MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Tony Hawk has been called the Bill Gates of skateboarding. Okay, he doesn't have $54 billion like Mr. Gates, but he does have a $1 billion video game franchise. And that makes Hawk easily the most successful skateboarder in the world.�

Mr. TONY HAWK (Skateboarding Entrepreneur): Every single day I have how-did-I-get-here moments.

KELLY: The Tony Hawk brand is affiliated with everything from skateboards to Jeeps to cheeseburgers. And this week, his twelfth video game is out.�NPR's Nina Gregory reports on an unlikely sports mogul.

NINA GREGORY: Tony Hawk officially retired from competitive skateboarding eleven years ago. He had just landed the first-ever 900 at the X-Games. The lanky 31-year-old from Carlsbad, California had catapulted himself from one side of a massive U-shaped skateboard ramp and turned two and a half rotations, or 900 degrees.

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Unidentified Man: Never before in the history of competition have we seen a 900. Nine, nine, nine - 900, 900!

Mr. HAWK: When I landed the first 900 at the XGames, it was just - it was a personal achievement. It was something that I have strived for for years and years and years, and in a lot of ways had given up on it. But I just didn't think of the resonance that would have.

GREGORY: Resonate it did. Coincidentally, while he was working on his famous stunt, he was also developing a video game called Tony Hawk Pro Skater. The game's release date just a few months later couldn't have been more perfect. Dave Stohl was the video game's producer.�

Mr. DAVID STOHL (Producer, Tony Hawk Pro Skater): We had no idea how big the game would get so quickly. And you could almost watch every week - bigger, bigger, bigger, and then explosion. It just got huge.

GREGORY: That video game launched what would become a franchise that's generated over a billion dollars in sales in the United States, according to retail analyst NPD Group. And it wasn't just the game that got popular. The sport itself surged. The National Sporting Goods Association reports that the number of people skateboarding jumped 70 percent from 1998 to 2004.�Meanwhile, participation in traditional stick-and-ball sports was flat or even declined.

Mr. MARK LEWMAN (Marketing Expert): You know, the soccer mom has become the skate mom.

GREGORY: That's Mark Lewman. He's an action sports marketing expert.�

Mr. LEWMAN: Tony Hawk is an ambassador of skateboarding. He's inherited that role through the things he's done in his career as a skater, as a video game pioneer, event promoter and an entrepreneur.

Mr. HAWK: When I started skating, it was such a small community. You didn't aspire to be rich or famous or make a career out of it because that wasn't something anyone had done yet.

GREGORY: It was Tony's father, Frank Hawk, a World War II Navy fighter pilot, who helped his son and the sport get organized. Frank Hawk founded both the California Amateur Skateboard League and the National Skateboarding Association. Those organizations held contests and provided some structure to the sport. An older pro skater who saw Tony coming up is Steve Olson. He remembers Frank Hawk.

Mr. STEVE OLSON (Professional Skateboarder): He gave a platform for a bunch of delinquents that were misfits or outcasts to the normal world of athletics. Frank Hawk was the dude. Like, he was running the contest.

GREGORY: Steve Olson actually judged Tony in some of those contests. Today, both men are able to look back on skateboarding's early days, when it was derided as just a toy. Now they can look to their sons to see how far it's come. Steve Olson's 24-year-old son Alex has turned pro, while Tony's 17-year-old son Riley is an amateur skater.

Mr. HAWK: You know, if I had one regret, it's that my dad didn't get to see how big this all became, because he was my biggest supporter and he died in '95 of lung cancer. He would have never dreamed it got like this, that it was this big.�

GREGORY: Tony Hawk's book, "How Did I Get Here? The Ascent of an Unlikely CEO," is out this month.

Nina Gregory, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Once in a Lifetime)

TALKING HEADS (Music Group): How did I get here? And in the days gone by...

KELLY: This is NPR News.

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