Half Life: Ted Van Orman

Ted Van Orman, Moab, Utah and his long shadow. Steven Hamilton

The first issue of Dig Magazine I bought had an article in it called something along the lines of "Half Life." It was about UK riders who had ridden for at least half of their lives and were legends of sorts in the UK scene. If I remember correctly the riders featured were Dylan Worsley, GoGo and Dylan Clayton. Ted Van Orman fits that criteria as well, except he's not from the UK, he's from the Midwest of America, Michigan to be exact.

Since my involvement with BMX, I've heard his name mentioned quite a bit. From friends who had met him as well his brothers at Woodward Camp many years ago to his classic video part in his brother Elliott's video, "The Day Is Over," he has truly been a fixture in the underground BMX scene. Ted's humble approach to BMX and his life is nothing new but is somehow refreshing in the fickle world that is BMX. In Ted's world, there is no anonymous commenting or stair counts to worry about. Living life is enough for him.

Okay so where are you from, how old are you and how long has BMX been a part of your life?
I was born in Connecticut, raised in Rochester, Michigan and have been into BMX for about 15 years. I'm 26 years old now.

Are you the oldest of the Van Orman clan?
No, Jerome is the oldest and I have two little brothers, Elliot and Benjamin.

Who got into BMX first? You all ride right?
I got into BMX first, Ben doesn't ride.

Oh okay, and then like younger brothers often do, Elliot tagged along?
Jerome got into it a little after me and Elliot a few years later, Elliot filmed and made videos before he even rode.

I was always jealous of brothers who rode. It must have been a good experience I assume?
It is a great experience to have brothers and even better when you're involved in the same hobbies. Jerome and I grew from the beginning stages of riding together. So as you can imagine we've been through a lot together in terms of riding BMX. Elliot joined in a few years later and it extended the connection by making it so there was always someone to ride and build with. BMX brought us very close together and enriched our lives. It formed an everlasting bond.

Did you guys start racing first, it seems like there is a very race style to you and Jerome's riding?
Never in any organized race, we would go to the track sometimes. It started out street and fly out style; we grew up on a dirt road and would make jumps out of dirt piles. Jumping is where the attraction grew.

Okay, so it was always just the way any suburban kid gets into BMX, when did the Van Orman household allow the jumps in the backyard?
248 got started a year or so after we got into BMX, we built a few flyouts and then started a small rhythm in the apple orchard, in 1996.

And I'm assuming that's where the obsession with trails started. When did BMX become more than just jumping and actually take over everything, or did it not do that for you?
Being allowed to build in the yard was a dream come true. I've always loved bikes, even before BMX. Riding always represented freedom to me, so once I found jumping, it was sealed.

Then everything else came, street riding, ramps, just riding anything right?
It all blended, I wanted to try everything. That way I would know what I like the best.

Right, has it changed at all for you, riding BMX? Do you still like it as much as when you were 16?
It's the same. Although I don't ride it as much. I have more hobbies today, not so diehard (laughs). I will always love it though.

Yeah it's a tough world to be fully involved in all the time. On a somewhat similar note, your part in Elliot's Video "The Day Is Over" ends up on lots of people's favorite lists. It still holds up incredibly well and it was as good as any "pros" part at that time. Did you ever try to be "pro"? My friends and I loved it, way before I had ever even talked to you.
Thanks, I put alot of effort into filming, traveling, and riding at that period in my life. I never thought too hard about being sponsored, although getting free stuff is always a treat. I think I ride to be independent, with that said I want my riding to represent me and no one else.

So even if the opportunity arose, you wouldn't take it? Or would you have to be completely and fully behind it?
I would have to be really into the company.

Right. I know you were injured not too long ago, did the injuries kind of give you new hobbies?
The knee injury didn't necessarily give me the hobbies, for I had been into other things all along; it just opened me up to them more. It changed my perspective on riding a lot.

How so?
Longevity is the new plane. I want to be healthy and enjoy all aspects of being alive as long as I can. My knees are more important than any bike trick.

And is that knee injury where Life? Publications was born?
The print issue, yes. But Life? has been alive since my early days. I kind of incorporate it into any project I work on, whether it's trail construction, photos, painting, etc.

Yeah, the print issue is a pretty inspiring thing. I mean it's not often someone up and starts a full color magazine. There must have been some headaches doing it. Care to talk about the process of making it at all? You funded it yourself right?
I had joked about it to my friends for a long time. After I had ACL surgery and couldn't be active, I decided it was time to man up and do it. The layout was made on a flatbed scanner with photographic prints and I made a couple of versions and eventually stuck with the simple one. It was self funded, I put the print cost on a credit card and decided to push it. I had it printed at a place in the outskirts of Detroit in a shady neighborhood that made it a memorable experience. I printed 1000 copies and it reached the USA, England, France, Germany, Brazil, Israel, Poland, Singapore, Taiwan and Canada through my own established contacts. I made a ton of effort to try and get it out to as many places as possible. Everything in the issue was shot by me and all the riders are friends and people I've encountered through BMX, so it is all connected. I wanted to make a timeless print zine that represented BMX in a different light than most mainstream publications. Not filled with statistics and adverts but rather natural organic riding of people and places that fuel and drive themselves. It was all captured in 35mm format film and the images used spanned a course of 5 years to collect. I made a follow up coffee table book called "Dreamers of the Day" which was self published through lulu.com. Thanks to anyone who helped out!

Ted Van Orman from The Day Is Over (2004) from Elliot Van Orman Productions on Vimeo.

Back to your brother's video, I can't be sure about this but I think it would be pretty rare for an independent video of basically unknown riders to be as successful as that video was. Do you remember what went into making that flick? It seemed to be pretty organic in the way it came together.
I think the video was successful because it wasn't planned, it was more of a documentation of a great scene of riders and spots in and out of Michigan. It is just a capture of BMX energy in pure and natural light. I know the same energy exists all over the world, but not every scene has Elliot to put it together. Great times.

Does the state of BMX today bother you at all?
I guess I view BMX as an idea. People can look at it however they want. I pay attention to the people I relate to; all else is irrelevant. No one owns it, it's all opinion. Anyone trying to set rules doesn't really BMX in my opinion (laughs).

Anyone trying to set rules doesn't really BMX in my opinion.

--Ted Van Orman

I always thought rules in BMX was the weirdest thing. But moving on, why the move to Colorado?
The mountains and sunshine. Some of my friends from college live in Denver and I have always enjoyed my travels to the Rocky Mountains. There's so much to see and it's all breath taking. I also needed to move on. I didn't want to stay in my hometown all my life. Human instinct is to move.

Is it human instinct?
The only reason anyone is anywhere is because someone in their bloodline moved there. Humans are nomadic, naturally I believe.

Fair enough. How has Colorado treated you so far? What have you been up to for work and what have you been riding up there? Could you describe a normal day for me and the readers?
I think Colorado is magical, the sunlight is like nowhere else and the outdoor activities are endless. The Rockies have people from all over the world moving through the state and helping invest in the area. People are active and I have made some really great friends in a short matter of time. I ride my BMX mostly at the Morrison trails, Wilson Woods and the Boulder Cement Park. I am a freelance photographer and run my company Life?. I also take care of landscaping for a few properties in the city. I like to work, but I like to work for myself. As far as day to day, I think everyday is a little different but I guess it usually flows like this. Wake Up, french press coffee, fruit, window observation aka weather, clean up the house, knee exercise, get moving, solo activity (work, bike, jump, build, skate, silk screen, photograph, hike, city cruise) make lunch, hang out with my lady, work on Life?, make dinner, relax, information for the brain (read, write, movies, conversation), sleep.

Nice. What about traveling in general, has that been important in your life?
Traveling is very important in my life. I have had great opportunities and met great people by traveling. My ideas and perspective of the world have strengthened and I am able to see people and the world in a clearer perspective. I believe having a home base is equally as important, where you enjoy living. I think travel is necessary to find that home base, otherwise you don't really know what you like based on lack of experience. Just try and make those trips happen. Whether they are in your town, city, state, country or continent. It will keep everything fresh.

What would you say to someone who wrote Ted Van Orman off as some sort of psuedo hippie? Not that I think that, I think you are generally interested and believe in everything you say, but for a naysayer.
It wouldn't bother me, but if they spent some time in the flesh, I don't think that would be the case. We can't learn men from books. Right?

Yeah or Facebooks. I guess the next question would be what is next for Ted?
Dinner, (laughs). I don't really have a plan but I want to create things and spread a meaningful message and bring joy and love to the people in my life.

I can respect that. Throughout all these years of living this thing called life, what's inspired you and motivated you?
The experience itself is the motivation. The elements happened to line up during this fraction of reality here on planet earth and created this "world" for me and the rest of life to experience. The fact that I have an open road, an unwritten book to complete and a head full of ideas to toy with for a short while has me motivated. "One world, One chance." Tear it up!

Thanks for doing the interview. I guess I do have one more question or rather request. Can you describe what it is like traveling with Steven Hamilton?
Entertaining and and also acquired at times, he is an original and sees the world in his own way and not afraid of the world's opinion. He is an artist and can ride a BMX like nobody's business.

I'll take that, I guess the juicy stuff doesn't really belong on here anyway. Thanks again Ted.