I don't think that it would be reaching to say Brandan "Punjab" Pundai is a Northeast trail riding legend. He was a local at Pittsburgh's PUSH trails and finds his way on most trail rider's favorites list. Just at home doing supermans over huge jumps as he was casually flowing through trails, Punjab helped define what we think of when we now think of trail riding.
During his time as a pro rider, he was part of Standard Byke Company when they were arguably on top of the BMX world. Punjab eventually found himself on Fly Bikes, when they brought their program to the States. He was ready to make some big changes to his life but instead of finding himself enrolling in medical school, he found himself in jail. In 2009, he was arrested for growing marijuana in his Pittsburgh apartment. He spent time in jail and rehab programs, eventually transitioning into the halfway house where he is currently living. I recently caught up with him over the phone where we discussed PUSH, his arrest, and his future plans.
ESPN.com: So first, when did you start going to PUSH?
Pundai: Probably '95. Right around the time when rhythm sections really started happening -- as funny as that sounds. It's funny to think that because Jason Steig, Justin Short, the Cummings Brothers, a lot of the guys, there's a list of guys who built at PUSH, that I honestly think they started how trails are now built. There really wasn't anywhere like that before them.
What about POSH?
They were around at the same period of time but POSH kind of didn't carry over building rhythm sections. Both places fed off each other once everyone met each other, though. It seemed like [Jason] Steig and Justin Short had a jump on everything.
Can you talk about "Domination"? In addition to the trail footage in your part, I think some of the street clips were really awesome.
Yeah. What's crazy is the trail stuff we really filmed in a matter of a few days, it wasn't really a long process. Some of the street stuff, there was a few things that I had in my hometown of Greensburg [Pennsylvania] that I wanted to do, and the Boston stuff. A few of the gaps, like the ones in Boston were really just us riding -- we were just on trips to a few cities.
You guys were on trips specifically for "Domination"?
Yeah and it really wasn't anything too extensive either, the whole filming thing wasn't really as serious. There were a few things we had planned out, the trail stuff was things you did everyday, more or less. For me it was. Even the filming for the trails, I wouldn't say it was completely random, but Glenn [Milligan] called me a few weeks before he came out. He came out for four or five days, we got crappy weather a few days, it wasn't a big deal, kind of everyday riding.
It's funny that you mentioned the Boston clips because, growing up in Massachusetts, when I finally went to that spot in Government Center, the one everyone called "death ledge" I was pretty blown away at the gap you did.
That's cool. Actually that's what I've been doing here in the city again, not things to that extent, but riding street that same way again. I haven't even really ridden street too much and it's been years, probably a good four or five years since I've ridden it day after day. That's one of the things with the halfway house. It sucks, but at the same time I get to ride my bike everyday to work and ride street in the city.
You and Groundchuck [Issac McCrea] seemed to really be at the forefront of huge jumps. What trails were those in "Standard Country" when you, or at least Groundchuck is wearing full face?
That was after PUSH got plowed. I have to give props to Standard and Fox, because back then they donated money to us to help build the place. It kind of went haywire because I didn't expect it to get built that way. I was into bigger stuff but not as crazy as that place. It was called Death Valley. It just withered away mainly because it was so big. Really, you're not going to have fun on jumps like that, I don't care who you are. I'm not. And I didn't. All the PUSH influence, Ft. Wayne and POSH influence, it just went out the door, I didn't get it. I wasn't really around that place all that much. I was for a little while but after we rode and got it running it was just like, "this place is too much." Then Vaun Stout broke his leg there -- in half -- from jumping off, something we all did nine million times. I never saw anything like it. That just killed the place.
Crazy. Going back to Standard, how did that come about? That's a huge part of your history.
Yeah, at the time it was a huge deal. I think anybody knows, back then, Standard and S&M were the companies to ride for. At least that was a goal of mine. I never really wanted to ride for someone like Schwinn or someone like that, I really didn't care [about companies like that]. Me and Groundchuck [Issac McCrea] went on a road trip to Ft. Wayne, Indiana and we went to Rampage because they were having a big jam. It was super fun and at the jam, [Rick] Moliterno asked if I wanted to ride for them, I guess because I was riding well or whatever. It was good for a pretty long period of time but I guess towards the end it got really strange in a way. Anyone who was involved with it would kind of know what I am talking about. I'm sure word has gotten around to just about everyone at this point. It was such a weird and awkward situation.
It's crazy that it went from the best team in BMX, to like you said, awkward, even to an outsider.
Oh yeah. Just after a certain point, there was no doubt it was like that. It all stemmed from other guys getting involved. It was not good man, it really wasn't. It seemed like after '99, it was inevitable I was going to ride for someone else.
What happened after Standard?
I ended up quitting Standard. It was crazy. At the high point I had Heath Pinter and Sam Arellano ask me if I wanted to ride for Mosh, this was before I quit Standard. I kind of really kicked myself for actually being loyal (laughs). But whatever it obviously doesn't matter.
So you didn't ride for them?
Yeah, because I had just signed my new contract with Standard. They were offering way more, basically to take Aitken's spot. He quit. It was ridiculous, really, what they were offering.
That would have been a cool fit. Looking back, they had cool art direction and obviously extensive means.
It was, as much as it was, Giant, you know, supposedly one of the biggest bike manufacturers in the world. Besides that fact they really had something going. You know, I was just staying loyal to Standard because things weren't really, really weird at Standard at the time. That all changed and I ended up quitting. But, I want to say it was a matter of a few months, and I got picked up by Fly through Steve Buddendeck and System Cycle. And it was right when Fly came to America. Me and Biz [Ryan Jordan] were the only two riders at the time from here. That was it, just tried it out and basically ended up being a good fit.
Everything was really good. No expectation of much of anything. It was really just a riding thing. Even on trips or even anything it wasn't like " I have to do this or that." It was a pretty laid back atmosphere.
Did you leave Fly?
No, honestly, right before I got in trouble which was in the summer of 2009, I had decided to go to medical school, I was engaged at the time too. I told David at Fly, I was just moving on to something else, not riding for a living, he was like "We'll just hook you up with stuff then." And he wanted to keep in touch, which is cool. Then I got in trouble and everything seemed to be alright, but then he decided to cut ties because of the whole situation, I would assume, I haven't talked to him since then.
I'm jumping around a little bit but just recently I saw on Defgrip, Will Stroud put your part in "Domination" as one his favorite parts, Chris Doyle even commented to say what an influence you had. Who were some of your influences?
Ummm, honestly, probably my biggest influences were guys I rode around and without a doubt, [Brian] Foster. I think it was just the fact that he raced and carried it over to trails. There was definitely more skill involved with a lot of things he did and you may not see that. And that's something I was always prided myself on with riding, doing something that was a little harder at the trails rather than, you know, the trick jumps or whatever. There was a lot of other guys. Actually, Colin Winklemann, any FBM guys, Mike Tag. So many guys, there's so much I need a list.
That's something I was always prided myself on with riding, doing something that was a little harder at the trails rather than, you know, the trick jumps or whatever.
That's fine, I think once you see the older people around you riding that's when you really start to see who is influential. You can actually see them ride.
Well, you see it's more realistic. It's not such a, it's almost to the point where, I mean, what kid is going to go out and try any of the things people are doing today? You could completely kill yourself if you mess up.
So, what happened with the arrest?
Basically, I was growing marijuana, not for a crazy period of time and it really wasn't what the news stations said, like that I was a drug ring leader, which was completely out of nowhere. The state police rounded up thirty people in one day that they had caught with drugs in one way or another in the past 18 months when they did the raid. But anyway, I was growing marijuana in a box that was 4'x8', about 100 plants. Just to give an idea, it wasn't rooms filled with it, not to discount the fact that of what I did. It's perceived to be way more than it was.
And so you were in jail for how long?
I was in actual state prison for four or five months then I went to bootcamp prison which didn't have fences or barbwire, I was there for six months, and then I was in impatient rehab facilities. It was way mellower but you're still locked into the building. There weren't bars that locked you in. Now I'm in the halfway house, which feels like jail.
The halfway house?
Yeah, you're allowed to go to work and do a lot of things but as far as that goes, it's similar to jail. It's built into the front of Pittsburgh state prison. It's no joke.
When are you out of there?
I'm officially finished in about nine and a half months, and I'll be completely done with everything.
No I won't have anything.
I didn't know that you were planning on going to medical school. What are your future plans now?
Well, obviously, that idea is shot. In the state of Pennsylvania, once you have a felony, you are tagged for life and there's only one procedure you can take to get it off your record. It goes through a long process and is super extensive. I would just take a guess that it is outrageously expensive too. It seems like the state of Pennsylvania wants to hang onto anybody with a criminal record and keep you in the prison system. But I want to write a column [in a BMX magazine] or something. Something on the lines of getting information out there for people to make better decisions. You know how the BMX world is, it's like partying and screwing off is cool and acceptable.
But there are real consequences.
Without a doubt. And even for something pretty simple, something a lot less than what I got in trouble for. A lot of people wouldn't even think much of that, but you go in front of the right District Attorney or Judge and you can get slammed. Your life could be thrown upside-down just for a night of drinking.
I think there's been a theme in BMX and skating: top pro is at high point and loses it all to a bad decision. What would you to say a kid if you could offer your advice?
Yeah when you're at that point, you're partying or you're doing whatever or even drinking a lot and doing drugs or dealing drugs, you might want to take that time to put things in perspective. Take a ten-minute breather and ask, "What am I doing and what am I about to do?" I look back on my mistake and I was ready to stop, but I just decided to grow out what I had and stop then. If I stopped, [before the arrest] who knows where I would have ended up, or if I would have even been happy. Because after all of this, I am actually really happy. Just take that time and see what's important to you. You know for me, it's family and friends. If you really think about it, what more is there to life? Mainly friends and family and to a point, riding for us and motocross for me. What else is there? Everything else can wither away. I've done without it, I did without anything for a year, even friends and family, and it was a nightmare. Hopefully someone can see something as simple as taking a breather can help make a better decision.
I did without anything for a year, even friends and family, and it was a nightmare.
And what are you doing for work now?
Vaun Stout, who has a graphic/signs/screenprinting place called All About Graphics, he's been doing that for sometime now. I'm working there. It's super good. That's what I have a degree in, graphic and web work. I went to community college and graduated in 2004.
What about your clothing company, Formatiks?
It withered out because I was completely overwhelmed. I had a certain expectation of it and maybe jumped in too far and just didn't have help. I knew some people who knew about the industry and they just didn't want to get involved for whatever reason, you obviously need more than one person.
I think it was really ahead of its time. It wasn't BMX inspired, at least it seemed like that to me.
Honestly it was just what I was into. I put things together that I liked and that's all it really was. For that little bit I did it, I didn't take that much outside influence. I at least tried not to, you're always going to have a little bit but I tried keeping it mine. I did throw around the idea of doing it again. In jail, I really got into drawing which I hadn't done since high school. Actually, in boot camp I drew every single day. I thought of starting it again and having it be a sort of one-off kind of thing. Not even for money, more for an art thing for myself. I just wanted to give some stuff to people, there really wouldn't be much cost involved since I have access to everything at work.
That sounds awesome. I know you said you were riding around the city a little bit?
Mainly just the city, although we rented a machine in my friends neighbor's yard to build a run there. It's pretty decent too, actually. It has some bugs to work out. What I was getting into before was motocross, which obviously, I was always into. I have the opportunity to have a good bike now and we have a track that we built a decent double at. So I've been riding that. It's cool because I can jump on that and ride, it doesn't matter what the weather is like. I don't have much time to work on trails.
Well, thanks man.
Punjab wanted to include something he had written to go along with the interview as well:
"I don't want to give a trite expression or fill up your time with my philosophy on life, but I do have an afterthought for all who have taken the time to read a little about myself and my past. I know I may not be the model US citizen, but I have had a conglomeration of experience in my life to throw down some pretty sound, but yet simple advice. Like I said in the interview -- take a minute, when things are tough, when you are drinking or using drugs, when problems arise -- breath deep and think of what is really important to you. We all must realize that people matter most because those you love can be taken away in the blink of an eye. I may be a hypocrite in saying the old adage proves true that "you don't know what you've missed until it's gone." If you care for your family and friends, jail and prison is utter torture. So don't try it at home! A simple piece of advice is sometimes all we need is to make a smart decision instead of a stupid one. I will end by suggesting that we all must find happiness, keep life as simple as possible, remember always that material things do not matter (family and friends do), and ride until the wheels fall off. Two wheels forever and nothing less. Peace and love everybody. Take care."