Nothing is Dumb in the Search for Big Air
Stupidity and bravery tread a very fine line. Somewhere along the way BMX legend Mat Hoffman forgot he was supposed to give a shit. It’s a good thing too, because stupid can lead to ridiculous and occasionally it can become groundbreaking.
Before the X Games existed, before YouTube, and way before ESPN started televising every kick-flip and 360 spin, Mat Hoffman was busy revolutionizing BMX vert. Hell, he was basically inventing it. Hoffman has spent his entire life “going big.” When he was 16 years old he became a professional BMX rider. Over the course of the rest of his life he took BMX riding from his Oklahoma backyard into a different stratosphere and BMX riding took him to the hospital.
During his career Hoffman ushered BMX vert from the doldrums of the late 80s into the ever-evolving platform and media frenzy that it operates in today. Hoffman’s undying commitment to his craft unfortunately resulted in his body being too battered and broken to showcase his abilities when BMX exploded onto the national scene with the X Games. Hoffman is to BMX as Tony Hawk is to skateboarding.
Director Jeff Tremaine, of MTV’s Jackass and Wildboys, and producers Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville decided it was about time their friend’s story was told. And with the help of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series The Birth of Big Air came to life.
I saw in the trailer a doctor showing the graph of how you’ve broken almost every bone in your body. What’s the worst injury that you faced over your career?
Mat Hoffman: Lets see here. There are a lot of them, so it’s hard to pick one. It seems strange, but I have crashed and landed on my seat and both of the seat rails poked through the seat and poked through my pants and pierced through both sides of my nuts. That one hurt. That was probably up there.
With all these injuries did it ever cross you mind to stop?
MH: They were just in the way of a bigger dream I had. I never saw them as something that was a reason to stop; it was just a part of the territory. I knew that and accepted that when I started. So I was just like how am I going to get through this barricade to get where I was trying to go, but the barricades just kept coming at me.
Jeff Tremaine: One of the things we left out of the documentary was how Mat, basically got hit by a truck, three or four years ago now.
MH: About two and a half years ago.
JT: He was in his car and got t-boned. He got smashed by a Mack truck and almost severed his arm off. He already had shoulder problems, but it basically just shredded his shoulder. Now he has a dead arm, but he started riding again recently. He has to hold his hand up to shake your hand, yet he is still riding vert on a bike. He doesn’t have a whole lot of quit in him.
I saw a YouTube video of you having to confirm you’re not dead?
MH: That was a weird thing where there was some hype going on about challenging my record and they were using clips of other people. And I had crashed which they show in the documentary. I did get about twenty minutes from dying and I flatlined. So there are some gnarly moments on this quest or dream for me to do what I want to do.
In this video they cut the edits where they said “Yeah, Mat flatlined…” but they cut the edits without saying I came back. So they were marketing with that and I’m getting all these calls. I was like ‘if your gonna take my drama to market your thing you gotta at least tell them that I’m alive so I could quit getting these phone calls.’ That’s why I put that up.
What do you guys think is next for BMX and extreme sports? What do you see on the horizon?
JT: I’m constantly shocked, especially in the era of the foam pit, which has changed everything. Now you can perfect things and not get hurt. We were just watching YouTube clips before this whole [interview] started and it’s shocking to see what people are doing on bikes these days.
In retrospect what do you think is the dumbest thing you guys have every done?
MH: Come on don’t ask Jeff that we’ll be here all day. The list is long. I’ve had a lot of those too. This is a weird story and I don’t really tell it that much because it’s hard to explain how dangerous it was.
So I’m riding my bike out of a plane and I’m doing this for the Kid’s Choice Awards because they asked me what I want to do and I wanted to do something people think is impossible to show kids that they can dream like that. The whole thing was I needed to land in a slime pit with my parachute. The wind was weird so I kept missing the pit and I have 400 kids waiting for me to do it. When I missed it would take me fifteen minutes to pack up my chute and then get back up there which took 30 minutes to do another jump. It was the fourth time I jumped and the wind was blowing hard, and I thought if I make this hook turn I can freefall into that pit right now. I was thinking with the mentality of riding a bike, which is you see a line and you go for it. You don’t do with a parachute because if you miss that line you die. I end up almost hitting the very edge of it and slamming into [the pit]. I lived and I was like, Okay show’s good, and the owner comes up to me and says, “You’ll never ever jump in my drop zone again.” All the locals knew how dangerous that was. Parachutes you can think with this one mind and bikes you can think with this other mind, but you can never mix the two up. But that was pretty dumb.
JT: What’s dumb really?
MH: Yea, totally.
JT: Your pierced nuts?
MH: Yea, that was pretty dumb. Dumb and ridiculous kinda live on the same fence. Some of the dumbest things are probably some of the greatest things we’ve ever done.
JT: Well, in the movie you putting the weedeater motor on the bike was pretty dumb. I get where your coming from on it, but it’s pretty ridiculous adding a 25 lbs motor to your BMX bike and trying to launch twenty or thirty feet out.
MH: Totally, so what is dumb? Cause that seemed all right with me. I guess it could have been dumb. It’s about not accepting dumb and just going for it.
“The Birth of Big Air” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and will air on ESPN as a part of the critically acclaimed 30 for 30 series July 29, 2010 at 7 p.m.