- Bike Checks
Mat Hoffman is a true pioneer of BMX. In my opinion, if one photograph represents everything that he has given to the sport, this is it. This iconic photo of an absolutely-insane air on a less-than-perfect setup was shot around twenty-four years ago in Oklahoma City by Brad McDonald - the founder of Ride BMX magazine who would later go on to create Vital BMX. We caught up with Brad to get a deeper look into one of the most important photos in BMX history.
Where did this photo originally run?
It ran in the October/November 1993 issue of Ride BMX magazine. Now I have it hanging on my office wall, so I probably see it twenty times a day. It never gets old. I find it very inspiring in many ways. Not just the skill and physical courage it would take to do an air like that, but having the vision and motivation to build the ramp and try it. That alone would deter nearly everyone. It’s easy to forget that the whole project could have been a flop. Mat could have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours for nothing. No one had ever successfully ridden transitions that big before. Mega Ramp is such a staple in action sports nowadays, but I think it’s totally possible that it would have never happened without Mat. I have a lot of respect for that kind of pioneering and risk-taking.
Where was it shot?
It was shot at a BS contest in Oklahoma City in 1993. Mat had built his own skatepark setup, so he held a few contests there. Many people might not be aware of it, but Mat was the organizer of the only legit contest series in the 90s. The BS - Bicycle Stunts - series became the entry point for BMX in the X Games. In addition to a park setup, flatland area, and vert ramp for the contest, Mat had his giant quarterpipe.
Did you make the trek out specifically for this big air project?
No. I went out to cover the contest. McGoo drove and there were maybe ten of us in the van. It was a fun trip.
Based on how gnarly this was, was it a pretty high-stress situation?
A bit. There was a photo of Mat doing a big air that was published about a year before, so that’s when people were really blown away. At the contest, everyone was just psyched to see it in person for the first time. Also, in a situation like this, I would have been focused on just getting the shot. Nonetheless, when Steve Swope fired up his dirt bike and towed Mat 50mph down a rickety plywood runway, everyone’s adrenaline was definitely pumping.
How many airs did you shoot?
Maybe ten, but I really don’t remember. It ended with a pretty scary wreck. I think it was a bit windy, so he over-rotated a little and slid out when he landed. Luckily he was okay, but the demo was over.
Who are the other guys in the photos?
I recognize Rob Sigaty, Dennis McCoy - in front of the pole - and Mike Ocoboc. You know the photo is old because no one is holding up a phone!
Any recollection of what your camera / film setup was at the time?
Nikon F4, 80-200mm 2.8 lens, and T Max 400 film. Yes, actual film that I took home and developed. No results until a couple days after the event. The waiting period was always a little nerve-racking.
No, and I regret not taking better care of other photos from that day. I had some great color slides, but I lost track of them. Thrasher magazine contacted me about running some of the photos, so I sent them original slides (not copies, which would always be a little blurry). Unfortunately, they never sent them back, and I didn’t even think about it until a few years ago. Sometimes you’re too busy in the present to worry about preserving the past. Having unlimited “originals” is one of the many benefits of digital photography. I had so many slides over the years that photo editors lost or never sent back.
Looking back, how do you feel about the photo today?
I really can’t claim much credit for the photo. As a photographer, some photos are special because of the interesting lighting or unusual angle. That’s not what this photo is about. This was all about just documenting what Mat was doing. There was no need to try to make it look better than it was. I think all I can claim is that I was there and I didn’t screw it up.
What were your thoughts on Mat breaking the high air record once again in 2015?
I think it’s awesome. I’m so stoked for him. I think it’s incredible that he was physically able to do it after all the injuries he’s suffered over the years. It’s also cool that he was motivated to do it. He has nothing left to prove, but he still wants to do it for himself.
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