Steve Swope- Behind the scenes

My first introduction to Steve Swope came through the pages of Freestylin’ Magazine. When I learned he was one of Mat Hoffman’s riding buddies he instantly became one of my favorite riders and I would always take note whenever he showed up in magazines or videos. The thing about Steve though is that he didn’t always show up, but could clearly be found behind the show. Steve played an integral part behind the BS comps, Hoffman Bikes, X Games, videos and a whole slew of other things that you and I don’t know about. We can thank him for double peg grinds too.

You just turned 40, are you still shredding?

I wouldn’t call what I do now “shredding” but yeah I still ride although not nearly as often as I would like.  

You were one of the first riders I remember having knee problems. How many surgeries are you up to now?

Eleven with the most recent last Oct. after being hit by a car on my bike. 

Do you remember what happened the first time you hurt your knee(s)?

I was 15 (1985) and learning 360’s. I put my left foot down on landing and felt a crazy pain in my knee. Had my first surgery a few months later and found out I partially tore my ACL and tore my meniscus.  My most complicated knee surgery took place in 1990 when I had both of my ACL’s replaced at the same time along with meniscus repair in both knees.  At the time I was the 3rd person in the US to have both ACL’s replace during one procedure.  It set back me back about two years with my riding and progression and my vert ramp pump was never the same.  Despite my ongoing knee problems (among other old injuries) I have no regrets. 
How many crappy Skyway pegs did you go through learning double peg grinds?

Actually very few in the beginning because I learned grinds on vert with steel coping first.  After I started doing them on street the Skyway TM couldn’t believe I was asking for a dozen pair at one time.  He thought I was selling them.  

Buddendeck, Big Island, Sheps, Hal Brindley, and Swope.

I saw Rob Dyrdek on Fantasy Factory touting the Instant Scoring eXperience contraption and it reminded me that during the early BS comps you guys were some of the first people to use computers at a contest to aid in organization and scoring. What obstacles did you have to overcome with that at first and what were the benefits later?

The obstacles were finding a decent laptop that we could afford since we operated the BS series out of our own pocket with very little sponsor support.  Mat and I had to teach ourselves how to use spreadsheet and database applications.   

The benefits later are that I’m a full-on Apple nerd and a spreadsheet ninja, spreadsheets can be invaluable when you’re running a business.

The benefits later are that I’m a full-on Apple nerd and a spreadsheet ninja, spreadsheets can be invaluable when you’re running a business.  I’m one out of two people who make up Woodward’s self proclaimed IT department.  

I don’t mean to seem preachy here but for all the 20 somethings who are trying to figure out how to get a good job.  Tech skills are key to anyone who wants to earn a paycheck in today’s workplace and will be even more important in the future.  Learn as much as you can about the hard stuff which isn’t always the coolest or the most fun.   

The BS crew rolled pretty deep and early on it seemed like everyone had a hand in organizing and putting on the contests as well as riding in them. There were also some pretty bad crashes at those events too. Were there instances when people got hurt and you had to take on multiple responsibilities?

If your worked at HB and/or the BS series you wore multiple hats and you had to be willing to pitch in at all times or you weren’t going to last long with our crew.  We had so little money we had no other choice but to rely on volunteers or anyone who received support from us.  If we gave you a ride to the event we expected you to help, If you helped we let you sleep on our floor and comped your entry fees.  If you went over and above we invited you on the next trip. This is how several people ended up with real jobs at Hoffman in the early years.  Even the big name pros on Hoffman pitched in at the events including Mirra, Taj, Thorne, Miron and other pros who didn’t ride for HB.  I should also say there were many, many people that helped with the BS series that weren’t obligated and had nothing to do with Hoffman or the BS series, they simply want to help.  

As you mentioned the events crew rode the events also and just about every event had a key person or persons go down but every time someone would step up and pick up the slack.  We worked hard (I was awake for 54 hrs straight during the build-in for the Kansas City BS event), partied hard, rode as much as we could and always had a good time.  It was a very special time in BMX and for me personally.

The Kansas City event you had to build the ramps last minute because the original skatepark that was supposed to host the event fell through. (if I remember correct) I also remember a few other contests that you had to add more obstacles to. Can you talk about riding and competing on those quickly built ramps in comparison to how perfectly built everything is now? What did you do with the ramps after the contests?

There is really no comparison, the ramps of today with skatelite and perfect trannies are insanely better.  The riders of today have no idea what we used to ride, or the fact that if you wanted ramps you had to build them yourself, which by the way is a dying art form.  How many young riders of today can build a good ramp?  Not many that I know.  Nate Wessel needs to start a ramp building school at Woodward….I’ll call Gary.  I digress, at the time they were about as good as anything you rode so you didn’t know anything else, with the exception of the KC BS event.  

The KC event was thrown together at last min. for the exactly the reason you stated.  The park we had contracted closed without telling us one month before the event.  The internet and cell phones weren’t as prevalent then so getting word all over the globe informing everyone the event was being canceled wasn’t feasible.  We would have had 100+ of riders show up, many from Europe.  So we did the best we could and it turned out better than expected.  One serious note about the KC event.  A group of CA riders who were regulars at the BS events were driving home late Sunday night and crashed, and one of the mainstays of their riding crew and well know Flatland pro Richard Zabzdyr died.  Mat and I changed the way we scheduled events after this horrible accident, it had a deep and profound impact on us and our entire crew. We began ending the events as early as possible on Sundays and also made sure if we were lucky enough to land a host hotel (word would get around with local hotel mgr’s in the cities we held BS comps to not host the event, too much damage and craziness from the BS attendees) we made sure the event discount lasted though Sunday night so riders could hopefully afford to leave on Monday morning instead of driving home Sunday night.  I still do this for every event I organize.  Notice the OS BMX Reunion ends at 1:00 PM in the afternoon on Sunday. 

Normally we would leave the ramps at the park if they wanted them.  If not we would give them away to local riders.  

Speaking of responsibility, you had a big hand in helping Mat do some very big things. He obviously trusts you very much. Was ever doubt or worry in your head with things like the big air ramps?

I can’t say I had doubt because Mat always thought through his ideas.  Mat is an incredibly smart person and his ideas are not simply because he’s crazy or has a death wish as people (mostly outsiders) may think.  They were all possible but not always practical given our available resources.  Of course I worried for his safety and really struggled with this when we built the big ramp in 2000.  My role was to help Mat have the best chance of being successful at whatever crazy idea he had brewing.  I enjoyed the role and feel very good about what we accomplished but helping your best friend potentially end his life became more than I could stomach with the big ramp in 2000.  You should check out The Birth of Big Air documentary that Dickhouse crew produced and will air this summer on ESPN as part to their 30 for 30 series.  They interviewed me several times and I go in depth about my personal feelings on helping Mat with the big ramp.  It’s premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and from what I hear it’s awesome.

[ed note: I had just recently seen the 30 for 30 episode about Reggie Miller’s career with the Indiana Pacers and it was nothing short of amazing. I’m sure you’ve seen the trailers for The Birth of Big Air, it can’t be missed.]

You could probably have an impressive resume after all the duties you took on at HB, care to elaborate?

Wow….this could be a page or two.  Let’s just say I did whatever needed to be done no matter the size or importance of the job at hand.  This could be cleaning the bathrooms, managing the team, organizing events, negotiating business deals with six attorneys and four accountants in the room, building ramps and dirt jumps, driving a semi truck which was barely street legal all over North America, marketing, accounting, product development, business development, business strategy, TV show production, overall management and operation of the company at times social worker, and riding my bike to name a few.  I’m not a pride-full person, nor do I have much of an ego but I’m very proud of one item in particular in my years at Hoffman.  We employed mostly riders for nearly every job and provided a lot of opportunity for everyone who we worked with.  I’m talking about directly hundreds and indirectly thousands of riders who received support, or a paycheck or prize money from Hoffman or our events over the years.  Mat and I never missed a single payroll or bounced a single prize money check, we didn’t pay ourselves and we sacrificed other areas of the company at time to do this but our people and event attendees always got paid what we promised and never missed once. 

I hate to bring this up, but you forgot actor. Should we just leave it at that?

Yeah, I’m no actor….just a goof ball willing to put on a monkey suit.  Although making Aggro man was one of the most fun experiences of my early years.

After 18 years, you left Hoffman Enterprises and your CMFIC title for a role in the Action Sport Division at IMG in 2007. Whats been going on since and what do you do now?

I worked at IMG in the Action Sports Division for 2.5 years after I left Hoffman where I managed action sports athletes (Kevin Robinson, Anthony Napolitan, Garrett Reynolds, Alex Perelson, Trevor Jacob and Levi LaVallee) and helped my boss (Shaun White’s agent) with several projects and his clients, business development and project consulting.  It was very different than what I’d done in the past and one of the reason I was attracted to the position, I learned a great deal in that time and owe a lot to my boss at IMG, he’s as good as it gets in that side of the sports business.   

In the spring of 2009 I was offered my dream job by Gary Ream and Woodward and started there in June of 2009.  I still work with IMG as an affiliated manger and continue to handle my clients so technically I have two jobs.  For Woodward I’m the VP of Marketing, Events and Youth Initiatives which is basically a broad enough title to largely the same thing I did at Hoffman which is do whatever needs doing.  Recently I helped develop the new Woodward web site, launch the Woodward’s own amateur BMX and Skate events titled Ambush BMX and Ambush Skate, help start Woodward Surf Camp as well as several other projects and I get to ride the camps!  It’s truly my dream job and appreciate the opportunity a great deal.  I’m also a fully committed family man to my incredible wife and 2.5 year old daughter.

I read a letter you wrote addressing flatlanders in the BS comp series. Your clever post script read, ‘I have never written a 3-page letter about anything.’ How do you feel about the direction flatland took after being dropped from the X Games?

I think its cool flatland has developed its own culture that’s somewhat separate from the other aspects of BMX.  It’s so specialized is should be recognized as a different animal where flatlanders have control over their own events, judging, bikes and equipment etc.  At the Hoffman events we could never supply the ideal competition scenario for Flatland given the parameters of what we could provide with between 3-4 BMX disciplines at one event.  The riding area/surface was rarely what they needed or what we wanted to provide, most of the time we used the same judges for all the BMX events which was not ideal and the format was always an issue mostly when TV was involved.  I continue to be amazed at the progression in Flat and I hope they continue to evolve the events.   

You contributed in designing the first Hoffman prototypes, then moving to in house production and eventually overseas production. How does all the knowledge of bike production and quality relate to the fact you rode a two piece Auburn race frame in your earlier years?

Desperation, cost and geometry and my love of loctite.  At the time (late 80’s) free frame sets were hard to come by and only a handful of riders received free product.  I think Mat, Dennis and Voelker were the only riders getting paid unless you were doing demos.  The riding I enjoyed the most always involved going fast and I’ve always tried to keep my bike as light as possible.  The freestyle frames of the day usually had frame stander crap, were heavy and had steeper head angles than I liked so I started riding race frames.  Someone had an Auburn at the ABA Grand Nationals in OKC where that I tried it and I liked how it rode.  Todd Huffman who ran Auburn at GT was at the race and I asked if he could send me one to try out.  He did and I liked it despite the cooky factor, at least until I snapped the head tube off in front of a crowd of 3rd graders at a school show.  I can’t remember what I rode after that, I think I started riding for Haro and went back to a Haro Sport and then a PK Ripper (which was vintage even in the late 80’s and early 90’s) until Hoffman Bikes was born.  I’m currently riding a T1 Ruben frame with Fly and Odyssey parts.

I always forget that’s you commentating during the X Games. I wish I had a script of the dumb shit the original commentators said. Do you ever think ‘˜Dude, I’m a freaking TV commentator!’ Ever dropped the ‘˜F-bomb’ on air?

Yeah I think all the time who in the hell decided I would be good at doing TV stuff and how did I get on network TV even after doing it for 12 years.  I’ve never dropped the F-bomb but did get away with “Nyquist is a bad ass” which was intentional.  It may not seem like that big of a deal but on network TV is for sure is.

Last year you organized the Old School BMX Jam at Woodward West. You said your secondary reason for organizing the jam was that you selfishly wanted to organize a group of older riders for a good session. I can’t say that I blame you. What were some of the highlights from the jam? (people you didn’t expect to show up, people still shredding, people that haven’t ridden in forever and just dropped in for the first time in 10 years) 

I didn’t have any expectations for the event or the riding, I just wanted to create a no pressure event where everyone could get together, ride, catch up and have a good time.  There are definitely some old dudes who still shred: I witnessed Wilkerson go 10′ on vert, Mike Krianich kills it as does Ed Koenning.  The highlights of the reunion for me were Fiola and Jim Bauer backflipping a sidehack, the Dave Norie instigated flatland jam circle that busted out in the Woodward Lodge bar at 1:00 am in front of 200 old dude BMX’ers with DJ Greyboy on the mix and the overall response and gratitude for putting the event together. This was also the weekend where Gary Ream and I had a two hour discussion about my potential role and position at Woodward if I were to join the family.  It was an easy decision to make the move to my dream job after this weekend.

Group Photo, at the Old School Jam. (Souney Pic)

You’re planning another one this year. Are you excited?

Hell yeah! check out the below for more info, it’s going down next weekend crazy list of bmx superheros again.

I’ll be 32 next year, can I come?
The age limit goes up every year, maybe we need to do a mid-school reunion too?  I’ll do it if people will come.

Thanks Rob, do you still have the frame Thorne gave you back in the day?  I assume he gave you one, at least he asked me if he could give you one and I told him to hook you up.

Thorne gave me a Mongoose when he was on tour with GT. I never heard about getting a frame from Hoffman. You mean to tell me I could have been riding a new bike rather than my 4th generation hand me down original condor???? REALLY???

Yes, sorry it feel through the cracks, he for sure asked and I for sure told him to do it.  Could have been we were out of frames or something and just forgot after that.  Sorry dude.

The 80’s and DMC’s bachelor party.