Bob Burnquist was only 20 when he appeared in the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater demo – and he was the first skater Hawk scouted to appear alongside him in the iconic game. And why not? Burnquist, even then, was making waves in the scene: he skated street and vert, he was a master at switch skating, and he was hooked on the sport. His energy and his overwhelming desire to skate, no matter what, was inspiring. Of course he’d make the perfect ‘player two’ to Hawk… but being asked to star in this new game was still a shock to Burnquist.
“Tony and I were in the demo for the first game together,” says Burnquist. “That was in ‘99, I think. And at the time, I was one of his biggest competitors. That he’d call me, ask to put me in the game… that shows just how Tony is, right? Very inclusive.”
Burnquist recalls a skate event in Northampton, UK, where there was a cabinet loaded with that demo. It was the first time the game was available to play to the public, and there were only two playable characters: him and Hawk. “It was crazy then, and it’s still crazy now,” he tells us.
Between then and now, Burnquist would go on to star in six more Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games (skipping the third entry to appear in the less impactful ESPN X Games Skateboarding) and the games would, in a sense, define his career.
“Skateboarding, when I got in the scene in ‘95, was getting big: it was on ESPN, the X Games were getting bigger, and these TV events were taking skating to the mass media. But they were taking it without a message. For the first few years, people knew us but they didn’t know our culture. With the games, Tony injected that culture right into people’s living rooms. The tricks, the names, the music, the places we’d skate. And people started skateboarding because they’d played the game.”
That’s a fact that’s remained true for the past two decades plus. Head to any skate park in London, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Barcelona, Burnquist’s hometown of São Paulo – or anywhere else in the world! – and any number of the locals will tell you they’re there, at least in part, because of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Even two decades after Hawk broke through to an entire generation with a healthy dose of ska, punk and, well, Primus, the series’ legacy maintains. And Burnquist is still proud to be a part of it all.
“When I heard I was going to be in the remake, it was another cool event. Tony got us all together – Kareem, Chad and everyone, right? – and got Bad Religion to play. It was a great show for the 20th anniversary of the game, and while we were all there together he comes up to me and he’s like ‘hey Bob, I got to tell you something. We’re redoing the game, we want the originals, we want you to be involved.’ It was like going back in time, it was super cool.”
One of the benefits Burnquist enjoyed most about being in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was that he became a household name. On one track, his athletic career was taking off – Hawk lost his voice screaming in disbelief during Burnquist’s groundbreaking 2001 X Games performance – but on the other, kids around the world were learning his signature tricks because they were right there at their fingertips. Burnquist’s brand was just as strong as Hawk’s.
“Back when the game came out in the ’99, there was a high percentage of people that played with my character because – for some reason – some of the special tricks and all that meant you could beat the game easier with me,” he laughs. “So I’d be hanging out in bars and people would recognise me, and they’d know my signature moves, like the One-Footed Smith Grind. They just knew that! That’s rad, and I always said ‘I hope you didn’t fight over who gets to play me!’”
Burnquist recalls how, at the time of the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games coming out, he was one of the only skaters to have landed a backflip on a vert ramp. Developer Neversoft put that into the game, as one of his moves, and it became history. It inspired a whole new generation of skaters. As Burnquist notes, “everyone’s doing that now, and that’s cool as hell”.
“To this day, I see kids posting videos of themselves doing the One-Footed Smith Grind on the rail. I’ve seen kickflips to One-Footed Smith Grinds… all sorts of stuff you used to just see in the game, it’s all happening in real life. That’s so cool.” Burnquist laughs as he talks about how the kids in skate videos he watches online now namecheck him, how they say “it was a Burnquist special!” or something, and you can hear the pride in his voice.
“The game was always part of me. Because I was there since the beginning, I was always working on my character and how that looked in Tony’s game. As far as branding and marketing – what shoes, what had, what deck, what tricks, whatever – that was always something we thought about real hard.”
Enter Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 Remastered, and how it speaks to Burnquist’s legacy. He’s famously ‘a Flip guy’ now – that means he uses Flip boards – but since the Remastered games wanted to pay tribute to his legacy, he got in touch with his old sponsor, Deluxe, and you can unlock ‘legacy’ Burnquist brands and boards. And that, clearly, means a lot to the veteran skater.
“[The companies] were all really cool with it. I’ve been around so long, and I’ve been able to create and experience a lot of history. That’s kind of cool about skateboarding; that history was built and it’s there in the game. If you want to use a board, you can use it. Art and skateboarding are very tied together, and now because of this game, people can look at what they’re playing and see the board and be like ‘oh, I remember that Bob!’ I think seeing some of those board graphics really takes me back [to those times] when I see them.”
Appearing in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games in the first place sent Burnquist’s career off in a way that would change his life, and now – some 20 years later – the games are providing him with an opportunity to look back on an enduring, impressive career and reminisce, whilst also inspiring a whole new generation to get out there and slam some decks on rails. It’s at once nostalgic and forward-thinking, heady and encouraging.
“These games… they’re so deep in our culture and they’ve been around so long that they’ve taken on a whole other dimension,” reflects Burnquist. “I was 20 when Tony first called me and asked me to be in the game. I’m super young, in the scene, and I’m in this game. Now, when people hear my name, they’re like ‘you’re still around? You must be like 60 years old!’ But I like surprising people, and they barely believe me when I tell them I’m only 44.”
To some, it might be an insult to be called a ‘player two’ – a perpetual Luigi, or Miles ‘Tails’ Prower. But Burnquist – to this day – celebrates his place as the right-hand man in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the character you’d choose back in the day to school your mates on the rails, and the foremost Brazilian skater of our time. For Burnquist, being ‘player two’ might have been one of the most important jobs of his career.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 Remastered is out now for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.