A few months ago, journalist Abigail Geiger reached out to me about a story she was writing for the York Daily Record on the Plywood Hoods. I was unable to speak with her by phone about the Hoods (it was a hectic day) but she e-mailed over some questions that I rattled on too long about. The Plywood Hoods and Dorkin’ videos remain my bible to this day, and I am always honored to even just speak about them. Once, I even got a clip in a Dorkin’ video (“Balancing Act”) and really, if I’m being honest here, I probably could’ve given up bike riding when that video came out and told everyone that I had achieved everything I had ever wanted to as far as getting noticed in BMX went. They are that important to my roots as a lifelong BMX rider and the reason I can recite by memory Rob Base’s “It Takes Two.” They also remain my go-to example of a Malcom Gladwell-ian combination of the right people in the right time, excelling at flatland while also progressing in avenues that allowed them to self-publicize their exploits in media, from video to photos to writing. They were the perfect mashup of misfits that bordered on genius. I can shut up now: This is the full Q&A that didn’t make it into the original article, published for 5-10 people here on the advice of Bob Scerbo.
How much of an impact did the Plywood Hoods have on both the freestyle BMX community and the BMX community as a whole?
The Plywood Hoods made an enormous impact on the BMX community and the discipline of flatland as a whole. At the time when the Plywood Hoods were just starting to get noticed (mid to late ‘80s), BMX Freestyle was in its first heyday. There were a handful of magazines documenting the scene, the very rare occasional TV special and one Hollywood movie that bombed — that was about it as far as media coverage went. And since the magazines were largely based in Southern California, the only way to get outside exposure was to travel to the national contest series (AFA) and compete, hoping 1) that you did well in the contest and 2) that the magazines took notice.
In 1987, Kevin Jones, one of the original Hoods, traveled to an AFA competition in Austin, Texas, and unleashed a run of original flatland tricks that no one had ever seen before. His bike was mangled, he was virtually unknown, and he placed second in the 19 and over expert flatland class. He immediately got picked up by a bike sponsor (Skyway) after the competition. And all of the magazines took notice. You have to remember though — this was before video surfaced immediately after the competition. We only saw photos in magazines (sometimes 5-6 months after the competition) and had to interpret what was happening in the flatland trick that Kevin was doing.
In addition to Jones’ riding, Mark Eaton was progressing just as fast alongside Jones in both riding and a concept new to BMX Freestyle: independent video production. While this tight knit group of BMX riders was unknowingly pushing the realm of possibility forward, Eaton was conceptualizing a home made video project which documented their BMX progression. It was released in May of 1988 and was the first independent BMX video ever.
Together, Jones and Eaton changed BMX forever. It was the perfect combination of “what if” in BMX progression and independent video production, and it became a revolution that altered the trajectory of becoming a pro in BMX Freestyle, getting coverage as a BMX Freestyle rider and networking with other BMX Freestyle riders.
What do you think it was about the Plywood Hoods that was so special? Was it their location in York, so far from Cali, where many riders were? Or their creative tricks?
I think what made the Hoods so special was that they created an independent movement within BMX Freestyle that continues to this day. Before the Hoods, there was this established system of getting sponsored, riding in pro competition, wearing uniforms to compete and getting coverage. It borrowed heavily from BMX Racing, but BMX Freestyle was anything but organized. I think what the Hoods did was show the world that you could do whatever you want on a BMX bike without the consent of BMX brands, magazines or pros. You could make videos and do your own tricks and if it’s unique, there’s going to be a special group of riders that seek out that spark. That they did it in York, Pa., so far from the established BMX industry, made it even better. And that they did it with their own tricks is remarkable.
What type of impact does that 80s history of riding have on the BMX scene today? Do young riders ride the same as older riders? Is there generational overlap, or a “new scene”?
Recently, there’s been a resurgence of ‘80s influence on BMX Freestyle. Riders that were 13 in 1986 are now 43, getting nostalgic, and brands are recognizing that niche inside of a niche. Brands such as Haro are recreating the bikes they made in the ‘80s, and gatherings such as the Old School BMX Reunion are bringing the older communities together. It’s a good time in BMX, whether you’re young and just discovering it, or been away for 20 years and wanting to rekindle an old spark.
As far as the impact goes, the younger generations don’t really know or study the past, but everything they do comes from the first generation of ‘80s BMX Freestyle, from making videos to grinding to buying t-shirts from small rider-owned brands. All of that happened in the ‘80s and it’s still happening. A 13-year-old might not realize that those roots stretch back far before they were born though.
And yes, there is a new scene, but they’re not very respectful of the past. If I were to be frank, I’d say that they’re all too distracted by their phones and weed smoking to care about what happened before them. I often draw parallels between BMX and skateboarding, and it’s strange to me that in skateboarding, most younger skaters do their homework about the past, but that just doesn’t happen enough in BMX. I’m venting, sorry.
What is the relationship between freestyle BMX and racing BMX?
There really isn’t much of a relationship between BMX and Freestyle anymore. It’s very rare that there is a crossover rider that can race a pro race and also hold their own in Freestyle, and vice versa. And there are few brands that actually cater to both Race and Freestyle. Yes, there are some, but by and large, the smaller core brands are making Freestyle/Street bikes and don’t know who Caroline Buchanan is.
Also, how did you personally come into the BMX world?
I personally discovered BMX riding through early magazines such as BMX Action and Freestylin. The editors of those magazines knew how to reach out to kids that were on the fence and get them psyched about trying to ride BMX Freestyle bikes. That was in the mid ‘80s and I’m still here riding my bike around in circles, trying Kevin Jones tricks…