Aussie skateboarding legend Tas Pappas wants to set the record straight about Tony Hawk.
"I never set out to demonize Hawk," Pappas said. "The 9 is his and all the credit is due. He did it on a small ramp, and he is amazing."
This is a new tack for Tas. Two years ago, he roiled the skating world by alleging that Hawk conspired to keep him out of the 1999 X Games Best Trick contest and nail the 900-degree aerial spin—a trick Tas had been trying unsuccessfully to land—first. Tas aired this grievance in the VICE documentary All This Mayhem, and controversy followed. Tas was still slamming Hawk on Instagram last year. "Grow some balls and come clean, stop using people you coward," he posted, "and if you didn't have it inn (sic) for me, why did you try to shut me out of the demos in my home town."
I thought that bringing up his old nemesis would be a sore subject, but Tas has mellowed out a little.
"Go easy on Tony—he doesn't deserve all the hate mail," he said. "I was a loose cannon back in the day. I hope Hawk sees past that."
Tas is a survivor. His story—chronicled in All This Mayhem—is a drug-fueled disaster.
Hailing from the wrong side of Melbourne, Tas and his brother Ben came to the U.S. in 1992 and stormed the skating scene with a punk-rock panache that was the antithesis of Tony Hawk's clean-cut, Brady Bunch image. By the end of the decade, Tas and Ben were the No. 1 and 2 skaters in the world; Hawk ranked third.
Substance abuse and run-ins with the law quickly undid it all. In 2005, Tas went to prison for hitting his wife. Eventually, he was deported from the U.S. and lost custody of his children. Ben, meanwhile, had become a heroin addict. In 2007, authorities believe, he murdered his girlfriend; he committed suicide shortly after her body was found. Tas's own substance-abuse problems came to a head the following year, when he was arrested for attempting to smuggle cocaine into Australia and spent three years behind bars.
In prison, Tas found redemption in the Bible. He's still beating his substance-abuse problem, and he's now remarried, has a son, and is living in the suburbs.
"I still am who I am, but I know it's not the world against me," Tas said. "I didn't know what I was dealing with all those years—that's why I was self-medicating."
Tas as a younger man. Courtesy Eddie Martin
Tas is a hard man to get in touch with these days. He lives with his family in Thornbury, Victoria, outside Melbourne. He works seven days a week some months though he still gets plenty of big air.
"Hanging off the side of buildings. Forty- to 50-story towers," he said.
For the past few years, Tas has been cleaning the windows of Melbourne's high-rise buildings. He has also remained a spiritual man. Religion and his family are sources of inspiration for him.
"I found a church where they're not judgmental," he said. "Of course, number one is my family. And having good friends. That and the acting."
Tas has been studying acting for the past year, taking classes at Screen Actors Australia in Melbourne. After bearing his soul for All This Mayhem, he says, the transition to acting was a natural progression.
"I find it almost therapeutic. I can draw on my past life experience," he said, adding with a laugh, "You almost act normal—like how the normals interact."
Eddie Martin, director of All This Mayhem, has confidence in Tas's new career path. He's been at the skater's side since making the film.
"There's no question he's got a screen presence," Martin said. "He's been talking to some talented filmmakers—so that's something to look out for."
Tas on the job in Melbourne. Courtesy Tas Pappas
While All This Mayhem successfully rekindled a 15-year-old spat between Tas and Hawk, the film was also a tale of redemption. Tas's story of overcoming substance abuse and tragedy has helped others do the same.
"It's really positive that people who watch the film are reaching out to Tas on social media and letting him know he's inspiring them," Martin said. "It's a cautionary tale, and if it's motivating people to make better choices, that's awesome."
The positive feedback has been good for Tas. He recently finished a Pub Talk tour in Australia, telling his story to crowds and putting the message out about overcoming drug abuse.
"That was fun for about a minute," he smirked. "I didn't like the idea of constantly being in the pub scene. I didn't want to be around a party environment—because that's a problem for me."
Tas appears a healthy, balanced man these days, and he's still a part of the skating scene. At the end of last year, skate company Positive Charge honored the Pappas brothers with a board, the Barnes and Elias model, named for two brothers in the movie Platoon. It's a reference to Tas and Ben's different styles of skating.
"Ben would think it through. I would just go for it," Tas said. Ben called his brother's land-it-or-die attitude "Barnes-ing it." But, as Tas reflected on life and skating, "you can't just kick the doors open."
Looking back, Tas says that he's glad he wasn't invited to the 1999 X Games Best Trick contest, that if he would have landed the 900 before Hawk, his life would have blown out of control.
"I probably would have died in a bloody hotel room if I made a million dollars. That's how God looked after me. I wasn't really trustworthy. I was not the best role model. I was borderline personality disorder," he said. "I'm an addict in recovery."
Since the release of All This Mayhem, Tas has landed the 900, which he was very stoked about and which has brought some closure to the past.
"I didn't want to do it. I was over it," he said. "It just felt amazing. After all this mayhem."