Between his time at BMX Plus! and Ride BMX Magazines, Mark Losey has photographed and documented the many stages of Mat Hoffman's BMX career, from young gun to veteran vert gladiator. But his connection to Mat goes well beyond that of the standard rider-photographer relationship; Hoffman and Losey are old friends that have collaborated on various projects numerous times throughout the years. In 1993, Losey traveled to Oklahoma City to photograph Mat riding the first big quarterpipe, and in the years since, Mark has hoped for non-windy days so that the Condor could keep progressing. This is Mark Losey on The Birth of Big Air.
Did you take the first photos of Mat riding the big ramp at the BS Comp in OKC?
The first time I shot him, I started working at BMX Plus! in '92, and then '93 was when the ramp got built. I just remember seeing that one crazy photo in the magazine with everyone standing on the ramp, and I couldn't believe it was real. I went out there to do an interview with Mat for BMX Plus!, and for some reason, I took a flight out of LA that got me to Oklahoma at 1 in the morning. But it didn't matter, there was no way I was going to the hotel. I just drove to the warehouse and put the car's headlights on the ramp. I just had to see it to believe it. And then the next day, we went out there to shoot it... Steve Swope was the guy that always pulled Mat on the motorcycle, but he was away doing Sprocket Jockey shows, so Mark Owen was the guy that pulled him while we were shooting photos, and I think that might've been Mark's first or second day riding a motorcycle. He wasn't very smooth with the shifting, so going down the runway, every time he shifted gears, you'd see Mat get a crazy jerk. But it's Mat, so it didn't really matter.
Could you describe the general atmosphere when Mat did the first big air demos in Oklahoma City?
It's the big Bicycle Stunt contest, and everyone's there to ride the Hoffman Bikes Park, and off in the corner was this monster ramp. No matter what would happen on the course, you'd look over at the big ramp and think, "Oh, Mat's really gonna ride that." I don't remember the official time, but he came out and decided to do it. And there was no sophisticated PA then, so it was just someone yelling, "Come and watch Mat jump the big ramp," and everyone just ran to that side of the field. I get real nervous for my friends, so I was scared to death, but at the same time, I was screaming my head off.
Was it difficult to photograph, being torn between being afraid for your friend and also wanting to capture the moment?
No, not at the time. I think he even crashed once in that demo, but at those events, you were just so caught up in BMX and progression that you wanted to see everything happening. But when I was there shooting photos, it was just me, Mat and Mark in the middle of a field in Oklahoma. That's when it was like "Oh my god!"
Were you around during the 2001 attempts?
No, I talked about coming out there, but with the wind, you had to wait for the perfect day, so there was no telling when it would happen. The wind was always the thing that scared me, cause Mat had this giant ramp, and he does demos. I was always afraid he'd end up booking an NFL half-time show, riding it in the wind and crashing.
Fast forward to the '07 X Games.
The one where he jumped off and grabbed the camera?
Could you describe that experience?
The whole mega ramp, I like watching guys riding it well, but I'm scared to death at the same time. When you look on the judge sheet and see Mat's name, you get even more scared. And to add to that, he was brakeless. That really scared everyone. But no matter how gnarly a situation Mat puts himself in, you always think, "Well, it's Mat. If he thinks he can do it, he can probably do it." But I remember him landing sketchy off the gap, and anyone else landing a little sketchy could just grab a fist of brakes and regroup. But Mat was just death grip straight up the monster ramp. The way he described it to me was, he was up in the air, and he was going to go to flat bottom, but he happened to see a camera on the crane there, and his options were to either go to flat bottom or grab the camera and swing himself onto the deck and take that impact. Mat is the only person who could probably process things like that so fast, but luckily he did that.
What's your favorite photo you've ever shot of Mat?
There are so many of them. My best memory; we were just trying to shoot a high air photo at Mat's old indoor warehouse ramp. I was sitting on coping on one side of the ramp, shooting the other side, and he would air over me to pump as hard as he could to go as high as he could. So I'm just looking through the lens. I'm not watching him air over the top of me. All of a sudden, I feel a rush of air from him going up, and then something drops past me and there's a huge explosion next to me. I put the camera down, and realized he had done an 11-foot air over the top of me, got sketchy and bailed out. Luckily, the bike bounced next to me and Mat caught some tranny and fell into the ramp. But that's a close call I don't think I'll ever forget.
The Birth of Big Air premieres on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 8pm at the World Financial Plaza in Manhattan, NY.