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ANAHEIM, Calif.-When he first rode a skateboard he crashed into some bushes. Now he's introduced to audiences as a "brand."

That brand, skateboarder Tony Hawk, today owns a company that produces skateboards, equipment, clothing lines, events, video games, and more. But for an hour during CO-OP Financial Services' THINK Conference, he shared how he got from being a kid in what was a fringe sport to the point where large companies now seek out his advice.

As Hawk made clear, his emergence as a skateboarding legend and millionaire, required skill, luck and some serendipity.

"I really got into skateboarding right when all my friends quit. But luckily there was a skatepark near my home in San Diego. I started to have some success, got a sponsor when I was 14 and turned pro," he recalled. "It was the furthest thing from cool at the time."

Hawk noted he would travel to skating events where he was becoming known, then return home to anonymity in his high school. Still, he was earning a good living, enough to buy his first house at age 17. "I wanted to make my parents proud, and my dad wanted me to keep one foot in college, but I knew I had this opportunity and wanted to take it. It was what I loved and chased that dream, even though there really wasn't a dream to chase at that time. It was still considered a fad. I ended up buying a larger house, but then, somewhere around 1991 the sky started to fall."

A big reason that sky was falling, noted Hawk, was that he had in his ignorance of business OK'd a lot of contracts that "allowed anyone to make anything with my name on it and I had no say in it. I knew things were bad when I went to a company...where there was a roll of toilet paper and it said Tony Hawk Gear. I realized I was just a product; I had no persona...I had to hire lawyers to get me out of that."

A Frightening Decision

Although skateboarding was falling out of favor, Hawk said he made the "frightening" decision to start his own company called Birdhouse by taking out a second mortgage on is house and taking a crash course in manufacturing and distribution, marketing and advertising.

But then ESPN came along with what it initially called the Extreme Games in 1996, known today as the highly popular X Games. "All of sudden I became the face of X Games. I never planned that. I was thrust into the forefront and started to get recognized."

So recognized, Hawk joked, that he recently met one kid who thought it was cool that his parents named him after a video game (which has had more than $1 billion in sales).

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