"BMX is never just a job for us; it's our lives." - An Interview With Van Homan
New chapters, new spots...
Photos and interview by Rob Dolecki, with additional questions by Brian Kachinsky
When it comes to progressive and burly street sections, Van Homan has set the bar for almost two decades now, most notably with his “Criminal Mischief” section. His "Holy Fit" part, and his most recent effort in the 2016 Real BMX video comp are testaments to his resilience and relentless determination via blood, sweat and pain to complete a project that lives up to his own exceedingly high expectations.
Then 2018 brought on new opportunities for Van in the form of a white collar job that entailed moving halfway around the world. He stepped past his pro bike riding career, and dove headfirst into an entirely different culture and language that goes beyond dining at a novelty sushi restaurant in Center City Philadelphia. And it’s an intriguing change. We sat down with Van on his studio balcony in Ginza and got the lowdown on this new chapter in his life.
While you may not be seeing any double-pegs-to-gap-to-over-grinds out of Homan any time soon, but rest assured, Mr. Homan’s undying passion for riding and all things associated with BMX continues on, including wearing a tie and TPS reports Monday through Friday, and exploring an an endless city on weekends.
So what have you been up to?
I’ve been living in Tokyo, Japan and working on helping organize the BMX freestyle event for the 2020 Olympics. I’ve been going to work like a regular human, 9-to-5, and just riding and exploring on the weekends.
Is this the first time you’ve ever had an office job?
Yeah, I rode professionally basically for 20 years. I had a couple things here and there, like I had my bike shop which was a lot of work but not a 9-to-5, and helped out at my friends wood shop here and there when I needed some extra money, but nothing ever like this.
You feel like you living in the movie “Office Space”?
(Laughter) It’s definitely funny working in an office. If you watch that movie, there are so many ridiculously funny things I can relate to. My brain just goes to “Office Space” multiple times every day.
Is there a Bill Lumbergh?
Nah, there really isn’t a Lumbergh; it’s pretty free. You have stuff to get done, but there’s no one hounding you. There’s never really anyone getting on my case about dumb stuff.
No TPS reports?
Kind of, It can be a slow-moving machine, but no one really hounding you.
You’ve been in Tokyo now for six months.
Yeah, it’s been awesome. The people are super-welcoming and the country is safe. The language barrier is challenging; I’ve been trying to learn basic things to get me by in every day life. I’m a long, long ways from being able to speak Japanese fluently.
You got “check, please” down pretty good.
There’s no way I can transcribe that. (Laughter)
Sometimes I wish I had a little more free time to explore the city and spots, but when I get those chances I’m definitely making good use of my time, sightseeing and riding spots. It would be really easy to think I have all the time in the world. Next thing you know you’ve been in Japan for two years and you didn’t actually do anything other than go to work. It’s been awesome; I really love it. I love being able to take the trains everywhere. When I’m in the States, I don’t eat outside my comfort zone. You’re kind of forced to be adventurous here, which is nice, since you end up eating a lot of good stuff.
What’s up with Japanese Denny’s?
Denny’s is a fraud here. (Laughter) The very first day I arrived here I was super jet lagged and tired, and I saw a giant Denney’s and I think, “I’m going to get the Grand Slam breakfast.” I walk in there, and it’s just all Japanese food. It wasn’t Denny’s like we know Denny’s. I was really let down. I haven’t been back. Don’t fall for it.
I like the rail into bank spot in front of your crib.
The spots are ridiculous here. Stuff is less tapped than it would be in the U.S.; the architecture is different here. A lot of the playgrounds are concrete slides and things like that. In the U.S. there’s more prefab, cookie-cutter, safety-code construction; a lot of the creativity has been stripped away. Kachinsky was here for three days pedaling around, and he's posting spots I’ve never even been to before that were completely ridiculous. The riders here are so amazing. They are psyched I’m here and welcomed me with open arms. They go out of their way to help you figure out whatever, find a spot, if you need to eat, or get your residency card, etc...
Was there anything different than what you were anticipating?
I’ve been here twice before, once in like 2002, and last year for FISE in Hiroshima. Something I didn’t expect is one, it’s easier than I thought to get around on the train systems. It’s so well-designed. I guess I didn’t expect to feel so comfortable so quickly. Sometimes I take a step back and think, “This is weird; I live in Japan.” You go to work, you go home, and you ride on the weekends, like anyone would. You just happen to live in Tokyo. Life just becomes normal. Brian asked me the other day what the exchange rate was, and I have no idea. I get paid in Yen, I pay my rent in Yen, I buy my food in Yen; I think in Yen now. (Laughter)
You think and say, “Excuse me” in Japanese now.
I know so little Japanese. But when I was in Florida (for Swampfest) and bumped into someone, and my instinct was, “Sumimasen”. You feel ridiculous when you’re in Orlando, Florida and you try to say, “Excuse me” in Japanese. When you’re in Japan and you bump into someone, you’re going to say “Excuse me” in his or her language since I know that word. You just acclimating the best you can.
"I get paid in Yen, I pay my rent in Yen, I buy my food in Yen; I think in Yen now."-Van Homan
So you’re here for two years.
Yeah. It’s a pretty simple concept. I’m in charge of helping organize the BMX freestyle event (for the Olympics). I’m the eyes and ears for BMX freestyle. I have to speak up for certain details. There are a lot of different people involved. The Olympics is a huge operation. It’s a welcome challenge, and I’m honored to have this opportunity. I’m helping manage an event in the Olympics; it’s not where I expected to be.
What would 20 year-old “Criminal Mischief” Van would think?
I think he’d be stoked that he was still riding, working in BMX and having a once in a life time opportunity to live and ride in Japan. You just don’t know what direction you’re headed in. It’s pretty cool. I never expected to be a pro rider when I was a kid and I never expected to be living in Japan. I like to think passion and commitment lead to opportunity.
Who is John-san?
San is a respect thing for a name. Like in Karate Kid. I never thought about why he was Daniel-san. Nobody calls me John, but that is my official first name on paperwork. People were calling me John at work, and John-san. I’m like, “Who’s Johnson?” (Laughter) It took me like a week to figure it out, I just wouldn’t answer.
You’re coming from a biased perspective, but what is your opinion on the Olympics. Some people give it heavy flack.
Honestly, I analyzed my moral compass a couple years ago and after a lot of thought and questions, decided that what was happening was positive and would only create opportunities. At this time I was only judging events and had not even a clue that Tokyo was on the horizon. I’m part of this process because I was open to it, not open to it because I’m part of this process. It’s another great opportunity that BMX has provided and I couldn’t be more psyched to be here. To me, you take advantage of those opportunities when they arrive, but you also don’t let one event, sponsor or opportunity define what BMX is to you.
It doesn’t define you.
I’d like to think if opportunities like this are put in the right hands it only creates more opportunity. My being is Japan has already given me and Brian Kachinsky the chance to host an Uncovered amateur event in Tokyo. Its given me the chance to hire BMXers. I’d like to think opportunity trickles down and is kind of contagious. I think the passion you put in is what defines you. BMX is never just a job for us, its our lives.
Speaking of which, how did throwing an Uncovered contest in Tokyo come about?
Last year Brian and I did three Uncovered stops in the U.S.A. and worked with Source BMX to have the MVP get an invite to Battle Of Hastings. We wanted to keep the event going, but it was up in the air. I didn’t know what would be possible. We kind of joked about Tokyo Uncovered. I got over here, and went over to a random skatepark one day. They had an indoor street plaza, and thought it would be perfect. I just started asking questions, and then Maja, who is a rider and works at the park, was into the concept. Then the ball just started rolling. The scene just totally embraced the idea and just helped us make it happen. It was so cool how willing everyone was to help. Shoe G, Rim and Yumi were down to judge. Bashi is like a Japanese Crandall on the mic, Pegy and Hiroshi... It was amazing energy; it felt really cool to make it happen. We’re from the other side of the world and we pulled it off.
It was funny seeing flyers posted and they were in Japanese. It looked like you really stepped up your Japanese skills.
That's a good example of some of the complications, and trying to organize this- the language barrier, and something as simple as an Instagram post. This is how supportive these guys were; I’m sending paragraphs to my friends, and being like, “Hey, can you translate this?” The people that were going to be at the event were obviously Japanese so we needed to put the information out there in Japanese. It’s weird having to do those things like that when you don’t know something as simple as reading and writing (laughter), so having that help and support was so important and felt so special that people were down to do it.
What suggestion would you give to someone who’s thinking of throwing a local jam or contest?
The way Brian and I approached the first year of Uncovered, we were going to put it on no matter what, and if we got sponsorship money to do it, that just means we can make it better. We can get pros there as special guests, build a special feature, give the judges a few bucks, give away prize money. Even if we got zero money or product, we were doing it. This year Fit, Odyssey, GT, BSD, and Source all gave us tons of product and a few bucks. If you want to put on a jam, you use the resources you have and create something important and special to you. You can complain that there’s nothing happening or you don’t like what’s happening, or you can create the version of BMX you want to see. Whether you have a million dollars or an empty lot with a fly-out jump, you can put on a jam that puts smiles on people’s faces.
" I think the passion you put in is what defines you."
On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you think BMX is at the moment?
I’ll give it a 10. There are always things that can be better. But I think BMX is in a really rad place right now. The other weekend there was a dirt comp in Denver, an am comp in Japan, a Vans Pro Cup in Australia. Everywhere I look, all over the world, there are awesome things happening. People like Trey Jones and Steve Crandall are making things happen. That is spreading like wildfire. There is something for everyone to watch or participate in and that's amazing. There are opportunities for every level and every style of rider. Riding is what you make it. We still have this amazing subculture where there are riders in the shadows, loving life and having fun. I’m almost 40; I’ve been around awhile. When I see jaded old dudes in their 30s complaining about how BMX used to be, that it was better, I just want to be like, “Pay attention.” If you don’t like what’s happening, go do something. It’s easy to do, I guess; people tend to reflect on their glory days.
It’s a nostalgic thing. But it doesn’t necessarily mean BMX isn't as good nowadays.
I like to say, appreciate your past but don’t live in it. Your place in BMX and in life is constantly changing; that can be a struggle. Your role has to change and you need to embrace that or you're living backwards.
Change is inevitable.
For me, it’s something that I have to embrace. It’s just about evolving, understanding where you can contribute and owning that role. Your riding is going to change, your personality is going to change, your life is going to change and if you can’t accept that, you are going to be a really sad person. (Laughter)
How do you see your riding toned down?
Sometimes you get that little itch…
I saw you do that wallride to downside whip at The Slab stop of the FBM DIY Worlds last year; I wouldn’t really call it toned down.
I guess that’s a good example of getting that itch and stepping outside your comfort zone. Seeking out crazy gap to rail setups, or wild street setups- I feel like after I did that Real BMX part a couple of years ago, I took some serious slams on that. I felt lucky to even get out of those without any serious injuries. I feel like this might be disappointing for people to hear- I felt like I had an epiphany where I wanted to keep riding my bike and keep enjoying it. I’m not saying I don’t want to ride hard still; I’m kind of over sending ridiculous stuff on the regular. Moving here, it’s an amazing opportunity, because I really embrace the spot itself. I kind of lost my spark a little bit because I was in the same area for so long. Here you just don’t know what’s around the corner. It’s re-sparked the exploration of street riding.
What’s the next chapter in life?
It’s a good question. I’d been stressing about what was next that for years. I’m happy to have turned the page. It's a weird feeling when you are riding professionally but you know there is an expiration date. I have a new direction now, I happy to still be involved with BMX and I’m excited to see what this opportunity snowballs into next. One day at a time.
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