Mark 'Chuck D' Owen began working for Hoffman Bikes in 1992, and through his time with the brand, he has bore witness to the evolution of Hoffman's quest for big air. Starting out as a rider that traded time stickering frames for riding the Hoffman Bikes warehouse ramp, Mark Owen eventually moved into product manufacturing, helping to oversee Hoffman's in-house Oklahoma City production facility. Owen continued on as product designer for Hoffman Bikes, and to this day, oversees the many aspects of Hoffman Bikes, from design to manufacturing to sales. As the premiere of Mat Hoffman's Birth of Big Air nears, Mark shares some inside knowledge on Hoffman's quest for big air.
Where were you around the time Mat started riding the big ramp?
I actually just started coming around when they built the first big quarter off of Santa Fe Street (in Oklahoma City.) A lot of my treks were in the evening time after work, so no, that wasn't me standing on the ramp in the original photos.
Did anyone else try to ride the original big ramp?
Mat aired the opposite way of me, so before I got to the ramp, I had to jump off the approach runway to get to the other side of the ramp, so I didn't ride it too much. And we weren't smart enough to have a runway on the other side.
What was your actual position at Hoffman Bikes during this time?
At the time of the first ramp, I was just coming up and hanging out. They had just started getting product at the time (early '92) and I would help clean and decal frames. The trade-off was that I got to ride the vert ramp inside the warehouse.
So time passes, and HB grows. Can you tell us how you perceived Mat wanting to redo the big quarterpipe in 2001?
Personally, I think it's crazy, but knowing Mat, I knew he had to do it because of who he is and his beliefs. People tried talking him out of it, but I think we all knew there was no talking him out of it. It was something he had to do. I thought it was awesome that he was doing it, but at the same time, I was scared. I think everybody was just scared because of the magnitude of it. The only thing I was glad of was that I didn't actually have to help build the ramp. I just got to watch.
After Mat crashed on the second big quarter, did you guys shut him down?
I think the ramp was up for a while after. Mat was messed up for a while after that. He was in the hospital for a few days, and I think he definitely reflected on what he was doing afterwards, and just came to terms with letting it go, which he did until the X Games a few years ago. And then he got back out there and did it again.
How did you feel about his 19-foot flyout?
I didn't go to that X Games. I was in Oklahoma, and when I saw that coming, I closed my eyes, hoping that he didn't go off the back of the ramp. But it was awesome to see. One thing with Mat is that he proves to me that anything can be done, and I use that for inspiration in my own life.
Mat paved the way for other Hoffman Bikes riders to get into riding bigger ramps (including Kevin Robinson and Anthony Napolitan). Can you explain how Kevin's setup was tailor made to ride bigger transitions?
Before he did the Red Bull event in NYC, we had been talking about getting a longer bike with more specific geometry for a larger ramp. We never did any special bikes for Mat. He always rode the production models. But for Kevin's bike, we basically increased the length of the front and rear end to give the bike a longer wheelbase, which gave the bike a more stable feel on a larger transition.
Was Mat tempted to try a special setup afterwards?
Not really. He had talked in the past about riding a larger bike, with 22" wheels. But we never got around to doing it.
How has Hoffman Bikes contributed to the legacy of Big Air?
Because of Mat doing this with Hoffman Bikes, I think, well, I hope, that some people relate Mat's creation to the brand he created around the same time.
Who's carrying the Hoffman Bikes torch for big air now?
Anthony Napolitan and Kevin Robinson. Zack Warden has also expressed interest in riding it too.
The Birth of Big Air premieres on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 8pm at the World Financial Plaza in Manhattan, NY.