Tony Hawk, crispy socks, and the Twitter weirdo
There's a recipe for moqueca somewhere here as well...
I can remember the first time I heard the name Tony Hawk like it was 23 years ago.
I was in a bedroom at a military boarding school in a leafy corner of England called Pangbourne. The boy I shared that room with was called Jermaine. Along with wrestling me naked after he’d finished drying and oiling himself post-shower, playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater was one of his favourite things to do in the evening.
We were very different, Jermaine and I. He was tall, handsome, and listened to music like Ludacris and Sisqo’s “The Thong Song”, which he practiced hitting the high notes of most mornings before marching practice. I at this point was still enjoying my copy of Queen’s Made in Heaven and my mother’s Best of Elton John cassette I’d commandeered from her a few years back. But, being both 13, there were inevitable passions we did have in common. The suspect smell of hormonal enthusiasm that filled our room and the occasional crispy sock at the end of our beds was proof enough of that.
But other than millennial hip-hop and onanist indulgences, Jermaine’s real love was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for Playstation 1, which he let me watch him play occasionally when he was too tired for wrestling.
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I first met Tony Hawk at a school in East London, but it wasn’t until our time together near the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro that we ever actually spoke.
On both occasions I was working for a sports charity owned by a luxury goods brand and car manufacturer you’ve definitely heard of. The charity functioned as their “Corporate Social Responsibility” arm and, though they did do some great work with kids around the world, I was always rather taken aback by the lavish parties they put on for rich and powerful people. The most important of which being a very fancy annual awards event for the world’s best sportspeople.
The charity chose an exciting new location every year for these awards, they flew celebrities and sportspeople out there, and put on what could be described, as it was on their own website, as the Academy Awards of sport.
It was at one such awards party in Rio de Janeiro that I first spoke to Tony.
I should probably let you know how I ended up at that sports charity surrounded by colleagues who were variably children of millionaires themselves or somehow related to the CEO.
A few years earlier, straight from university, I’d signed up with a temp agency called Office Angels in Fulham, London. After several short assignments that included writing horoscopes for a pre-teen girls’ website and sorting patient files at an eye hospital, the sports charity hired me to organise votes that sports journalists from around the world had sent in for the Awards categories. One thing led to another and I ended up proofreading press releases one day. That temp gig was meant to last a few weeks in 2010.
By 2013, having convinced my out of touch corporate superiors that I had some kind of mystical insight into youth culture on account of my being born in the eighties, I’d ended up permanently employed.
Incredibly, being born in the eighties made you young once upon a time, you know.
More specifically, despite having barely any interest in sport, I was now responsible for their website stories, the occasional press release, and all the social media material they put out.
The Awards ceremony that year was in Rio. And that’s what brought me together with Tony.
Tony was one of the charity’s many ambassadors. And my head of communications, a 7 foot, bald German called Gerald who was equal parts lovely and terrifying, had organised for me to do that most cutting edge of things in 2013: a Twitter interview.
My one-man social media department was not, however, a company priority. Ambassador media time was most often reserved for outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian over me and my Fisher Price voice recorder. This is why my time slot with Tony was organised last minute, leaving me only a few hours to ask our Twitter followers for questions. Luckily, Tony retweeted my call to get some entries in, and one of his followers submitted a question that seemed perfect. This Twitter user was particularly interested in Tony’s favourite burgers, a subject I was sure the skateboarder would never have been asked about in an interview before. I thanked the person for his great question, retweeted it, liked it, the whole routine, and put it at the top of my list.
That evening I walked along the Copacobana Beach from where my colleagues and I were staying to Tony’s significantly fancier hotel. It was the last time I made any evening journey by foot during my week in Rio. I later found out that Marvelous Marvin Hagler, world champion boxer and another of our ambassadors, had been mugged just minutes from where I’d been walking. We were all of us a bit more careful moving around at night after that.
After a few awkward moments in the hotel foyer doing my best impression of someone who probably deserved to be escorted out by security, I found Tony and introduced myself. Unfortunately, he told, me, we didn’t have much time. Once his wife was down from their hotel room, they were meeting up with more of the charity VIPs to go for a special welcome dinner. But I could, if I wanted, get in the taxi with them.
We sat down, I explained the Twitter interview concept, which, as an early Twitter user, he was familiar with, and I got to asking. I started with my best submission: the burger guy. My favourite question. The question I was already planning to start a fluff piece with for the website. The only question I had, in fact, other than:
Did you pack speedos for Rio?, and
Would you rather be chased by 10 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?
But when I asked the burger question, Tony looked at me as though I’d asked him if he wanted to get oiled up and have a little wrestle.
“This question came on Twitter?” he said in his relaxed Californian drawl.
“Yes,” I told him.
“Yeah,” Tony said nodding, “I know this guy. He’s always sending me questions about burgers.” He paused briefly, looked to my phone I’d been holding, and started to laugh. “I think he’s a pervert or something.”
I quickly moved on to the horse/duck question.
10 minutes later I was in the back of a 10-seater taxi with the world’s most famous skateboarder, his wife, Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson and, among others, that guy who jumped to earth from the edge of space a few years ago.
But things like that, and the time I interviewed a British cricketer called Ian Botham while he enjoyed a massage in a Sri Lankan hotel room, are stories for another time.
A recipe for Moqueca: Brazilian Fish Stew
While in Brazil I was introduced to a beautiful coconut milk-based stew called moqueca. It was served with rice and a seriously delicious garnish called farofa. I had it in a small restaurant with a view of the Copacabana Beach and it remains one of my most treasured food memories. This was a few years before I became a chef, but even then I was annoyingly enthusiastic enough to ask waiting staff about how it was made.
This recipe I’m sharing today is my ongoing attempt at doing that moqueca in Rio a decade ago something approaching justice. I admit to have taken liberties. The “farofa” here is made with panko breadcrumbs, not cassava root. I also use coconut oil infused with smoked paprika to replicate the vibrant red and smoky, toasty flavour of red palm oil.
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