The unmistakable sound of flatulence cuts through the air. Then the wild cackling of a five-year-old rises over the Carlsbad, California, waves breaking 100 feet away. "Good one, Spence," says the father, a reedy man in his mid thirties, as he airlifts his three-year-old, Keegan, from his GMC Denali parked next to the sea walk. Riley, the 11-year-old in the family, is already waxing his surfboard. Keegan, who seems as if he's just shotgunned a six-pack of Mountain Dew, fights out of his father's arms and charges a seagull. Spencer puts his hand to his mouth and flaunts his talent again. A more prudish parent would be laying down the law right now. "Sounded real," says this dad encouragingly. "Keegan...come on, don't eat that. Sand isn't one of the major food groups."
Meet Tony Hawk, father of three, grand master of the skateboarding world, and, yes, a primo connoisseur of fart noises. Nickelodeon viewers have voted him their favorite athlete—over Tiger Woods, Shaq, and everyone else—for the past two years. And that's not nearly all: the dad with a five-inch scab on his left elbow and shins so scarred they look paneled in beef jerky now has McDonald's Happy Meal toys modeled after him, a phenomenally successful annual arena tour, and a stake in a series of best-selling video games, including Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Tony Hawk's Underground, which have raked in a billion dollars and counting. Six years ago, he had to start Tony Hawk Inc. just so he could manage his grab bag career—one that also includes manufacturing skateboards; promoting clothes, shoes, and accessories; hosting a weekly satellite radio show; making appearances in movies (as himself); running a nationwide charity that develops skate parks in needy areas; and keeping his fans up-to-date on all fronts at www.tonyhawk.com.
Home base is Carlsbad, a cozy seaside community north of downtown San Diego. The beach he and his kids frequent is up the coast from the strip of sand where his parents once ran a hot dog stand—that was before his mom received her doctorate in education. Tony bought his first house as a high school senior, using his pro earnings, and recently moved into his fourth pad with a Carlsbad zip. For him the ocean is the main draw—he learned to surf before he learned to skate. But almost as important are the area's other attractions: state-of-the-art skate parks, Legoland, San Diego Wild Animal Park, swimming pools (and tidal pools), and great coffee—everything a divorced guy with three kids needs. San Diego's North County also has everything a vacationing family needs, including year-round nice weather (freezing to locals means a sweatshirt is required).
"T," as his friends call him, knows that keeping the posse amused on holiday is harder than most skateboarding tricks, and just as painful when you screw it up. Well...maybe the time he fractured his skull and pelvis was slightly more painful. Here, T's top 10 picks for a San Diego visit in which nobody slams.
1. HQ "Carlsbad, 'the Village by the Sea,' is, if you ask me, San Diego's most family-friendly area. It's more manicured than neighboring Oceanside and less bohemian than Encinitas; all three are strung along the PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as the 101. The Carlsbad vibe is slow—no eternal frat-party feeling here—and we have seven miles of accessible (and surfable!) beaches. Downtown is an easy walk from the water, so you can take a beach break to rent a bike, grab a meal, browse the Kite Depot, and meet our local ukulele dealer. To find my favorite section of Carlsbad State Beach, cross the street at the phallic gray power plant tower that you can see from all over town. Enter through the opening in the seawall and head south to the bluffs. There's a decent break that Riley and I surf. Spencer can spend all day digging up sand crabs while Keegan races up and down the beach looking for something dangerous to do. The undercurrent is fairly mellow, but beware of the tide: it comes in quickly and loves to steal towels and sandals."
Travel Tip: "Land locally! Carlsbad is a 40-minute straight shot from the San Diego airport, but discovering that I could fly into the town's tiny McClellan-Palomar Airport was like finding buried treasure in my backyard. United and America West commuter planes fly here; you connect to them in L.A. or Phoenix."
2. FM 94.9 "In a sea of Clear Channel pre-programmed crap, 94.9 [www.fm949sd.com] is the only safe place on the San Diego dial. Rolling Stone singled it outas one of the few remaining independents worth listening to. The DJ's don't babble—none of that mind-numbing stuff about who ate what on the latest episode of Survivor. You'll hear everything from the Police to Radiohead to Johnny Cash and the Cure. The kids rarely complain; in fact, they usually ask me to turn up the radio. Stay tuned for the surf report three times a day."
3. Food and Caffeine "For breakfast we head to Mariah's [377 Carlsbad Village Dr.; 760/729-6040], where Spencer survives on his staple 'meal,' a bagel with cream cheese, and I polish off a few of the famous biscuits along with a chicken, avocado, and jack cheese omelette. On beach days we grab sandwiches at Linda's Frozen Yogurt [3001B Carlsbad Blvd.; 760/729-3005]—ask for vanilla ice cream in your smoothie. Spirito's Restaurant & Pizzeria [300 Carlsbad Village Dr., No. 208; 760/720-1132] is great for family dinners. The staff understands the importance of feeding kids fast, and even Keegan is happy for an hour, eating chicken parmigiana pizza and making weapons out of every piece of cutlery within reach. I'm the one licking my plate clean of pasta with spicy mushroom sauce—and paying less than $50 for the four of us. Another reason I love Spirito's is that it's only a few hundred feet south of Vinaka Café [300 Carlsbad Village Dr., No. 211; 760/720-7890], the local coffee shop that fills up with skaters, surfers, and the odd pair of senior citizens playing checkers. I order the kids a round of ice cream cones while I adjust my blood-to-caffeine ratio."
4. Legoland "When Spencer is tired of watching his SpongeBob DVD's, and Keegan is sick of aggravating Spencer, and Riley has missed his skate session at the YMCA, Legolandstaves off disaster. Almost everything at this amusement park, from the miniature cityscapes to the full-scale replica of Rodin's Thinker, is built out of tiny Lego bricks. (The rides only have a Lego look—they'd be more exciting if they were actually made of plastic pieces that could break apart.) The park is geared toward younger kids, but Riley rarely passes on a visit. He likes the Bionicle Blaster, a ride where you manipulate how fast you spin; Keegan gets into the chaos of 'controlling' the Aquazone Wave Racer, and Spencer tries to get us to spend the day on the Coastersaurus. My favorite attraction?The Krispy Kreme stand, where I try to ingest enough sugar to keep up with my boys." 1 Legoland Dr., Carlsbad; 760/918-5346; www.legoland.com; adults $44; kids three and up $37.