I'm going to come right out and say this -- Steven Hamilton is one of my favorite riders ever. When Animal's "Can I Eat" came out, my idea of how people can ride a bike was significantly changed. Moving into 2012, he has continued to be someone I think has a great approach to riding. That is, he seems to genuinely like the physical act of riding bikes and how it feels. Of course, Steven has also been the object of controversy amongst BMX riders and the media. For a period, Steven took to making unorthodox videos and updating his now defunct blog, Disguise Disguise (later Disguise Disguise Rice). These acts were either hailed as genius or quickly shot down as juvenile attempts at being "weird." I could see both sides.
Then, in 2010, Animal released their fourth video "Cuts" and, sure enough, Hamilton still had it. He came through with big gaps, weird skids, and more creative lines than most riders have in their whole career. It was awesome, and for us Steven Hamilton fans, it felt like an 'I told you so" moment. We always knew he was out there killing it. And he still is. These past few weeks, Steven has released two new videos, one each for his longtime sponsors Federal and Animal. Both videos are charmingly lo-fi and show Steven is still leaving his mark on the BMX world.
Steven and I talked this past week and he talked about his unique approach to riding and his way of documenting it.
ESPN.com: I really like those two new videos you came out with. I think people have this misconception, especially now with the web, that if someone isn't getting tons of coverage, they aren't riding at all. Are these videos a response to that, or just what you're doing?
Hamilton: Well what I've been doing is going out with my backpack with my video camera and my 35mm camera and I just carry it with me and then try to find someone to ride with me. I've just been asking whoever I'm riding with to film or take a photo for me. I'll sometimes tell them where to take it from or sometimes they have an idea where they want to take it. That way I've been able to have footage to put in those videos and photos to put on the websites.
Well, this goes into another question I have regarding how the footage and photos look. I don't want to overanalyze it but they have a distinct look to them -- they look like footage and photos my friends and I used to take when we were kids. Are you interested in how the footage and video looks or am I over analyzing it?
As far as photo goes, I've been shooting for awhile. I don't really set up flashes, I use the flash on the camera. And I'm not really carrying around a big video camera or a tripod so that gives the footage and the photos that feeling, I think.
I think that's the most appropriate way to film and photograph riding.
I agree, Normally the person who is taking the photo is someone who is also riding and is there to ride.
To me your riding, while it was definitely distinct, I feel like it was always changing -- basically improvisational and sort of stream of conscious. Do you think about that at all?
Well one thing that has changed a lot is I'm riding bigger frames. When I first came onto the scene I was always riding a 19" frame and one time when I was out in New York and I needed a bike, Federal sent me a 20.75" frame out of nowhere. At the time I was kind of bored with my bike anyways, so I think it was a good idea to change it up. I've been riding anything from 20" to 20.75". Now I'm back to 20" which feels the closest to a 19". I do look at a lot of my footage and, with the bigger bike, it is a different style.
How do you think that has really changed your riding? You don't seem to be doing nose manuals anymore.
Yeah I can't really do the nose wheelies as well on the bigger bikes. It was better for some things. I was able to learn some new things on the bigger bikes. A lot of the stuff I was really good at I couldn't really get as well on the bigger bike. But on the bigger bike I was able to, I don't know, I forget exactly but there was a few other things I was able to better on the bigger bike.
When you first come under the BMX media's radar you had a very distinct style and I think you blew a lot of people's minds. Who were you influenced by?
Well, I've been asked this so many times, I try to change it up.
Right, it doesn't have to be specific, or even BMX related. In a lot of ways, I see a lot of Mark Gonzales, the skateboarder, in your riding.
Yeah I look up to him a lot, especially more recently. When I was younger I looked up to skaters too. And also BMXers. Flatlanders, racers, Dave Mirra, vert riders, and also I would get inspiration from other things too like soccer and rally cross racing. And music.
How would something like soccer or rally cross racing inspired your riding?
One way is motivation. As far as watching a video on the Internet of soccer goals, like "100 Greatest Soccer Goals," getting me motivated to ride good. Another way is their style -- the player's distinct style. Trying to develop style like that on a bike.
Did you play soccer as a kid?
You went to Ohio State University too, right?
Yeah but I didn't play soccer at OSU, just intramural, not the team.
What I really like about the videos, is that it all seems like Columbus footage. Do you want to talk about how after all these years you can still find stuff to ride in Columbus and Ohio in general?
Well one of the things that really brought me back to Columbus was the U wall on campus. Out of of all the curved walls I've ridden I think that is the best one in the world. It's the most perfect wall you can ride. Having that here really brought me back. And the area where I live, we're always finding new stuff. I mean it does get kind of, sometimes it feels you won't find anything but a couple days later you look at it a little differently and you're able to find things. In the alleys and different areas. And we have Dodge [skatepark] and a few other good skateparks. But as far as street goes there's a lot of good spots and we're always finding stuff.
It seems that people think you have to go to to a certain place that is believed to have spots, like you can't just find something in your backyard.
Right and with street riding that's part of it -- wanting to be able to find spots and look at things and figure out how to ride them. And to be able to make things out of pallets and whatever. There's plenty of things laying around to build obstacles out of.
If you want to make a video of me riding, turn the camera on and press record and then I ride. We'll find things to ride.
One of the things I wanted to talk about is that OSU wallride you just mentioned because you continue to come up with new things on it. It's in the new Animal DVD where you wallride the flat wall, go around the curved wall, and wallride the flat wall out. Was that you riding that over and over and finally seeing it?
Yeah, I didn't realize I could incorporate that wall for l think eight years and one day I noticed that was possible and I tried it out and got it to work. I was pretty excited about that. And you're right -- we are always finding new combinations and things to do with incorporating the other wall, manuals, and gaps, and different ways to go around and into it.
For a while a lot of the videos you were making were really repetitive, which I really liked, it was almost like the same clip over and over. The new ones seem like a departure.
I've been editing videos since high school so I kind of wanted to come up with a new style. What that was, I called it "Sequencing." I took maybe three clips and cut them up and repeat some images and stagger 'em and kind of play with that. I was playing with that and trying to get it to work. Some people were getting into it but a lot of people decided it was annoying.
When you're filming are you thinking of something specific or are you just riding?
Well the way I feel now is, say someone wants to make a video of me riding. It's like, ok, make a video of me riding -- turn on the camera, press record and I'll ride. Instead of let's go to a spot, take the camera out and then I learn to do a trick on the spot and then we record. After we do that 100 times and make a video out of that. I kind of feel like if you want to make a video of me riding, turn the camera on and press record and then I ride. We'll find things to ride. We'll just go out and ride and whichever spots we come across, I'll ride 'em because that's what I do, I ride.
There's little nuances like a skid on a curb after a trick, I feel like you always leave stuff like that in videos.
A lot of that stuff, For instance, on that movie I made with Brant [Moore], the Animal B-52's video. There is a clip where I did an alley-oop over a brick channel gap, I remember when we were editing it, or when I did it after I pulled it I kind of bumped off one of the parking blocks into the parking lot and it felt really good and it reminded me of when I had done that same alley-oop on a bank in the old Federal video in Germany. And I was like, "Damn I wish you kept filming me after the 270 because that little bump off the curb felt even better!" And when we were going through the footage and he said "Do you want me to leave in the bump into the parking lot?" and I was like "Oh you did get it, great. Definitely leave it in." I was thinking how good that felt just for some reason bumping into the parking lot.
It's almost like you're not thinking at that point, like your head is fully clear.