Spectrum: Darryl Tocco and James Steele
Two riders who have BMX in control, in very different ways...
Photos and Interview by Andrew White
I honestly knew almost nothing about James Steele when I walked into the Kink apartment in Barcelona. I usually do my due diligence with unfamiliar names before I go on trips, but a combination of a week spent already on the road and the trust I have for TM Jay Roe in cultivating a good team, I really just didn’t get around to it.
The first three days James didn’t call anything out to film. I chalked it up to our long nights due to North American sleep schedules, and maybe we just didn’t come across setups that appealed to him. The fourth day I began questioning what was going on. When riders are on trips there’s an overtone of obligation to justify their plane ticket. Right off the bat it was apparent that he was everyone’s best friend, the dude who continually says funny shit with sprinklings of a Canadian accent that always caught us off guard and multiplied the hilarity. He was cool as hell, definitely no ego to deal with here, was up for grabbing coffee in the morning, as well as last as long as anyone in the evening. But he wasn’t riding much the first couple days.
Then I connected some dots. Kink didn’t fly him out to Spain. He bought his own ticket out of wanting to chill with his best friends in one of the best riding cities in the world, which he could afford because he owns a drywall company back in Vancouver. Instead of doing the sponsored BMX minimalist route (read: broke) and carrying a BMX-owes-me mentality, he went to work. His small jobs turned into larger ones, and now here he was in Spain, waking up at 4 in the morning some days in order to run his men back home on multiple job sites.
I’m always impressed with guys like this. BMX is their passion, their escape, and they’ve figured out how to work outside of the industry in order to craft a life where they have time and financial freedom to pursue riding. That’s awesome.
Darryl Tocco handles his shit too, and has made BMX work for him. In his instance by doubling down pro rider and pro filmer paychecks. Both James and Darryl have separate paths in that regard, yet their divergent paths brought them to the same destination in the fall of 2014. When culling the photos from the trip, I thought a threeway discussion between James, Darryl and me would be interesting. With no objectives for the conversation, we all joined in on a Skype call:
Did you grow up riding with John Heaton in Eastern Canada?
JS: Yeah, I wouldn’t say we grew up together, but I grew up looking up to him and seeing him at the skatepark all the time and eventually became buddies.
He was the dude in your area?
JS: He was the guy in town, yeah.
So you moved to Vancouver eventually?
JS: Yeah, and he was in Vancouver too so we got to hang here more than originally when I was in Ontario. Then he moved back and I did as well, so we rode together a ton.
Have you solely ridden at one point?
JS: I've never really solely ridden, made money of of it. That’s for sure. But I’ve always been able to work jobs which would allow me to get away essentially to go on trips. I kind of started my own company in hopes of it being relaxed and me being able to leave when I wanted for how long I wanted. It still works, but is becoming more difficult as time goes on, but I can basically go on trips with Kink and my work schedule allows that to happen. It’s set up pretty well for me.
I don’t really mind BMX taking up 100% of my life.
James how old are you now?
I’m 27 as well.
JS: Darryl’s the old dude. I think Darryl’s 36 or 37?
Still rides a gyro.
JS: The guy’s only got two pegs! Only one of them plastic.
DT: And a fucking cassette.
Do you have to scrounge the back rooms of mail orders to find parts Darryl?
JS: ‘I need a medium length gyro cable.’
‘I need a Thompson post.’ Imagine flying with bikes ten years ago.
DT: Dude, no.
I can do my bike with a 6 mil hex and 17. It’s perfect.
JS: Fuckin flying around with a spot welder to get your bike together and shit.
DT: Don’t fucking talk shit on my setup alright.
JS: Darryl’s bike always feels like shit.
DT: That’s not true!
JS: It’s not not fucking true! Darryl’s got three grips on his bike at all times. Two on one and one on the other.
Your bike always feels dialed but I feel like my back is parallel to the ground when I’m on it.
DT: Definitely a small bike. Fuck you James. [laughs]
So Darryl, you’re surviving off of BMX between pro riding and video? You’re maybe the only person who gets a pro rider paycheck and then pro filmer check?
DT: Uh, I don’t know about that. I feel like there's a couple guys like Christian. I don’t know what his deal is but I think Miles probably has a similar type of setup. But yeah, I’m 24 hours BMX usually.
James has his professional life outside of BMX, and BMX is his escape, do you ever feel too insular with BMX? Your instagram is all BMX and you have to work with BMX, do you ever feel like you need to go to a record store and not talk to people who have any idea of bikes? Or do you love and it’s completely perfect?
DT: One of the things I do is going to shows. It’s the one thing that kind of separates it. Other than that it’s just hanging at the bar but when I’m going to the bar I’m usually talking BMX to somebody.
Cause you live in Austin.
DT: Exactly. I don’t really mind BMX taking up 100% of my life. It’s been like that for a while, it’s pretty dialed.
How many years have you been doing this?
DT: I’ve been riding for Kink for 7 or 8 years, and I guess about a year or two afterwards was when they started asking me to film stuff, so I guess it’s been pretty non stop since then.
Was Insight before getting on Kink?
DT: Yeah, Navaz asked me to do Insight right after I got on Kink cause it would help him to pay for plane tickets and stuff like that.
There’s the whole falling asleep on the toilet and Doyle finding me there. That was kind of embarrassing. Of all people you know?
Was there ever a time when you were at a crossroads where you could either double down and push riding? Or push filming? Or has it always worked in tandem really well. I’ve talked to Christian once, I asked him to come on a trip where he’d be a filmer only, and said no way. He’d be too bummed looking at setups and not being able to ride.
DT: I think that’s really cool. I think that also has to do with the type of rider he is. He’s gonna be in the fucking zone, warm, I mean he could actually fucking kill himself. My type of riding is a little more, I guess, I don’t know if calculated is the right word. I’m not as dangerous as Christian is. I feel like it’s easier for me to do both on trips.
Was that a conscious decision to mold your riding to where it is now where it’s not as dangerous, you do what you’re gonna do and get clips and photos, but you’re not snapping ankles.
JS: Darryl snaps ankles man.
DT: [laughs] Yeah I mean I’ve had a couple of injuries in the past couple of years.
Oh shit yeah you did break your ankle!
JS: Three times in a row.
DT: Yeah I broke my foot, then broke my ankle right after that. It definitely creates problems, you have the team depending on you, and the brand as a whole. But I’ve been pretty fortunate over the years. It was never a conscious decision riding a certain way, I’ve always ridden the same way. I’ve just been really lucky over the years.
JS: Plus you get to go on trips from time to time where you’re not filming at all. You get to separate it when you go on eclat trips or the occasional Kink trip where you’re not expected to be working like that all the time.
DT: Yeah doing that shop tour was dope cause we had Krejmas so I was chilling.
JS: Yeah that happens every now and again. You did that Vancouver trip where somebody else was filming and you’re not expected to do that kind of shit. It lets you just ride.
DT: Yeah those are great. Riding around without a bag is the best shit ever.
I wouldn’t know.
Your situation James is really sustainable. Drywall isn’t going anywhere. How'd you get in to it?
JS: I’ve always worked like when I was a kid I worked for a company that did demolition. We took it apart, then eventually I got into hanging it up and working for a bunch of retards that I couldn't stand to be around. One thing led to another and I started doing side jobs, then they needed to be legit jobs, then the next thing you know it’s a company. It’s kind of weird, things just progress and then you’re selling thousands of sheets of drywall hanging it and slaving away and getting mad at people. It’s weird.
And having shitty partners?
JS: Yeah, you gotta deal with shitheads and people’s problems all the time.
Can you describe, if you were to melt all of your employees to one human, how would you describe that person.
JS: Oh! Um.
DT: ‘James.’ [laughs]
JS: They would have the alcoholism that I do, but they would be way less reliable. I don’t know, I would think to melt them down to one would be just a shithead.
JS: Somewhat good at their job, but messy. I don’t know, it’s tough. That’s a tough thing to say. They’re all so different, and one of them rides so I don’t really want to shit on em too much cause he might read this.
Do you ever see other riders out there doing it and they’re getting by, in quotes getting by, but the reality a pro would get a couple hundred bucks a month and then somehow live off that.
JS: Yeah I don’t understand that.
But they’re going on dope trips, they’re riding 24/7. Is there any part of you who wishes could do that?
JS: I mean, I’ve kind of set myself up, I’ve given myself the approach where I’m cool and able to do this. I probably spend the past three years I’m on the road two months out of the year hanging with the guys. I’m able to do that which is nice for me, I’m cool with it. But obviously when I was younger it would have been nice to maybe do that maybe a little big for a year or two. I’ve got things that I want. I want a truck, and I want to have my own apartment and stuff like that so that wouldn’t have really worked out for me for too long I think.
How often do you ride? You say you travel two months. That’s more than most riders.
JS: Maybe a month and a half or two months I’ll go down to Austin, I’m definitely away from home quite a bit.
DT: James keeps himself involved.
JS: I’m in the mix you know?
DT: He’s in the mix [laughs]. We like him like that.
JS: Normally Darryl and Jay with somebody else for the past three summers have bean in Vancouver for a week and a half or two weeks. There’s lots of people who crash at my place, like Sean was just down here with Walter and the guys for Odyssey. When they come in town I may as well be on a trip cause it’s showing people around full time sort of thing.
What’s it like showing dudes around, Sexton was saying you’d wake up at 5 to work, then meeting the guys at 3 to ride most of the day when that’s when they’re just starting off. Then fall asleep on the chair with a beer in hand.
JS: Well, that happens even if people aren’t in town.
JS: I’m able to plan my days and weeks out where I can be done working whenever I wanna be essentially. I can take as much work or as little as I want. I’m able to be done at 12 and back at the house when all the guys are just getting up and grabbing breakfast, then ride the rest of the day. During the week if nobodys here I really probably only ride after work maybe an hour or hour and a half at the skatepark a couple times a week and then on the weekends I’ll go out and actually rider. But it’s not like I’m out there for six hours a day.
Not like Darryl at house park.
JS: Yeah exactly! I don't’ know, how often do you ride Darryl? You don’t ride everyday do you?
DT: Yeah. I’m probably not in the streets everyday but I’m riding every day.
On your bike every day though? Riding or filming?
DT: Yeah if I’m here I’m riding every day. I'm not filming every day while I’m here. I probably ride street four times a week. But definitely at the park at least for a little bit almost every day.
Does James’ acute sense of Canadian humor keep him around more?
DT: No. We've always had vibed really well with James over the years. He’s one of our best friends.
What’s the best James story?
JS: C’mon dude.
DT: Oh, what comes to mind James? When James came around I didn’t meet him at first. I think Jay and Tony and the Rochester dudes met him. And they kept saying he was the Canadian me.
In what way?
DT: No not riding, just the amount that he drank.
JS: [laughs] I think it was mostly drinking. Darryl and I get along when it comes to the hangout session.
DT: I guess I was in Rochester and James came to town and him and Tom fought for 25 minutes. Drunken wrestling, fighting. It was fucking retarded.
JS: It was pretty retarded.
You made an impression.
DT: Yeah I liked it.
JS: Bear in mind I was 19, so, you know. This didn’t happen two weeks ago. I’m a little more responsible now.
DT: It’s one of those had-to-be-there stories. You got anything James?
JS: For you?
DT: No for you.
JS: Oh I don’t know man. There’s the whole falling asleep on the toilet and Doyle finding me there. That was kind of embarrassing. Of all people you know?
DT: [laughs] The clean cut dude.
James were you pumped on the photos we shot for this interview?
JS: Oh yeah. At this point of going on trips and shooting photos I don’t go on a trip with a preconceived- I’m happy to get anything with a trip I go on. Even if it’s one or two things.
You didn’t ride the first three days cause you were hungover it seemed. Then you fired out these manly grind things.
JS: Well the thing about it is, especially when I go on a trip in the winter I probably haven't ridden for a couple weeks prior. So the first couple of weeks you’re just getting into the swing of things. At the tail end you get a bit more comfortable. When you go on a trip you’re just lucky you don’t die the first couple days.
You paid your own ticket so it’s not like there’s pressure.
JS: Exactly. It’s a vacation for me with my buddies. I’m getting away from my work and stuff like that. I understand for a lot of guys it’s pretty serious for them to get stuff so I appreciate that and understand it. But for me it’s a little more relaxed. If I get anything I’m excited to get one photo and hanging out with the guys.
Your stuff was good. I didn’t know what to expect before this trip but I was really psyched with what we shot.
JS: You should see me drywall.
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