During his illustrious career, skateboarding legend Tony (Birdman) Hawk has reached some unprecedented heights.

But as he showed during a weekend visit to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, the father of four can still be down-to-Earth.

“I just like the spectacle of (the CNE),” said Hawk, 41. “My kid version would just love all the rides.”

Hawk was in town to provide some celebrity judging for the CNE’s newest attraction, the FlowRider — an artificial wave machine that replicates the experience of surfboarding.

“I could really see flowriding becoming popular,” said Hawk. “It’s like surfing, but it allows you to do it anywhere without worrying about the weather, the waves or the coast.”

Hawk proved the point by hopping onto a stand-up board and carving a few waves himself on a chilly afternoon in downtown Toronto.

Then it was time for an impromptu autograph session with the spectators — some with strands of grey hair, others too young to have ever stood on a skateboard, all clamouring for Hawk’s attention.

“It’s an honour that (people) recognize you for what you do, and for doing something that’s perceived as obscure, like skateboarding,” said Hawk. “People have respect for it, and they want to come out and see you, even if they’re not skaters themselves.”

Indeed, Hawk is one of the few skateboarders who has transcended the sport and become a global icon. He’s appeared on television, in movies and has inspired a line of video games, including an upcoming title featuring a skateboard-shaped controller.

But has mainstream attention and popularity changed the once-underground sport?

“Skateboarding continues to evolve,” said Hawk. “There’s still that element of hardcore skating and riding the forbidden rails ... but you also have the option to make it a full-blown career and become a superstar. That wasn’t even an option or dream when I started.”

Based on the number of smiling youngsters walking away from the FlowRider, showing off their freshly-autographed posters and skateboards, that dream appears to be alive and well.