Sunday, March 7, 2010

BMX Legends Interview with Brett Downs

Interview - 11/04

By Jeff Slavik and Chris Ard

Brett Downs

Brett is one of the founding members of
the legendary Plywood Hoods...oh, and
he's been riding for the past 32 years!

Jeff & Chris: Brett, you were one of the original and founding members of the Plywood
Hoods. How did that come about and what kind of riding were you guys doing at that

BD: Back in '84 Mike Daily, Brian Peters and I were in the school cafeteria with the other
BMX misfits and decided to start a team. Half the guys would  race and the other half
would do tricks. Mike was a racer and Brian had one of the only quarter pipes in York. I
had never raced but could do basic tricks and jump anything that popped up in front of
me. Eventually, the racing side of it never came to be so we just did tricks. It was easier
than going to the track. Mike had the ambition and wanted to do shows. He was and will
always be the Captain of the team. Kevin Jones, Mark Eaton and Dale Mitzel went to a
different school but were quickly added to the team because they were great riders and
good friends.

Jeff & Chris: Who were some of your early freestyle influences – guys you respected?

BD: Of course guys like RL and Dominguez were our BMX heroes but we really pushed
each other.  Brian and Kevin could blast airs and Mike quickly learned to get about 5
feet before severely breaking his arm and quitting ramps.  When pegs first came out I
learned a bunch of tricks in my basement over winter so in the spring I showed them to
the guys and they were impressed. Dale and Eaton could learn new tricks quickly so we
all looked toward each other.

Jeff & Chris: A lot of people think you guys never got the coverage you deserved. Did it
bother you, or any of the other Hoods, that you weren't getting the magazine coverage
of some of the west coast riders?  What was it like when you guys finally did get

BD: We never really thought about coverage because we were so far away from the
California Pro world. We did our own thing and that is probably that made us different
from the others.  In '85 we started riding with some of the magazine pros at shows and
contests and we were in awe like everyone else but since we rode with them instead of
just watching them we formed more of a friendship.  Of course when we got in the
magazines we were dying for it.  It seemed too unreal to believe but it didn't change
anything because we were still 3000 miles from Cali.

Jeff & Chris: You along with the rest of the Plywood Hoods were known for coming up
with a lot of your own tricks. You guys did a lot to push the sport to new levels. I
especially noticed this between 1986-1988.  That’s when it seemed everything went
overnight from hopping and balancing to rolling and scuffing.  What pushed you to come
up with new tricks rather than just imitate what was already being done?  How did you
guys come up with these tricks?

BD: Kevin was so good at learning the tricks that were out he just came Up with
variations.  He and Eaton both have said that they figured that everyone else at the
contests were making up tricks so they would just do their things to keep up.  Kevin
stumbled into scuffing by doing a trick called Standing Room Only in his garage (see
Dorkin' in York).  Eaton did the whiplash and invented the steam roller and I think the
half lash and they were so fun that it just kept the ball rolling.  Rather than only doing
what was in the magazines we just tried to come up with variations and new ideas.  Our
scene was independent and self supporting.  Most of the credit has to go to Kevin
though.  He's a genius and on a different level than everyone else.

Jeff & Chris: You guys were known for unveiling your new tricks at the big AFA
contests.  What was that like…to see everyone’s reactions…fans, and pros?  Did you
ever get any comments from some of the big name pros?  Think any of them felt

BD: We just felt that everyone was bringing new tricks to contests so we Had to do the
same.  I can remember RL's face when he saw Kevin do a triple decade at a General
show (he did tap on the ride out) when the double was brand new.  RL was
expressionless, not out of disregard but more like "What the hell..."  I guess some of the
pro's felt threatened but most of them just learned Kev and Eaton's tricks like everyone
else at the time. Martin Aparijo did bite Kev's insanity hops and called them the chicken
hook switch which was BS and Woody did the trolley facing the other direction.  RL did
the cyborg which was Kev's hang 5 with the seat next to you.  They were just doing
variations of existing tricks like we had done.  I still think that it was fake of Martin to
make a big deal out of the chicken hook switch though. He should have given Kev credit
but he didn't when he had the chance.

Jeff & Chris: It seemed like the sport hit it’s peak, as far as being mainstream, around
1987 – 1988.  But by 1989, most of the big name riders were gone, and so were the
contests and magazines. What do you think are some of the reasons for this?  How did it
affect you? How did it affect the Plywood Hoods?

BD: I think it died because the fad passed.  As tricks evolved, riding became hard and
not just something where you could get by doing peg hops. As sponsors dried up riders
had to find another way to make a living. When GT started pushing around Wiz Pubs by
trying to regulate content and eventually pulling their advertising and killing Go, it
showed that it was about money.  Actually, it cleared freestyle like a forest fire and made
room for new growth.  The adults were gone and it was now left in the hands of the
riders.  The worst thing was not seeing friends and what bikes were out were total
garbage.  I know a lot of people have a sentimental love but those bikes and parts were
horrible.  Thanks to guys like Rick Moliterno, Chris Moeller, Bill Nitschke, Mat, James
Shepard and shops like Albe's and Trend (Tom & Tina) for keeping Freestyle alive. As
far as impacting the Hoods, it didn't.  We kept riding.

Jeff & Chris: You’ve never stopped riding.  What motivates you to keep riding all of
these years?

BD: Last year I asked my mom when I started jumping, actual putting the board on the
cinder block jumping.  She told me 1972.  Now I am 37 and have ridden continuously for
32 years.  I think I have the record.  Riding is still fun whether it's doing a show, flying
down a big hill, spinning a 360 or learning a new flatland trick.  I never looked to riding as
a career or a path to bigger things but it took me there.  Sometimes I still force my self to
go ride when I am not in the mood by convincing myself that because I ride on freezing
cold days, I will get to have a great day of riding in the future.  Kevin and I promised each
other we would ride until we're 50 but then I think I will have to go until 55 just so I can
put in an even half century of BMX.  I'll let you know in 2022...

Jeff & Chris: What are your thoughts on the new school and old school scenes?  What
would you say have been your highest and lowest points in your riding career?

BD: I hate the term Old School.  It seems dismissive.  It is all just Riding to me.  I tell
people there isn't old or new school, there is good and sucks.  Some old things are good
and some new things suck.  That should be the benchmark by which we judge BMX. I
broke my leg for the second time in November of 2000.  I think I was riding great at that
point on both ramps and at flatland.  That injury has slowed me down because my ankle
can't take another break so I try to be smoother and not so ballsy.  My crazy bits days
are behind me but I still improve everyday I ride.  It's tough knowing you can do things
and not doing them because you can't afford to get hurt anymore.  I KNOW I can do a
loop in a pipe or a loop ramp and doubt I'll ever get the chance/nerve to do it. I've been
thinking about it for 20 years and it stings to have to let that one slip away.  Someday I
may face one though and have to go for it.

Jeff & Chris: While people still like to watch vert and street, why do you think flatland isn’
t popular with audiences?  It was hugely popular back in the day.  Any ideas?

BD: Flatland is technical and not as obvious as ramps as everyone states so that is a
part of it but I'll let you in on something.  At the X-games in 2002 the flat comp area was
packed with nearly 1000 people standing in the hot sun about 8 rows deep to watch.  If
the venue had put bleachers there so people could sit, flatland would have drawn as big
a crowd as anything else. It comes down to marketing.  Back in the day flat was huge
because the crowds were made of riders and their families at contests and shows, not
just random people of the street.

Jeff & Chris: Where do you see the sport going in the future?

BD: In the future I see ramps and dirt going up and down while flatland will just keep
going in circles and street riding will be the same old grind.  I honestly don't think about
that stuff.  I just keep riding in my parking lot while the years flow by me.

Jeff & Chris: What are you up to these days?

BD: These days I am a Mom.  We had twins last March so I am at home while my wife
works.  I'll be doing that for a couple more years when our oldest goes into first grade
and then go back to my own carpentry business. I do shows for the Freecycle stunt team
( and any other teams that need a rider in the area.  I am one of the rare
flatlanders but I can also fill in on ramps.  I try to ride FDR skatepark a couple of times a
month and I ride flat a few times a week.  I ride trails once a year and go to Woodward
every couple of months.  I still go ride with Kevin and Leif in York whenever I can and
have a great bunch of guys (16-24 years old) that I ride with at home. Otherwise, I am
chasing my son, Henry, on his big wheel at the playground-I have to let him win. I don't
have any official sponsors but I'd like to thank Odyssey for keeping the Plywood Hoods
well stocked in goodies that actually work well and are strong.  I'd also like to thank Kink,
FBM, Harvest, Little Devil, Woodward, Contortion bars, Snafu, and Cyclesonic bike shop
for helping me with deals or hooking me up.

Jeff & Chris: Brett, thank you for taking the time to answer the questions.  We
appreciate it.  We're glad to have you here on the board.

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