Mat Hoffman, AKA “The Condor”, AKA “The Raddest Motherfucker Ever”. I have had the honor of knowing the dude for 27 years and have been fortunate enough to personally witness him do some of the most groundbreaking shit in the history of BMX. One of the things I have always admired about Mat, other than his amazing bravery, is his humbleness. You would think a guy like Mat who has set the world’s ass on fire in so many different ways would have at least a trace of ego. Nope. Not Mat.
I could go on forever about what a spectacular dude he is, but I think that’s pretty common knowledge.
I hope you all enjoy reading the interview as much as I did conducting it.
Photo: Nathan Beddows
Let’s get into some important shit right off the bat. What are your top 5 favorite bands of all time and what are your top 3 favorite beers.
Damn, that’s a tough one to narrow down. I have been influenced by so much great music. If I had to narrow it down to 5 I’d have to say Fugazi, Suicidal Tendencies, Rancid, The Pouges, and Tom Waits…But I can’t leave out Bad Brains and Sonic Youth…Man, it’s so hard to narrow it down to five..I’m into all kinds of music..Leonard Cohen, Government Issue, Sleater-Kinney, Tommy Guerrero..I could go on forever. And as far as my top 3 favorite beers, I’d say Guinness, Guinness, and Guinness.
Nice…I interviewed Maurice Meyer a few months ago and he was talking about when you first got added to the Skyway team in 1986. That was your first major sponsor, so that had to be an amazing time in your life. You were super young and were a better rider than the top pros. Talk a little bit about that era.
I was 14 years old and those were crazy days for sure. I really didn’t think my riding was that special, I just rode like I always rode. Then one day an offer and a contract showed up in the mail from Skyway and before I knew it, I was living the dream. Skyway flew me out to their headquarters in Redding, California to meet everyone and do a demo at a local bike shop. They set the ramp up behind Skyway so I could get used to it before the demo, and even though it was way under vert I still had a pretty good session. So they haul the ramp to the demo site and set it up, and I just remember cranking at the ramp as fast I as I could without even warming up and then fully hanging my front wheel. I woke up on the ground with a badly fractured collarbone. So the trip to visit Skyway went from a “welcome to the team” to “welcome to the recovery room”. Luckily they had faith in me and kept me on the team.
The Skyway tours you went on back then had to be pretty amazing.
Oh yeah. Eddie Roman and I told many bad jokes on the road back then. Driving around the country in a van with 4 smelly dudes was an interesting way to grow up.
Now, let’s talk about Ron Wilkerson’s notorious Enchanted Ramp in Leucadia, California.
That was the site of many great vert contests and sessions. Tell me your fondest memory of that place.
There was for sure a ton of epic sessions and contests there. But the one that overshadows them all as far as I’m concerned is when Ron had a King of Vert contest there in the late ’80s and my family came out to California to watch.
My dad invited my cousins, aunts, uncle, and my grandparents. Right when the contest was heating up, Craig Grasso stripped naked and did a “free willy” run…It was all in good fun, but my dad was really embarrassed because all my relatives were there. So my dad got pissed and made a scene. My dad doesn’t take shit from anyone and things got crazy. My Indian airs that day were nothing in comparison to my dad getting pissed.
(laughter)..So awesome!..I remember reading about that incident in Freestylin’ magazine.
It was a crazy day for sure.
“Mat and I have been friends forever.
He has not only been a great friend, but a big inspiration for life in general.
The dude is a GOD and always will be. Long live the Condor!”
You are credited with doing the first 50-50 grind down a handrail. Tell me about the first rail you ever did and how that came together.
Back when we would do Sprocket Jockey shows, I would always go street riding in whatever town we were in. I had been thinking about doing a handrail and would always go out looking for the perfect one to try.
I started trying them on smaller, mellow rails and they were hard to get on and I kept missing it. I finally realized that if I tried one down a steeper, longer rail it would be easier to get on. I actually ended up finding the perfect rail in my hometown after I got back from tour, and that’s the rail featured in the Head First video. The funny thing is that it was an aluminum rail and I had steel pegs. I didn’t know know then that grinding aluminum rails with steel pegs would huck you over the bars, but that rail was so steep and I was going so fast that I didn’t lock up. So the moral to that story is that committing to the scarier option is sometimes the safer way to go.
Photo: Brad McDonald
(Laughter)..Speaking of you doing shit for the first time, I was at the Mission Trails King of Dirt contest in San Diego in 1990 when you did the first backflip over a set of doubles. And it was over a kinda gnarly set of doubles as a bonus. Had you done flips over doubles in private sessions before, or did you just let your “fuck it flag” fly that day?
That was a “fuck it flag” moment for sure. I love to wave the “fuck it flag”.
(laughter)..That was one of those situations were I had done it so many times in my mind that I actually forgot I hadn’t done it before (laughter). I pulled it the first time, and then tried it again and crashed and my brake lever punctured my leg. I had to go get stitched up and that was the end of my day. I started working on flip fakies on vert at home after I healed up from that.
Photo: John Kerr
“Mat Hoffman is a total badass.”
Now, switching gears a little bit, You rode a P.K. Ripper for a year or so in the early ’90s. If I remember the story correctly, you were between sponsors and bought that frame at some random bike shop. Elaborate on that.
Yeah, I had been sponsored since 1986 and obviously had to ride whatever bike my sponsor made me ride. Then in 1990 the industry shit the bed and there weren’t any company’s that could afford to sponsor pros. I drove out to California to do a show at the Del Mar Fair with Blyther, Wilkerson, and I think Craig Cambell. It was in an arena on dirt with a quarter pipe..ahhh, the good old days (laughter)..Anyway, I was on my way out there driving through Arizona and stopped off at a bike shop that was stocked with every frame imaginable. It was such a rad moment. Here I was looking at all these badass frames and I could ride any one of them, no sponsor to tell me I couldn’t. I was checking out the P.K. Ripper and just tripped out on the craftsmanship. I had to have it.
Then later, when I started Hoffman Bikes, I had Mike Devitt (SE engineer and designer) build my first run of frames, forks, and bars.
That’s a rad story…Speaking of Hoffman Bikes, talk about what it means to you and what ya’ll have got going on these days.
I started Hoffman Bikes because I needed a bike to trust my life with.
At the time I started it, the industry wasn’t really rider owned and a lot of company’s didn’t see the need to innovate and progress along with the riding. I saw a lot of forks snapping, axels breaking, bars snapping off and lots of riders getting jacked in the process. So I met with Linn Kastan to start my education on how to build the best bikes. For those that don’t know, Linn is credited with such innovations as crossbars on handlebars and tubular forks. He’s been involved with BMX forever. He founded Redline. We drew up the first Condor together, and then met with Mike Devitt (SE) to start assembly. The first mission was to never make a two piece steerer tube, so nobody would ever break their neck on one of my bikes. I hooked up with Kris Gack and we ended up changing the industry standard to one piece machined steerer tubes, oversized axles, and 1.2 wall thickness on clamp bars. Now 25 years later, all that is the industry norm. I see a lot of similar designs on the market. These past few years I have been working on making a line of bikes to give the dealers the best margins and still give the riders the best quality. I worked out a licensing deal to use the industry’s best resources to achieve this. Now it’s done and it’s on to the next phase. Now that my bike company has been around long enough to become a collectors brand, I feel like going back and focusing on reissuing some of our greatest products with modern dimensions and innovations.
I’ve been talking to Kevin Jones, Taj, Butcher, and so on. Chris Moeller has already made a few runs of Low Drag bars and we’re also working on the Patriots with him now. So I think this next year is going to be all about reminiscing and doing some small runs of the classics with modern dimensions and innovations.
Tell me about the first time you built the giant quarter pipe and did the first Big Air. I know it’s well documented in the ESPN documentary “The Birth of Big Air”, but tell the story again for me. It’s so amazing.
Well, I knew physics was going to be a major factor from the beginning. I started a conversation with a friend who knew the stunt world and is a physicist, and he figured out the math and what kind of G-forces I could sustain. He also figured out what my vertical speed would need to be in order to blast over 20ft. I knew I would have to hold on to a rope tied to a motorcycle and have somebody tow me until I generated enough speed. So I booked and did a bunch of shows in order to finance the project, but on the way back from one of the shows my semi-trailer truck that I used to haul my portable half pipe practically snapped in half. It cost me all my savings to get the rig fixed, so I found a way to “borrow” the materials and we built the ramp. That was in 1991 and I did it a bunch of times. Steve Swope eventually became uncomfortable with towing me “to my death”, as he put it. So that’s when I decided to hook up an industrial strength weed eater motor to the drive train on my bike and build a 21 foot tall half-pipe with a 43 foot tall roll-in at a 60 degree angle. I built the ramp by myself in the freezing cold winter. Nobody was interested in contributing to what they thought was a deadly idea. And I can’t blame them. So I got the half-pipe built and got the industrial weed eater motor attached to my bike. Getting the motor set up attached right and working properly was a big project in itself. I had to reposition the points on the motor to get it to run in reverse. I also had to machine a 14 tooth sprocket for the front and a 122 tooth freewheel, because the motor ran at 6,700 rpm. I ended up just duct taping the gas tank to my frame. Anyway, it worked great for a while until one day I slammed and burst my spleen open and barely made it to the hospital alive…I was stoked that in 2015, for the 25th Anniversary of Hoffman Bikes, I broke my original high air record.
That is such an amazing fuckin’ story…
Awesome…To wrap up this interview, talk about the Bicycle Stunt contest series that you and your crew put on in the ’90s. So much groundbreaking, original, first time shit went down at those events and I was lucky enough to see (and judge) a lot of those contests. Talk a little bit about those epic gladiator days.
That was back when it was all driven by 150% heart. Nobody was making any real money. Riders from all over the world would get together and celebrate the common bond of BMX Freestyle. We were the only show in town, so all the action happened at those events. It was said at that time that BMX was “dead”. But to me, it was the most alive and it was at it’s purest. Back then, the only way people were exposed to the progression of BMX was that you were there, saw it in print a couple months later, or watched one of the 2 or 3 videos that came out in a year.
Every one of those contests seemed to me like a whole new book written about the level that the riding had progressed to. It was total DIY. Scouting for judges in the parking lot and the only thing we could afford to pay them was a high five and free entry fee. I remember learning the force of Control Alt Delete with my new found Excel wizardry and bad low res graphic design ads with my 80 mg hard drive. Behold, a contest series was born. It was the battleground for BMX gladiators.
BMX riding and progression has always been at it’s best when the industry is at it’s financial worst.
You are absolutely correct about that.
Well, Mat, I think that about does it for this interview. You are an amazing dude and a real life superhero.
Love ya, Lee…Thanks.