U.S. skateboarding legend Tony Hawk wrapped up a brief philanthropic tour of Cambodia by performing a series of increasingly difficult tricks in front of a cheering crowd of young fans at a skate park operated by local NGO Skateistan Cambodia in Phnom Penh Thursday.
Although the hourlong “free skate” at Skateistan’s Chamkar Mon district headquarters was billed as an opportunity for Cambodian skateboarders to ride with Mr. Hawk, it quickly became an exhibition, as most of the star-struck attendees were content to watch the lanky Californian perform kick-flips, spins, hand-plants and ramp transfers with vigor belying his 45 years.
“Skateboarding really teaches you determination and perseverance…because skating is very subjective and it’s all a matter of your own style,” Mr. Hawk said during an interview after the event.
“And it’s fun here [Cambodia], because they don’t have preconceived notions about what’s cool…so you see people skating here a little bit differently—and it’s refreshing,” he added.
Mr. Hawk, who visited Cambodia five years ago, said he was surprised by how popular the sport has become in the country.
“I brought out my skateboard the first time I was here, and people were just like, ‘What the hell?’…. And now it just seems like they are embracing all these other influences and cultures,” he said.
Nicknamed “The Birdman,” Mr. Hawk is perhaps best known for being the first skateboarder to land a 900-degree aerial spin in 1999. He also helped create the popular Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game franchise and currently chairs the Tony Hawk Foundation, a nonprofit that finances skate parks in low-income U.S. neighborhoods.
Mr. Hawk’s second trip to Cambodia began in Siem Reap on Saturday at the invitation of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a Washington-based organization that provides medical care to the deaf and hearing-impaired abroad.
“Tony helped us fit hearing aids to nearly 400 people in need on Sunday and Monday, working alongside our team,” Taylor Joseph, director of marketing and communications at the foundation, wrote in an email.
“We fit children and adults from age four to 91, conducted ear cleanings, provided training and counseling on hearing aid use and care, and gave each patient a supply of batteries to power their new hearing aids,” Mr. Joseph added.
In Siem Reap, Mr. Hawk toured Siem Reap’s Angkorian temples and skateboarded at a bar that features a rooftop half-pipe.
“The culmination of my life’s work: doing a layback rollout on a rooftop in Cambodia,” Mr. Hawk captioned a photo posted to his Facebook page of him performing the trick.
Mr. Hawk’s trip continued in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, when he visited Srey Neang, an orphaned girl he sponsors through local charity the Cambodian Children’s Fund.
At Skateistan on Thursday, Mr. Hawk, who met Neang for the first time on Monday, planted the girl on his skateboard and propelled her around the park as she screamed and giggled.
Mr. Hawk said he hoped skateboarding would continue to catch on in Cambodia.
“I would just like to see it as just another accepted activity for kids to participate in…and something parents can encourage. That’s all I can really hope for,” he said.