Stompin' Stu Thomsen started racing BMX bikes the year I was born. By the time I got into BMX bikes, Thomsen was sponsored by Huffy, featured in TV commercials on network television and had become a legend in the BMX scene.
But all I can remember about him were ads featuring cheap department store bikes and a mustache. In my defense, I was 12, and I would later go on to take a much different path from that of Stu Thomsen. I always remembered that name, though, and in my later years, came to realize that his presence in the BMX scene was legendary.
Earlier this year, Bang! Pictures, the producers of "Joe Kid On A Sting-ray," announced the release of "Stompin' Stu: The Story of BMX Legend Stu Thomsen," and despite the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the '80s race scene, I was still intrigued.
The DVD is now in wide release, and in no way does it disappoint. Without giving too much away about "Stompin' Stu," it's a story of triumph, inspiration and sheer determination, set across the backdrop of the first incarnation of BMX in Southern California and into the present. Thomsen is the ultimate nice guy: honest, hardworking and really good at racing BMX bikes. But his career wasn't paved with a road of gold. He struggles with career decisions, interfamily conflict and much more. In the end, he endures to emerge on top, and ultimately returns to racing BMX (only now in the 50-55 Cruiser Class.)
But his story goes beyond disciplinary barriers within BMX. Thomsen leaves BMX-based sponsors behind and signs with Huffy, selling mass-market bikes in department stores (an issue that Mike Escamilla has grappled with more recently). When sponsorship dollars dry up, Thomsen opens a bike shop (still common to this day among pros and former pros). And when Thomsen needs to make ends meet, he becomes a sheriff (quite similar to the post-BMX path that Brian Blyther has taken).
In the end, "Stompin' Stu" becomes not just the story of a gifted BMXer, but the tale of how BMX can help to successfully guide one's journey through life. And that's why I think this DVD will appeal to more than just fans of Stu Thomsen or the '80s race scene. I know, I'm going on long. So I'll hand this over to producers John Swarr and Mark Eaton, who were both kind enough to get me a DVD and talk about the production of "Stompin' Stu." Here's the good word from the Bang! Pictures crew.
What made Bang! Pictures want to produce the "Stompin' Stu" documentary?
John: I think it's just that we want to keep the history of the sport alive. It's a difficult task since it's such a small sport, but we really enjoy the BMX community and feel that it's important. The history is what gives BMX its personality.
Why do you think the Stu Thomsen story needed to be told?
John: Stu was such an icon during the '70s and '80s. He also had a true comeback in his life that needed to be told. Stu is an amazing person on and off of the track and it was an honor to work with him.
Can you explain the process, from idea to reality, for a documentary of this type?
John: With this type of historical-based documentary, the first thing you need to know is whether there is enough footage available to make it work. Then you focus on the story and whether you can make the puzzle fit together. When Mark and I started "Joe Kid," the hardest part was to fit 30 years of history into 90 minutes. With this film, there was a little more room to breathe. So the story could have a little more depth. We decided to use a method of filmmaking that utilized the interview to completely tell the story. That way, the viewer knows that it's not just the director telling the story; it's the people who were there.
Was there anything you uncovered during the making of the film that surprised you?
John: Yes, a few things. Some cool things for us old-school BMXers and some inside stories that no one ever knew. On the serious side, not many people knew that Stu's wife, Tanya, went through similar health problems as Stu. On the old-school BMX side, I realized after talking to Gary Turner [GT] that he supplied Stu with one of his original BMX bikes way back in 1974. I didn't put it in the film because Stu never really talked about it and it didn't really dawn on me until after the film was done.
Was it at all strange to interview the array of BMX race legends within the film?
John: It's really a great experience interviewing the legends. They are all completely helpful and into preserving the history. It's important to them. It was really strange working on "Joe Kid" since many of the legends needed to be stalked by Mark and I just to do the interview since many of them didn't know what to expect. We were in awe of them.
It's really a great experience interviewing the legends.
How difficult was it to track down everyone interviewed in the film? And how difficult was it to track down the archival footage used in the film?
John: This film was much easier since we made many of our connections with "Joe Kid." That film took years to make since it took a year to organize our first interviews. Stu gave us most of the film footage that his dad [Hans] shot while going to the races with him. The rest of the footage/photos was donated by people like Rick Twomey [Rick's Bike Shop], OZ [BMX Action], Redline and others.
Who did what behind the scenes?
Mark: John produced, directed and edited the film, and I shot mostly all of the interviews and the current "documentary stuff" in between other shoots, or when I was already in CA for another shoot, I would squeeze in a day or two with Stu.
Is the film going straight to DVD, or is making any rounds beforehand?
John: We decided to go straight to DVD since we realize the BMX audience is small, but we hope this takes off in the mainstream since it is more of an inspirational film.
How can people find out more about the "Stompin Stu" documentary?
John: They can go to www.StompinStu.com