Here’s an interview with New Jersey photo master, grind tactician and video man Jeff Z.
I would write a really drawn out intro here about the importance of documentation and that sort of thing, but this interview is long enough as it is, so it doesn’t need any more waffle.
All that really needs to be said is that along with his exemplary photography work, Jeff has played a part in some mighty fine videos over the years — not only was he the man responsible for Stairs and Grizzle, but, along with Bob Scerbo, he created the New Jersey classic Don’t Quit Your Day Job. He also filmed a large portion of the first Animal video and recently sat back in the metaphorical director’s chair to make the Doorstep video along with Zach Krejmas.
Quite the filmography.
With Stairs and Grizzle finally scorched onto DVD, the stage was set for an in-depth interview about making videos, New Jersey and pretty much everything else.
Photos from Jeff’s archives, interview by Sam.
Back in the late 90s, cameras weren’t as easy to come by – and not everyone was a photographer (never mind a ‘videographer’). What made you want to pick up a video camera and start filming your friends?
I was a junior in High School and I had already been riding for a couple of years at that point. It must’ve been 1994, I was like 16 years old, my friend Nick Chin borrowed his parents’ camera and we took turns filming each other one day. That was the first time I had ever used a video camera or had seen myself on video.
We went back to his house and watched the footage and once I got over the initial shock of realizing that pretty much everything I filmed felt better than it looked (which still remains the same today), I remember being instantly excited to go and film again and try to dial in the riding more. I ended up saving money for the rest of the school year and I bought a video camera within a year. I put Stairs out the following year in December of 1996.
What camera was Stairs shot on? What was the process of making a video back then? Was it a complete faff involving loads of cables and a lot of patience?
I don’t remember the model, but I’m pretty sure it was a Sony VHS-C format. When I was growing up, when it came to electronics, I always associated Sony with quality—even though I really had no clue. At that point I didn’t know anyone else who shot video and I had no idea how to edit. I can’t recall the specifics of the setup now, but I either I connected the video camera straight to a VCR and just edited that way, or I may have used two VCRs, and I used an audio output from my stereo for the music.
The fades and titles in Stairs were stock functions generated in the video camera. I could set the camera to fade in at the start of recording and/or fade out at the end. So I just did that a bunch of times while filming whenever I thought I had a good clip to start and end with. Then I literally filmed a notebook for the credits—super crude, but at that point I had a broken ankle and my mobility was limited to do much of anything more creative—not that I really had any better ideas, anyway.
George D – No Footed Toothpick – 1999
Maybe a bit of a vague question, but are there any particular memories that stand out from making that video?
I broke my ankle when I was 17 and with the newly found free time on my hands I edited Stairs. You can see my cast at the end of the video. Stairs starts out with me flipping through channels—as if I was watching TV—and then I find the video and watch it. Once the video is over I cut back to flipping through channels and then zoom out so you can see my foot. Other than editing that video, I was pretty much sitting around at home, bored, watching TV. So there was a personal twist to it.
As for the name, around that same time there was an all dirt video called Soil from So-Cal that Barspinner Ryan made, so I figured an all east coast street video called Stairs made sense, so I went with it.
What was a normal day of riding around New Jersey like at that time? Feel free to go into tedious detail here.
To be honest, I think Stairs and Grizzle summed it up pretty well. For Stairs the idea of filming as we rode was totally new to us and I don’t think any of us were riding for the camera at all. I mean there are a few foot dabs, pick up manuals, and people coming off ledges and rails early and riding down the steps—there’s some of that in Grizzle too. I could’ve just not used those clips when editing, but at the time I guess I just wanted to show what we were working on, even if it wasn’t pulled clean. I don’t think there were a lot of re-takes either, typically, once someone pulled something we were good with it.
So in terms of an honest representation of our riding, that was it. Beyond the filming stuff, during the Stairs-era, only one or two of the people we rode with regularly had a car. So we basically pedalled everywhere and I wrapped the camera up in a T-shirt and put it in a backpack. We’d pedal for 45 minutes to an hour to new towns in search of ledges, banks, wallrides, and anything that was made of metal and low enough to grind, basically. They were simpler times when just grinding really far was a trick in itself. Nowadays, when I go out riding without any work agenda I still treat riding he same way—except I drive 45 minutes away, then get out and pedal aimlessly all day.
Bob Scerbo – Smith Grind – 2000
What was the east coast of America like in general around that time? People often talk about how things have changed in the last 20 years and places have lost their edge. Is this true? Is this a bad thing? How have things changed there?
Yes, it’s true. I can’t speak for the entire east coast, but as for New York City, yeah it was a lot rougher in the 70s, 80s and into the 90s. NYC was a straight up dirty and dangerous place with a lot of empty neighborhoods and street crime—drug use, muggings and that sort of thing. I can’t say from too much personal experience, because although I only lived across the river in Jersey, I didn’t really start heading into the City until around ‘94-‘95 and I didn’t venture outside of Manhattan too much. At that point, all of Manhattan was still fresh for riding (for us) and the Brooklyn Banks and the Union Square scene were popping off.
But more to your question, you said last 20 years… I’ll credit two things that really changed the landscape of New York City (Manhattan more so) in the last 20 years or so. The first is when Mayor Giuliani took office in the mid-90s and he enacted the broken windows theory. Basically, where there were signs of urban neglect and crime, it would encourage more of the same, and then it snowballs. It used to be a common hustle in NYC for people to walk up to your car at red lights and start washing your window with a squeegee or maybe even just a dirty rag—completely unsolicited—didn’t even matter if your window was dirty or not, they just did it and asked for money. They made that illegal.
Tyrone Williams – Fufanu – 2000
Then there was 42nd St, which was notorious for its porn shops, peep shows, theaters, and hookers (like that show The Deuce on HBO). Today that same street is a squeaky clean Disney-themed tourist trap. They also made panhandling illegal, and they directly or indirectly caused a couple of music venues/clubs to close. The other event was 9/11, which obviously affected the entire world in one way or another.
But as far as lower Manhattan was concerned, police and security were obviously heightened, and even pointing a camera in the direction of some buildings was illegal. But to be perfectly honest, I can’t really write to any great length from personal experience what NYC was like after 9/11 because I moved to California a few months later. Nowadays, whenever I go back and visit New York, Manhattan feels like a mecca for rich people and tourists. I still love it and think it’s the greatest city on Earth, but yeah, it’s a lot different than it used to be.
As for whether or not it’s a bad thing, from a rider’s perspective, yeah, it would’ve been awesome to ride in some of those lawless neighborhoods back in the day—just so long as you didn’t get hit in the head with a brick and get robbed—which actually happened to our friend Mark at School 11 in Passaic way back in the day.
Vinnie Sammon – Icepick – 2000
Maybe stating the obvious here – but Philadelphia and New York are massive cities, whilst New Jersey is made up of loads of small towns. How did everyone from this sprawling area meet each other? Was there a central place that a lot of people gravitated to? There are a lot of riders on these videos – it’s not like it’s just you and a couple of people from nearby.
Actually, Stairs really was just the riders who lived nearby (well, at the time, I was the only rider in my immediate town), but Joe Milioti was from a town over, and Bob and George were two towns over, and Tiseo a bit further. But those were the dudes I rode with (there were a few more local people who didn’t have clips in the video as well).
We branched out a little with Grizzle, because more people in our crew had cars by then. But for the most part it was just a continuation with the same crew from Stairs, with the addition of the likes of Ralph Sinisi and Rich Andreu having sections in Grizzle. As for how we met, there was our local dirt jump spot called the Bowl, in Clifton—which is where I saw Ralph Sinisi and Rob Dolecki for the first time. Or at the Hut, which was a youth center that stayed open late behind the high school in North Arlington (where Scerbo and George D. grew up). It was the cool local hangout that attracted a lot of riders and skaters from the surrounding towns because there was a bank to fence in the parking lot, smooth ground for the skaters, and some other random spots too.
Bob Scerbo – Pole Hop – 2000
I’m pretty sure the first time I met Bob and George was there, and that’s where I saw Joe Tiseo for the first time as well, but I didn’t actually meet him yet. Back then everything travelled by word of mouth, so you’d hear about a cool spot then go check it out and meet new people there and your circle of friends would grow bigger. And back then, meeting a new rider was pretty rare, so whenever you did it was a pretty big deal, so you’d exchange numbers and tell each other about the spots around where you lived.
New Jersey harboured a fairly unique, accessible riding style a million miles away from the sun-soaked California ditch sessions. I’m not too sure what my question is here, but why do you think this style came about? Was it just a case of making do, and riding what was there?
From as far back as I can remember if the sun was up I was out riding my bike around the neighborhood trying to bust moves. If there was a skatepark or trails, I would’ve been there everyday, but there wasn’t, so I found my fix in the streets. And it remained that way for my friends and I until some of us got cars and we could drive to the nearest skatepark. I think that’s a similar story for a lot of rider’s in the generation before the public skatepark boom, we rode whatever was available to us and that just so happened to the streets.
It might also be said that New Jersey seems to be home to a disproportionate amount of goofy-footed riders. Do you have any ideas as to why this is?
Haha… I’m pretty sure I filmed both Stairs and Grizzle before I ever even heard the term goofy-footed. Nor was I aware of pedal stance in correlation to grind side and spinning direction. I think Scerbo or Timmy Martin was the first person to point that out to me.
But more to your question, I think it’s something in the water.
Ralph Sinisi – Toothpick – 2000
Do you think ‘regional style’ still exists with riding?
Yes, but to a lesser degree. I think social media and the ability for everyone to see what everyone else is doing through Instagram has made the world (and the BMX community) a much smaller place than it used to be. And I think regional style was largely dictated by what was available to the riders in their surrounding area.
For instance, I think the style of riding in the New York metropolitan area, or somewhere like Philly, was so prevalent with the cutty street style because that’s what was available to ride (I’m talking before the public concrete parks started to pop up). In the Midwest, where it’s too cold to ride outside for a big portion of the year, people rode indoor parks and ramps. If you live in Austin, there’s a good chance you can blast quarters and flow trails. Of course these are just generalizations and there are plenty of exceptions, but you can see how the certain areas tend to breed certain style of riders.
Mike Tag – Tabletop – 1999
How did Grizzle differ from Stairs? Was there anything you wanted to do differently with it, or was is just a case of continuing to go out and document what was going on?
In Stairs, with the exception of a few things here and there, we primarily pedalled to every spot we rode—even if they were like an hour away. With Grizzle, we had some footage from New York City and Ralph Sinisi and Sean Curran took a trip out to California and Ralph got a few clips out there. On the production side, I can’t remember if I used the same camera or not, but I got a fisheye.
As for editing, I rented time at a video editing suite and a lady worked the machines and I directed her. That was obviously the pre-digital era, so each time you copied the footage from the original source the quality got progressively worse (and it was very noticeable) so the editing suite was my best option at the time to retain as much quality as possible with the end result.
What did the editing lady think of it? Had she seen a riding video before?
I don’t think she was familiar with BMX before editing Grizzle. And I can’t recall what she thought of it, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t too excited or intrigued about it.
Ralph Sinisi – 2000
Don’t Quit Your Day Job is a classic – but to be honest I’ve never read that much about what it was like ‘behind the magic’. What was going on during the making of that?
Thanks man! I think as riders, we had all found our strides by then—we were pretty comfortable on our bikes and our individual styles were really beginning to shine through. And unlike Stairs and Grizzle, we were beginning to think about filming and actually putting together our video parts—we still weren’t nearly as calculated with it as people are nowadays, but we were definitely trying to up the ante. And we had finally gone beyond the radius of our local towns in northern New Jersey.
There was a lot of footage in Manhattan and Philly, as well as Bethlehem, Baltimore, Boston and so on… And by that point, Bob got a good grasp on filming as well, so having two people working on the same project made things so much better—and sped up the process too.
Joe Tiseo – Fakie Wallride – 2000
How did Joe Tiseo get so good? The footage of him riding that indoor park is unreal.
I think Joe was just one of those people who would excel at whatever he chose to do. He was good at skating too. The first time I saw Joe was at the Hut when he was in his skating phase, it must’ve been ’94.
Then a few months later I saw Joe skating at the Brooklyn Banks—and this was like the heyday of the Banks, when the small side was still rideable. It was one of my first (if not the very first) times going to the Banks, and I remember Harold Hunter was there and seemingly a 100 other skaters—it was insane. I ran into Joe later that day at some ledges outside a Burger King down the street from the Banks and he asked to ride my bike.
At that time I was just doing feeble and smith grinds at a snail’s pace, then he got on my bike and was doing 180s and rolling fakie down the whole block and doing hop 360s (with a little pivot), but at that moment, I had never seen someone with more control and effortless style on a bike than Joe. I had already heard that he used to ride and he was really good, but then I got to see it—and on my bike no less. So he and I got to talking and he said how he wanted to get back into riding and I told him that I’d give him all the old/spare parts I had. He took me up on the offer and slapped the parts I gave him onto a Dyno frame complete with one-piece cranks and unsealed wheels—it was a budget bike to say the least, but he dialled it in really well. Hell, we all had one-piece cranks and unsealed wheels back then.
But anyway, I’m so glad I ran into Joe that day and helped reignite that spark. He taught me and a few of my friends the basics… wallrides, fakie wallrides, how to roll fakie… Joe was a great friend and such an instrumental part of our scene. It feels really good to be sharing these Joe stories—it’s been a while. RIP Joe.
Wormz – Gap to Pegs – 1999
Amazing story. That video was made by you and Bob, and then edited by Glenn PP Milligan. How did you split it? Was it just a case of you both being sat down whilst Glenn edited it at the ol’ Monkeyhateclean Studios?
I think MonkeyhateClean was born when Glenn moved to Long Beach—and that’s where we edited the first Animal video. Glenn and Bob basically cut the Animal video while Ralph and I sat in and helped direct. As for DQYDJ, that was edited at the old BASE Brooklyn warehouse. Bob and I directed Glenn, while he handled the controls for the most part and Bob stepped in a little here and there as well. I also need to mention that Glenn has been selflessly helping me out for well over 20 years now and there’s no one in BMX that I’m more indebted to than him—and I’m sure there are lot of other people in BMX who can say the same. Glenn’s the best.
There’s a bit more New York footage in DQYDJ, especially for the Will Taubin section. How did you meet him? Have you got any good stories from riding with the Angry Russian?
I probably met Will at the Brooklyn Banks. Riding with Will was always super entertaining, if he didn’t look so damn Russian, you’d think he was raised by a pack of wolves. He really didn’t have any manners or etiquette and had zero patience. Honestly, it was pretty hilarious seeing him out in public, interacting with people and dealing with the trials and tribulations of street riding. I can’t think of a specific story off hand, but one that always sticks out to me was actually told to me by Glenn. Side note, Will and Glenn grew up in the same neighborhood, and just like me, Glenn helped Will get his start as well. Anyway, so this after DQYDJ, when Will was riding for Volume.
They were in Arizona on a trip, Will fell and his landed on a cactus—easy thing to do in AZ. So Will got a handful of spines and he started to pull them out, but then he got impatient and just pushed his hand against a wall and pressed the spines into his hand instead. That was totally a typical Will thing to do.
Aside from his anger issues, in Will’s heyday I’d say he was one of the best handrail riders in BMX at the time—feebles, smiths, crooks, and backward grinds on legit size rails back in like 1999. He also might have been the first person to do a 40/60 down a rail/ledge setup. He was doing them so often that the Editor of Ride at the time, Mark Losey, used to call them Will grinds.
What other videos were you into at that time? There’s a probable Eastern Exposure 3 influence on Don’t Quit Your Day Job with the use of the Archers of Loaf track. What else were you lot watching?
Ride On was one of the first videos I saw and it made me forever love riding banks—and Fugazi and Jawbreaker—that video will always be one of my favorites. Then Joe Tiseo showed me Dirty Deeds, and that was a real eye opener for me—and for our entire crew. Dave Parrick was my new favorite rider—he had that less is more approach that really struck a chord with me. Dirty Deeds had a lot of no-footers out of peg tricks (all on ramps, for the most part), so we took those tricks and applied them to the streets—like on a bank-to-ledge and out of grinds.
It was also around this time that I started to watch skate videos, I was never into the actual act of skateboarding, but because skate videos were predominantly all street I liked to watch them. With the exception of the Ells Bells videos (which were impossible to watch) most BMX videos were a mix of all types of riding—you’d have to fast forward through some flatland, then whatever else, and then a lot of the street clips were just big gaps, double pegs down rails, or some sort of drawn out manual clip. I couldn’t really relate to all that.
Toy Machine: Welcome to Hell and Jump off a Building, and then Eastern Exposure: Underachievers were the three skate videos I would watch over and over again. I saw how those skaters interpreted the streets and I paid attention to the filming. Those three skate videos were a big influence for DQYDJ.
Kelly Baker – No Hander – 1999
There’s a very specific type of music on those first three videos, with plenty of what I suppose some people might call ‘melodic hardcore’. Why is Jersey so synonymous with this sound?
I’m glad you noticed that. During the Stairs/Grizzle era, if I wasn’t riding—especially when I was hurt, all I did was go to punk and hardcore shows. Living so close to New York, it was easy to go into the city to see bands—and there were a lot of venues and smaller DIY shows happening in Jersey almost every weekend as well. Before I dove into shooting BMX, I actually had a pretty good stint of shooting live band photos. Scerbo and obviously George D. were into the same music, and even Ralph used to really be into punk and hardcore, but I think hip-hop took over his tastes eventually.
There was the NYC hardcore scene with bands like Youth Of Today, Gorilla Biscuits and Warzone, and that obviously flowed over to Jersey, where we added our own twist, with bands like Lifetime, Turning Point, and Vision, to name a few. Beyond the local scene, Lookout Records, SST, and especially Dischord… anything that Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto had a hand in was gold to me.
Edwin – Feeble – 1999
You also filmed a lot for the first Animal video. What was it like filming Edwin during that?
Yeah, other than the Portland and Marcus Wilke sections I basically filmed everything else. I think Edwin was 14 when I first met him. At that point I had never seen a kid ride that well at that young of an age. It was immediately obvious that he had crazy potential. He just possessed this natural ability and loose style, and literally progressed in front of the camera as we filmed the Animal video.
It was awesome to witness him going from a skinny little kid wearing basketball shorts with no socks doing crankflips everywhere, to eventually become one of the most influential street riders of all time.
Were you working a regular job during all of this?
Yes, I actually had a pretty amazing dish washing job to finance Grizzle. Basically, there was a Federal Reserve bank near me that had millions of dollars in cash coming into and out of the building. So needless to say, security was tight, entering the building was like going through TSA at the airport nowadays (but this was back in like 1997-98). Since the security screening took a long time, they encouraged their employees to stay in the building during lunch and offered them a huge variety of really good food in the cafeteria. They had cooks prepping food for the next day almost all night long.
I got a job washing dishes for the night shift. And being a federal job at a high security facility, it paid like double whatever minimum wage was, and after six months I got benefits and a raise—for washing dishes! I worked from like 10pm to 6am or something like that. I basically did that job all winter and quit after I wrapped up Grizzle. Following that, during DQYDJ, I was 19, and had recently decided to go vegan, so I got a job at a little natural food store. They paid me off the books and I basically ate there for free, so I was able to begin saving money for photo gear.
Edwin – X-Up Pegs – 2001
When did photography come about for you? Did that come after the video stuff?
I had been shooting photos since I was in high school, but I hardly ever shot BMX back then. Basically, I really just dabbled with shooting photos whenever we weren’t riding. And I’d shoot photos at shows—that was a big thing for me for like a year or so. I really began to take interest in shooting BMX photos in 1999.
And then in 2000 Ralph started Animal and I was basically going into the City with a mix of photo gear and a TRV900 filming the Animal video and shooting photos. There was a lot going on all at once back then, I was submitting photos to Ride and going on little trips, I went on the Sombra Tours with Ells and the AZ dudes (and I brought Edwin on the first one), went down to Miami to film Ralph’s Props BIO, we’d go up to Boston, or spend the weekend in Philly—all the while doing photos and video.
I was also doing a lot of the same for Kink around that same time. I’d take a Greyhound bus up to Buffalo and shoot and film with Jim Cielencki and the Kink dudes. In 2001 I got my job at Ride so I had to move to California. We wrapped up filming the Animal video by driving across the country in two cars—it was me, Ralph, Bob, Edwin, Vinnie Sammon, and our friend Dave Marghieri. We filmed along the way and then filmed a little more once we were in Cali during the day and then continued editing at night. To wrap this long answer up, once the Animal video was finished and my Ride job started my focus went entirely to shooting photos.
I forgot about Sombra. Not too sure how to word this question – but what was going on with Ells? Those videos definitely had their own flavour.
Man, Ells… he’s a unique dude. I met Ells at the Base Brooklyn warehouse when Scerbo and I went out there to edit DQYDJ with Glenn Milligan. Just like Bob and I, Ells didn’t have the means to edit his own footage, so he was having Glenn help him. I think Glenn, and I believe the flatlander, Chad Johnston, helped Ells cut a few of his videos. So while we were there Ells extended the invite for me to come out to Arizona if I ever wanted to. I took him up on that offer the following winter and my friend Adam Weber and I went out to AZ for two weeks.
That was when I really began to understand Ells a little better, because I had seen his videos beforehand, and yeah they definitely had their own flavor with the music and editing style. While we were out there we hardly even saw Ells because he was nocturnal—he was on a totally opposite schedule than us. We didn’t have a car, so we’d pedal around all day and when we would get back to his place he’d be just leaving the house. I don’t know what he did all night, but I do remember him going to the gym often and he’d spend a lot of time in the studio with his band Magnetplan.
That was when I met Smoker Dave and Gonz for the first time. We rode with Smoker a lot, not so much with Gonz. There was also this dude named Chris Snyder from Virginia staying with Ells while we were there. He was the first person I ever saw do x-up ride stuff—he was doing them to 180 crankflips off curbs—back in like 1998 or 99 (I forget the exact year). I’m pretty sure Chris influenced Edwin to start messing with that stuff too.
After that two weeks trip, Ells and I became pretty tight, so when he did the Sombra tour (from AZ to Miami) he asked me to come along to shoot it. That was right around the time I had first met Edwin, and I knew that Edwin had learned how to do hop 360s from watching the Gonz, so I told Ells about Edwin and how amazing he was, and Ells told me to bring him with me. So Ed and I took a Greyhound from NYC to AZ, I think Edwin was 15 at the time. We did the trip to Miami, then when we got back to AZ, we hung out in Tempe for a few days and then Glenn Milligan drove out, picked us up, and brought us back to California. And that was when Ed filmed his first video part, for the Ride video Turbulence.
Edwin – Sprocket Barspin – 1999
How did traveling around with those cats compare with your usual trips around Jersey? It must have been slightly strange having Gonz ‘taking a peek whilst you were in the shower’…
At the time I didn’t really know any different and I was fine with it all, but looking back, it was definitely pretty rough. We were in an old “kidnapper” style van, and I don’t know if the heat didn’t work, or it just didn’t reach the back of the van. Gonz took some pills and pretty much slept the entire drive—from AZ to Miami, Chris Snyder’s feet smelled like rotten food, and they accidentally left me at a rest stop in Louisiana for like 45 minutes (before we had cell phones).
Once we got to Miami we all crashed in one room, and yeah, Gonz fucked around and did creepy shit when people were showering, and when he eventually took a shower he just walked out of the bathroom still soaking wet and totally naked—acting like nothing was amiss. Gonz was never a shitty dude or like an asshole towards me, or anyone—that I saw, anyway—but he definitely did some weird stuff. It was probably just for the sake of being weird and freaking people out—like some sort of social experiment that he found to be entertaining.
All that said though, he was always one of my favorite dudes to shoots with. He had loads of creativity, style, and so many photogenic tricks on lock.
Ralph – Wallride – 2000
Interesting. I suppose I can’t really get away without asking a question about the Ralph Props Bio. I think one of my favorite things about that video is the footage of Ralph wandering around in the snow like he’s just buried the suitcase from Fargo or something. Where was that filmed? What was the context of that stuff?
The footage of Ralph walking through the snow and all the interview footage of him talking was shot by Chris Rye in Wisconsin. I always loved how all of that looked and I think Rye did great job with it. I filmed all the riding footage during the same time we were filming the Animal video.
During that time I kept telling Ralph he wasn’t going to have anything for the Animal video, but he was like, “Nah man, we’ll film more.” But his shoulder got progressively worse during all that and it just became such an issue for him—and the company really began to take off, so he actually had to work, too.
However, I think that Ralph’s Props Bio was one of the first predominantly street video parts with a really heavy emphasis on setups. Ralph was definitely a pioneer in the simple tricks on un-traditional spots style of riding.
Ralph – 1999
Looking over all these old videos and stuff, is it strange to think that people half way around the world are so into this stuff?
No way, I think it’s awesome! People have become so accustomed to this never-ending stream of instantaneous content nowadays, so it means a lot to me that there’s an interest in something I made with my friends over 20 years ago. For me personally, I’ve always felt it’s important to know our history and understand the progression—and I’m hyped that people are interested to see where we came from.
What are your thoughts about the current wave of interest in late 90s and early 2000s riding? Was it indeed the ‘golden era’, or are people just forgetting the bad bits and clinging to a few dusty videos as a way to rekindle the endless summer of their youth?
I think it’s just a thing some people go through, as they get older, the era of BMX that they would consider to be their salad days will eventually be behind them. And they may not identify with whatever the current attitudes and style of riding are. Eventually, they yearn for the days of yesterday, and those videos bring them back to that place.
Personally, I’m about to turn 41 and my best days of riding where in my mid 30s when we were filming Doorstep. And I’m not romanticizing those days either, I’m focused on the future and trying to keep this going for as long as I can.
Butcher – Double Peg to Crankflip – 2000
As someone who has documented riding for decades now – do you think it’s strange how some riders have zero interest in taking photos or filming stuff?
I think we all view BMX in our own way and get something different out of it. And so for some people, maybe the pressure of performing for a photo or video stresses them out or makes them uncomfortable. And for others, maybe they simply just can’t be bothered.
I have an interesting story to interject here… When I first met Vic Ayala, he worked in a warehouse driving a forklift and he had no interest in shooting photos or video. He was completely content with simply working and riding on nights and weekends. But I had heard about all this crazy stuff he had done and I really wanted to shoot something with him.
He’d come out and ride with us in the City and one night he started trying to backward grind a kinked rail in Battery Park—which was really progressive at the time. Knowing that he didn’t like to shoot photos, but also knowing that what he was doing was something that was like, ‘a Ride magazine level trick’, I asked him if it was cool if I were to set up my flashes while he’s trying it and that I wouldn’t ask him to stop or wait, and if I got a photo before he pulled it, then cool, and if he pulled it before I was finished setting up, then so be it.
Long story short, I got the photo, it ran in Ride, and Vic when eventually saw the photo in the mag he was hyped! The same sorta thing happened with filming, once Vic saw a well filmed clip of him doing something that he was hyped on, it motivated him, and it just snowballed from there. Imagine if Vic never let anyone film him and the BMX world never got to see all that amazing shit he did?
Vic Ayala – Crooked – 2000
You and a few people over in California recently put together that Doorstep video. How has making videos changed since the late 90s?
It’s funny actually, while making videos has changed a lot since the 90s—both technology wise and on a production level. On the contrary, making Doorstep wasn’t much different than how I made videos in the 90s. In fact, I said numerous times while working on Doorstep that it was like the west coast DQYDJ—two close friends working a video together that focused on their homies and local scene. The whole way we went about filming Doorstep wasn’t any different than Day Job… As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Would you say riding has changed much?
Riding has changed a ton. Obviously the tricks are way harder, more tech, and gnarlier. And riders in general are so much more dialled, smooth, and consistent. It was like watching gladiators in the 90s and ballerinas today. Obviously there are exceptions, and there’s still a sect who follow the less is more. I’m 41 years old and I still ride the same way I did 20 years ago, and there are 20 year-old kids who ride the same way I do today. And that’s awesome!
I think I’ve probably pecked your head enough now. Any wise words to end this with?
The streets are at your Doorstep.