Photography is something that I have loved for almost as long as I can remember. It’s one of those things that just makes sense to me. To be able to capture single moments in time and have them to look back on forever is an incredible thing. Photography is not only what I live for but it’s almost somewhat of an obsession. Now, even though the saying is “a picture is worth a thousand words” no one wants to see a magazine without a little something to read. Writing magazine articles is a huge privilege and an opportunity that I never take for granted. Having your own photos in print is one thing but having an article with your photos as well as your words is a pretty amazing feeling. Most people might wonder how articles come about, how magazines decide on which ones to run, who writes them, and who comes up with the ideas. Well, if you happen to be one of those people then you are in luck because that’s what this week’s column is all about; creating an article from a concept to a finished product.
Having a concept is the number one thing and that is where it all begins. I have been shooting for Soul Magazine out of France for almost a year now and one of the first things they approached me about was working on a regular culture based feature in the magazine that revolved around California. With me living in Los Angeles they wanted to take advantage of that and come up with an original article that is based around legendary California spots, riders and companies. We threw around a few ideas but I eventually came up with the name “A Golden State of Mind” as the title and just kind of took it and got going with it. Basically once I got approval to do the first piece I got straight to it.
SHOOTING THE PHOTOS
Obviously an article with no photos wouldn’t make for much of an article and to be honest when it comes time to sit down and write having photos to work with and base your writing off of makes things much easier. For many of the articles that I write shooting the photos is the number one thing. You never know what can happen so until you have photos in the bag, the article is still somewhat up in the air. Once you have the photos that you want to use all ready to go, that is where the next step comes into play.
Here’s the deal, some people can write and some people can’t. I never set out to be a writer and by no means did I think when I was younger that I would write countless articles for print magazines but that is just how shit worked out. Now, do I enjoy writing? Hell yes, I actually love it but it wasn’t always that way. The writing part comes fairly naturally to me as long as I have photos to work with. Once I have the photos shot I just picture them in my head, and from there I can sit down and let the words flow, or at least give it my best shot. We decided on a two-page concept and had a target word count of around a thousand for the feature. Now, if you know anything about writing, a thousand words is not that many. It’s a perfect number for an article that is short and to the point, which is exactly what the A Golden State of Mind project has been about since the beginning. So, to work within those boundaries you have to choose your words carefully. A lot of the times I will write an article from start to finish in a single sitting and then re-read it for a while before I actually hand it in for print. For whatever reason when you go back to re-read a piece you wrote it is surprising all of the things you will notice about it. Even just going back the next day will help you find mistakes, see what needs to be added and tweaked on and just basically help to tighten it up.
LAYING IT OUT
Once I submit the photos and story it gets sent to the layout artist over at Soul. From there, they take what I gave them and turn it into an actual article. The best part about working with a magazine with people that you trust is knowing that whatever they do, they will do their best to make it look good. So, I sit back and wait and eventually get a proof of the article before it goes to print. Luckily with the crew over at Soul I am confident that they will do a good job either way so there have actually been times that I don’t see what the layout will look like until I am holding it in my hands in print form.
After all of this article talk I am sure some of you out there are curious as to what this whole “A Golden State of Mind” feature is all about so myself and the guys at Soul decided to throw a few of them in with this week’s column as a bonus along with the full copy in English so you can all enjoy them.
A Golden State of Mind: S & M Bikes
When I originally sat down to write this piece I struggled for a while to come up with a way to summarize the history of such an iconic and influential company like S & M Bikes. What more can be said about the company that can do no wrong? It is the brainchild of two passionate BMX riders Chris Moeller and Greg “Scott” Swingrover and actually got its start in a Southern California garage in the late 1980’s. Chris was a BMX kid from the beginning days following in the footsteps of his older brother. He was your typical BMX racing, dirt jumping, bike riding kid with no plans for the future. He simply lived for the moment and enjoyed his love of being on two wheels. When Chris was sixteen years old he was lucky enough to be a part of a trail scene that got noticed by the BMX Action Magazine staff and was offered a spot as a test rider for the mag after they noticed his skills at the trails. That was back in 1986. Soon after he also started writing articles for them and eventually worked his way into the assistant editor position. During all of those testing sessions and after all of his experience riding practically every bike on the market and thrashing them while getting paid for it, he realized that there was a need for an all-around solid bike; one to shred on at the track, the trails, and in the streets. In those days there were very few actual rider owned companies and nothing was built up to his standards so he set out to fill that void within BMX. He partnered up with his buddy Greg who was a few years older at the time but shared the same passion and desire to better the industry and together they got things going and officially signed the business license for S & M in June of 1987. Even though that is the official date, they already had some prototype designs in the works months prior to that. They had the idea to make a few frames that would hold up to the all-around abuse for themselves and immediate friends in the area and were soon faced with more orders than they knew what to do with. The very first products they offered were the “K-9 D-Zine” frame and some race jerseys. In the early days S & M had already started on the path of clever marketing. Chris is credited for all of the funny, mostly sarcastic and sometimes-offensive ads that came about early on that started to give the brand an identity. Just a few short years after the company got its start Chris ended up buying out his partner after they had some differences when it came to the business end of things. He took over sole ownership in 1990, rented his first industrial building space in 1992 and hasn’t looked back since. Over the years S & M has managed to put out some of the most influential products, ads and videos the BMX world has ever seen while having a team that represented the company to the fullest. It’s not very often where you can ask someone to recall an old ad from a BMX company but most riders have at least one S & M ad that they can remember. They were the ones to really push the limits in all aspects and managed to piss of some people along the way but that is all part of what they were about. Not only did they suck people in with their clever ads they also had the products to back it up. They introduced some of the strongest products on the market back then and still hold that reputation now twenty-five years later. The fact that you can still buy updated versions of Pitch forks, Slam bars, a Dirt Bike frame and a Redneck stem goes to show that they had nothing but intentions on making bike parts that last from day one. They have also been very good at innovating and pushing the limits of bicycle manufacturing with products like the WTF frame and fork kit with a shorter head tube, shorter forks and closed dropouts. Throughout the years Chris has always believed in American made goods and to this day the company continues to produce all of their frames in-house to make sure that the quality remains a top priority. When I asked Chris to explain to me why S & M is the way it is and how it has maintained such a consistent badass image over the years he found himself at a loss for words. He then explained that he has never had to put much effort into that side of things and credits a lot of the image to the team riders that have represented the company over the years. Things just seemed to happen so organically that finding an exact reason proved harder than he thought but that’s the beauty of it and in the big picture that is exactly what S & M represents. The whole “D.I.Y” aspect that was attached to the company from day one is something that will never change and continue well into the future.
A Golden State of Mind: Mike “Rooftop” Escamilla
When it came time to think of the first person to feature for GSOM I had a list of riders in my head and Rooftop was always in the mix. He is Cali born and raised and has always lived with a carefree attitude that goes along with growing up in the sunshine. I have known Mike for years now and have shot plenty of photos of him along the way. Hell, I have even ventured across the globe with him to the Middle East a few years ago. Needless to say the dude knows what he is doing, knows how to hustle and has the type of contagious energy that makes you want to be as adventurous as possible whenever he is around.
Mike grew up in Southern California in the city of Whittier and was exposed to BMX early on around 1991 when he was just 12 years old. He grew up in a neighborhood where a bunch of other kids had BMX bikes and didn’t hesitate to hop on one. Soon after that he was hooked and from there the passion continued to grow. He pushed his riding, progressed at a fast pace and started getting noticed by people in the industry and was published in his first BMX magazine just a few years after he started riding. As soon as some of those same kids he rode with started getting cars and stopped riding, Mike kept with it and spent a lot of time cruising with skateboarders. Some of which went on to become some of the top pros. It was during that time where Mike really took advantage of spot searching and exploring all of the amazing schoolyards that California is so well known for, some of which can be mistaken for current day street plazas. He helped to shape street riding into what it is today and has always known the importance of a unique spot. As well as riding the streets he also rode a little bit of dirt labeling Mat Hoffman and Tim “Fuzzy” Hall as early influences. At a young age he was testing bikes for the magazines, being featured in those same magazines and eventually ended up getting sponsored by Hoffman Bikes. Mike has also had sections in some of the most iconic BMX videos to date including Dirty Deeds, BMXmen, Livin’ in Exhile, Forward and Nowhere Fast. Being a pro rider in Southern California has its perks and living in the heart of the action sports industry definitely opened some doors for him. Over the years Mike eventually went on to become one of the most influential riders in the game, had three signature shoes with Etnies after helping start the BMX program, broke and set world records at X Games 11 for the longest back flip and longest 360 on a BMX bike and more. He also back flipped over a helicopter with spinning blades, sessioned some ramps after literally being lit on fire, and has made his way into some major motion pictures as a legit stuntman. He has also done tons of demos for the American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, and Kuwait. Skip ahead to today and he is still out there riding his bike, still putting in work looking for the perfect set-up and still as motivated as ever. He is out there doing his thing, reps his sponsors to the fullest and has United, Hurley, Nixon, Xyience and GoPro to back him. Not to mention he has been keeping busy jet setting across the globe working on his newest T.V. show “Strangers in Danger” alongside of Zack “Catfish” Yankush. After knowing Mike for years it’s clear that nothing he has was handed to him and he knows the true meaning of hard work. He also has a strong opinion about the way he wants BMX to be portrayed and honestly his passion for riding a bike is just as strong as it was in the early days when it was all about cruising the neighborhood with a few friends simply enjoying that California sunshine.
A Golden State of Mind: Mt. Baldy Pipeline
What exactly is it that makes a spot iconic? What is it that makes a spot so legendary that rider’s only dream of someday seeing it in person? What makes a spot be placed so high up on the destination list of many BMX’ers of today? Those are the type of questions that I asked myself when I sat down to write this piece and it just so happens that over the years the pipelines reputation alone has made it a travel-worthy spot for the majority of the BMX community. Of course that, its history and simply being an amazing place to ride all play a role in making the Baldy Pipeline one of the most sought after BMX destinations in all of California. After having the desire to make the dream of riding the full pipe a reality for myself I set out to make the trek with pool shredder and all-around adventure seeker Dean Dickinson on a cool, sunny afternoon.
The pipeline is actually a relief drain for the San Antonio Dam located in Upland California. It was completed in 1960, runs about 200 feet in length and is right around 14.5 feet in diameter. The dam is still active to this day and when the rain rushes down the mountain it floods the entire pipeline. The dam itself is controlled and before they open the flood gates they do a mandatory safety check to make sure no homeless people, graffiti artists, or some BMX’ers for that matter get washed down. The mission to get to the full pipe is actually fairly painless. Unless you are so sidetracked with making it to the pipe that you go on a useless and time-consuming trek like we did. We had reliable directions to make it to the pipe but somehow we took a wrong turn and ended up spending about an hour climbing a huge wash, walking barefoot through knee-deep water with sludge, glass and slime weaving in and out of our toes all in the name of adventure. Needless to say, we were lost. Once we retraced our steps and started from the beginning we made another phone call to our connect and realized that we were actually incredibly close to the pipe, we just took a wrong turn. So, after our completely unnecessary hike, we got our shit together and made our way to the pipe.
The pipeline has remained untouched since day one and being there you can almost hear the buzzing freewheels of BMX legends such as Brian Blyther, Mike Dominguez, Eddie Fiola and more echoing deep into the pipe. They have been riding there since the early 1980’s over thirty years ago. It became a hot spot for magazine photographers and pro BMX’ers to come to for years and it still remains one of the most well known spots on the entire West Coast. It is definitely one of the longest lasting spots in BMX history. One of the things that makes Baldy so rad to get to is that you have to know someone that has been there before to make that happen. You can’t just go look up directions online or use your iphone to get there which makes seeing the pipe for the first time that much more memorable. Not only that but it is also illegal to be anywhere near the pipe, let alone directly in it. It’s dangerous, sketchy and not the type of place you want to get hurt at. All things considered, I would say the reward outweighs the risk in this scenario.
Throughout the long history of the pipe, not much trick wise went down besides some good old-fashioned carving and the occasional foot plant. That is until 2004 when history was made at Baldy. Doing the full loop had been talked about for years but no one stepped to the plate until Texan Morgan Wade came along. He decided to be the first and only rider to ever loop the full pipe and that remains true to this day. And honestly, after riding it myself and attesting to the gnarly-ness I can almost bet that it will stay that way for quite some time into the future. After talking with Morgan first-hand about his experience looping the pipe he would like you to think that all you do is “hold on and let it take you” but it is a much different story when you are sitting on your bike in the middle of the pipe and looking up almost 15 feet to the top where you would be upside down above solid concrete if anything went wrong. Needless to say, the pipe is not very forgiving and has had its share of skin donated by plenty of riders that have made the visit throughout the years. With it being nearly 200 feet deep if you start all the way in the back it feels like you are pumping for days and by the time you make it to the end your arms and legs feel like giving out and the only thing keeping you from collapsing is the pure rush of it all. Carving the walls one after the other gaining more and more speed with every pump is a feeling that is hard to describe. It almost puts you in a trance. With the history as deep as it is and a vibe as legendary as it gets it is safe to say that the Baldy Pipeline is one of the most iconic spots in the history of BMX. If you have any plans to come to California I would start hitting up your contacts now to see if you can track down directions to one of the best spots BMX has ever known.
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Working for print magazines is truly a dream come true and I hope to continue to have that opportunity for years to come. Hopefully this shed some light on the process and gives everyone a better idea at how magazine articles actually go from just an idea to a finished product. Thanks for taking the time to give this week’s column a read and be sure to check back next Wednesday for the thirty-ninth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at [email protected] and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Also feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.
Don’t forget to check out past editions of Through The Lens below!