Taj Mihelich is one of the most amazing riders in the history of BMX. Not only does he have the ability to do anything he wants on a bike, he’s also an incredible artist, musician, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Earlier this year Taj lit the forums on fire when he became sponsored by Giant, and he just got word that his long-term sponsorship with Etnies is coming to an end. We talked to Taj about the changes in his life and what’s coming next in this exclusive Vital BMX interview. Special thanks to John Povah for the photos.
How did you wind up getting on Etnies in the first place?
I can't really remember how I got on exactly. Rooftop had gotten on a bit before and I think they gave him the green light to pick up a few other guys. Joe RIch got on and then I got on soon after. Airwalk had been talking to me about a signature shoe, and so that was a stipulation of my new contract, that we would start on a signature shoe through Etnies.
What were some of your proudest moments from all those years?
Those years were really like the prime of my riding career so the good moments are far too many to remember and catalog. I got to travel all over and totally live the BMX dream, you know? I got to design three signature shoes, I got voted favorite rider a few times, I had some great contests, met loads of great people, got to film sections for Etnies Forward and Grounded videos... I don't know... it was all amazing!
What are some things you were able to do in life that being on Etnies helped with?
Well number one, they have been my main sponsor for years. Providing money, support, and friendship so I could focus on bikes entirely. They also have always trusted me to run the sponsorship my way and encouraged me to follow my own direction. Like, they never "made" me do this contest or do some demo. I basically always got to keep riding exactly in the place I wanted it to be, and even though Etnies was supporting me so well I never felt pressured to change who I was. I could pick and choose events and competitions I wanted to attend. They also helped me with the Thunderdome park up in Olympia (that never opened), and they helped Joe and I with some of the initial funding for the T-1 ramp.
(Here's a little video of the Thunderdome from 2001. Not crazy riding, but you can get a feel for how fun the ramps were. An earthquake damaged the building and so the park never opened. Such a shame!)
When/how did you get word that it was coming to an end? Was it a surprise?
The timing of when I got word was pretty funny. I'd been stressing about buying a new car and after going back and forth for a few weeks I finally decided to go for it. At the dealership signing the dotted line on the last piece of paperwork my phone rang. It was the team manager John Povah and I decided I would call him back after I finished signing. I called him back a few minutes later and it was THE CALL. Oh well.... to some degree I knew it was coming and I wasn't surprised. Poor John Povah, we've been friends for years and making that call was really hard for him, I know. It’s all totally cool, though. Him and I just traveled to Ray's MTB park for fun and it was a blast!
You've seen a lot of sides of the pro BMX life that most people don't know exist. What are some things that would surprise riders about life in the BMX industry?
Oh... I don't know if I can say because I don't really know anything else. It’s been my life for as long as I can remember. I think things are a lot more casual then a lot of people realize... for the most part anyway. Or, at least at my level. Some of the big TV contest guys have agents and stuff and that’s a whole other level of business. All of my sponsors have always been really laid back. Sometimes there are legal contracts, but for the most part it’s all just pretty much a “you help us and we'll help you” kind of agreement.
You've had some major sponsorship changes over the past couple of years. Has that affected you're riding at all?
I think everything effects your riding in someway. Riding for Giant has been a big breath of fresh air for me. I've been just a bum on a bike for a while now. No real responsibilities outside of riding and just getting to have a lot of fun. Like seriously, I have been smiling and laughing a lot more lately... bikes are good.
From skits with Monkey Boy to huge hospital bills, you've been through a lot. Anything you would have done differently over the last stage of your "career?"
I don't think so. I've had some memory issues after some concussions so I don't remember a lot of things, so maybe that helps. Only sort of kidding there... at least as far as I can recall everything has been great, or at least worked out in the end in a way that is just fine. Even Monkey Boy... jeez... even that. I'm really excited about the choices I've made lately, too. It’s exposing me to so many fun things and challenging me.
What's next for you? Austin for life?
Well, Giant said they wanted to try and step things up for me next year so I could remain on my bike. That will be fun if that all works out and I can keep enjoying this full time. I'm thinking a lot about moving from Austin lately. Maybe I just need a change of scenery or something. That’s why I bought a car anyway, to go explore a bit this winter and see if there's anywhere else that feels like it could be home. It’s very likely that my first encounter with snow will send me running to the comfort of warm old Austin.