Interview: Brian Tunney

Mike Kuhn Photo

Let’s be real here for a moment. There are a lot of people involved in BMX, and many of them are very eager to let you know about their importance and influence, perceived or real. There are a few that handle their business like a G; no yelling, no schemes, no BS. Brian Tunney is one of the real G’s. He has put in a lot of years, some as a professional rider, some behind the scenes as a team manager, and some in the full blast of harsh background radiation due to being a BMX magazine editor. Throughout all of his duties, Brian has always been fair, well-informed, and mindful of the things and people that are truly important not to forget. BMX is constantly evolving, but he’s been sure to include all aspects and viewpoints of riding and the industry, be they past, present, or future. He might appear to be simply a well-mannered, soft-spoken, and incredibly talented writer, but he is, in fact, my messiah, my rock, my fortress. Brian is one of the genuinely good people in BMX, and I’m proud and honored to call him my friend. And yes, he’s an excellent guide to the Vegas nightlife.

-Tom/Empire BMX

Brian, how the hell are you?
Buried under over two feet of snow, not psyched on being stuck in my house.

I want to get into something that I feel gets overlooked. Before anything else that you are involved in, you are a rider first. More specifically, a flatlander. Tell us how you got into that style of riding.
When I started riding, it was either flatland or quarterpipes or both. Street and dirt weren’t yet recognized as “street” and “dirt.” They were there to a degree, just not promoted widely in the media of the day or by the BMX brands of the day. The media started to change that perception in around 1988 though, as did the industry, thanks in part to things like the 2Hip Meet the Streets, the Stonehenge ramp (which I believe was created by McGoo) and riders like Dave Voelker, Pete Augustin and Craig Grasso. I digress though. I started riding, had no access to any ramps and lived on a cul-de-sac with a smooth surface and little to no traffic. I’d go from looking at photos of Chris Lashua in Freestylin’ to my bike in the garage to the front of the house, and try to re-create what I saw in the magazines. I was 12 when that started, and it’s stayed with me ever since. I’m pretty predictable though. I pick something I like, and I stick with it.

What riders have influenced you in the past, and who are you stoked on today?
In the past, that came down to the progressive (and available) videos of the time. First with Kevin Jones and Mark Eaton in the Dorkin’ series, then with Chad Degroot in the Baco videos. Today, I’m not really influenced by modern flatland or modern riders. I like to ride in straight lines and don’t really want to “pump” rolling tricks. Having said that though, I’m a fan of riding from Jody Temple, Dane Beardsley and Alexis Desolneux in the present, simply because they do their own thing and ignore the trends.

Flatlanders are definitely a special breed, and I say that with all due respect. Do you think it takes a certain personality to be a Flatland rider?
I’d say it definitely does take a special, borderline obsessive/compulsive personality to want to ride flatland at any level. For me, riding flatland is a sort of therapy from the day’s bullshit. I could be having a terrible day or hungover to no end, then go ride for a few hours by myself and feel better. It allows my brain the process time I might not give it when I’m answering text messages, on instant messenger, twittering and e-mailing during the day. I think that could be said for any type of riding though.

To me, the ultimate goal with my riding, every time I do it, is to ride away from a trick that’s baffling me. When I do that, I get a crazy rush of satisfaction that can’t be replicated in any other part of my life. And I think that BMXers are a special breed in that a lot of us take that experience of landing a trick we once thought impossible and then apply that approach to other areas in our lives.

Moving on… You have been involved in lots of aspects of BMX, with judging contests being one of them. How do you feel about judging and does it stress you out at all?
I actually don’t mind judging. People always approach me and say things like “I don’t know how you judged that,” but I’m a pretty analytical person by nature and although it’s never going to be an exact science, nine times out of ten most judges I’ve worked with can come to an accurate assessment of who rode best for two minutes on that particular contest day. It’s not for everyone, but neither is announcing a contest, or riding in a contest, or watching a contest for that matter. As for stress, things have gotten tenuous at brief times in the past 15 years or so, but that’s bound to happen from time to time and it’s never been one of those things where I walk away from a heated discussion thinking that someone is going to be eternally damned to hell. I’ve also been on the other side of the coin, and at least one time, felt as though as I had been ripped off by judges during my illustrious pro flatland career, so I can understand where riders are coming from. (And when I say illustrious, I’m being sarcastic.)

Do you think judges get a bad rap? Lots of people turn on judges when they are not happy with certain outcomes.
Not at all. It’s a tough job, and myself (along with everyone else that judges) know that the riders have a lot at stake in the results. I actually think the majority of riders know that we take judging seriously and respect that. I’ve had tons of healthy discussions with top pros about results, and I’ve never walked away from one pissed off or second-guessing myself.

Now, you’ve judged at X-Games which is a pretty high profile event. Any good stories from judging those?
More than anything, it’s a good time. I think about it this way: I’m in a tower with Leigh Ramsdell, Mark Losey, Big Island, Dave Freimuth, Brian Foster and Mat Hoffman. Not only are all of those dudes legends in their own respects, they’re completely funny as well. We get some of the best seats in the house and get to watch one of the craziest contests of the year. About the only tough thing to deal with are security guards.

I know it was a quick fleeting moment, but what was your take on the “judges are washed up” comment from Banaceiwicz? It had a good comical spree on Twitter for a few days.
Very, very briefly, I thought it was a fucked up reaction to contest judging, BUT, things changed for the better dramatically fast. I think Fudger replied to Brett saying that one day, he would be the old, washed up guy too. And that made me laugh, and made me love Fudger even more than I already do. Then Brett’s Tweet got deleted, then Bennett, Ramsdell, Bestwick and Mulligan retorted. Then Brett apologized. That all happened in the span of a few hours, and the result was that everyone, from Brett to the judges, had a laugh and got on with the contest.

I understand where Brett was coming from. Everyone on the pro circuit in BMX gets ripped off at least once in their pro careers. And amid an amazing year, that happened to Brett for the first time. To Brett’s credit, he manned up, took credit for his actions and apologized. I think he learned a lot about himself and the politics of being a pro in the public eye from the experience, and at the end of the day, that’s a good thing. Also to Brett’s credit, he had good team managers backing him up, and nicely letting him know that what he did wasn’t necessarily the right reaction. And conversely, it reminded a lot of riders that very talented pros were in the judging tower. In the end, I think everyone was in a better place, and that’s a good thing. Maybe I’m wrong in my assessment, but I think it was a good example of technology solving a quarrel quicker than hearsay might have done ten years ago.

Speaking of, what’s your take on Twitter? It has added a new element to our lives. Sometime you have to tell people “don’t Twitter that” now.
I was stand-off-ish to Twitter at first, simply because I was like, “Do I really want to be tethered to another form of social media?” At first, it didn’t make much sense to me on a computer, but then I got an iPhone with the Echofon app, and it made perfect sense.

Today, it’s where I get the bulk of my leads that evolve into news and blog posts on ESPN. I’ll admit I get tired of seeing photos of what everyone is eating on a given day, but if that also means that I get important, breaking and unfiltered information, then I’ll take it. Also, Tom Williams of Empire BMX is one of, if not the most, entertaining people in the world, and Twitter gives him an outlet to deliver his wit and wisdom that iChat never could. If you’re dumb enough to be reading this far, follow Empire BMX.

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  • http://smoovebert.net smoovebert

    [like]

  • Oompa

    Interesting read, thanks, and when it comes to typo’s. Common ones on bmx sites kill me;

    Lose,loose,and lost are NOT interchangeable.

    Same for brake and break

    Good luck!

  • Steve

    Nice interview.

  • tom

    great stuff. remembering tunney and the hip-pack from an old props. what’s up with jared though?

  • http://www.etniesbmx.com Povah

    Love everything Tunney does, this is no exception. Brian rules!

    Nice work as always Nuno.

    PS. Sorry for the Bestwick/etnies situation Brian.

  • http://twitter.com/albertmercado albertmercado

    nice.

  • Casey

    Harrison, are you living in NYC now? I see all these photos from the city (like WSP up there)

  • http://www.pusherbmx.com clay brown

    thanks for the good words on the judges Brian. You gave me my start in the judging game.keep up the good work

  • http://flatmattersonline.blogspot.com Effraim Catlow

    amazing interview, really enjoy the defgrip interviews, didnt want that to end!

  • http://www.awkwardboners.com/ Dean Dickinson

    So rad! Keep on keepin’ on Tunney!!! And Harrison great job, really good selection of questions. Good photos 2!

  • Rick MacDonald

    Not one Steve Martin reference?….you’re a changed man, my friend. Love, Rick.

  • ghostface

    great interview and yeah paul theroux is the bollocks!

  • http://www.leastmost.com bk

    fuck yeah UHF

  • Will Stroud

    Tunney is the man.

  • C. Doyle

    Some good, well thought out answers right there. Good read.

  • Cleggy

    Love you Brian xxxxx

  • http://www.ridebmx.com Fat

    Great read. Much respect and admiration on many levels.

  • Ken

    Always entertaining and enlightening.

  • deuce

    Brian i’m pregnant!

  • tate

    defgrip and tunney. awesome interview.

  • http://www.thedaggerzone.com kc

    this is the exact reason why Tunney is one of the most liked/influential people in bmx.

    Also, Tunney is one of the few people ever interviewed where their personality is portrayed perfectly and not lost in ( viral) translation.

    good read!

  • Peterg

    Excellent read. Excellent people

  • http://www.kyleemerypeck.com cubby

    my favorite bmx writer!

  • Paulo Martins

    Nice words, nice interview. Thanks Brian!