Steven Hamilton Interview: Dig Issue 42

(Just like the title of the post states….)

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Very rarely does someone come along that can challenge the status quo within riding, and win. But in the span of a handful of video sections (including A Day Late and a Dollar Short, The Day is Over, appearances in Road Fools 11 and 12, and Can I Eat?), Steven Hamilton did just that. There he was, riding his bike and minding his own business, not really bothering to keep up with the scene, just making video parts that he thought were fun, when he suddenly became a household name in BMX.
Steven’s name became commonplace throughout the world just after the release of An!mal’s Can I Eat? video. He mixed fearless gaps with big 180’s, 360’s and original technical lines, and just about everyone that had seen the video was blown away by it. Unknowingly, Steven had introduced a new dimension to riding. All it took was that 3-minute section, a Violent Femmes song and a different view of the world around himself. Add to that, the fact that he did it on, of all things, a bike with a 19 inch top tube, and you’ve got the makings of a true original. (Though I don’t think Steven cares to portray himself in such a light. He seems more concerned with friends, having fun and generally just living a carefree life than he does with being an international BMX phenomenon on a short frame.)
Still, there can be no argument that Steven Hamilton has made quite an impression on the face of BMX, even if he is someone that just enjoys playing soccer and doesn’t know how to stay out of the way of moving traffic.
We did this interview in two parts. The first part, Steven fielded email questions from Sandy and Ed. And the second part, Steven answered questions via a phone interview, as he walked home from watching Ohio State University’s first football game of the 2004-05 season. OSU won, Steven was glad they won, and we were all glad that both the taxi cab and the car didn’t mow him down on his way home from the game. That wouldn’t have been too sweet….

Have you ever forgotten your bike when you went out to ride or film?
Yes, I made Sandy drive me an hour and a half through Austin traffic to check out a spot, only to get there and realize I left my bike unlocked in front of a restaurant on the other side of town.

Have you ever beaten Ali Whitton during a Woodward camper contest?
I think it was before Ali knew judges like to see you utilize as many obstacles on the course as possible. He stuck to the resi and I took the win. Then, someone stole my winnings out of my cabin.

What’s your favourite Peter Adam story?
Girl at the hostel: “How come you only talk to me when your wasted?”
Peter Adam: “How come you only look good when I’m wasted?”
I guess it’s not much of a story, but it’s still pretty funny.

What’s the PSI is in your head?
I have a polyp in my nose, so when I get around cats or mold, the pressure often doubles and sometimes triples. With a Breathe Right nasal strip, I can keep it down around 25, which isn’t too bad.

Have you ever done a sequence for a how to on speed jumping?
Only because the dude promised me a picture of a no-footed x-up if I did the sequences for him. He didn’t come through with the pic and said I was an 80s style jumper in the article. Too bad the jump was a hip and I was just getting some style. He’s lucky he never came back to the trails after that. I would have thrown dirt at him or something.

You just got back from Vancouver with the Orchid trip. How was it?
Oh, it was awesome.

Is that your first time being around the Orchid team?
Umm, no. Some of them yes. But I’ve been around Sean Arata a lot. I guess I had pretty much met them all, but this was the first time we actually all got to hang out.

How did you actually get hooked up with Orchid?
I rode for Inopia, and that didn’t really work out. I think either LS or Navaz [of Standpoint video magazine] said something to Derek [Adams] and then I saw Derek at FDR one day, and he said he would give me some shoes. Then I think they called me one day and said that they wanted me to ride for them.

So is there going to be a Hamilton signature shoe then?
I don’t know. I would hope so.

You know that Adio already has a shoe out called the Hamilton, so you’d need to find another name for it.
There’s an Adio shoe called that? Is it a pro skater’s?

No, I think it’s just a generic name for one of their non-signature shoes.
I already got a name picked out and I already have some ideas for a shoe, but I still need to wait and see if they even want me to do one….

What are your shoe designs like?
Something like Andre Agassi’s pro model shoe.

A tennis shoe?
Yeah, cause I got a pair of them, and they’re sweet to ride in.

I guess we could start talking about getting on An!mal as well.
Woah! I almost just got hit by a taxi.

You alright?
Yeah.

How do you feel about going through a big change where you weren’t really hooked up with anyone and then, suddenly, you just started getting hooked up by a few. How does that feel?
It’s awesome, cause like, it’s not like I went though some personal change. I still do what I’ve always done. I just make video parts. And everyone is cool with that. No one expects me to go to a ton of contests or get a lot of magazine coverage. I get some stuff in the magazines, but I’d just want to focus on videos. The good thing about getting hooked up is, I haven’t had to change at all really.

You know, you came out with the part in Can I Eat?, and everyone was, I guess, in a non-homosexual kind of way, sweating you pretty bad. You know, everyone was talking about you. How did that feel? Was it kinda spooky and/or was it weird to start getting recognized, like, if you went to a skatepark or something?
Uhh, the only time I go to skateparks is when I’m on trips and stuff, so if a whole team of us on a trip shows up at a park, then they’d get recognized too. That An!mal part was my third video part already. I had two before that. They were small ones.

If An!mal offered you a signature grip but Ralph stipulates that it’s only on the grounds that it’s chequered, would you do it?
Definitely, cheguered grips would be sweet, tie die grips would be better.

How do you feel about Steven Hamilton clones?
Cologne?

No, clones!
Like if you clone a goat or something like that?

Well, we have a few kids at the local park here that kinda emulate you pretty bad after the An!mal video.
They sweat my shit after the An!mal video?

Yeah, I mean, not that you’d be pissed or anything, but is that strange for you at all?
Yeah, it’s definitely weird. It’s not something I was used to, but I think it’s pretty obvious you know, like they’re sweating me and trying to copy. But you know, when I was young, I sweated people real bad too and I would like, I would see something and I would try to do it too. That’s how you learn shit. It kinda gets annoying when you have like, kids that should be past that and are still doing it. Go do you own thing.

So how many striped t-shirts do you own then? And do you think you are responsible for the striped t-shirt fashion?
Yes, I invented putting stripes on shirts.

Who did you look up to then, when you were younger and coming into riding?
Yeah, depending on what stage I was at or how old I was, I looked up to different people. I guess some of the people that have influenced me along that way are Brian Castillo, Paul Osicka, Brian Foster, Taj and Joe Rich. All those guys were pretty big when I was coming into it.

Did you ever race?
I didn’t really start out racing. I went to tracks a lot but I only actually raced twice. I didn’t really have too much fun actually racing. Just cause I was always kinda nervous. The last time I raced, I got wrecked around the last berm. But I definitely rode race tracks a lot.

How did you actually get into riding then?
When I was younger, I lived in Oregon and North Carolina, and me and my brother would just ride around. My brother would always pop wheelies, and we started to do that. And when I lived in North Carolina, this kid across the street had a four-foot kicker that we would just launch to flat off of. Me and my brother would ride off the corner of that ramp. I think we rode just to kinda get away. Like if I wanted to go explore a new creek, I would just ride my bike there, and a lot of the creeks there would have dirt jumps and stuff, so it kinda came to me.

Why did your family move all over the place?
My dad is a Marine.

What rank is he?
Lieutenant Colonel.

So was your upbringing pretty strict then?
No, not really. I moved around a lot. I was born in ’82 but we moved to Columbus, Ohio not too far after that. But before, I got to go to all these cool places like Sweetwater Falls in Oregon and Yellowstone National Park. But it wasn’t strict or anything really.

What does your brother do now?
He plays rugby. He plays for Ohio State and he just graduated. Now he lived in Colorado, plays rugby out there and works in natural resources.

So is he a bigger dude than you?
He was always way bigger than me and has always been able to kick my ass, but recently, I’ve been getting up there. He’s still way bigger than I am, but we’ll see what happens.

Does your family know about your riding then?
Yeah, they know and they think it’s cool. My parents will show all their friends all my video parts and stuff.

So you never had any interference from them earlier on then?
Oh, earlier on I had a lot. I played soccer in high school, and I’d always go ride. And I got in a lot of trouble at soccer practice, like, if there’d be a mound of dirt on the baseball field near the soccer field, I’d be sitting there riding it in the middle of practice while my coaches would be yelling at me. My mom would get mad at me for riding all the time and not hanging out with my friends. And the place where we grew up, the trails were kinda sketchy, and I think parents probably thought it was real bad for their kids to be hanging out down there; just lots of drugs and stuff down there.

Would you describe your riding style as a product of the scene you grew up in, or is it more personal than that?
Definitely a reflection of the scene I grew up in, from the landscape to the people. Midwest, say shhh!

Are you taking a break from college now then?
I stopped taking classes in the last winter quarter. The last fall quarter, I was taking 15 hours of classes and I had a ping pong class and a bunch of other classes. But by the end of the quarter, all I had was the ping pong class and one other art class. And then the next quarter, I signed up for classes again, but I wasn’t into it. In the fall quarter, that’s when I was filming for the An!mal video, so I was trying to film shit. And it would always come down to get another clip or go to class. I would always say “Fu*k it, I might as well film, or sleep, or watch another dating show.” So I just didn’t go to class then. I signed up again in the winter, but I dropped them after two weeks.

Did you pass the ping pong class?
Yeah, I actually got an A-. I was real good at ping pong, but there was an actual exam. And this little Japanese lady that was my teacher, well, I did kinda bad on the exam, but I went up and talked to her and I was kinda cool with her, so she told me some answers, and I changed them and she let me get by.

I would’ve been bummed if you failed a ping pong class.
I probably would’ve killed myself.

So did you drop out or are you taking a break then?
It’s hard to say. I might go back; I might not. I dropped out to travel, and I’ve been traveling a ton. I mean, til I get bored with what I’m doing now, I won’t be in school.

Do you see that happening anytime soon?
Not really. I might not travel as much, but I’ll always want to go to new places.

What were some highlights from your trip to Prague earlier this year?
Peter Adam entertaining Joerichhead and her two friends, Absinthe everynight, cheap chineese food, nasty gypsies trying to give us head for $5 and pickpocketing us at the same time.

What were your impressions of the bone church in Kutna Hora?
They used human bones to make neat things like birds pecking out the eyes of their cousins and bone chandeliers with dusty plastic cupid figurines on them. It was a very sacred place.

Was it a hard decision to make then; putting college on hold to try the riding thing?
Yeah, it was definitely a hard decision. I didn’t really know what to do. I thought it would take away from riding if it was my main focus. The main reason I made the decision, was because I was so stressed out at the time, but now, I get to relax a little more.

You seem to take a more casual approach to riding. You know, there’s the guys that come to comps and they’re like warriors about it, just wanting to show off? But you can go either way it seems. I’ve seen you go nuts at the Ghetto Street Comps and also not want to even be noticed at other contests. It just seems like it’s not the most important thing in your life I guess. Does that make any sense?
Yeah, but I think contests are alright.

Well then, what makes you take the approach you take towards your riding then?
I try not to do anything unless I’m feeling it. If I’m into it, then I’m into it. But if I’m having a hard time putting in the effort, it’s not worth it. If it feels natural though, it’ll be good.

What made you want to take the video approach more importantly?
I think video parts withstand time better. It could last forever. People can always watch it, whereas, if you enter a contest, people there will see you ride and it’ll be in the magazine maybe. But with a video part, you have a lot more control of what you’re putting out there and how you’re being portrayed. It’s something that’s gonna last and something that you always look back on. I don’t know, I think video parts are really cool. And they’re real fun to make too.

What makes you go nuts at every Ghetto Street comp then? (Smart me: At time of writing, there’s only been two.)
I just like the vibe there.

Are those the only comps you’ve ever entered then?
Yeah, just those two. I was hurt at the first one. It was the first time I had ridden in 3 or 4 weeks, cause my chest was fuc*ked up, but I always have a great time there. I don’t think I’m going to be able to go this year though. I’m going to Japan next week.

Did you always tend to have smaller bike setups?
I rode normal sized bikes, and I had an MCS Gravedigger frame for a while. I had that frame, and I liked it a lot, and then I had an Elf. And it was a pro-sized frame but I liked it. Back then, I was more into jumping. And then my Elf broke and I got a DK XL frame. And I had that bike for a long time, but when I got it, I couldn’t do 180’s. All my friends could, but when I got that frame, I could barely bunnyhop on it cause I was so tiny on it. I still rode it, and I basically just jumped anyway. Then when it came time to get a new frame, I was looking at all the frames, and saw the Standard Tao. I just thought I’d try it out, and as soon as I got it, I loved it. I actually had the control that my bigger friends had on their bike. I could actually do 180’s and I had way more control. I’ve ridden the same dimensions on frames since then.

And now your own frame is coming out in a few weeks. How does that feel?
It’s awesome. I’m real psyched on my frame.

Do you have a name for it yet?
It’s going to be called the Dream Machine, from the Neil Young song about his motorcycle. I didn’t know if the people at Federal would be into it, but that’s what I want to call it.

Well, you can bully Ian around if you want. He’s pretty easy that way.

Is the rest of your bike setup pretty specialized?
I keep my back end pretty much slammed, put mad spacers on my fork so my bars are high for the extra leverage, seat low for clearance, tires at about 90psi, headset a tiny bit loose and the thinnest grips I can find. Just past couple of year, it’s been getting a little more race-oriented. I’m not riding the same thing I was back then, so my bike is changing too.

Did you ever run pegs? What were your reasons for taking them off?
I ran pegs off and on for about 4 years, I noticed people around me puting pegs on during the same time, the pegs seemed to slow down the progression of their riding more that help it, like when they put the pegs on they had to learn all these grinds before they could get back to the shit they’d normally be doing and progressing at.

What cheesy parts have you ran in the past that you now regret?
I regretted spending 180 dollars for blue anodized Supercross cranks (the ones with the bend in them.) They were aluminum and never stopped creaking the whole time I had them.

What’s your favorite thing to ride lately?
I’ve been having a lot of fun on cement parks. On the Orchid trip, we rode a lot of cool ass parks in the Northwest, and it was also the first time I’ve ever ridden real trails. I rode those Salem trails. Oh wait, I rode Baker’s Acres too. We don’t have good trails around here anymore. A few years ago, we had about five sets all around, but they’re pretty much all gone now.

Well, ever since Todd Lyons left town…
Yeah, he killed the Columbus scene. Everyone hates him for that.

A lot of your riding is pretty innovative. How do you figure out new tricks and new lines that you’re doing? What’s the process to get to it?
It’s just kinda like, I’ll think of something, and it’s just like, I’ll try it out. Depending on what it is or how badly I want to do it, I’ll slowly do it while I’m riding, kinda mess around with it, and with time, it just kinda becomes easy. Instead of just trying to learn something in the span of one week or something, I just try to take my time. There’s also sometimes to, you know, like with flatland, where you try something and by accident, something kinda works out. And then you get different ideas to do more things. I just almost got hit by a car again.

So that’s two cars in this conversation?
One taxi and one car.

What type of tricks are you concentrating on right now?
Trying to be faster, quicker, working with some tire skid/slide stuff, still doing nose wheelies, still doing a lot of the same stuff just hopefully bigger and faster.

Nose wheelies play a big part in your riding. Was flatland something you concentrated on, or was it just something you messed about with along the way? What type of riding were you most drawn to at first?
I only started doing nose wheelies a couple years ago. I never rode flatland, (at least not flatland with 4 pegs or whatever), there’s flatland in everything, except a roller section I guess. In the beginning, riding was just a mode of exploration, riding to different creeks or whatever. Doing tricks came naturally with the landscape, catching air and what not.

What does sponsorship mean to you?
I definitely appreciate it a lot. If I can help my sponsors out and they can help me out, then it works out really good. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got going for myself right now.

Are there any Steven Hamilton signature parts coming out with An!mal then?
I got a pedal coming out. That dude White Boy is working on it right now. It’s a cross between a Schwinn XS pedal and a Wellgo pedal, but with sealed bearings.

I guess I should ask you about other sports you’re into then too.
I play soccer. Me and my friends have an indoor team, and we play about 3 sessions a week during the winter time, and then in the summer, I was on an outdoor team, and we would play at least once a week.

What position are you?
Forward.

Do you ever play defense?
No, I’m terrible at defense. I score goals. I just sit up top and rest, and when I get an opportunity, I just sprint and lose all my energy real quick. I just try to get break-aways.

Sandy mentioned frisbee golf too.
Yeah, I play frisbee golf in the summer time. It’s something to do outside and it’s also free. I snowboard too. I play basketball as well.

I guess, did you want to talk about Federal as well then?
That was weird. I was riding Dodge with my friend one day and Sandy was on his way through, and he told me could give me a frame. Someone else had already told me that they could get me a frame then. It was you actually. Ian was at the Ghetto Street comp last year, and I talked to him afterwards, and stuff worked out really good.

How did you get to be friends with Stew [Johnson] then?
I was at Woodward, and he was there. I started talking to him when he was filming. I showed him my video (Inception). It was some video I made in high school.

And the Stew ended up bringing you on all these crazy Road Fools trips?
Yeah, Stew invited me.

What were those experiences like for you?
The first one was pretty weird because it was in the middle of winter time, and I totally wasn’t expecting it. I hadn’t ridden, and I got out there, and I got really sore on the first day. And then the second one was really good, especially cause it was in the Midwest so I was more comfortable than I was on the first one.

Is it strange for you to be around a group of 15 pros all going nuts at the same time? Was it like a contest for you?
I was kinda worried about that on the first RF trip I went on, thinking I really needed to get a lot of footage. But then I just got more comfortable and it was nothing bad at all.

Are there any riding situations or things you’ve done that have scared you?
A lot of the times when I’m filming something, I’ll just be sitting at home and depressed or something, and I’ll just be like, “Fu*k it, I’m gonna go do something stupid.” Sometimes, it works out and I’m happy and sometimes I’m pissed off at myself for like two weeks cause my knee is tweaked out or something like that. But if you’re intimidated by something, you’ll have to feel a lot better when you finally pull it. It’s also a lot better to pull something if you’re not sure you can do it.

Do you ever have to struggle with anything then?
Normally, I’ll pretty much understand what it is I’m trying before I try to do it, so I don’t get mad or anything. If it’s not working out, I just kinda expect it. But a lot of the stuff I film can take a while, but I expect it to. And I”m still having fun when I’m trying shit, so it doesn’t really bother me.

What’s the deal with Maynard Street?
Maynard, my house?

Yeah.
It’s our house in Columbus, and it’s me, two guys just moved out and two more guys that ride just moved in. It’s always six guys, and we just ride on campus, so it’s always crazy during the school year. It’s pretty chill in the summer time and we just do whatever.

What’s the rent per person?
$268.00 a month. It’s definitely got its ups and downs though. Like as far as bills getting paid and the house getting cleaned, it’s kinda a pain. Communication is tough.

What’s your chores around the house?
I mow the lawn and try to take the trash out. Those are the two main things that need done. Just taking the trash out is the main thing that doesn’t get done, and it needs to be done a lot more than it is. There’s always a lot of trash laying around. I also try to take care of some of the bills. I’m actually pretty lazy about it all too, but my friend Matt that’s moving in, said he’s pretty much going to try to be the mom of the house. Hopefully, things will be a little better with that.

Do you have to share a room then?
No. We all have our own rooms.

Can you tell us about sleeping in an alleyway on the East side of Austin because you got lost walking to Joel Moody’s house?
I was sitting on the curb eating some pizza after the bars let out on Sixth Street; just people watching, minding my business, when this chubby girl comes up and starts dancing on me and rubbing my leg. So I got a little creeped out and decided to go back to Joel’s house where I was staying. It was late and I was tired, so I was pretty frustrated after walking in circles for an hour and not finding the place. So I found some bushes on the side of a house and took a nap for a bit. I woke up feeling good and found the place no problem.

What’s the best thing about being Steven Hamilton.
Both of my pinky toes are double jointed.

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