One of my earliest introductions to the heavy-flux world of freestyle occurred in 1989 when I watched a VHS tape titled Aggroman. If you’ve seen it, you know the first 25 minutes has a funny ninja/super hero plot with some core riding from a costume-clad Dave Voelker, Mat Hoffman, and Eddie Roman — who produced, filmed and edited the video. The second half contains a more solid mix of riding, and showcases the changes that were quickly occurring in BMX, with cutting-edge flatland, dirt, ramps and this new thing called “street riding.”
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that one of your first BMX videos was also made by Eddie Roman. The ripple effect of his influence on freestyle can be felt today. We recently met up at his office in Belflower and his home in Murietta where Eddie provided a rare glimpse of a truly golden era for BMX. Enjoy!
Intro and Interview by Paul Covey
With Stew Johnson, Mat Hoffman, Dave Voelker, and Vic Murphy
You ran a coaster brake forever, and I’ve heard you describe yourself as a “coaster-brake guy.”
A lot of the first freestylers ran coaster-brakes. RL Osborne and Bob Haro had them on their bikes. The skate park guys usually ran freewheels, but everybody else had a coaster-brake. I wasn’t really a skate park guy, so I had a coaster from the start. Back then, drop-ins on a quarter were just straight in off the back wheel. So you locked the coaster up, and went into the ramp. I just never got over it. (laughter)
Do you remember the first time you saw BMX?
I used to go down to 7-11 and play Pac-Man. That’s where I would spend all my money. We’d be down there for hours – back before you had video games inside your house on your TV. (laughter) There were these machines, and you’d stick a quarter in . . . (laughter)
. . . so you’d get five bucks and spend a few hours down at 7-11. I was really drawn to the BMX Action magazine, which they sold at the time. I remember seeing a cover with a racer named Clint Miller, and he’s just bombing off this huge hill. Right after that, they had the first issues covering the King of the Skateparks contests with all these guys blasting out of bowls.
I really liked that, so I started saving my Pac-Man money up, and I eventually bought a used Torker with yellow Tuff wheels on it. It had blue alloy KKT pedals, and gold cranks. Alloy V-bars. Oakley 3 grips. And it had a coaster-brake, which is also probably why I always rode one.
What year was that?
That would have been around 1982 or 1983?
Who were the first pros you saw riding in real life?
I was at Knott’s Berry Farm riding roller coasters, and Eddie Fiola and Mike Dominguez were there doing a half-pipe show! That was the first time I ever saw pros. I remember the ramp didn’t have a deck. It was just up to the top and then nothing, you know? (Laughter) If you did a foot plant on that thing, you were pretty awesome!
Then I saw Bob Haro do a show at the Del Mar fair . . . the old AFA skate park contests were always amazing to go to. . . just to see Blyther, Dominguez and Fiola blasting out of this totally dangerous looking bowl. If you didn’t ride bowls and you saw this thing, you’d be like, “I’m not gonna ride that!” (laughter) Eddie Fiola was the first big name guy. He had a helmet with stickers on it placed to look like a Mohawk. I always thought that was pretty rad.
Also Jeff Carroll – watching him do the first no-handers at Pipeline and then grabbing his tire with both hands. It was so sketchy! It wasn’t, you know, stick the bars on your knees and get a little control and then take your hands off. It was just fling your hands off, and try to get your hands back on! The bars would just be flopping around. (laughter) It was sketchy, and he crashed half the time. It was great!
You’ve told me before about Ron Wilton “street riding” at Balboa Park in the early 80s. Can you tell me more about that?
Ya, so I started riding at Balboa Park with my friend Jimmy Arrington. We would ride around the fountain and do endos and stuff. One day we’re there hanging out, and this big crew of riders came jamming through – all these older guys. Pete Augustine, Ron Wilton . . . they were bunny-hopping everything and just kind of destroying stuff.
Wilton bunny-hopped up onto the fountain, it was probably a foot tall; before he got to the edge – he did a 180 drop and landed in a roll-back, and I was just amazed. Because – I’d seen a lot of ground tricks, but it was just so cool to see someone do something on an obstacle like that . . . I didn’t really think of it as flatland. I just thought, “Man, that’s rad!” Other than like a wheelie or a bunny hop, that was the first thing that got me thinking about “street.”
I love that story! Going back to the AFA, how would you describe AFA events to someone unfamiliar with that period of time?
The American Freestyle Association – the flatland and quarter-pipe events . . . the quarter-pipes were six to eight feet wide; you had to be able to do an air and not carve at all. (laughter) The AFA was very structured you know, and they had rules. This was at a time when all the guys organizing contests – all they knew to do was to copy what it looked like at a soccer game, or a chess match, or something.
There was a lot of rigidness compared to later on, where you went out and had a minute to do whatever you want to do, and the riders are judging you – as opposed to some lady, or someone’s mom who hasn’t really even watched bike riding before. She’s judging you! (laughter) You know?
There was a lot of weirdness like that. The main thing being – the judges weren’t riders. So that was always controversial and annoying.
It’s difficult to imagine having non-riders judge an event now.
Ya, it was a funny time, you know? But at the same time, someone had given me a bike, and taken me around the world, and they’re paying me to do this . . . I don’t care. Like, it’s not a big deal. I’m not losing sleep over the fact that I didn’t smile and got second place. (laughter) I didn’t care. Some guys took it very seriously – more competitive guys. You know? Whatever.
I remember watching Dino Deluca and getting the sense that like, “This dude practices! This dude makes every effort to make a lookback look amazing.” And I would just never do that.
That just wasn’t me. I never really cared about the competitive type of thing. I think that’s stayed with me, because I still don’t care. (laughter)
When you were on Skyway, how often were you traveling for contests and shows?
We would go to every AFA contest. In the mid-to late 80s, we’d have eight to ten contests throughout the year, and then tons of shows. That was always fun. In the summer we would go on tour with Skyway for two and a half months, just one bike shop after another, all across North America. We would tow these rickety, thin little ramps around the country on a trailer. One year we pulled around a portable wall. Like a launch ramp to a wall. (laughter) We had a portable wall, so we could do wall rides. (laughter) How funny is that?
I thought it was pretty cool when I saw it; the wall was painted with graffiti. What did it feel like to get a photo in a magazine in the 80s?
Aw man, it was the best, you know? It was just the best – to go to a photo shoot with Spike Jonze or Windy Osborne, and then for like three months you’re wondering, “Did I get in?” (laughter) You know, it wasn’t instant. I mean, it was paper, and it had to get printed. And every month, the magazine coming out was a very big deal. It was like, once a month you get something new. Getting on the cover was the ultimate. It was awesome!
How did your sponsorship with Skyway end? Can you talk more about that transitional period in the late 80s when the BMX industry began its decline?
So when I was riding for Skyway, everything was great. We were touring around the world, getting free bikes. That all went away when the recession hit. Basically, you had all these parents buying bikes for kids, and all of a sudden, they don’t have extra money to do that anymore. They’ve got to focus on rent and food. That was all over America, and bike companies just folded.
The industry just kind of died, because sponsorships and ad revenue kept the magazines going. As much as people hate that sometimes, that’s the way it works. With all that gone, the only ones left were just people who wanted to ride. You had all these guys who were once sponsored, but now they had to buy their own bikes.
Things change. You found out quick who really loved riding. It’s not a big deal, it’s not like one person is better than the other. A lot of people went to college, or they went and got jobs. Some people managed to keep doing the bike thing, but were working at the same time. All the guys (still) riding at that time just couldn’t stop. They just loved riding.
After Skyway, I was sponsored by Schwinn, Haro, S&M, and Dirt Brothers. Vision Street Wear gave everyone stuff. Airwalk, Awesome Shoes, Life’s a Beach, JimmyZ, and Odyssey also gave me stuff. I’m still sponsored by Odyssey actually. (laughter) Skyway was it the majority of the time. After that it was just all scavenging. (laughter)
Most riders consider you to be a major street innovator during this period of time. Who else would you list as street pioneers?
Pete Augustine, Craig Campbell, Vic Murphy, Maurice Meyer, and Dave Vanderspek. Honestly, when I started riding more street there really weren’t a lot of other people doing it. It was almost like when I rode flatland. I’d be in some basketball court by myself for hours. That’s kind of how it was when I first started trying to make up street tricks. I was just alone trying stuff on a ledge or a curb for hours.
When the street contests started happening, riders started meshing all their ramp and flatland tricks into street stuff. So instead of doing a boomerang on the ground, they would try to do it going off a curb. Stuff like that.
What else can you recollect about the early street contests?
Street contests arose out of the riders doing their own thing. You eventually had guys like Ron Wilkerson or Mat Hoffman organizing their own events. But the first street contest wasn’t the 2-Hip one in Santee . . . you know? Dave Vanderspek, up in Northern California, was really into street riding. He was around a bunch of street skaters like Tommy Guerrero and Bryce Kanights – all these guys who were the best street skaters at the time; they were always having street contests. So Vander just said, “Well, I’m gonna have my own street contest.” There weren’t a whole bunch of guys there – a lot of locals. Maybe like ten guys who entered.
But ya, that was actually the “first” street contest. He got a couple of skate ramps and stuck them up against a wall. It was basically like a skate contest. There were also launch ramps, and maybe a car. No magazines covered it. No one filmed it. It was just, “Hey, let’s have a contest.” Ok. “Who won?” I don’t know. (laughter)
Rad — I’d heard about that. You always seemed to have the coolest sponsors; how did your Life’s a Beach deal come about?
I probably got hooked up with Life’s a Beach through Pete Augustin. We were friends; we rode together all the time. I’m pretty sure that he got hooked up first, and then I just wanted some skull pants, because they were awesome. (laughter)
I still want some skull pants!
Ya, they were great. Life’s a Beach were such a funny group of guys. One of the owners went on to make NO FEAR, which I think is still huge . . . I don’t know; I don’t pay attention.
They are very popular in the world of mixed martial arts now . . .
There was an artist for Life’s a Beach, named “Doze.” He was a break dancer from one of the famous New York groups. He was also a super-good spray paint artist. A lot of their designs that were “graffiti art” were from him. You would go into his house, and every room was a sick mural done with spray paint on the walls. It was the coolest thing.
Life’s a Beach was located right near Haro. So you would go get stuff from Haro, then go over to Life’s a Beach and get stuff there, and then go get a burrito at the taco shop. It was great. San Diego livin’.
That’s cool. What do you remember about riding for Airwalk?
I don’t know how I got hooked up with Airwalk. I do remember that the manager was a very cool guy named SIN; he passed away a few years ago.
Airwalks were the best because they were some of the thicker shoes, during the time. It’s funny because you don’t really think about this stuff when you are a teenager, but you jack your feet up quite a bit jumping off stuff riding. That’s the thing I remember about Airwalks. They were just way more padded than the other shoes . . . Did you know who that guy, SIN was?
I’ve read a lot about him, that he was a huge part of why Airwalk was so rad in the late 80s and early 90s. Kim Boyle shared a little about him in his interview we did. Do you know how he died?
I just read an article on him after not thinking about him for years. I’m pretty sure it was a drug over-dose, or something like that. It’s a sad story. He basically made the whole “shoe fad” thing what it became today. He was the first guy that really started to make shoes cool, and part of skating and BMX. Then basically, every company stole his ideas, and he died depressed. You can find the article if you Google: Airwalk and SIN.
That’s a bummer man. Let’s change the tone here: Talk about Vic Murphy and Dirt Bros?
Vic was fun to be around; he still is. He’s a lot like me – in that he’s just a goofball and likes to ride a bike. A lot of guys are very competitive, and they are into winning trophies and stuff like that – and he’s not. He just likes to have fun. One part of that is him getting rad on a bike, or a skateboard, and the other part is just laughing. Most of my memories with Vic are of us just laughing. Riding and laughing. That’s pretty much it. And, he is super-creative. Vic wasn’t afraid to try stuff or get hurt. He was always one of the guys I wanted to film.
As far as Dirt Bros – the whole idea of getting old Skyway TA frames and putting DBI stickers on them – I just thought it was a joke. But it worked! It was great! (laughter) He took the concept of using blanks from skate decks, which is what skate companies do, to re-sell them. It was funny how so many people were super into that TA frame, that when it became available again – it would have been like if someone found a bunch of Shimano DX pedals and sold them. Of course you are going to buy them!
I also think part of Dirt Bros was just an attitude of being tired of sponsors who really didn’t know what they were doing. It was the riders taking the business into their own hands and doing it the way they wanted to. You know? Before the recession, before the money went away, it was mostly just business men selling bikes. Because of that, there was a big disconnect between the people making the bikes and the riders. You would have these stupid parts and mechanisms, just weird pegs and frames that didn’t make sense. As the pros started growing up and thinking for themselves – it was like, “why are we even riding this?”
I remember talking to Mat Hoffman about it. I was on the Haro tour doing the announcing, and Mat was riding, and he was going through a frame a day. Like he’s breaking frames, and there are literally five boxes of brand new Haro frames in the van. And every day he rides one, and he breaks it, and builds up a new one. I remember saying to him, “Man, you just need to make your own bike. Why don’t you just build your own? You could do it!” It’s funny because he started Hoffman Bikes out of just the need for a good bike, you know? He wasn’t trying to make money. It was just, “I need a bike that’s not going to break in half.” (laughter) You know?
I was a senior in high school and had just moved from Alaska to San Diego when I first met Eddie. I didn’t own a bike at the time and was skating everyday. Eddie rolled up to a skate session and began doing full speed 540’s off a 3 foot launch ramp and landing backwards at full speed with his coaster brake. He blew my mind with how well he crossed skate style tricks to BMX and we owe him a lot of credit for what street riding has become. Eddie was a huge reason I picked up a bike again and he has never stopped making me laugh until it hurts and inspiring me as a friend and man. – Vic Murphy
You rode a Haro Master with the bashguard for a while?
Ya. I think I rode one of those for a year or so. I think that’s what I’m riding in Aggroman.
How did that evolve into the Sprocket Pocket (the original chainwheel sprocket guard)?
That Haro Master was the only bashguard bike I ever had, but shortly after that is when we made the Sprocket Pocket. I had a friend named Todd Smedley. He’s the guy in Ride On in all the goofy parts, where he’s riding the clown bike. He was trying to learn how to bunnyhop, and we were at the Balboa Park fountain. He was trying to bunny hop up it, and he just couldn’t do it. He smacked his chain and broke it, and we had to walk home. Actually, I rode, but he had to push his bike home. It was like an hour walk or something like that; during that walk he thought up the Sprocket Pocket. Eventually we got plastic and started working on it. The first guard was like a sandwich, it was all big, and had a bashguard on both sides. But Todd did it, and that was basically the first on-sprocket bashguard.
That’s cool. When did you first meet Mat Hoffman?
We were at a big contest, I think at Madison Square Garden, and there was this kid there blasting massive airs. He had this JT Racing motorcycle-shoulder-pad-thing on. It looked so funny, but he was going so high that no one was going to laugh at him. (laughter) I mean, he was going higher than all the pros. We started talking a little there. Soon after that, everyone was looking to sponsor him.
I think because the team and I had gotten to know Mat and his family a bit, when it came to picking a sponsor, they decided that they wanted him on Skyway because they liked the people involved.
I ended up touring with him, and at contests we’d often stay in the same hotel room. I’d also go out to Oklahoma to visit sometimes, and we would just ride.
The weather there was so hot in the summer. Those guys would basically sleep all day and then ride all night until six in the morning. Then we’d go to sleep. Dennis McCoy would come out too. Steve Swope was there. Rick Thorne was out there a bunch; Psycho Davin Halford too. That whole crew was great.
I was a wee little lad when I crossed paths with Eddie Roman. It was at the Madison Square Garden Contest in 1986. I was 14 years old, shy and wasn’t sure what to make of BMX in this form. Then Eddie Roman sat next to me and started cracking bad jokes that challenged my terrible humor. I thought, I can hang with the greater world of BMX. Then next thing I knew, I was on Skyway, sitting in a stinky van for 3 months, dressing up in superhero costumes, fighting Ninjas, and taking our bad humor to the next level. Eddie Roman is my original BMX Hero and if it wasn’t for him tripping over the “amethyst gemstone” BMX would not be the same. – Mat Hoffman
Were you already filming things at that point?
Ya, I’d been taping a little bit. It was around that same time when I started always having my video camera with me whenever I’d go to Mat’s house or go ride somewhere. So I’d ride for a while and then tape for a while. If someone was going to try something crazy, I’d make sure to have the video camera out.
I got really interested in film making in high school. I went to Hoover High School, and they had a video production class. At the time in the 80s, no one really did that in high school. It was pretty unique. In that particular class, three people really cared about learning, and I was one of them.
It was interesting. I mean, who doesn’t want to make movies, right? But, because we were so into it and actually trying, the teacher went out of his way to really help us learn. He even let me borrow the school’s video camera, which was this huge thing with a cable, and the recorder was separate from the camera. But it was so expensive . . . for the teacher to let me take it was crazy!
That’s how all my early kung-fu movies got made, like Aggro Riding and Kung-Fu Fighting. All that stuff was made on the school’s big camera. Going through that class, I learned all the basics. From there, I just always wanted to film bike riding. It was just natural, because I was always riding bikes. My friends are riding bikes. I’ve got a camera. So there ya go.
And at the same time, riding was changing. I was going from being this uniform-wearing contest guy, to slowly evolving into a street rider . . . and so part of it was just looking at the sponsors and the people involved, and it wasn’t a rebellion. It was more that I’d rather wear my heavy metal shirt during practice instead of a uniform. So I think that whole shift slowly started making its way into my videos.
What types of kung fu movies were you into?
Oh man! So when I was a kid, I don’t know if they had this where you were at, but when I was a kid, they had this TV show on once a week called Kung-Fu Theater.
They always had the same plot. At the beginning of the movie, a guy gets beat up. Someone steals his girlfriend, or someone robs his parents shop. So within the first ten minutes – wimpy guy gets beat up. The next half of the movie is – wimpy guy goes to school at the Shaolin temple, and he learns martial arts from the grand master. Then the wimp becomes the best student. He goes home and cleans house on all the guys who made fun of him at the beginning. That’s every kung-fu movie ever made.
I watched all those growing up. There was this one called The Five Deadly Venoms. Each kung-fu guy had a power, like there was “the scorpion-kick guy” and “the dragon-swings-his-tail guy.” I think Kung-Fu Panda actually got it’s whole plot from The Five Deadly Venoms . (laughter)
And so that was every weekend. It was on Saturday. And every week it was some random, over-dubbed karate movie. So all of the old kung-fu movies were aired at some point.
They were all over-dubbed in English?
All over-dubbed in English, and off-sync. It was horrible! (laughter) You would laugh at them, and see fighting, and it was hilarious. (laughter) So that’s where that came from. We would just do that as a joke.
And you had already been filming at this point?
But it wasn’t like you were filming for a video?
At the beginning it wasn’t. But then it turned into that. I would always take my camera, but it wasn’t like today where it’s you know, “serious.”
When did you know that you were going to make another one after Aggro Riding and Kung-fu Fighting came out?
When people bought it, I was like . . . hmmm? (laughter) Nah! Not that I sold a ton of them . . . That’s a good question. I’ve never been an entrepreneur. I’ve never been a planner at all. It’s funny. I’m really not that way at all. I was just always filming and into the tech stuff. So I would try to get the best camera at the time. I was really into cinematography itself – if you can call it that – back then. (laughter) I really got into it, and bought a big light kit. It was strange, because nobody was doing that at the time.
It was Mark Eaton and I making videos back then, other than like, BMX Plus or GT, where they would just hire a production company to come in. Mark and I really started putting stuff out at the same time, not really knowing each other. I think his first Dorkin’ in York came out around the same time as Aggro Riding and Kung-Fu Fighting. It’s funny. To this day Mark and I are like: “Who did it first?” “Was it you or was it me?” And we still don’t know. But we both really came out with videos about the same time. But to answer your question, with Aggroman, that was something that I definitely thought out. (laughter) I was always into comic books.
Were you a DC or Marvel guy?
In the 80s it was Marvel. I subscribed to Spiderman, to X-men, to Punisher for a while, to Daredevil.
For Aggroman, I drew a design for his suit. I went and bought . . . OK, so there’s this Bruce Lee movie called Game of Death. And . . . what Bruce Lee is wearing is the same suit Aggroman wore. (laughter) They used to sell them at Kung-Fu shops. I just saw it in a Kung-Fu shop and thought that it would make a good super-hero costume. (laughter) So I got it and took it to this seamstress lady. I just looked in the phone book and found this lady who sews, and it wasn’t too far from my house. (laughter) And that’s it man. That’s the Aggroman suit. She sewed an “A” across the chest. And she made the mask. I originally wanted to do a rubber mask, similar to the Batman mask. I talked to Bob Haro, because his friend . . . do you remember in the 80s there were those Garfield cats with their butts sticking out of windows of cars? They were stuck with suction-cups on car doors and windows?
Well Bob Haro’s friend was the guy who made that. He made a bazillion dollars over-night with this stupid thing. (Laughter) He was an inventor. So, I told Bob that I was trying to make a rubber mask, and he hooked me up with that guy. I realized that it was going to be so stinkin’ expensive to make it out of rubber. So I just drew it and had the seamstress lady make it out of fabric.
What did she think about making it?
She laughed, she thought it was funny. But she didn’t care. I just asked her to make a costume for me and she was like, “Sure, I can do that.”
Did all the riders wear the same costume? I mean, you just made one right?
Ya, the same one. I still have it in my closet. Ya. Everyone just took turns.
At Interbike that year where you did the voice-over for Mat, was that the same costume or did you make a new one?
It was the same one. (laughter) Ya, I’ve still got it. I’ve been waiting for one of these BMX museums to ask me to have it. That’d be cool.
So you had this plan for Aggroman. Did you have the script written out?
I don’t know if I still have it, but I actually wrote out the whole script in a notebook…..”Aggroman comes into the room.” Or whatever. (laughter)
The idea was to show bike riding, but to have this funny, stupid humor in it the whole time. I’m pretty sure it ended up being way more story so that’s why I put all that bike riding on the end, so people wouldn’t get mad. (laughter)
I wanted to make a super-hero bike rider movie. And the reason for the mask came about because first, super heros have to wear a mask, and second, you could use whichever rider you want. If you want him to do this jump, you get the guy who can jump it. If you want him to ride this ramp, you get the guy who can ride it. That was the beauty of it. (laughter)
I thought it was hilarious. Did you know you wanted Dave, Mat, and yourself to be the riders?
Ya, I just kinda figured . . . I wrote the story first. And then it was like ok. I’ll just put whoever into to suit at the time for different things that I wanted to film. It wasn’t like anyone was going to care anyway and say “Aw it’s the wrong person!” (laughter) It was fun man. I brought it to Oklahoma, and I showed Mat – he was just laughing. So he liked it.
Eddie was a huge part of freestyle, not just because of his creative videos but his riding was always so free, as in – free to express your own ideas. That was the best part of our sport back then. You could create your own way of riding and Eddie shined. Ride On! – Dave Voelker
Who was the first person to put the mask on?
I think it was Dave. We shot that in Santee before I went to Mat’s. Back then, I would have shot everything in sequential order.
How long did you film for Aggroman?
I would say probably two weeks for the skit part. I was probably at Mat’s house a week, and then around San Diego a week. The riding was stuff I had been filming for a while. The riding in Aggroman happened over the course of a year probably.
Once it came out, what was the reception like?
Everyone laughed and thought it was funny. I remember the premier was in a pizza place. (laughter) We had these American Bicycle Association racing meetings. For a while, the ABA tried to start a freestyle thing. It was very organized, and they had these meetings. I went to one of them. But, later, I was like, “Hey, we can use this same pizza place to show Aggroman.” (laughter)
You know, so I’m showing it to all my friends; they already know my stupid sense of humor. But, the riding was definitely amazing for the time.
I’m the one shooting all this stuff, so I’m the only one that’s seen everything. For all these guys to get to see everything at once – it was pretty cool. At the time, there was nothing like it, as far as good riding on video, because it wasn’t on TV, it wasn’t on the internet. There was no internet. (laughter) I mean, the magazines were coming every month, so you could see pictures, but to see everything all at once on video . . . in spite of the stupidity of the karate movie, which I still think was the best part, people actually loved it because the riding was just so good.
In 1990 you made Ride like a Man. It was almost 2 hours long, and had a huge variety of riding styles and riders from all over North America. How did doing a video with Ron Wilkerson come about?
Wilkerson was the organizer. He basically took over where the AFA and non-rider organizations left off. He was the only one putting on large contests during that era. Without him, it would have been a lot harder for the riders. His events were part of the reason why a few of the remaining sponsors started caring again.
Ron was just all about riding and wanting to see rad stuff. The main thing was to just show all the 2-Hip contest stuff. Those were being filmed by different people already. So I would just get the footage, and then I would film some myself. He pretty much just left it up to me to fill in the gaps you know? It was great. Ron definitely pushed the promotion of the sport at a time when the non-riders just didn’t care anymore.
Vision Street wear would send out a camera crew to some of the events. Some of the guys who filmed were Don Hoffman, and Steve Emig. Some of the events were filmed really well with like Beta Cams and the full TV production thing.
1991’s Headfirst was a big leap forward in the level of riding and video quality. Was Headfirst a collaboration with Hoffman from the get-go?
You know, I don’t know if it was Mat’s idea or mine. I don’t remember who suggested it, but remember, this is at a time when there was no BMX on TV. If BMX was being filmed, Mat would have been all over TV. But it just wasn’t. So we just wanted to do something showing his riding. He paid for it, so it was definitely collaborative in that regard. He paid for my editing time and rented the editing bays and stuff. He got paid back first, and then we split the profit from there.
Headfirst was such a progression in many different ways. Obviously with him and his riding – Mat was just so good at the time and now he was doing flips and other crazy stuff. And then, with the filming of it, I had gotten into studio lighting. So I had this light kit, and it was a really powerful set-up. So, we lit up the warehouse, and just used the lights a lot differently than before. Today, there are not a whole lot of guys even doing that, because most of it is outside anyway. But Headfirst was mainly inside his warehouse, on his ramps. So you had to light it in order for it to look good. I got really into that.
Another aspect to Headfirst that was different was the music. I had just gotten better at doing music video stuff, and using music to create emotion, you know? The riding by itself is amazing, but if you put that with a really powerful song, and put some slow-motion in there – you take charge of people’s emotions as they are watching. With that video, that was the first time where I really did a lot of that.
Mat was great to film. He was the best; he would adapt to anything. He is amazingly talented at riding ramps. That’s always fun to be around. People saw Mat in the magazines, but they hadn’t actually seen him in action. That’s what Headfirst showcased. I think that people were blown away by how good he really was.
In video, it’s totally different than in a magazine. A lot of what he was doing would never get shown in the magazines. If anything, there might be a description of what was going on in the photo caption. They rarely had frame by frame sequences, because that would take up two pages. But when the video came out, people just saw all these combination tricks and crazy stuff like the first handrail. Mat did the first grind with pegs on a handrail and a ton of other grind variations. I think that video just changed a lot of people’s perceptions about what could be done on a bike, but definitely on how good Mat was. You know?
Absolutely. Ride On also documented cutting edge BMX riding during the downturn in the early 90s. In spite of the recession, it has progressive riding and a positive note that still rings true today. How did Ride On come about? Why does it have the tone that it does?
The way Ride On got made was from me working at a video production place in San Diego. I made a deal with my boss to trade my work hours in exchange getting to use the equipment. So basically, I worked there during the week, and I would edit my stuff on the weekends.
Ride On was probably the most personal video that I ever made. As far as just something that had nothing to do with sponsors, nothing to do with any attempt to make a sponsor happy, or even to make people laugh. I’d been gathering this footage for so long, but there was really no market for it anymore. You couldn’t really even put it in an ad in a BMX magazine, because there weren’t any. (laughter) I didn’t really have a lot of hope that it was going to make any money, but I had all this great riding footage and wanted to show it to people.
It was just sort of this project of . . . just love. I just wanted to do this thing – more for my friends, and just the guys I was riding with at the time. Riding . . . you know, it never stopped getting good during the time when the sponsors went away and the magazines went away, and the contests went away. The riding just kept getting better, and I had the opportunity to basically edit it for free, trading off work in exchange. I was really into the whole video making thing at the time, and it was a really fun project.
The music as well . . . I had gotten better at contacting bands and record labels and asking them for songs.
So much about that video was just kind of what I was going through at the time as far as it just being positive. I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s kind of an uplifting thing to watch. Even to this day I get guys saying, “You’ve got to make another Ride On!” or, “Videos aren’t like Ride On anymore.”
I think that even though bike riding – as an industry, as a sport, as a way for people to make money – that was totally dead at the time. Ya, some guys were able to make money off of it still, by doing shows or whatever. But, for the most part, it wasn’t a thing where you were like, “Ok, I’m going to become a bike rider, get sponsored, and make money.” That was gone, but in my head, it never really died. My friends still did it, and it was just a fun thing to do.
I think that was one part of the positive aspect of it. But, I really think the main reason that Ride On has such a positive feel about it is because I made it right around the time I became a Christian. And so when that happened, my whole outlook on life just changed. To where it wasn’t like, “Oh this sucks. Bike riding is dead, and I don’t get any money anymore.” Whatever. That stuff didn’t matter anymore. You know? The way I looked at the world changed and what’s really important in this life changed. If anything, I just got a lot more positive in the way I saw the world. And so, while I was editing Ride On, that went right along with it.
It’s funny. Every once in a while I’ll read an interview or hear somebody talking about Ride On, and they’ll say, “It’s such a great video, except for the Jesus part.” That always makes me laugh, because if I hadn’t become a Christian, Ride On wouldn’t have ever been made. I definitely wouldn’t have spent my free time making this thing that I wasn’t going to make any money on. I no longer cared about money in the same way that I did. It was all part of the package.
When did you start doing video stuff for GT?
I believe it was in 1993. They had a lot of little projects like promo videos they would send out to bike shops. They were doing more stuff on TV. The first thing I got hired to do was just to make a BMX video, so I made Code 4130. It had racing and freestyle. So that was fun. I’d never really been around racing much. I went on a tour with Big E, who I became friends with, and I was around racing all the time. So I put together that video, and it had a lot of racing, some freestyle, and a lot of rock music. (laughter)
Then I made Dead Sailor about a year later. That included a lot more freestyle and street riding. Around that time is when I left GT. I still had a good relationship with them, but I began working as a freelancer.
At that point, you made Hammertime? Is it true that Hammertime was the first mountain bike video?
Ya so, I didn’t make the first video with mountain biking in it, but I made the first “extreme” mountain biking video. Mountain bike videos were just filmed races. Just very boring stuff – in my opinion; if you like that stuff, that’s great. But there was no free-ride, or whatever they call it, at the time.
I got GT to give me a couple of their top-of-the-line mountain bikes. This was around the time when Eric Carter, Brian Lopes, and Fuzzy were starting to race downhill on mountain bikes. These guys already had their own mountain bikes, and they were kind of doing stuff. So I got these two bikes, and I gave one to Chad Herrington; I let Vic Murphy ride one. Just whoever was willing, I’d let them have it for a couple of days, and then film with them. So that was basically, the video Hammertime, which you can watch on Vimeo (now called Eddie Roman’s Hammertime) it was just a bunch of BMX guys on mountain bikes. Even Mat Hoffman did a backflip on one. He destroyed a rim I’m pretty sure, but who cares? These were just my friends having fun riding. It changed a lot in mountain biking, which is funny to think about.
I saw the potential with MTB. Honestly, I thought that if I made a really good MTB video, that was gnarly . . . mountain bikers have so much more money than BMX guys do – so I could probably make some money. (laughter) And I did. I made a lot of money off that video. It was great!
Did you have a strategy when you were making your videos?
I had a plan for the somewhat scripted stuff – like for Slick Rick (in Aggro Riding and Kung Fu Fighting) and Aggroman. But, as far as the filming the riding goes, there was never any plan. I was just constantly filming what I thought was good riding.
When it came to editing, I definitely had a plan. I always wanted the riding to get better and better until the end. Videos are done in sections, and whoever the best guy was, that’s the last part in the video. It wouldn’t make sense to put that guy up front, because you’d see him first, and then you’re bored for the rest of the time. I hate to say it, but that’s how it is.
Honestly, I always hated doing it that way. What I was more concerned about was the riding – the riding through it all has to be good, but the riding toward the end has to be the best.
The strategy was to keep people’s attention the entire time. The goofy stuff was part of that. Because, as much as I love riding, it’s hard to watch it for thirty minutes, if it’s all the same tricks I see all the time when I’m out riding. That’s why there would be these breathers.
Part of the way I edited with music was the same thing as well. The music at the beginning is going to be really fast and dramatic. After that, it’s not going to be as rough. It’s going to have peaks and valleys. If the whole thing is just death metal, that’s going to get old. If the whole thing is slow (music), that’s going to get old. That’s why I would always have ups and downs as far as the tempo and the mood. Then the best song – the Fugazi or whatever – that’s going to be the thing at the end. Cause, you know, “It’s show business.” (laughter)
If you wow them at the end, then you have a hit.
Did you know how big of an influence your videos would have over that generation of riders?
No, I had no idea. I was just making videos for fun, and if I like them, they were good. That was always my goal, just to make a video that I liked. So to have people buy them, you know; first of all it was amazing that anybody bought them! Especially when you have kung-fu fighting in them and stuff! (laughter) But that’s always been a trip. Even now, I’ll get a couple of e-mails a month from people just wanting to say, “Hey, your videos influenced me.” . . . It’s a trip.
To say Eddie’s videos were inspiring would be a massive understatement; they encompassed everything about BMX that I hold dear. They were diverse, groundbreaking, fun and more often than not, completely absurd. They showcased the most progressive riding at the time, but also reminded you to not take yourself, or BMX, too seriously. I’d say that Eddie achieved a balance in his videos that makes for a perfect representation of what BMX means to me. It’s not just all about the tricks, but also the community, lifestyle, humor and d.i.y. attitude that surround it. When you watched his videos, you knew that you were a part of something bigger than just the few people in your local scene, you were a part of the BMX family.
It didn’t matter what or how you rode, all that mattered was your love for the knobby hobby (sorry, I couldn’t resist). – Stew Johnson
Out of all the crazy things you’ve seen on a bike, what stands out to you?
I think one of the worst things I ever saw, I believe it was in Headfirst. It’s the crash where the guy’s forks break off. Man. That was so scary. Right after he crashed, his eyes rolled up into his head, and his eyes went white. So I ran down there, after I stopped filming, and he’s like, “I can’t see! I’m blind!” I was like, “Oh no! He’s blind!” (laughter) I’m the one telling him, “Go again! Go again!” (laughter) But anyway, he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him. Come to find out – when he hit the ground, the dirt had gone up into his eyes, so he was just caked with dirt up in his eyes. After he figured that out and got it all out of there, he could see. But that was scary man. That was the scariest one.
I mean watching Mat crash – it’s dramatic! But he just gets up, and it’s not a big deal. His arm could be flopping off and broken in half, but he doesn’t care. But when someone is gasping for air, and telling you they just went blind . . . (laughter) That was scary!
As far as just riding, it was always great to see Dave Voelker just go super high on anything. He was always pushing it. When we filmed, I never had to tell him to try harder, because he was always trying harder. That’s just how he rides all the time, always pushing the limits. He rode with a little bit of crazy, sketchiness, where you weren’t sure if he was going to make it or not. But he would! I think that’s part of the Voelker mystique. Just that little edge to it where it’s like, “Man, this dude is crazy!”
Also filming Mat, you know? It wasn’t only that he had so many gnarly tricks, but he was also powerful in the way he rode. He would just go so high. Once in a while, he would hang up, and it would be the loudest thing. Just BAM!! And Mat would just keep going. He was such a man. (laughter) You know? So that was always kind of awe inspiring, just to see Mat on one of the days when he’s riding at his best.
Also, at so many of those contests when somebody would try something for the first time, it was always amazing. I got to see some of the firsts of everything, you know?
That’s awesome! When would you say you transitioned out of BMX as a rider?
After I made Ride On, I got more into video production and that became my thing. That’s where a lot of my time and creativity went. I stopped caring as much about riding every day, or practicing and preparing for a contest. That was probably the beginning of the end for me. (laughter) It just wasn’t something I was in love with anymore.
I’ve heard that when you became a Christian, you wrote this letter called “Slave No More” and sent it to all the riders?
Ya. So when I became a Christian, you know, I was excited. I was excited about God; I was excited about reading the bible. So what I did was I wrote my little story about what happened to me – about how I had changed. I just wrote this thing, and again, this is before e-mail, so I wrote it out, made copies of it, and sent it out to everyone I knew. So if you were a pro during 1992, you might have gotten this letter from me that said, “This is how I became a Christian.” (laughter) Like, “This is awesome! This is the best thing ever!”
But a lot of my friends got it, and they were like, “What in the world is this?” (laughter) Like, “What happened to him? He’s an idiot now!” Or whatever . . . And you know what, that’s just part of being a Christian. Like, people hated Jesus Christ. It would make sense that they would hate you too if you are following Him. So that was definitely a bummer.
I lost a lot of friends, because people – they just didn’t understand. I wasn’t the kind of guy that would walk in to a party and ruin everybody’s fun, or anything like that. At the same time, I wasn’t going to cower down to someone who was making fun of Christians or making fun of the bible or anything like that. And I had changed. In a lot of ways, I was still the same guy, but I began to care about right and wrong. Everybody likes to pretend that there’s no right or wrong – until someone does something wrong to them, right? When someone goes and steals their wallet, or steals their bike, all of a sudden, “Hey! It’s wrong to steal.” (laughter)
It’s just part of life. You know, most people . . . they choose to suppress the truth. In other words, they choose to just not care about God, about Jesus, about the bible. . . so ya, anyway, when I became a Christian, a lot changed, and that letter was the beginning of it. You can still find it on the internet. It’s like two or three pages.
Over the years, I’ve been able to travel with mission relief organizations – bringing food to places like Sudan, Pakistan, Burma . . . places where people are literally starving to death . . . to the point where you are actually walking over dead bodies. That has changed my perspective on a lot of things; definitely makes you think about the afterlife. If you’re not thinking at all about the fact that you are going to die someday – then a lot of times you kind of fool yourself into thinking that you’re invincible, like you’re never going to die. I think most people have this sense of, “Ya, maybe someday I’ll think about God. Maybe heaven is there, but I don’t need to think about that now because I’m young.” But, the truth is, none of us have any idea of how long we’re gonna last. None of us are guaranteed another day. That’s why it’s so important to consider these things.
Like, to ask yourself this question: “Five minutes after you die, what are you going to be doing?” If that isn’t a question that’s settled, it’s time to settle it, you know? A lot of people tend to push that question off, and then over time, their hearts become hardened. They no longer care about that stuff, and they pretend as if God doesn’t exist, or hope that he doesn’t exist. They just do whatever they can to just kind of get away from the whole issue of God, life, and death.
On my website eddieroman.com there is a little link that just says “GOD” where you can take a little test to see how you are doing with that. I have no idea, I can’t judge you or where you stand before God, but you can judge for yourself. An easy way to do that is by reading the words of Jesus in the bible yourself to see what it says, and just be honest with yourself.
Solid advice right there. Do you keep up with old friends or the current level of riding in 2016?
Ya, I talk to Vic pretty regularly. I talk to Mat, Dennis McCoy, Steve Swope and a couple of other guys. I see them whenever they do one of these “old man/old school” events or whatever you call them. I’ll keep up with people on Facebook and all that stuff.
I definitely don’t follow the sport to be honest. I have no idea what people are doing. But I’ll check it out every once in a while. I went to the X-Games last year and I saw Morgan Wade. That was great. I loved watching the Mega Ramp. It’s all death-defying stuff. As much as that doesn’t represent the normal riding that people do every day, it’s awesome. I love that stuff.
Any final thoughts for readers of Snakebite?
BMX was such a huge part of my life. So much of my creativity, willingness to try new stuff, and knowing how to get up from a slam and try again – that came from riding. Riding taught me many lessons. I don’t really ride on a day-to-day basis anymore, but the bike is still part of who I am. It helped shape my life, and my life today is great. There’s nothing I would want to change about it.
What is your life like these days?
I’m married with children. (laughter) I married my wife Carrie in 1996, and now we have four sons. All boys. Ages 7 to 18. So that’s been fun. Some of them have ridden bikes off and on. Nowadays, kids ride bikes and skateboards, and whatever. That’s cool, I’m not try to force my kids to be BMX stars or anything. (laughter) So I’m just a dad, and I have a full time job doing video production for a Christian broadcasting company, Livingwaters.com. So I make all these videos that have to do with God and the bible and stuff like that. That’s what I love to do, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that for quite a while. So I’m still basically doing the same stuff – filming what I love. The “what I love” part has just changed quite a bit.
A little less kung-fu?
I’ll still put in the kung-fu if I get the chance. (laughter)