he first joined skating when it wasn’t a popular sport.

“When I first started skating, it was dying in popularity. There was no dream of fame or fortune because no one had ever done that,” he said.

The freedom, though, gave him “a blank canvas. I could create my own tricks.”

Hawk said he signed up to be a professional skater even when he was an amateur. His quick rise to fame bred a slew of haters, though, putting him in the spotlight immediately.

“I felt this huge pressure that I was expected to win every time I compete. It was very isolating. I didn’t feel like I had a peer group anymore,” he said, adding, “they were looking at me to make any kind of mistake.”

Hawk said he was happy to go through that experience because he could learn how to handle hate and criticism from an early age.

He said critics often called him a sellout for signing up for licensing agreements with Activision and building a video game.

But, he said, “I was already well-prepared for the haters.”

“I didn’t see it as a big cash-in. I saw it as a way to reach more people … and show them what skateboarding is,” he said. “I got plenty of hate for it but then that set me up for the third wave of hate, which was social media.”

Since dealing with the haters, Hawk has worked with communities to build local skate parks.

Now, he looks forward to the future of skating, which will include the sport becoming a part of the Olympics at the Tokyo Games in 2020.

He can’t wait to see skateboards from all over the world — including a girl’s team out of Cambodia — perform on the Olympic stage.

He said skating may receive a bad name, but it still manages to be successful.

“Skating is always going to have this hardcore fringe element,” he said. “... That element can exist and thrive. There are heroes who are making a living doing this sort of skating. It’s always been there and there are always going to be competitive skaters who train and who are highlighted bigger than they’ve ever known in the Olympics.”

He said with a smile, “The Olympics need our cool factor more than we need their validation.”

Other notes:

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  • Hawk told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview that he once sought validation from charities he’s worked with. He said he worried about how skating compares to healing cancer. He said one person working with a charity told him that he is curing cancer by promoting skating, which helps children avoid obesity.
  • He said he hasn’t visited Utah that much. Sometimes, he said, he’ll visit Park City to perform in the halfpipe there.
  • And don’t expect any Tony Hawk-themed video game anytime soon. Hawk said he stopped working with Activision, which helped create the game, and that he can’t relaunch the Tony Hawk game with anyone else.