First, my condolences to Tas Pappas, and the Pappas family. May Ben Pappas and his father RIP.
I was a little dismayed when the controversy surrounding the 900 blew up on the internet. My first reaction, without having seen the documentary but from reading all the comments, was, “How do you steal a trick from someone?” I’ve been skating for a long time and I’ve never heard that once. It’s probably because there’s no cheating in skateboarding: you either make it, or you don’t. And Tas didn’t make the first 900. Neither did Danny. Neither did Sluggo. Tony Hawk made the first 900. Period. End of story. But based on the comments I was reading, there seemed to be an alternate history being written: Hawk stole the 900 from Tas.
“Dude shut the Fuuk Up Tony ... You Stole The 900 From Tas.... That should had been his Moment!!... I'll always have respect for you and the Skateboarding you have done, but Straight up I will never Look At You The Same Man...”—@skateboardingdragon on Instagram
Wait. What? That’s hogwash. Yet there were dozens, if not hundreds of comments, all saying the same outrageous thing. The idea that someone could steal a trick was very amusing to me, so I began to conceive of ways to respond to all the outlandish conspiracy theories that were popping up. One idea I had was to make my own mockumentary called All This Bullshit about how I should have been the one credited with inventing the ollie:
I had been trying no-handed airs for some time during the 70s, but despite coming really close to making this revolutionary new trick, I just couldn’t land one and roll away. I began to develop a peculiar certainty, however, that I was going to make the first no-handed frontside air in history on a very specific appointed day at a very specific appointed time. But somehow, on that very specific appointed day way back in 1977—the day I was destined to make the first no-handed air on a skateboard—Alan Gelfand conspired to prevent me from riding my skateboard and he stole the trick for himself. I don’t have any proof of how he prevented me from skating on that very specific appointed day back in 1977, but I do know that I was supposed to be the one to land that trick on that specific day, at that specific time, and it should have been called “The Carnie.” Or “The No-Handed Carn-Carn.” Or maybe even “The Butffucker 3000.” Whatever, I never got around to creating a cool name for the damn trick because before I could make it, it was already called “The Ollie.” Fuckin’ Alan Gelfand. Total bullshit.
Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding the 900 segment in All This Mayhem continued to grow and I realized that any article I was going to write on the subject demanded a more serious approach. Tony Hawk and his family were receiving death threats, the entire Pappas tragedy was being overshadowed by a trifling incident in the middle of their story, and skateboarding seemed to be getting dumber as the hate and lies continued to flow. It wasn’t funny anymore, and the reactions had begun to bother me. And so I began interviewing everyone involved. I talked to Tas. I talked to Tony. I talked to a lot of people, some are represented here, and it’s my hope that this article provides a more sober and balanced response to the controversy created by All This Mayhem surrounding the 900.
“… you've got it twisted,its not about the 900, its about why wasn't I aloud to do best trick that year, thats the question, hats off to ya mate you did it ,I said that in the doco, but very slimy circumstances …” —Tas Pappas to Tony Hawk on Instagram (via screengrab on Slap)
The crux of the conflict is that Tas wasn’t invited to skate in the Best Trick contest at the X-Games in 1999 and that Tony had something to do with preventing him from entering, thus ensuring that he would be the first person to make the 900. This should sound ridiculous to any skater, but I decided to do my due diligence and ask those that were involved if there was any truth to this claim. Tas wasn’t invited to skate in the Best Trick contest, this is indeed true, but why? I decided to get it from the horse’s mouth first, so I reached out to Tony Hawk:
Dave Carnie: Did you prevent Tas Pappas from being able to make a 900 at the 1999 X-Games?
Tony Hawk: Not in any way. I never had anything to do with who was invited or qualified to skate in those events.
Do you know of anyone that prevented Tas from making a 900?
No. He had ample opportunities and tried it at other best trick events prior to X-Games.
The conspiracy that is floating around is that you, or someone else, prevented Tas from making a 900. Did you have a part in making sure that you made the 900 before Tas did?
Never. But I honestly thought that Danny or Sluggo would land it first. They were closer to making it in my opinion. In fact, Sluggo's technique was the only one I wanted to emulate. The dude's a gymnast, he knows how to spin correctly.
Did Tas invent the 900 or have some sort of ownership of the trick? I’d like to think that Danny Way has more claim to the 900 than you or Tas—and after the 540, the 720, I’m confused as to how people think the 900 belongs to Tas.
The idea was a natural progression of spinning, so I don't see how anyone can claim ownership of an extra 180. The first time I tried it was in 1987 at a skate camp in Bourges, France (two years after doing the first 720). I had a few horrible attempts landing backwards on my back, so I decided not to pursue it at the time. But then after I saw Danny in the Speed Wheels video put it down, I knew it was possible. So, yeah, I would credit Danny with making it a more tangible dream.
Next I talked to Don and Danielle Bostick of World Cup Skateboarding, and the organizers of the skateboard contests at the X-Games. They were the ones managing the vert contest and the Best Trick contest that day in 1999.
Dave Carnie: Hi Don. Tas claims that he wasn’t allowed to enter the X-Games best trick contest, is that true? If so, why? Lastly, did Tony Hawk have anything to do with that decision?
Don Bostick: The decision from ESPN was to invite only five skaters for the best trick comp that year in SF, because it was the first time that they planned to have the public vote for the winner using social media. The five skaters were selected by a selection committee, which was also the start of how skaters were starting to be invited to the X-Games. I was on [the committee]. I think at the time Chris Miller was, too (he was involved behind the scenes with X-Games as well as announcing). The one thing that is certain is that it wasn’t Tony Hawk's decision to not have Tas Pappas invited. As I remember the five skaters were the top vert guys at the time: Tony Hawk, Bucky Lasek, Bob Burnquist, Andy MacDonald, and Colin McKay. That year, Tas placed 8th in vert. The thing is that early on in the best trick jam, Tony Hawk completed his varial 720, which was his best trick at the time. He normally doesn’t land it so quickly. In the past couple of Vans Triple Crown events, Tony would attempt 900s, but it was just for show because we, and he, didn’t think he would really land one. It was usually just good fun. Well, during the Best Trick jam it was Dave Duncan [the announcer] that said, "Hey, Tony why don’t you try a 900?" It was all Dave’s idea that night. I didn’t then, and I don’t now, believe that Tony had any plan of attempting a 900 until Duncan brought it up. All of the skaters in the comp stopped skating when it became evident that Tony was on to something. The ESPN producer made the call to keep the tape rolling as well. And the public never did vote. Of course he landed the 9 way after time, but it was just a special moment and exactly what ESPN wanted. Of course the rest is history. I can tell you the moment Tony landed the 900 and the place went crazy, I was standing on the vert platform and Tas Pappas gave me a direct look that said, “That should have been me!” I’ll never forget the look he gave me. After watching the movie—and Tas saying how “it was Don Bostick that told me I wasn’t in Best Trick,” etc.—I communicated with Tas and I explained to him, again, how it wasn’t my decision how the committee came up with the list of five skaters.
I presented the same questions to Chris Miller, who, as Don said, was also involved with the contest. Here is his response:
Dave Carnie: Did Tony Hawk prevent Tas Pappas from skating in the Best Trick contest at the X-Games in 1999?
Chris Miller: Tony had nothing to do with Tas not skating the best trick event at X-Games... As for the 900, it was an incredible feat that Tony made it that day. Just an amazing accomplishment. Looking at the actual facts of reality, no one can, or should, dispute or diminish what Tony did that day. Again, I've only heard secondhand what was said or implied in the film, so I don't know if Tas was expressing his personal opinion, or if it was irresponsible journalism, but there was never a conspiracy against Tas in the skateboard world to keep him down or prevent him from reaching his personal best.
No matter how many people come out and say that Tony had nothing to do with Tas not being invited to skate in the Best Trick contest, there will remain this notion that there were “slimy circumstances” at play. The lynchpin of this conspiracy seems to hang on a rumor that Tony's wife worked for ESPN and, presumably, pulled some strings that prevented Tas from realizing his 900 density—destiny, whatever.
This is FALSE.
Tony's wife at the time, in 1999, was named Erin and she was a stay-at-home mom. Erin Hawk never worked for ESPN. In fact she had just given birth to their son, Spencer, three months before, and you can see her and the baby hug Tony after he makes the 900 in the documentary.
The confusion, and surely the source of this misinformation, lies in the fact that Tony's next wife, Lohtse, did indeed work for ESPN. She did PR work for the network from 2001-2002. But this, of course, is two years after the fact.
So, again, the implication that this was "an inside job," and Tony's wife was pulling strings behind the curtains to ensure that her husband had no 900 competition that evening, is pure fantasy.
It’s unfortunate that Tas didn’t get to skate that day, but nearly everything ESPN did back then in regards to skateboarding was unfortunate. I still think the X-Games are a ridiculous sham, but back then they were fucking horrible and it seemed like every decision ESPN made was intentionally antagonistic towards skateboarding. It was so bad that I remember every year the vert skaters would try to organize some sort of union to confront ESPN about everything from prize money, to contest formatting. Mostly because the majority of the vert skaters actually lost money entering the X-Games: they had to pay for their own travel and lodging, and even the first place purse was barely enough to cover expenses. It was a total joke. The only thing ESPN seemed concerned about were the lucrative sponsorships that were lining the network’s pockets with millions of dollars—none of which any X-Game athlete ever benefitted from. ESPN’s stance was, “We’re doing you a favor by giving you exposure on our network.” That, of course, did not translate into board sales as they insinuated.
Why did ESPN cut Tas out and limit the entries to the top five vert skaters? Who knows? Frankly, it’s kind of stupid and counterintuitive. The best trick, or highest air, or whatever offshoot contest to the main competition has traditionally been an “open” event. The actual contest is usually considered the “serious” part with qualifying, and finals, and all that shit, while the best trick (or whatever) is the part where there's no pressure and that encourages risk and innovation. But of course ESPN is totally oblivious to this because they don’t understand skateboarding and they want it to be a sport. So they instituted rules for the best trick contest: only the top five can enter. But there shouldn’t have been any criteria involved to enter the best trick contest because you can’t decide before the best trick contest who has the best trick.
So, again, it’s unfortunate that Tas wasn’t allowed to skate, but that had nothing to do with Tony Hawk. If you’re looking for someone to blame for “stealing the 900” from Tas Pappas, it was ESPN. To blame a fellow skater is absurd, and the idea that any skater could have influenced ESPN’s decisions back then is even more ridiculous. They simply did not give a fuck what skateboarders wanted.
Because of the loose and careless handling of skateboarding facts and history in the documentary, I began to grow curious about the filmmakers themselves. I was initially put in touch with Chris Grosso at Vice who briefly said that he worked on the film and his one comment was, “I will say that a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to comment were asked to be in the film.” He did not reply to my request to elaborate, but I assume he was responding to the number of people in the skateboard industry who, like myself, disputed the narrative in the documentary.
Later, Chris forwarded me an email from the director, Eddie Martin. It read:
Been getting a lot of requests this week for interviews on the 9 shut out. Chris you can forward this to the ex-big brother guy if you like.
Firstly I haven’t commented because for us the film is about much more than just that moment.
I will say that a lot of people coming out of the woodwork to comment were asked to be in the film.
Also while making the film… We all witnessed first hand. Tas and his family (including his teenage step daughter) removed by security at The Big Day Out demo ramp area in Melbourne at Tony’s request. Ask the organisers. They will confirm. He also barred Tas from skating the ramp at the Grand Prix in Melbourne last year. It clearly happens a lot. No matter how many of his celeb skate mates come out and say butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
At this point I had grown frustrated that I wasn’t even able to ask any questions, so I decided to try a different tactic. I responded to some of the points made in Eddie’s email in the hopes of eliciting a response. I’m not going to reprint my email in its entirety, but here are some selections:
thanks chris. I will say that everyone i’ve spoken to agrees that the 900 segment is just a segment in a larger story. but the fact remains, it’s ignited a major controversy on the internet, and neither tas or tony are enjoying the attention. on the one hand it maligns a skateboarder’s achievement from 15 years ago, and on the other it’s a disservice to the memory of ben pappas and tas’s recovery from the tragedy. and franklyt makes skateboarding look terrible. this is why people from the world of skateboarding are interested in talking to you. like it or not, it’s become “a thing.” a big ugly thing.
regarding the big day out incidents, that’s very interesting, but it really has nothing to do with the event that occurred 15 years prior that’s in the vice “documentary." while I don’t doubt those things happened, tas has mentioned them to me as well, I have a feeling there’s more to the story. I find it very difficult to believe that tony hawk would be able to have a native australian pro skater thrown out of an australian event without some other provocation. and providing this as “evidence” against tony is circumstantial at best. and two pieces of circumstantial evidence do not equate to something that “clearly happens a lot.”
there’s a lot of people “coming out of the woodwork” because there’s a lot of things wrong, or at least misleading, with how you told the pappas story. at least on the skateboarding side of things. and the fact that “a lot of people" declined to participate in your project should maybe be an indication of how vice is perceived rather than some sort of slight against their characters. then again, I still have no idea who you’re talking about.
I’ll let you know if I have any further questions, but I gather from your comments that you’re going to let the documentary speak for itself? very well. thanks for your time. –dave
The director, Eddie Martin, did respond, but only to say: “Good for you mate. Go for it. You’re obviously very passionate about skate politics. I’m sure your article is going to rock the world.”
I’m curious who these “people coming out of the woodwork” are, but, more importantly, why did they refuse to participate in the first place? I’m going to indulge in some speculation of my own here, but it seems that if there are “a lot of people” who declined to go on camera for the project, then maybe there was something amiss about the project from the get-go? One insight into this question came from Steve Hill. Steve and the other Hill brothers, along with Gary Valentine and Steve Douglas, are all involved with Globe Shoes, former sponsors and supporters of the Pappas brothers. Steve said they were all asked to participate in All This Mayhem, but all declined. I asked, why?
“As far as declining to be interviewed for the project goes,” Steve Hill said, “it was pretty clear to us that the director and producers have no credibility in the skate world and we all know where things go once you hand over the reins to guys like that. You have no idea what the real agenda for the film might be or how much things can get sensationalized or distorted. You lose all control of how they may choose to use footage or outtakes of footage, so it's always a risk. We just chose to steer clear in case the project ended up being less about skateboarding and more about other topics not relevant to us.”
One of the most peculiar elements in All This Mayhem is the depiction of skateboarding as a competitive and derisive “sport.” I’m not sure if that came from Tas, or if it was an attempt by the filmmakers during the edit to create more drama, but the idea that there was this Australians vs. Americans element is very strange. “I have to go there and smash Hawk,” Tas says at one point in the video. Maybe that’s an Australian trait? Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, an Australian surfer, was famously banished from the North Shore for going to Hawaii in the 70s with a similar attitude and disrespecting the local Hawaiian culture (see the Hawaiian episode of Drunk History for an amusing reenactment). I’ve always enjoyed the feisty Australian spirit myself, but aside from Andy MacDonald’s weird letter from the East Coast warning all the vert pros that he was coming, the idea that a skateboarder is going to go somewhere and beat somebody is completely foreign to the ethos of skateboarding. Sure, skaters from around the world come to California to live the dream of being a pro skater (whatever that is), and there’s an element of competition in that, but I think once anyone gets here, they realize that’s not how it works. There’s not much of a tolerance for “jocking off.”
We’ve experienced waves of skaters from all around the world—the Canadians, the English, the Brazilians—but no one ever came here with that kind of attitude: I’m going to beat them. In fact, I would argue that skateboarding supports the exact opposite reaction: inclusion. And discovery. I know from my own experience that when these waves of skaters would come to California, I never thought, “We need to fucking suppress these dudes and make sure they don’t take our jobs!” No, it was more like, “Holy shit, what the fuck is going on in Brazil? These dudes are rad. Let’s go to their country and see what the fuck is going on down there.”
The emphasis in the video on competition and world rankings is almost comical to me. I’m not saying competition is a bad thing, but it’s not used as a measuring stick by which skateboarders are appreciated the way it is in traditional sports. Take for instance two of the greatest skateboarders in the history of skateboarding, Danny Way and Mark Gonzales: their contest performances were not only rare, but rarely did they win, and yet they are indisputably two of the greatest skateboarders ever. True, two other “hall of fame” skateboarders, Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk, have been ridiculously successful in contests, but their contest wins are superfluous to their talent at skateboarding. One could even say that their competitive nature, and all their contest wins, were damaging to their reputations and it’s only the fact that they have been so pioneering outside of competition that their enemies can overlook their fervor for victory and perfection. I know when I was a kid I didn’t like Tony Hawk because the perception of him at the time was that he was a “contest robot.” Even skaters today who excel at winning contests, like Chaz Ortiz and Nyjah Huston, lose some of their credibility because “they can only skate contests.” Again, contests are a part of skateboarding, they’re a good thing, but success in skateboarding is registered by other means.
Yet reviews and synopses of the film repeatedly say that Ben and Tas were “crowned International World Champions,” as it does on rottentomatoes.com. Despite the redundancy, and the obvious problem of presenting one crown to two people (maybe one was the International Champion, the other the World Champion?), I’m not sure I know what this International World Champion Skateboard crown is? I don’t want to take anything away from Ben and Tas as skateboarders: they did well in contests, they even won some contests, but more importantly they were innovative skateboarders with big, strong styles that I vividly remember. They were good. They were really good. But the Cinderella sports drama where they “rose from Australian outsiders to become the highest ranked skateboarders in the world,” (from Vice.com), is a wee bit of an exaggeration.
Although now that I have this International World Champion Skateboard crown in my head, I really want there to be an International World Champion Skateboard crown. Would it be all bedazzled with jewels and shit, or would it be constructed from skateboard parts with shiny ball bearings and urethane rubies standing in for precious metals and stones?
As I said, I was speaking to Tas throughout my research. I spoke with him in a private conversation on Facebook, via text, and on the phone over a two-week period. Tas was, naturally, very paranoid and requested that I don’t make any of our conversation public. I eventually convinced him to do an interview on the record with me. He agreed, but on the condition that we do it on Skype so that his “mate” could film it, in order to ensure that I didn’t misquote, distort, or take his words out of context. I agreed to his conditions.
Throughout our talks, I got the sense that Tas wasn’t enjoying the negative attention the video was generating around the 900. While Tony Hawk was receiving straight up death threats (“I’m gonna kill you and your kids Hawk,” someone posted to Tony’s Facebook page on Father’s Day), Tas was also taking a beating in the comments, and ultimately he cancelled on me the morning of the interview. In a text to me he cited illness and that he was “over the negative attention.” He added that it had been “a bit draining.” Frankly, I can’t blame him and I think he made the right decision. His sporadic responses and rants on social media weren’t helping his cause.
We parted ways on a good note. His final text to me read, “Hey bro, if I don’t do this in time for you, I’ll do something down the track. But could you tell the readers to watch the doco and just realize that the film is about God’s mercy, not Tony. Thanx mate.”
One other thing Tas asked amid our texts: “Hey is this the same Dave Carnie who was on planet earth and came to Melbourne when I was 16, or so? We hung out?”
We did hang out. And I was the first person to interview Ben and Tas when they came to America. We [Big Brother Magazine] gave Ben and Tas a feature interview in issue #18 back in 1995, and Tas is on the cover: it’s a pole-cam photo of Tas doing a kickflip Indy on the Plan B ramp—the kickflip Indy is practically a setup trick today, but at the time not many people could do kickflips on vert. It was a cover-worthy photo and their innovative and technical vert skating warranted a feature interview. The interview itself was memorable to me because I was a complete twat to them and they had no idea how to respond to the stupid questions I was asking, all of which involved some sort of Australian-related idiocy, like, “Do people do drive-bys with boomerangs?” And this:
Do you guys like vegemite?
Ben: [nods yes]
Have you ever stuck your dick in a jar of vegemite?
T: What sort of questions are these?
There were some testy moments during the interview, but, in the end, I appreciated them even more because they had a good sense of humor about the whole thing. And that’s how I’ve always remembered them: innovative skaters with an Australian sense of humor and maybe a couple screws loose—I mean that in the best way because to be a vert skater at their level, you have to be a little bit crazy. They were an Australian variety of the original punk rock/I-don’t-give-a-fuck spirit of skateboarding.
I don’t want to put words in Tas’s mouth, but I believe he didn’t intend to create this controversy. All This Mayhem was a way for him to pay tribute to his brother, announce his love of God, and help in the healing process. But some elements of the video stirred up all this bullshit. It’s too bad that Tas and Tony have such a terrible relationship, but I thought that maligning a fellow skateboarder, especially one who has tirelessly given back to skateboarding and been perhaps the best ambassador to the “sport” that we could ever have hoped for, was not only in poor taste, but also wrong. To Tas’s and the filmmakers’ credit, I don’t think they expected the visceral response that the drama of the 900 segment produced in the skateboarding community. How can you know what’s going to go viral? But there was rumour, suspicion, and opinion presented in that documentary as fact. To those who watch All This Mayhem, I encourage you to take the first line as more of a disclaimer and a warning that not everything you’re about to see is the whole truth. “There are three sides to every story,” Tas says at the opening, “my side, your side, and the truth.” All This Mayhem is Vice Film’s and Tas’s side of the story.
“Only Tas is responsible for his successes and failures,” Chris Miller said via email. “He and Ben were super-talented, and they apparently overcame many personal and emotional challenges to achieve what they did, but it sounds like they were ultimately brought down by their own substance abuse and addiction, which is unfortunate and, at least for Ben, tragic. All things considered, the 900 Tas never did seems trivial. He overcame and achieved a lot. Hopefully, he can take pride in that and also celebrate the achievements of others as well.