Jason Phelan on Loch Down - The Full Story
Behind-The-Scenes On The Holy Loch
Photos by Fred Murray
It's an interesting thing the life cycle of a professional bike rider. Choices, relationships, random happenings, they all accumulate into one big concoction of possibilities. Ireland's Jason Phelan has had a pretty rough ride when it comes to sponsors over the past few years. Being dropped by your main supporters and living in the back of a skatepark can do strange things to a person but Jay took that situation and turned it into something he could control and make some dream ideas come to life. With the help of some corporate support mustered together off Jason's own efforts, he's gone and filmed a BMX video like no other on a bloody boat no less. Sometimes it takes a while for someone to fall into their true calling but this new era of Phelan, along with his new sponsor GT, feels like it couldn't fit any better. In fact, in true BMX fashion, the day that Jason's biggest ever video dropped online last week was also the same day he started his new deliveroo job - funny old life, eh?
How did this whole thing even happen?
Well it all started because I have a good friend called Laura Brannan and her dad Tom owns the Professional Diving Academy in Dunoon, Scotland. I was talking about some ideas with Laura and she said “Why don’t you build some ramps on my Dad’s boat?” I was unsure if he’d let us do that she reassured me he was sound and would let me do whatever i wanted. We threw a few ideas around, spoke to Tom, and then went out there to take a look. I was absolutely gobsmacked when we got there. I didn’t know what to expect but the boat was massive. I kept asking about what i’d be allowed to do and he kept saying, “Jay, you can do whatever you want to do. Whatever.” And mind, that was the first time i’d ever met him! He is a legend. We drove out to another one of his boats and he mentioned that he could back them up to each other and maybe i could jump between them - and that’s where that idea started. We ended up using a barge to jump over to and Tom literally had to cut containers off of it. We were just angle grinding bits of his boat off and he didn’t care! He really went above and beyond.
Who organised everything? Did you do it all?
Yeah, pretty much. I knew i’d be able to get a small budget of one or two thousand pounds from GT and build a few quarters on the boat, but I knew there was an opportunity to do something much bigger. My head was just exploding with ideas. I sat down solidly for a few weeks and wrote up the concept and started the Kickstarter account. Laura actually helped me a lot with that as well. My English isn’t the greatest so she was correcting everything as well! We launched the project on Kickstarter and I originally didn’t actually think it would work out, but it did. My plan was kind of for people to take me a bit more seriously and realise that “oh shit, he’s got this idea and he’s actually doing something to make it happen.” From there i went and started a Linkdin account and also went straight to the boss of Extreme and showed him the concept. He got back and said that they loved the idea - but someone actually emailed me and said they wanted the idea but thought it needed a bigger personality, haha! I of course said no as this was my baby. The owner of Extreme then rang me straight away and thankfully said, don’t worry we understand and we are with you 100%. They wanted to pay for it along with Dewalt (tools)so it ended up that i actually got sponsored by them along with Dewalt.
"Straight away I took my shoes off and dived in after it!"
- Jason Phelan
Every day i drove out to Dunoon it seemed to rain, bar one day I think. How many actually dry days did you get for the whole project?
Hmmm, well we had two weeks for the whole thing but I got injured on the first week. I thought I broke my nose but It was actually just really bashed up. (We can attest to the fact it was huge!) I also wrecked my toes on the first week, so we took one week off and then got back on it. In total though i’d say we had about seven dry days over the two weeks. And to be fair, on a lot of those “good days” there was still some rain here and there. It was mad because a lot of the time John (Bailey) and George (Eccleston) were building ramps in the rain! And then trying to paint everything… In fact, come to think of it, the weather was awful. Maybe it was less than seven days.
It was crazy standing on the boat watching you ride as the horizon kept moving around… those boats were constantly spinning around their anchor point. Did you notice that when you were riding?
When you’re airing a quarter on the one boat it wasn’t actually to bad, but when you’re jumping between the boats you actually have to time it right. They were moving about so much - it was crazy.
Like when you did the backflip to rollercoaster between boats?
Yeah, I didn’t really think of it that way. For that one i was just dropping in straight from pegs and i had a line to guide me off the kicker. I was so focussed on it that I don’t think i was even thinking about it. I don’t think it affected it too much.
What was your first diving experience like?
Absolutely amazing! They put me into the tank in the school first so I got used to the suit pretty quickly. You have to learn about boyancy and breathing. There’s a little button you can press that lets air out of your suit so you sink down, or you can put air back in.
I remember they dropped you down into the loch and soon after you radioed up saying your suit was leaking.
Yeah! So I went into the cage that they lower you down in. One of the guys Kent, he said that no one really gets the chance to go in the cage any more, and that Tom must have a lot of trust in you. I’m there thinking, jeez what a fucking idiot! What’s he trusting me for?! But i think after he saw that i was able to unblock my nose and ears he was ok. That’s a big thing when you’re down that deep. The first time i went down in the cage the mask started leaking so I had to radio and tell them to take me back up.
And what happened with your bike?
Well, the hip down setup that we had was pretty sketchy - I was coming off a ten foot drop with about three foot of track to run out and it felt so squirrely. One time it sent me towards the water so I bailed one way and the bike bailed the other… into the water. Straight away I took my shoes off and dived in after it! (Laughter) But i couldn’t find it. It was must have sunk to the sea bed which was probably 12 - 15 metres deep in that area. We thought we were fucked.
I thought it was deeper?
No but there were areas that were deeper. We asked Kent if it was deep enough to get rid of a body and he just said “Easy”. (Laughter) That’s all he said. We were trying to figure out what to do, so we called Tom up to see if he could send a diver out to look for it. He said to drop an anchor down to where we think it fell in. We ended up not having a rope long enough so we used one of George’s extension leads! Tom then gave us some magnets and attached them to rope for us to try fish my bike out. We probably spent an hour or so trying to get it but we couldn’t find it anywhere. In the end they had to send one of the guys in to dive down and find it for us. He was down there about 40 minutes. My bike was under the water for over 12 hours.
"The first time i went down in the cage the mask started leaking so I had to radio and tell them to take me back up."
- Jason Phelan
Obviously doing projects like these are really stressful and sometimes at the time you wonder why you even started it, but afterwards they’re always worth it. Is this the kind of thing you want to do more of?
Yeah. This is exactly what I want to be doing. I want to keep doing these ideas. I want to really focus on concepts. I have some more creative ideas that I’d love to try. I always think, you can be the best at anything in the world but if you don’t have the creativity to present your skills to fullest, then I don’t think it will work out anyway.
"There have been some really dark times for sure..."
"I didn’t have to film random bike guys; I just cut to the chase and filmed some of the best in the world"