I was on my way from Burbank, California traveling to the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania in my 1996 Ford Ranger. Packed with the essentials, I was on the road and looking to make a long-time dream an actual reality—I was going to shoot with Mat Hoffman. We had talked a few months prior about possibly working on some sort of article together and had put the loose plan in place. I have been shooting and writing in the BMX space for over fifteen years now, so at first it seemed like business as usual, until I had time to think during my drive from the West Coast towards Edmond, Oklahoma. Most people play it down when it comes to talking about someone they simply look up to, or in more serious cases, idolize. It’s that “they are just like us” mentality that most people seem to subscribe to that helps them avoid being let down when actually meeting the person they’ve always looked up to. The thought that their heroes are just like them tends to make people feel closer to being equals with whomever it is they hold in that high regard.
When it comes to Mat Hoffman however, he is unarguably in a category all his own. Myself, along with a majority of the BMX world, would agree that he is wired differently and that his brain legitimately works in ways others’ don’t. His outlook on life has inspired generations of riders across the globe and everyone else appears to be mere mortals in comparison. There is no name more synonymous with BMX than Mat Hoffman. He has put his own body on the line in the name of BMX and single-handedly changed riding as we know it. BMX doesn’t owe anyone anything, but if it did, Mat should be first in line to collect.
I have known Mat on an industry level since 2007 and just like the rest of us I am familiar with who he is and what he’s accomplished; but to be completely real, the weight of it all didn’t hit me until the moment that I got the final confirmation from Mat himself to stop by and make this project a reality. I thought a lot about how, although I’ve “known” him, I have never had the chance to shoot with him one-on-one or to have that opportunity to see him for who he really is within the confines of his own home or to get to see him ride his own ramp in person. I thought about how this was the pinnacle of my career and getting this opportunity as a photographer was not only rare, but coveted. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my personal BMX journey and how I’ve been pursuing a life on two wheels for as long as I can remember. Everything I’ve done within the BMX world had led me here, including every person I’ve met, every project I’ve worked on, and every connection I’ve made in the past twenty-five years or so.
After being on the road for a few days, lost in my own thoughts, anxiously awaiting the word from Mat that it was a go, the text that I had been waiting for finally arrived. Up until that moment, literally hours before showing up to his place, I was wondering if Oklahoma was simply going to turn into a drive-through state as I continued my journey East. I arrived at his house just as the late afternoon light started to get that summertime glow. By that point, aware that the light was fleeting, I knew that I had to get there and stay focused on the original goal. I checked my phone one more time for the gate code he had sent, then slowly followed the long driveway down and pulled up in right in front. Moments later, there I was, being welcomed by Mat Hoffman and within seconds of stepping out of my truck I was getting a tour of his place. I gladly followed him around as he explained each area of the 8,000-square-foot home. As we stood on the roof overlooking his backyard I couldn’t help but think about how rare the opportunity was. More specifically, how so many others shared the same dream as myself of making that personal connection with someone who has always seemed larger-than-life. Here was a guy that I had looked up to since the mid 90’s letting me into that sacred space where he lived, worked, created, and dreamed out of. The main goal was to see what we could squeeze in just a few hours before it would be too dark for him to ride. Given the tight time frame, I knew that I needed to push to make the project a reality, but I also had to give some respect and not just show up camera-in-hand without some time to get familiar with my surroundings. But the next thing I knew, Mat was rolling down the hill straight from the house to his ramp.
I had many ideas running through my head at the time, but the one goal that I had set long before showing up was simply capturing Mat on his own backyard ramp. We have all seen the countless posts on his Instagram during his solo sessions and are all-too-familiar with his ramp—at least from a distance. But at that moment, the distance was non-existent and there I was standing next to Mat himself, sharing deck space with a legend, and watching him go through his almost meditative process before dropping in. He got his pads on, made sure he had the right music selected to get his energy up, and—of course—set up his trusty GoPro (otherwise known as his personal filmer). We had casual conversations about life, family, and riding as we both—in our own ways—prepared for what we were there for. It was at that time that the label of photographer and idol disappeared and we continued on as two people sharing personal stories. I tried my best to quickly set-up my camera gear while crawling up and down the ladder on the side of the ramp and Mat casually took some laps to get his body loose while his dog and riding buddy Shaka soaked up the last bit of warmth from the sun as it started to dip past the horizon.
Here I was working on what would be the type of article I could only dream of, yet there was no specific shot-list that needed to be checked off, no crucial deadline for what we would be creating, and in turn, no pressure. Mat rode well into that dark zone where each run became increasingly difficult to see. Combine that with the pop of the flash at the peak of each trick and it was an easy decision at one point for us to both call it and walk away with what we had. We headed back up to the house and before I knew it, there I was deep in conversation while sipping on a glass of wine poured by the Condor himself. He gladly showed me some of his original paintings and talked about his unique creative process. We looked at some of the new Hoffman Bikes color-ways, as well as Morgan Wade’s signature frame. I soaked up every minute of it for the next few hours while trying to play it cool in the presence of a BMX icon. He treated me like a life-long friend and I sat back as flashes of his incredible list of accomplishments played over and over again in my head. He would speak and I would just get lost in the fact that this was the same person that was credited for redefining vert riding at just fifteen-years-old. This was the same guy that did the first double peg grind down a handrail, the very first flair, and the first 900. The guy that made getting pulled behind a motorcycle facing a terrifying wall of plywood and going higher than any rider ever had seem like a good idea. He has always paved the way, never expecting anything more out of BMX than that feeling he got when he broke new boundaries of possibility. As the evening drew close to midnight, it was time to pack up my gear, say my goodbyes, and continue my cross-country drive. And that was that. I was back on the road into the night with not only the memories I’ll carry with me forever and the photographs I shot, but more importantly, with the validation that the reward of meeting your heroes unquestionably outweighs the risk.