Re Print: The Craig Campbell Interview

The man who invented peg grinds and the 540 wall ride. One of the most influential street riders of all time...

26 Mar 2015

craig cambell fastplant london2 2010 RH

Boned out fastplant, Finsbury Park, London 2010.

Intro and Interview by Grant Smith 2010 Photos by Richie Hopson Originally printed in DIG 83 July 2011

Long before the Internet, grinds, or even pegs were around, the father of freestyle, Bob Haro asked a young Craig Campbell if he wanted to ride for his company, Haro Bikes. The year was 1983 and Craig became the first BMXer out-with the US to receive a Haro sponsorship. Things moved quickly for Craig, within a couple of years he had become a household name, had a signature frame on UK brand ProLite and then moved on to riding 'full factory' for Skyway. To those on the outside it looked like he had it all, in reality, the monotony of the UK competition circuit was taking its toll on Craig, it didn't suit his creative personality. His solution was to ditch his sponsors and move to the States, looking for the next thing.

Riding has evolved immensely since then, the tricks, bikes and parks are all a million miles away from those days. Without a doubt, Craig Campbell played an important role in getting riding to where it is today. He was one of the most progressive and innovative riders of his time and his impact has been long reaching with tricks he pioneered being building blocks for modern day riding. Craig Campbell has rightfully achieved legendary status in BMX.

We caught up with Craig to shoot the shit and pick the brains of one of the most influential riders of his generation... suffice to say the grey matter was tested!

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Your last big UK appearance was at the "Holeshot" competition in London at the end of 1987, it was a time when BMX was changing. You quit Skyway a while before and were riding for M:Zone (legendary Croydon BMX shop), why did you end up quitting riding for such a big sponsor?

I got sick of the whole corporate establishment around BMX, it got really boring and I knew there was another side of BMX that was yet to be seen. I was riding the streets of London a lot with Jess Dyrenforth and Nick (Anarchic Adjustment) Philip developing a style of riding that is now a massive phenomenon, we thought we were the only riders doing this at the time, we soon discovered that there were some crazy cats in California doing the same shit and it was only a matter of time before our paths crossed. At that time BMX and skating seemed to be very interlinked, R.A.D. magazine covered both and street riding was the new thing.

You, Nick Philip and Jess Dyrenforth always had photos in R.A.D. doing new street moves and London seemed like the place to be, even legendary US based magazine Freestylin' ran a street article about London.

Yeah the street skating influence was very strong at that time and Jess and I used to skate as well as ride bikes, we were always trying to work out how you could pull skate tricks on a bike.

When was the first time you went to the USA?

It was in 1985 to ride in the "King of the Skateparks" contest at the Pipeline Skatepark in California. It was such a gnarly park… we had nothing like that in the UK, I was riding against the best riders in the world in their local park, I was under pressure a bit there. I had two days practice and managed to pull a few cancan X ups which no one had seen before at that point and placed 4th behind Eddie Fiola, Brian Blyther and Mike Dominguez only beating Hugo Gonzales because he did an endo drop in to head butt and almost broke his neck.

craig cambell SD 88 Wizard

Original magazine prints from back in the day. Craig was a progressive street rider before most people even knew what street riding even was. Trolley dash nosepick at the first ever recognised Street Jam in Santee, California, 1988.

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California dreaming - Torrance, circa 1989, close by the infamous Wizard Publications warehouse.

Did you ride the Combi Pool?

The Combi Pool was ridiculous on a bike! It had four feet of vert in the square pool and was smooth like glass, I remember Mike Dominguez trying tailwhip flyouts out of the square pool corners. Mike D was so progressive back then, pedal stalls, tailtaps and the first no foot can-cans out of the pipe bowl.

What other parks did you ride back then?

I went down to Del Mar in San Diego, that was another awesome park. I remember riding there in my blue Bell Moto 4 helmet and Donovan Ritter taking the piss out of me saying, "Who do you think you are, Mike Dominguez?"

After "Holeshot" you seemed to disappear to the States, what happened there?

I got this phone call from Jess Dyrenforth saying, "What are you doing? Get yourself out to California ASAP!" I ended up staying out there for three years.

Did you have to go back and forth to the UK to keep your visa sorted?

Nah, I bullshitted my way in and out of the States on a regular basis. There's no way you could do that these days...

I remember a good picture of you in GO magazine riding an indoor skatepark in San Jose.

Yeah that was a great park, I almost tried a backflip to fakie there in 1990, I'd just seen Matt Hoffman do it, but I guess my enthusiasm for riding was over at that point and I couldn't be bothered to risk my neck (pre foam pits). San Jose was a good laugh though, Nick Phillip and I used to live on this street corner where there would be a car crash at the intersection at least once a week, it was like a regular social event, we got to know all kinds of people at the crashes. I even got lucky with a chick one time.

Were you riding for Ozone bikes then?

Yeah, with Pete Augustin, Craig Grasso and Chris Day. We were like the four horsemen of the apocalypse terrorising the streets of LA. Hit the streets and pools as hard and fast as possible and keep rolling, that was our policy.

Was that when you lived at that house with the big spine ramp in the garden?

That was before in '89, it was pretty cool having a huge spine ramp in the backyard. That was a new style of ramp back then.

You and Chris Day were pretty progressive riding that ramp back then, I think a lot of those moves were probably the first of their kind, like 360 nosepicks over a spine.

Yeah, we invented a lot of stuff on that ramp. Chris Day had the baddest moves like the lipslide to revert, pure skate style on a bike, Hoffman's no hand air to fakie over the spine and Blyther jumping on to the roof of the house and dropping back in were pretty cool too.

You were known as an innovator, look at the 540 wallride.

For me that was my finest moment in BMX, at that time I blew minds with that move. If you watch it now on video it still looks sick... even if I do say so myself.

A lot of riders now probably weren't even born when you did that. It was way over 10 years before anyone else really started doing that trick again, what was going through your head at that time?

I remember I was so buzzing about that, it was the first ever street contest which was in Santee in San Diego County in 1988, I'd been putting a lot of effort into street riding with the horsemen. We'd been riding the streets of Redondo beach for months knowing that this was coming up. When we got there Dave Voelker was on his local territory and was doing these massive wallrides about 10 feet up the wall from a dirt bank, I'm sure he thought no one could touch him there, well surprise surprise, eat this! I got first place in the qualifiers but I couldn't pull the 540 in the final and Lord Voelker was victorious.

Did you get paid well?

Not really, nothing like what people get paid these days, it was just enough to get by on.

"At the turn of the millennium I had to slow down, things got out of control and I was a mess..."

craig cambell wall london 2010 RH

Homage to perpendicular - same shit, different century. London UK, Ssummer 2010.

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Still got it... 25 years on.

Do you regret quitting back then?

Yeah I do, I was only 22, there was that period in the early 90's when BMX died and I couldn't make a living from it anymore and to maintain that level of riding I think you need to be getting something back from it. I could see there was money to be made being a DJ, I had to pursue that route.

What's the story behind your crash at the Worlds in Germany in 2009?

I was watching the Haro reunion show, Brian Blyther pulls me out of the crowd and hands me his bike... the crowd go nuts and I thought " I've got to do something here!" So stupidly with no protection, no practice and in front of the worldwide BMX community I cranked it towards the quarterpipe, went bio and hit the deck HARD! Lucky I'd been drinking the free beer in the VIP lounge and it helped make the three busted ribs less painful. I still managed to DJ at the after party (the show must go on), it took me about three months to get over it.

Did you get injured much back in the day?

Not really, although I remember one time around 1990 I was at a skate contest in Hawaii with Jess, there was this handrail and skaters like Mark Gonzales were doing these crazy grinds and I thought I'll have some of that! I tried a chainring grind down it and ended up giving myself a concussion with a helmet on.

When you were at your peak did you feel you could do anything you tried?

I thought about a lot of stuff that I never actually tried like jumping from roof to roof in Soho, London about 60 feet up, Chuckie B and I found the spot in 91, I can show it to anyone who has the balls to go for it, it's about a 20 foot gap. I tried few 900's around 89 (nearly).

Can you still do a 540?

Yeah, I've done them at Cantelowes Skatepark in Camden, London recently.

Did you invent peg grinds?

Yeah I think so, on vert around '87. I also did the first nosepicks on vert.

You rode for Skyway for a long time on a bike with Skyway mag wheels, did you have problems breaking wheels?

I only ever broke a Skyway wheel once doing a 360/540ish transfer from the Vans warehouse vert ramp into the mini ramp in CA and landing sideways, completely flat bottom.

Did you invent peg grinds? "Yeah I think so, on vert around '87. I also did the first nosepicks on vert."

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Craig blasting as Christian Hosoi (pre-jail) looks on. Life's a Beach demo, Tahiti. Circa '88.

What did you think of the Joe Kid on a Stingray DVD and the fact that it overlooked the whole UK street influence on riding?

I was a bit disappointed with it really, I was at least expecting the 540 wallride to be in there.

In your eyes who do you think are the street riding pioneers?

Nick Philip, Jess Dyrenforth, Craig Grasso, Pete Augustin, Chris Day, Eddie Roman, Dave Voelker and Dave Vanderspek.

Did you ever meet Dave Vanderspek?

Yeah, he was awesome, I was so gutted when he died, I only knew him for a few years, I looked up to him like a big brother.

Riding then and now, what do you think of the modern riding scene?

I think it's quite hard to throw a bit of personality into a super tech foam pit trick.

Tell us about the 2 Hip King Of Vert contest in Austin Texas in '89...

Ha ha, that was a good one, they don't make contests like that anymore. Ron Wilkerson came up with the genius concept of sticking a half pipe on a barge on a lake, the wobbly vert ramp with a lovely hillside to sit on and watch the amazing riding while vicious ants bit the fuck out of your ass, I think that murderer Gator Rogowski was there too, signing autographs. Anyway to cut a long story short I ended my run with a sloppy 540ish huck into the lake and amazingly enough one of the locals managed to dive about 30 feet down and retrieve my bike.

Did you go to the 2 Hip Meet the Street jam at Brooklyn Banks in Manhattan in '89?

Yeah, that was another Wilkerson Classic. I loved the way Ron just put on a contest in the NYC street with hundreds of people there and no permission, just sweet talked the cops. I was on the Life's A Beach summer tour at the time and had to get the train from DC to NYC, I had no hotel booked, no phone or numbers, almost no money as usual, I just thought "turn up at the banks and I'll bump into someone I know", well it didn't quite work out and I ended up trying to sleep in Washington Square park on a Friday night (no chance). The sun came up and with almost no sleep I jumped on my bike and hit it full speed downtown to the banks, slashing a wallride on a moving bus on the way. I rode like shit at the contest and Lord Voelker was victorious again.

You went to Tahiti to do some shows for Life's A Beach, what happened there?

Yeah a few times, those trips were so awesome. The first time I turned up at LAX with my bike, they wouldn't let me take it on the plane unless I took it apart and put it in a box. I said keep the bike and I got on the plane, knowing there were gonna be some other riders going. I ended up riding a bike better than the one I used to have and doing a show with Christian Hosoi on this big ass vert ramp. That was a great session with both of us trying to be flasher than the other and they don't come much flasher than Christian.

“Fly while you can kids, that feeling of being invincible on a bike won’t last forever...”

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Roots run deep. Craig at home, London, 2010.

Got any last words?

I quit riding in January '91, left L.A, flew back to London and became a DJ, the nineties were crazy times (I could write a book about the nineties). Some of the shit I got up to, you couldn't make it up. I pretty much lived a rock star lifestyle especially towards the end of that decade. I'd like to do a bit of name-dropping but I think I'll save that for the book. At the turn of the millennium I had to slow down, things got out of control and I was a mess. I started to focus on music production and DJ'ing less because the DJ environment was fucking me up. I've started riding again recently (2010), I can't believe it's been 20 years since I quit, that makes me feel so old. I can still pull a few moves though, I went up to Scotland last summer, they've got some great parks up there, much better than the shite in London. I had a go at a few back and front flips in the foam pit at Unit 23. I've got to pull one on to a hard surface now.

A few words from fellow legendary street pioneers, Craig Grasso and Eddie Roman...

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"Craig Campbell was the most inspirational rider I ever rode with. Always pushed me to the next level shit. Whenever I think of Campbell, I think of a guy who’s humble attitude did not line up with the aggressive riding style he possessed. My homey for life. Big shout outz to the old Bloody Buster." - Craig 'Grassroots' Grasso, 
Street riding pioneer

Eddie roman woodward 87 wizard crop

"When Craig wasn’t riding he was usually kind of quiet and reserved. He didn’t talk a lot, but when he rode he was the center of conversation. During ramp sessions he went higher than everyone else, stretched his variations better and rode smoother than anyone. Even his street riding was smooth. He was the first to do wallride 540s. When he pulled one at the first 2Hip Street contest in Santee, California, all of us American riders fell over. That trick really marked a change in this thing we called street riding. Nothing but respect for BMX legend Craig Campbell." - Eddie Roman, BMX video mastermind and ninja enthusiast.