SAN DIEGO — Leave it to Tony Hawk to mix a decades-old skateboarding trick with the latest in virtual reality technology.
The 50-year-old skateboarding pioneer and entrepreneur is dragging his 360-degree loop ramp out of storage and giving a handful of young skaters the chance to try to nail the near-impossible trick on a live virtual reality broadcast Sunday from his San Diego County headquarters.
There's no prize money or trophy for any skater who successfully completes The Loop, which Hawk first did 20 years ago.
"No, it's more sort of a badge of honor in the skate world," Hawk said.
Hawk will be rampside to provide commentary and coaching while Corbin Harris does play-by-play for Tony Hawk's Loop Challenge.
The only way to watch will be in virtual reality. Fans can download the free NextVR app from the stores associated with Oculus Go, PlayStation VR, HTC VIVE Pro, HTC VIVE, Windows Mixed Reality, Gear VR, and Google Daydream. A virtual reality headset is required.
This is the first foray into action sports for leading VR broadcast platform NextVR, based in Newport Beach. NextVR will place eight VR cameras along The Loop for the 3D stereoscopic broadcast. Fans will be fully immersed when they're placed at the drop-in and at the peak of the loop.
Hawk first became intrigued by the trick in the 1970s when he read a magazine article about a skater who tried — and failed — to ride a 360-degree loop.
Hawk said he knew it was possible and made several attempts to determine the perfect design. Hawk became the first skater to nail it in 1998 while filming a video in a bullring in neighboring Tijuana, Mexico.
Hawk said only about 15 skaters have successfully completed The Loop, which requires a perfect balance of momentum, speed and gravity.
Skating The Loop — which mirrors the look of a Hot Wheels loop — is similar to a Gravitron ride, with skaters gaining enough momentum to stick to the track. The drop-in is 14 feet tall and the complete track is 16 feet long. The height of the top of the ramp will have skaters going approximately 13 mph, the perfect speed to complete the challenge.
After his success in 1998, Hawk built a portable 360-degree ramp that he took on his Boom Boom Huckjam tour in 2003. He brings it out of storage every few years when enough people ask about it. NextVR approached him about a live event, "and up it went," Hawk said.
"It's cool to me to bring all the new technology into play," Hawk said. "I don't set it up very much and there are not many freestanding loops that people can do."
Hawk was still completing the list of invited skaters. Among those expected to try The Loop are 11-year-old Gavin Bottger, who lives in nearby Oceanside, and Felipe Nunes of Brazil, who lost his legs at 6 and has been skating professionally with prosthetics. Also expected are Shawn Hale, Aaron "Jaws" Homoki, Chris Russel and Curren Caples.
None of the invited skaters has done The Loop. Hawk last rode The Loop 15 years ago on tour.
It can be dangerous, Hawk said, noting that he broke his pelvis attempting it years ago on a beat-up track. The setup will be filled with stunt pads "so people can start to get used to the timing and feel of doing it in its natural state. If you don't know what you're doing and you go at it without ever trying it and there are no pads in place, it can be very dangerous."
Some skaters were going to get a feel for the ramp Saturday while others were going to wait until the competition itself.
"Every time we've put it up I usually get my pads on and try to show the technique of doing it properly, doing it into the pads to get them motivated and teach them," Hawk said.
But he's not motivated to try the trick again.
"It's hard to explain it," Hawk said. "If you've done it, you've checked it off the list. I'm not going to get the same gratification. It's not like a trick you do and want to keep doing. And I have paid the price for it."