Leonardo Zurita looked like any other wide-eyed youngster on a field trip Saturday to the Lawrence Hall of Science.
But instead of standing in awe in front of one of the museum’s exhibits, the 10-year-old Cragmont Elementary School student was face-to-face with his hero, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.
Hawk was on hand for Saturday’s world premiere of “Tony Hawk Rad Science,” a new exhibit at the hall that breaks down the centrifugal force, angular momentum and other physics concepts involved in skateboarding. The exhibit will run through Sept. 3.
“Growing up, the classes I excelled in were math, physics and science, and to have skateboarding and those worlds collide for me is really exciting,” Hawk said.
As part of the exhibit, museum visitors can step onto skateboards to experience the balance necessary to perform different tricks, slide blocks over different surfaces to test the effects of friction and pretend to be Hawk by playing the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game.
The exhibit also includes examples of skateboards through the years, from the small, blocky boards of the 1950s, to the curved, three-foot long boards of today, to the “hoverboard” featured in the “Back to the Future” movie series.
“It would be great if kids realize that everything around them involves science,” said UC Berkeley physics professor Joel Fajans, who consulted for the exhibit. “Our country could use people who are more science-literate.”
As a counter to potential parental concerns about safety, the exhibit also features a video named “Wipeout Ambulance,” which shows the safety measures necessary for safe skateboarding as well as the injuries that can occur while performing tricks.
Back outside the hall, in addition to signing autographs and giving high fives to many of the about 300 kids and adults at the premiere event, Hawk and five other professional skaters — Jesse Fritsch, Neal Hendrix, Elliot Sloan, Kevin Staab and Lincoln Ueda — gave a high-flying demonstration of their skills on the 30-ft. vert ramp.
Standing atop the ramp, Fajans gave commentary regarding the different elements of physics in the tricks being performed. He pointed out that the skaters were rotating on three different axes as they performed 540-degree spins and other tricks midair.
Fajans, whose work involves studying antihydrogen atoms, watched skateboard videos in order to learn about the physics involved, and he said the experience of seeing the skaters fly above him was “simply amazing.”
While Hawk said he does not think about physics when practicing or executing tricks, he described his process as one similar to conducting an experiment.
“We’re not defying physics like people sometimes say,” Hawk said. “It’s more what feels right, and what feels possible and how to push those limits.”
Before the skating demonstration, Hawk answered questions from a group of children who were eager to ask him about his many skating exploits. He eventually turned the tables on the kids and started asking them questions.
When Hawk asked if they thought the hoverboard would ever be real, Zurita responded that something special would have to be attached to the back of the vert ramp because the hoverboard uses the earth’s electromagnetism to float.
“Maybe you’re the guy to design the hoverboard,” Hawk said, putting a skateboard-sized smile on his young fan’s face.
Fajans echoed Hawk’s sentiments after he climbed down from the top of the ramp.
“The best thing for me would be if one of these kids ends up in a class of mine 10 years from now,” Fajans said before being asked to autograph a skateboard, which he said he does not often get to do in his profession.
Christopher Yee is an assistant news editor.
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