If you ride and are from Texas then you know Mark Dandridge AKA Rad Dad. Mark is by far the most positive man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is well respected for what he does with his website and his great attitude towards life and whatever is in front of him. He is definitely a “Glass is half full” type of man. It is my privilege to have him as this week’s interview. He has mentored me in my video making skills and is an inspiration on his bike for me also. Dive into the life of Rad Dad, Mark Dandridge and enjoy.
TF: When did you start riding and how long did you ride before you quit and was it always Flatland only?
MD: I started riding in 1986 after seeing the movie Rad. I rented the VHS hoping to see skateboarding. I didn’t even own a bmx bike at that time. I went to our local bmx shop. It was called Fernandez BMX and I bought a Mongoose FS1. I learned many tricks on that bike. I stopped riding around 1992 after my son was born. I always wanted to ride a ramp growing up but I was not around anything close to that. When I had a opportunity many years ago I looked at it and was like no way! I am sticking to the ground.
TF: What was the reason for quitting back then?
MD: It wasn’t like I said I am stopping but I wasn’t riding anymore.There was no real reason that I quit riding. I was in busy in the field and always away serving our country.
TF: You were in the military, thank you for your service by the way, what year did you go into the service and what branch?
MD: I was in the Army from 87-95. Most of my riding was done before I went into the military. I purchased a GT Pro Freestyle in 87. I took it with me to Korea and rode just a tiny bit after Desert Storm. I met a guy that rode flatland and I loaned him my 101 Freestyle Tricks. He could do whiplashes and that blew my mind. I wish I could remember his name. I am still friends with a few people that knew me back then. They are still in the Army! Thank you Luke Legg III and Leewayne Scarborough for your dedicated service!
TF: What year did you return to BMX and what was the motivation for doing so?
MD: I returned to riding Flatland in 2003. I was turning 36 and my son Caleb was wanting to learn to ride a skateboard. I purchased a board for him and myself and was teaching him to ride. I started reflecting on my days of riding flat and thought it would be great to do some old tricks again. I bought a GT Comp from a sports store for my 36 birthday. I spent a total of 1 hour on the bike and decided I was to old to ride a bike anymore. I took the bike back and got my money. Since I couldn’t ride anymore I decided to watch a movie that had BMX in it. It was Keep Your Eyes Open . Mat Hoffman was in this and just about died doing a 50 plus foot jump. I said to myself that I didn’t even get hurt and I gave up. So a few days later I went back and bought that same bike I returned and started learning all over again. In fact you took the photo of myself and Mat when I was able to share that story with him!
TF: How did you get the nickname “Rad Dad”? Was this about the same time that you started http://www.bmxfreestyler.com?
MD: When my son was 10 he got into YoYo’s I purchased him one and I bought one for myself. We bought a video to show us what to do. I got really good and throwing that yoyo and my email and website at the time was yomarkyo. In 2003 I started to visit BMX sites. The first one was BITD BMX created by Gregg Strike. I needed a ID name. I think I picked Radbmx. I was told about VintageBMX and I wanted to change my ID and I thought about it like this. I got in to BMX because of the movie Rad. I got into it again because of me being a DAD. I was like Raddad but there were other raddads’ so I threw on my year of birth 67. raddad67 became my ID for all bmx sites. I was doing interviews and putting bmx stuff on yomarkyo.com but I ran out of band width. It was growing fast everyday. I wanted www.bmxfreestyle.com but that was already taken. SO I threw a R and bmxfreestyler.com was born in 2004.
TF: You and I had gone to JOMO and there you rode Vet and Intermediate. That night we all went to dinner where you received a standing ovation from your friends. How did that feel knowing that your friends had that much respect for you as a person and a rider?
MD: That moment was like a slice of heaven. I remember that moment and feeling was so incredible. Damon Sampy filmed that moment for me. It was so surreal and I am very appreciative. It blows me away that you remember that moment too!
You Tube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9waxliohDA
TF: Can you give us a run down of past and present sponsors?
JY: My first was Hutch in the 80’s that ended when they went out of business next was when I arrived in Austin in 92 and worked at Trend and rode for them and Homeless (the Trash days ) this time around empire have been a huge support.
TF: Besides Same thing Daily, what videos have you been in and how long has it been?
JY: I was lucky enough to land in Austin just at the right time to get a part in Homeless Trash That was the last video part I had. Trend did a flatland video that I had some clips in too.
TF: You are the first to pull a double foot jam decade and now are doing Christmas tree decades brakeless. Do you see yourself turning pro?
JY: My pro days are long gone. When I started riding again I embraced the brakeless thing head on & wanted to take the tricks I loved (decades) put my own twist on them and pull them brakeless. I think I achieved most of that goal but that is hard to pull in contests.
TF: How did your part in Same thing Daily come to be?
JY: Dane rode into the OG on the Friday night session during Texas Toast 2 years ago when there was about 150 riders there and said “do you want to be in STD3” I said “yes please” and that was it.
TF: Any last words?
JY: Yes thanks Andy for asking me to do the interview.
I busted my ass “literally” to make this section. I knew who else was in it and didn’t want to disappoint everyone. I really hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did making it. Hope to see everyone at empire on the 17th.
I remember seeing this short Mexican kid ride back in the ’80s and kill it. He was fast, technical, smooth and down right amazing on a bike. This rider is Ruben Rdog Castillo III. I remember going to Mat Hoffman’s first contest in 1992 in Dallas and seeing Ruben there judging the flat contest. Needless to say I was nervous as hell. So nervous in fact that I would break my ankle this day. That wasn’t because of him though. Later I saw him in a weird Trend video. The only thing I remember was him at the end with James Shepard trying to buy food. Him saying “How about I trade you a funk pelt sticker?” still resonates in my mind. Another thing I remember about him was in an interview where he said he wanted to “Survive a gun shot wound.” I don’t think he has ever been shot but this is all I can think of for his intro for his interview. Thank you Ruben being a part of my early life on my little kids bike.
TF: You, like Eric Evans are one of the original Texas Flatlanders. What year did you start and how old were you?
RC: Me and my brother in the early ‘80s started BMXing in Del Rio. I think I was 8 or 9 with a Schwinn Predator.
TF: Your brother Robert also rode too. Is he the reason you started? I ask this because my brother was my inspiration to ride when I was younger.
RC: Yes my brother had always been one of my BMX inspirations always and forever. I have always looked up to Robert. He’s a bad MoFo.
TF: Is it safe to say that you and Robert, even though both still ride, are like night and day as far as your styles?
RC: It’s funny you ask about that, our styles being like night and day. A funny story about that is one day at dinnertime we were chilling with my mom and dad. We were younger and had just barely started with the AFA. And he was telling my mom and dad that I was doing all of his tricks and that I made him mad.
TF: How did the relationship with Trend Bike Source come up after riding for the bigger companies like GT/Dyno?
RC: I had moved to Austin in ’86, I went to Lanier High School and there were a lot of guys that rode around there. My dad wound up working in Georgetown so we moved to North Austin off 183. I had gone to school with these two flatlanders named Wayne Stacey and Benard Amberlin. They were hooked up with Trend Bike Source, the mail order place. Back then it was run out of Tina Miller’s mom’s garage. We had gone over there a couple of times and they had parts and stuff so it was pretty cool. They were hooked up and sponsored by them and worked with Tina. Then they moved to Jollyville Rd and thats where I started working with them. I would go to school half the day and then there to work after from 12 on. We had street ramps in the back and I even got school credit for that too. It was a really cool job. Now they are EmpireBMX, the biggest gang in the world. I’m really proud of them. They are awesome. They are sticking with it and they are succeeding.
TF: It seems like for a while in the ‘90s you had disappeared, I had heard rumors that you moved to California, Would you care to enlighten us on what had actually happened?
RC: What can I say about the ‘90s? Homeless tour with Wilkerson Airlines, I rode for Homeless for a few years… I quit that. I went and did shows with my brother in ’93. That went wild in Dallas. My homey Kevin Gutierrez, we were lucky enough to do shows with Jeff Phillips, Rest In Peace Homey. Very missed and loved. That next summer in ‘94 we got booked in Las Vegas. Thats where Woody Itson was touring through and saw our show. My brother got hired to do shows for GT so that hooked us all back up with GT doing shows. At the end of ’95 into ’96 we moved from Austin to Huntington Beach California. We were totally lucky to live right by the beach. Totally rad spot to ride. A lot of flatlanders, Flatland Fugitives were here. There were so many of those guys too. Plenty of guys to ride with. I definitely rode hard core with Dylan Worsley, Chase Gouin, Nate Hanson, Leo Dumlao, Gabe Weede, Andrew Arroyo, Day Smith, Jesse Puente, Edgar Placencia, Sean White… There were so many bad asses. It made me jump right back into flatland. I was very stoked when ’97 came around and GT made a bike for me. That was aluminum and lighter.
By ’99 I had moved back to Austin, and lived with my lady downtown. I found EZ Chris had got back into riding again so I had a homey to ride with. From day one and still now.
TF: You were like me, you rode everything. You didn’t limit yourself to one discipline. Is that what you are still doing today or have you focused your riding to flat only?
RC: Yeah right now I’m only riding flat because I only want to concentrate on one thing. Lately flatland has been what is feeding me so that’s all I’m going to ride. I’m having a lot of fun. I still like my street bike, I still like to hit a trannie here and there but right now it’s strictly hardcore flat.
TF: You entered pro up until a few years ago, Last year you moved to the veteran class. You and I spoke about it at Voodoo and I completely understand your reason. I have also come to terms that as long as you ride in vet that I will never have a chance at a first place finish, haha. The reason I bring this up is lately some riders feel the need to criticize people changing classes. You don’t have to defend yourself, but is there anything you would like to say about this or your reason for doing this?
RC: I’ve ridden pro but I think I’ve gotten last a lot. I never really considered myself to be a contending pro, I just always done it since 16 yrs old. I’ve been making money doing it. I like battling the vets. When you get to my age you want to battle the best of your age you know? That’s where I’ve been calling it. I think it’s awesome to have a Vet class. I’m hoping more 40 yr olds will come out and try to take Rdog out. Yeah I’m winning and some may say I’m sand bagging, but I don’t think so. If I entered pro then I’d be going up against Ucchie and Mathias and there’s no way I’m going to compete with that.
TF: It seems that since Voodoo your riding has improved and that you’re on fire. Maybe that is just a wrong observation, but you haven’t lost yet since the change. I asked other riders if they get burnt out and how do they handle it. Did you get burnt out or hit a rut and if so how do you combat this?
RC: The feeling will never get old, pulling a trick in front of your homeys and at a flat contest. That’s the biggest “Ahh” and “Ohhh” you can get out of flatland. Working on a move and finally overcoming it. Mind over matter. Yeah it’s still fun. I’m going on 4 decades of riding flat. I’ve been in and out. It’s a Love/Hate type of thing. You go through all these different types of learning spurts, humps to go over. But if you stick with it you’re going to get through it. It’s amazing what we can make ourselves learn on flat. Yes I’m trying to keep the fire lit for our generation. I believe there are a lot of guys in there 40’s that are still Jam Master Jays on their bikes. There are so many killers out there. I want more guys to join me in the vet class. It’s all about the gathering and supporting our sport, making flat cool.
TF: I’m a people watcher type of person. I often wonder what riders do off their bike. What is their life like? What is a day in the life of Ruben Castillo?
RC: I wake up at 5 in the morning, clock in by 6 at UT. Cut and clean up LBJ museum. It’s a beautiful area I take care of. I love my job. I’m out of there by 2:30, hook up with EZ Chris and go down to the pavilion. Have a little hour and a half to two hour sesh. I’ve been enjoying that majorly lately. Me and EZ have been getting on it. Come home about 5-5:30 and hang with my little boy who is 2. Then I hang out with my lady, eat dinner, watch the telly and then I’m down before 9. And then do it again.
TF: Ruben you have always been a Texas Icon and a charismatic and entertaining rider. You have a style that is your own and you deserve every thing positive in your life. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Is there anything you would like to say to end this?
RC: Hey Andrew, I appreciate the interview. I like everything you’re doing; keeping the Texas pride thing going with the flatlanders. I think that we need more people like you that keep the awareness going. I appreciate it. I love flatland. It’s like the only thing I’ve ever known or thats ever brought me joy. I hope people like reading this. Support your local events and try to get your little ones into the sport. I believe flat rules and will always. Later homey.
TF: You have been out of the Freestyle scene since around 1990, give or take.What happened for you to stop at such a young age?
ERIC: I think it boils down to liking too many different cool things and timing. Also the fact that I was a kid and riding was like a full time job. Things I love: BMX, skating, 2 Cycle Go Kart racing wake boarding and wake skating. In fact 1990 is when BMX faded for me. The scene faded quick here in Corpus. CW REVCORE and alot of other companies started fading away in cluding our bike shop Evans Bros. Bike and skate. We ended up building an indoor skatepark and soon enough I was skating constantly and got sponsered by Bad Boy Club when I was 11, so I committed mostly to skating while bmx continued to fizzle.
TF: How old were you when you did quit?
ERIC: 13 was when I quit totally. Although I did a little bit of BMX racing when I was 14 and 15. Mostly just so I could do some dirt jumping after the races. Didnt really like racing that much. But racing is what started everything for me when I was 3. When I was 4 and 5, I was co sponsered by Redline. That was pretty cool I guess.
TF: Did you keep up with Freestyle during those years away?
ERIC: To be honest I quit paying attention to Freestyle for along time. I think back in year 2000 I started noticing that Dave Mirra and a lot of the same dudes like Dennis McCoy and others were still doing it. I even saw Eben Krackau on TV one time and I thought that was crazy. So every now and then I would check up on whats going on. At that point I felt like a come back would be near impossible at the level of riding I was witnessing.
TF: Did you keep in touch with any of the other riders during this time?
ERIC: What is funny about what made me wanna ride again is that it was Facebook. I had no clue that there was so many old school riders still riding. One rider that I always looked up to, especially, was still riding. That would be Ruben. When I saw him at 2013 Texas Round Up I knew I found my hobby again.
TF: What made you return to riding?
ERIC: Its been awesome to be able to talk to all the riders on Facebook and always know what new stuff they are pulling off. Now days I am a fan more than a rider. I’m a novice rider in this new era. And thats fine with me. I post silly videos of simple tricks and I do that not to impress obviously. But to let people know I am at least trying and having fun. (THIS IS INCORRECT. ERIC POSTS VIDEOS OF HIM DOING XEROX MACHINES AND CROSS FOOTED SURFER VARIATIONS. DO NOT LET HIS HUMBLENESS FOOL YOU)
TF: How did the reception from other riders feel when you came back?
ERIC: The reception of reacquainting with all the riders on facebook has stunned me to even think they remembered me. Everybody has been so cool and some of them even show me pics I have never seen of me before. It’s awesome to have those things and at least be remembered. Sometimes I think they remember the chicken song more than they remember me. Haha
TF: I met you originally in 1988 in Austin at the KOV contest. I thought you were a snobby brat kid. Haha. Being that you were so young and so good on a bike do you ever regret walking away from it or do you think that it was better to have done so to not burn out and wind up hating BMX.
ERIC: I didnt regret quitting until I started riding again last year. I realized I wasted 25 years not riding. I dont handle this well sometimes. I beat myself up about that from time to time. Lol. I was kinda snobby wasn’t I? Haha. I was so spoiled that I didn’t even know that I was snobby. I think I was mostly shy and people thought I wouldn’t talk to them. I’m far from a snob now days. Lol.
TF: You have no one in Corpus to ride with, that being said this next weekend Texas riders from all over are coming to ride with you. What are your thoughts on this and how does it feel to know that in our little world of BMX Freestyle, you are one of the original Texas legends?
ERIC: Next weekend is gonna be awesome. I hope we get a good turn out. I know I will be lucky to even get 10 riders here but it will still be wonderful with five. I am very lucky to have people that I look up to actually come all the way here and hang with me. So awesome. I do have a couple of favorites that ride down here. They are street riders, but none the less they are killer riders. They might join us.
TF: Eric it is a pleasure to finally know you. It is refreshing to see you get on a bike and know the talent still runs through your veins every time you post another video of you pulling something new or old difficult trick. Do you have any last words for us?
ERIC: Keep on riding. At any level you ride you will still be respected because flatlanders give more respect than any other people I know. Everyone have a great day!! I guess that’s it.
In 1988 I had just started riding. I had heard of this guy named Charley Hawkins that was my age that also rode in Alvin where I lived. From the moment I met him I was impressed with his riding. I will admit that I was a bit envious of him because he was so good. He had a great attitude and was determined to excel in every avenue of his life. Fast forward 27 years and here I sit typing an intro to an interview for the person that has been my best friend and inspiration in life. I knew much of his life already, but he opened up more to me here. This is a great read. Please enjoy this as much as I did.
TF– You started in ’87-’88, grew up in a small town outside of Alvin called Amsterdam, practiced on a curved slanted 2 lane road. It is safe to say that even though you were very good very fast that you did have a disadvantage because of where you practiced?
CH– At the time I never had the view that it was a disadvantage. I didn’t really think about what others had that I didn’t. I was just focused on exercising my passion for riding. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 7 or 8. Plus with us being shrimpers, I lived on a house boat completely unattached to land 7 months out of the year. But by the time I was 11 or so I was doing wheelies for blocks, no hand one foot endos and had trails through the woods with dirt jumps. I had no idea what “freestyle” was. Then by ’87 or so I saw the movie “RAD”. Crü rode in a similar environment that I did. I was riding a Mongoose California Pro with no brakes or pegs. I learned tail whips and infinity rolls that weekend. Looking back getting started was an uphill challenge (pun intended) – lol
TF– Back then you were a “Freestyler.” You rode everything. What injuries did you have when you first started?
CH– After watching RAD I was really drawn to flatland but I rode everything. I would lay a sheet of plywood on anything to make a jump. Plus dump trucks would leave piles of dirt and asphalt around that made good doubles. But there were a few skaters in town. We built a half pipe 6 to 8 feet. I was buying my own bikes and didn’t invest in safety as I should have. My biggest down fall with half pipes was that I progressed too quickly and wasn’t scared. Within a few months I was catching air forward, ally oop style and doing fakies (regular and to reverse nose wheelie down the ramp. By this time I had a real freestyle bike with brakes. But my front brake cable broke. We lived far enough from the nearest town with stores that we only went every couple of weeks or so. I wasn’t going to wait for a brake cable so I was doing fakies to reverse nose wheelies brakeless. Until I looped forward on one. I went straight over the bars to mouth. I stood up and my right front tooth was stuck in the plywood like a nail. Root and all.
TF– What what happened with your arm injury? (Tell story of how your parents found out and why you were reluctant to tell them about this injury.)
CH- So my parents never discouraged me from riding until that point. They said, you can do the ground tricks but stay away from the ramp thing. We never had insurance so taking me to the dentist was not only the first time I had ever been, but wasn’t really in our survival budget either. So what did I do the following weekend.? I rode the half pipe. I wasn’t a problem child at all but when it came to anything I was obsessed about like riding if you tried to stop me I just saw you as a set of doubles and I would jump right over you.
So I had worked the first half of the day and rode the rest of the day. I don’t think I ate much that day either. I got dizzy riding the half pipe . I went for a ally oop air and got more air than usual and drifted backwards farther than usual. I totally miss the ramp coming in. I went from 12 feet to grass, landing on my shoulder. I pulled the shoulder out of socket and broke the ball off of the bone. I guess I was in shock and scared of going home. But I didn’t realize how bad I was hurt. I stayed around for an hour watching others skate until dark. When I tried to get on my bike I had to use my good arm to lift up my hand to grab onto my t shirt to hold my arm up.
When I got home my parents where going to the nearest town to eat out. I undressed, took a shower and got dressed in that condition. My dad noticed that my shirt buttons where all off by 2 or 3 buttons. He slapped me on the shoulder as he was saying to fix my shirt. I screamed bloody murder. He opened my shirt and saw that I didn’t have a shoulder. He was worried and cussing at the same time because he knew how I did it without asking. So we are off to the emergency room with no insurance or money for that matter. To add insult to injury, he had put armor all on the seats in our car. While speeding through the winding rode leaving my house I slide across the seat a hit my arm on the car door.
As I’m writing this I’m realizing how obsessed and focused I was. My arm was in a sling and I had a pin that went through my arm bone into the ball to hold them together. The pin stuck out of my arm about an inch. I learned squeakers standing on the peg with my arm in the sling. I also learned a couple of basic skate board tricks also. After a couple of months I was slowly getting my arm back. My brother saw a picture of Scotty Freeman I believe doing a bar ride in a magazine. He said “You are really good but you will never be able to do that” Like any redneck kid would, I understood that to be a challenge. And it wouldn’t require a lot of arm strength. So that’s what I learned next.
TF– Once you healed up, you exploded. You were progressing so quickly even though your schedule was full everyday with other responsibilities. To this day I still use you as my main example of hard work paying off to my children. Can you give us a rundown of what your day was when we were in high school?
CH- Let me cover my work ethic a little before I explain that. My parents, brother, sister and I all helped run the business. I was docking our customers boats, greeting them, filling orders and making change by the time I was 8 yrs old. At 12, I had built a boat and bought a small motor with my own money. We didn’t get paid to work on the family business, so I ran crab traps and sold crabs to my dad’s customers. Those customers had weekend homes near where we lived. During the times that I was on land I mowed their lawns. I paid for my own clothes, bikes & parts and purchased my truck.
I guess let me pause to say that even though I worked hard and 7 months out of the year didn’t have electricity or running water – I had a great childhood. I watched the sun rise and set over the open bay everyday. Went fishing and swimming any time I wanted to. And had all you can eat freshly caught seafood. It may also be note worthy that in the beginning I Knee boarded behind a boat as much as I rode. I could do 180s and 360s on the water and in the air while jumping wave to wave. Plus so we other rad tricks.
During high school, class took up the first half of the day. After school I would mow a couple of lawns. Then head to work at a full service gas station. We did oil changes, flat repair etc. My shift was from 2pm to 9pm. I learned to do my job very efficiently so I could do my homework during downtime. I was an A-B honor student. Then after 9 I headed next door to the parking lot and rode 2 or 3 hours and headed home to do it again. On the weekends after work I usually rode a while longer. This schedule carried on half way through college as well.
TF– You put yourself through college. You busted your butt and are extremely successful. What is your profession?
CH– I was the first in our family to go to college. And yes I paid my own way. I graduated with a degree in financial management with a 3.75 GPA.
I help people plan, save and invest for their long term goals. The most common goals are college and retirement.
TF– What happened in high school that would come back to haunt you later in life that forced your having to quit riding?
CH– On my way home from prom, I was rear ended by a drunk driver. I was going 50 mph and he was going 85 or more and ran straight into me. It put a curve in my spin and in my neck.
TF– Could having to quit riding have been prevented or was it inevitable?
CH– Was it preventable? Accidents happen I guess but if I had known too keep getting it treated long term that would have helped. I would have problems with my back and neck about every 5 years until age 30. Then it was once a year until 35. Then it was constant. And if I couldn’t ride at my highest level, I didn’t want to ride at all. My stiff tight painful back was limiting my riding even before I realized it.
TF– In the 27 yrs I have been riding I have seen friends and other riders that loved BMX be forced to quit and it really affect them. One is even rumored to have committed suicide. With the level you were at and the passion you have for BMX, what did you do to fill the void?
CH– Nothing could fill the void of riding. The time was easy to fill but not the satisfaction. I stayed busy with work and family. Plus regular exercise to stay in shape to try to help my back recover. To help deal with and avoid the sadness I went back to where I came from. With my dad’s help on the labor part of it we rebuilt a boat and I bought a house boat. We spent Friday night thru Sunday night on the boats and I started fishing more again.
TF– There is never a time that while myself and friends ride that your name does not come up. Always a comment like, “I want to do this thing Charley did…” or “So and so just dropped an edit with this trick… Charley did that 10 yrs ago!” My question is do you realize that you were so ahead of your time and to this day some of your stuff still isn’t being done?
CH– I never even thought of being ahead of my time until you and a few others have mentioned it. Although I have always tried to have some original style to my riding and I would stay away from tricks that everyone one was doing. There where a few times that I thought of and learned a trick or combo and then I would see a well known pro doing it in a video. There is no way we where copying each other. Great minds think alike I guess. I guess so though maybe. I learned back spins to foot jam decade 10 years ago and that still seems relevant today. I can’t wait to get them back down.
I always tried to progress with the sport. I had a pretty good vision of where it was going next. I went brakeless in 1998. Cold turkey.
TF– You have recently begun riding again, but this time your mindset is different. Care to explain?
CH– My mindset has to be different. I basically haven’t ridden in 5 years. Other times I tried to, I jumped back in hardcore and hurt my back. At this point preservation and longevity is the goal. I used to have a goal of riding a certain amount of hours. Maintained certain tricks and a plan of when and what I would learn next. This is the hardest thing I’ve done on riding. No goals. I ride and have fun doing it and just have to let things come when they are ready. If I can’t pull something I can’t work on it until I pull it. I have to move on and wait until it happens in a later ride. But I think after a few months I will have my tricks and combos from when I rode last. I want to maintain and modernize them as I can. I’m not even thinking of competing. I don’t want any pressure on my riding. It’s my therapy. I have been riding 1 hour, 3 times a week for 3 weeks now. I’m somewhat surprised what has come back already with just a little riding.
TF– Charley, you are a successful in your profession. A great husband and father. You are my oldest and best friend. You are a legend in our little sport of flatland. Thank you for taking time to talk to Texas Flatlanders. It’s inspiring to see you back on your bike. Do you have any final words for us?
CH– Hmmm. Closing words for the interview. 1. Create goals that are important to you. 2. Create a plan to achieve those goals. 3. Exercise the habits needed to achieve those goals on a daily basis.
In 1998 I went to the George R Brown convention center in Houston to see a BMX show. The first person I met was Art Thomason. He was such a cool guy that made me feel like I knew him for years. The following weekend I spent 4 days with him, Bob Kohl, Billy Gawrych and Joe Tecca and was invited to do shows with them. Since then I have been able to say that he is one of my closest friends and a real inspiration both on and off the bike. This interview reaches so much further than life behind bars. After reading this, you too will see Art as the inspiration that us, his fans see him as.
TF: How long have you been riding and has it always been flatland only?
AT: I started getting into riding around 1985, so almost 30 years. I have always liked all forms or riding, but ramps came and went in my town. Once I learned a few flatland tricks and saw the endless possibilities, flatland became my main focus. From that point on, I have spent most of my free time riding flatland. There was about 4 or 5 of us that started riding together in 85. I remember one time it has been a few weeks since we rode together, but I had been riding hard every day. When we finally rode together again, I remember finishing a trick and everyone was staring at me with their mouths hanging open because of how much I had progressed. That was the first time that I realized that I could go far in flatland, or anything, if I worked hard at it. I entered my first contest in 1987 and got 2nd place in beginner flatland at the ABA grands.
TF: I have always felt that Mat Hoffman is the most loyal sponsor and doesn’t drop someone for the “next best thing” or “flavor of the month.” With that being said, how long have you ridden for Hoffman Bikes? How did that come to be that you got on their team?
AT: Hoffman Bikes is the best sponsor in BMX, hands down. They understand that each rider brings something different to the team and lets each rider follow their own path. Which to me, shows they get what BMX is all about, being yourself. They also really listen to rider input on products, which makes their bikes so good.
In 1999, I was doing demos for Bob Kohl’s team, Ride-N-Grind. They asked Hoffman to flow us some bikes and I was so stoked to get a green EP. I was big into contest too and competed in my first X-Games that year before. I asked Hoffman if they could help with contest travel before the first comp of 1999, but they were not able to help me out. I paid my way to Louisville, KY X-Trials event. I ended up doing pretty well and got 1 of the 2 X-Games invite spots. Right after the comp was over, Mike from Hoffman pulled me aside and said they wanted to pay me back for my travel and put me on the team. It was such an awesome day – I qualified for the X-Games and got picked up by the best sponsor ever.
TF: What, if any, input did you have in the design of the new Strowler? Is it what you were wanting top to bottom?
AT: Hoffman did a great job collecting inputs from Kevin Jones, Matt Wilhelm, and me. I actually sent them some drawings showing a few different options for the frame design that I liked. I also sent them what I felt were the perfect dimensions for the frame. Luckily Kevin, Matt, and I have very similar taste in what we needed for this year, so I got every dimension change that I asked for. The front end went from 18.9” to 19.0”. We also lowered the top tube, raised the bottom bracket, and increased the head tube angle to 75 degrees. We even added integral chain tensioners and got rid of the chainstay wishbone. Then Mark Owen at Hoffman worked his magic and came up with things that I didn’t even think of, like the machined out bottom bracket. So, yeah, the frame turned out perfect. Matt and I also wanted to have a straight downtube option, so they are taking care of that with the Wilhelm signature frame.
TF: As I get older and less limber, my frames have gotten longer. You have ridden the 18.9 (IE shorter version) of the Strowler since it came out, but recently went to the 19.75” version; what was the reason for this?
AT: Honestly, at 40, I feel like I am in the best shape of my life. I weigh less than I did in high school and have more physical strength and endurance than ever. The 19.0” frame fit me perfectly and I was really afraid to try the 19.75”. However, I wanted to give the 19.75” a shot because this year it has a 12.7” back end on it. In the past the back end was 13.8” and that made the bike handle too slow for my style of riding. I also wanted to try the longer frame because a lot of riders are going to longer frames these days and seem to like them. So, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something. I like the 19.75” because it give me more stability and more room for tricks where I jump over the frame, but the 19.0 is better for cliff hangers and death trucks. Still haven’t decided which one I like best overall, but they both ride great, so it is a good problem to have.
TF: I met you in 1998. Since then you went to graduate school at A&M. What education do you have and how was it possible to manage school, riding, and starting a family?
AT: I have my Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Hendrix College. During College, school came first, but I rode almost every day and spent the summers doing shows and contests all over the country. I graduated in 1997, but had just won the amateur title in the Bicycle Stunt Series the year before. So, I wanted to live life as a pro BMXer before putting my physics degree to work. I worked full time as a pro from 1997 until 2000. I did every contest and lots of shows all over the country and some out of the country. Thanks to Pro Impact Stunt Team, Ride-N-Grind, and Hoffman Bikes, I got to do shows for Got Milk, Universal Studios, and World of Wheels while making some decent money. I even got to do some shows in other countries. I loved the pro lifestyle, but realized that I was never going to have the financial stability I was looking for. So, I signed up for Mechanical Engineering graduate school at Texas A&M. It was tough at first because they let me go from Physics to Mechanical Engineering with only taking 2 undergraduate classes. Graduate school was great because there were fewer classes than college, which meant I had more time to ride during the day and study at night. It was pretty easy to balance riding and school. During the summers I went back to riding full time. As I was finishing classes, I transitioned into research, where I worked on a method to increase the performance of fuel cells that run on natural gas. I could set my own hours while doing research, so still had time to ride, do shows, and contests. I actually competed in my 5th and final X-Games in 2002.
Once I finished my research, wrote my thesis, published a paper, got married, graduated, and I started applying for jobs. I applied for a job with a NASA contractor because they worked with fuel cells. However, I got call once day for a job that was far cooler than anything I would find in the fuel cell industry. They wanted me to train astronauts how to do space walks! After I got hired for the job, I asked why they picked me. They said that I was chosen because I do my own bike maintenance and they wanted someone that understood how to use tools first hand in addition to all the engineering requirements. NASA was my first 8 – 5 type job, so it took a little adjustment to fit in riding, but there is always a way. I found I riding spot that was on my way home. I took my bike to work every day and stopped at my spot and rode before I went home. If you go home first, the chances of going back out to ride are much less. As I walk out of the doors of work, I would start getting pumped up to ride. I would even try to change clothes while driving to maximize the time on my bike when I got to the spot. I should have said this sooner, but it was also key that my wife put up with me riding so much.
TF: So it is safe to say that BMX was a deciding factor in your employer hiring you?
AT: Yes, BMX was definitely a deciding factor. He also said my keel personality was another deciding factor because it would help with flight control and getting along in the group I work in.
TF: Recently in Lake Charles we discussed who Art Thomason is to us, your friends and fans. You are one of the most humble, real, down to earth people. Not only on a bike, but on the street. How does it feel when people that truly see you for who you are say this or show the excitement of getting something as simple as a frame that you rode?
AT: I am very humbled and excited at the same time when I get complements or see someone enjoying my riding or a bike part I once owned. I love riding and it is great when I can share that with others and see them get excited about it too. Many of my tricks are pretty technical, so it is always fun when someone notices that I did a switch without kicking the tire or did something on my opposite side.
TF: You just had one such friend make a signature T-shirt for you. How did that come up and would you be willing to expand on this sort of thing to possibly help the cause further such as BMX shows to bring awareness?
AT: My good buddy Blaine Smith totally surprised me with that shirt. He contacted Kelly Baldwin to get the hi-res version of the photo and then got the shirt made. It turned out awesome! Blaine and I went to College in the same town. We became really good friends, rode together all the time, and hit all the contests we could. After College, his diabetes got worse and it prevented him from riding. He ended up getting a pancreas/kidney transplant a few years ago which has given him a new life. It is great to see him back on his bike again, doing the things he wants to do. Diabetes research gave him a new life, so I am excited that profits from this shirt will go to diabetes research. I am always down to support a good cause like this.
TF: You currently work at NASA, compete at a pro level, and maintain a home with your awesome wife, Kerrie and 3 great kids. Did putting The Landing Pad in your back yard free up more time for everything in your life and has it helped your riding?
AT: Before I had kids and a full time job, I was never interested in having a riding spot at my house. I liked going to the lot, giving it 100% while I was there and then came home to relax and take care of the other things in my life. As my life got busier, I had to adjust. Once we had kids, I decided that I needed a spot at my house to be able to maximize my riding time spend more time with my family. Also, I got so sick of driving to a spot and finding out I couldn’t ride there that day because of basketball players or some other issue. So, when we decided we needed a bigger home, one of my criteria was that it had a 40’ x 40’ area that I could put a riding pad on. Kerrie found the perfect house for us. About a year after we moved it, with the help of my parents, I finally had my home riding spot. The landing pad has been a HUGE help to my riding. Even if I only have 45 min to ride, I can go ride. In the past I would have to drive 15 min there and back giving me no time to ride.
TF: I recently got burned out on riding and got more into filming. At your level of skill, do you get burned out and if so how do you handle it?
AT: I really don’t get burned out. I think some of it is just my personality. There are some times I am more excited to ride than others, but I always look forward to riding. When I do start feeling a little excited about riding, I try to change something up or learn a new trick. Sometimes I feel like I could progress more if I got burned out because it would force me to learn all new stuff. I really like pulling the tricks I have now, so I spend a lot of my session pulling my latest links rather than always trying to learn new stuff. The feel of flowing through a link perfectly and holding momentum with every switch is the best feeling in the world.
TF: With your experience of education, riding, and family; all of which you have excelled at, what advice would you have for a younger rider just starting out or even for a younger person looking for their path in life? I ask this because we have spoke in the past about school shows and what subject would be the underlying message we push.
AT: My advice is to follow your passion and give it everything you got. However, you also need to do what you can to keep your options open. Try to avoid closing any doors on yourself. There is plenty of time in the day to take care of your business and ride if you really want it. When I was in High School, I did my homework from other subjects while listening to lectures, so that I didn’t have to waste riding time with homework. Through riding, I started to realize that I could accomplish anything I worked at. I mean once you learn how to do cross-footed hitch hiker, it makes calculus look easy. When I started College, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, so I took lots of math because it kept all of my options open and allowed me to select Physics as a major after taking a Calculus based physics class and really liking it. Don’t ever decide not to do something because it is too hard or takes too long. When you look back at your life, the accomplishments that you will cherish the most are the ones that you had to work the hardest for and time will pass the same whether you are working towards your goal or sitting on the couch making excuses.
TF: Art thank you for your time, you truly are a professional in all things. Any last words for Texas Flatlanders?
AT: Andy, thanks for the great questions and for all that you do for Texas Flatland. Now, everybody go ride!