Joey Cobbs is one of those guys who has been around the BMX industry for years. In his time he’s travelled a lot of miles and has done his fair share of gnarly things on a bike. Over the course of the past few years, he’s shifted his focus from being a professional rider to being a professional photographer and even more recently, team manager. Joey is a perfect example of what everybody who rides BMX pretty much aspires to do with their life… Ride and then work in the business.
We figured it has been a while since we’ve done one of these Industry interviews, so why not hit up one of the busiest guys we could think of to find out a little bit more about him and check out some of his work? Check out what he had to say below then hit the photogallery for more photos!
Name: Joseph Cobbs-Wopat
Location: La Mesa, CA
Sponsors? No sponsors. Ridin’ Free!
Years riding: 17 years
Years shooting photos: 11 years
What was it that first got you hooked on BMX? Any early memories come to mind?
I had moved onto Merrill St. in Torrance, Ca. There was a few kids that rode motocross on the weekends and pretended to ride moto during the week on their BMX. I didn’t have any money for a dirt bike but my mom bought be a GT mach 1 and I started riding around with them. Soon after that we got our hands on a copy of 2-HIP’s None-stop to San Francisco and thats when I first laid eyes on freestyle and was officially hooked on the real deal BMX.
When did you first start picking up cameras? Was it something that happened because of BMX?
I always liked looking at action photos of any kind, I just thought it looked awesome that one moment frozen in time. I could stare at some action photos forever and just analyze every little thing but I never had money to buy a camera and never knew anyone with one that I could use. Then when I got more into BMX I met Mark Losey and he started shooting photos of me for Ride. We became friends and when I got a bit older and had a job and some money I hit him up to see what camera I should buy and he got me started!
What was your first camera:
Canon A2, as recommended by Mark Losey.
What’s your current setup?
My current setup is pretty simple, no frills thats for sure. I have a Canon 5d and 7d, 15mm and 8mm fisheye lenses, 24-70mm 2.8 lens, and a 70-200mm lens, two einstein flashes with batteries. I also have one q flash and one vivitar 285and like 5 or 6 pocket wizards.
Do you have a dream setup or are you pretty content with what you have?
I would like to have the 1D x or whatever the top of the line body is. I always wanted those Elinchrome flashes but I really like the einstein flashes so I’m not sure I really would want those anymore. A cool darkroom setup would be sweet too.
You have been involved in the industry for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been riding nearly 13 years now… How did you really get involved with “the industry”?
Looking back on it, it’s pretty wild to think about how I got in the mix in BMX. Shortly after I bought “None stop to San Francisco” from my local bike shop, I asked the owner of the shop if he knew anyone that could build a ramp for me. He put me in touch with Mike “pool shark” Tokumoto who came over to my house and told me that he would build a half pipe in my backyard if I agreed to let him and his friends ride it whenever. Next thing I knew Keith Trainor, Mark Losey, Chris Day all started coming over to ride my ramp. Little did I know at the time that Mike Tokumoto was a pro bike rider who just happened to know practically every pro in BMX at the time. Mike started taking me to Moreno Valley skatepark where he introduced me to a bunch of riders like Brian Castillo, John Parker, Jay Miron. Toky definitely got me started in BMX 100%
Now days you’re still kind of on Volume and actually have a pretty heavy involvement with Volume and Demolition, right? Care to talk about the different roles you have with those brands?
I don’t technically ride for Volume anymore, I support the brand for sure but I haven’t ridden for any sponsors in a long time. But I am staff photographer for Volume and Demolition and team manager for Demolition.
Obviously your main thing these days is being a photographer. Did you ever intend on doing this for a career or was it just something that fell into place as time went on?
I never really had an answer to the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?” But when I started shooting I saw that as a rad way to make a living and I’ve been hacking at it ever since.
Did you ever go to school for photography or anything? Would you say college is necessary to get into a position like yours?
I did go to a really intense photography school called Brooks Institute of Photography but I wouldn’t say that was necessary at all. When I get into something like BMX or photography and I really love it I like to know everything about it inside and out. So when I fell in love with photography it made sense to go to school for it. But photography is one of those things that anyone can get good at if dedicated enough. I would say that half the best photographer out there have gone to school and the other half are self taught.
So you’re also the team manager for Demolition which is a collection of legends from Chris Doyle down to the younger guys like Dennis Enarson. How are you liking that? What’s the best part of the job and what’s the worst?
Working for Demo as the team manager has been amazing. It’s a dream come true to be able to think of rad stuff to do with one of the best teams in BMX and then actually get to make those ideas reality. Thats the best part for sure. The worst part has to be letting riders go from the team. That is something I wish I never ever had to do.
I know you have had your fair share of travel time over the years. Where are your top 5 places you have been?
Vancouver BC, ST Thomas Vi, Glacier Bay Alaska, Barcelona Spain and New York, NY. I think that New York City has to be one of if not THE greatest city in world, I have not been anywhere else that can compare to the kind of energy the NYC emits on a daily basis. Love that place.
Let’s say Brain Castillo drops a big fat budget on you to take the team anywhere in the world for a week to film for a new video. Where do you go and why?
There are a million answers to this one. Either China or New Zealand. China because it has massive cities that we’ve never even heard of and New Zealand because it looks incredible. I’m not sure how productive a trip to NZ would be riding wise but the experience of just being there would be unforgettable.
When you go on trips, I know your main thing is keeping track of all the guys and shooting photos. Do you still find much time to ride when you’re on trips?
Some trips more than others. Unfortunately there are some trips I don’t ride at all while other trips I’m super excited to be there and I try and squeeze in as much riding as I can.
Do you ever film clips of yourself much? Could we see a new Joey Cobbs edit in 2013?
I don’t ride often enough to get in that filming mode. Work and life in general will keep me off my bike here and there so it gets hard to stay on a level that is productive enough for filming. I do get to ride more than most people my age so I consider myself very lucky in that way but for now I’m simply sessioning whatever is fun to ride when I can ride, not much filming though.
Outside of the jobs with Volume and Demolition, do you shoot photos for anyone else? How about outside of BMX?
I shoot freelance in BMX and for Ride US and DIG magazine on a pretty regular basis. I used to work for a corporate photography studio out of the Bay Area where I shot with companies like GOOGLE and Cisco Systems. The corporate stuff was pretty cool at first just because I really had no idea that world existed but then I saw how shallow and cut throat that world can be I wasn’t really stoked to be doing that kind of thing anymore.
What’s the weirdest thing you have been asked to shoot photos of?
At one point I helped shoot school portraits with a photographer I knew who shot school portraits full time. He had a pre-school booked and he was down to pay $25/hr so I sat with the camera while he tried to make these two, three and four year old kids laugh. I was suppose to shoot the photo when they would smile, but sometimes one kid would start crying and that would spark the next kid to cry and the next kid to cry, before he knew it every kid in the room was melting down and i just sat there in the most piercing noise ever wondering what I had done that brought me to that point in my life. It wasn’t really as weird as it was rough but it helped pay the bills.
Mike “Hucker” Clark
Over the years I’m sure you have been caught up in a few sketchy situations. It’s just what BMX attracts. Care to share a good story that comes to mind?
While I was shooting the Streets of San Francisco article for Dig, One morning Zac Costa, Brian Smiley and myself were riding behind a parking garage that was next to the convention center. I was riding up in front when we were coming around to the back of the building and then I saw a couple of people sitting up against the garage but one person was sprawled flat out on his back. The guy on his back had his head toward the wall and his buddy was knelt down next to his head, which almost look like he was helping him in some way, I thought maybe this guys was in trouble. But then I noticed the girls sitting next to them was applying makeup using a broken laptop screen as a mirror? While I was wondering what I should be doing and what the hell was going on I noticed that the the guy crouched down had something in his hands…..
I then noticed that it was a syringe that was in dude’s hands and the business end of that same syringe was plunged dead center into the jugular vein of his motionless buddy!
Just as I realized in shock what I had so naively stubbled upon, the deliverer of the hard drug turned his head super slowly, as if he only had that amount of strength to move his own head, and gave me this dead eye zombie stare that i will never forget. I wasn’t really sketched out, none of them seemed pissed and I didn’t feel in danger, I just literally felt like I was starring into the eyes of the living dead. An actual living dead person is someone on the streets of san francisco delivering and receiving heroin into their jugulars.
I can only imagine the list of riders and brands you have shot photos of over the years. If you had to pick the top 5 guys you have had the chance to shoot photos with, who would you pick and why?
Dennis Enarson because he is always pushing himself to do new things which makes me work and push myself to keep up as a photographer, Tate Roskelly for his pure creativity, Kris Bennett because he is some of the truest style of BMX and that was clear getting to be around him. And he was always a blast to be around. Dave Thompson because of his spontaneity and his ability to do super human shit at any moment. Chris Doyle because everything he does is so text book perfect that if your photos don’t reflect that then its clear who messed up and its always good to try and keep up with that.
Could you ever see yourself working outside of the BMX industry?
Yes, I would love to work in other sports and in advertising in general. I love any kind of action photography so I could easily see myself photographing other sports later in life.
What kind of advice do you have for the younger guys who are hoping to work in the business some day?
Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t work jobs for free just because someone says do it for the love of it. Your love of the sport is there otherwise you wouldn’t want to be involved in it. If your providing something that is valuable and helps companies grow then don’t sell yourself short and definelty don’t sell yourself for nothing! It happens ways too often in BMX when talented people are being utilized by companies and not getting compensated. Its a very near sited way for both sides to operate and in the end it really doesn’t help anyone or BMX as a whole.
What about the guys looking to pick up a camera? Any advice there?
Be open to opportunities and always be practicing your shooting so that when you need to know what your doing, you do. Also try not to burn any bridges with anyone ever, this is a very small business and that sort of thing will only hurt you in the long run.
So I know you have a pretty full plate for yourself at all times. What is the rest of your summer looking like this year? Any trips you’re looking forward to?
Yeah, it’s been pretty crazy, you sent me these questions at the beginning of summer and its now the end of August so I think that is a tiny indicator of how busy I’ve been staying for sure. We are just finishing up a Demolition trip though out Colorado with Jason Enns, Tate Roskelly, Biz Jordan, Dave Dillewaard, and Aaron Smith which has been a lot of fun. At the end of September I’m going on another Demo/QBP collab Trails trip through the northwest, which should be amazing.
What have you been getting into when you aren’t riding or shooting photos these days? Any other hobbies you have been hooked on?
Not too much lately, but when I have the free time and the money I like to go rock climbing or mountain biking, especially downhill when I get the chance, shoot the bb gun, disc golf, chip golf over at the markit house. And hopefully in the not too distant future I’ll start doing some high production photo shoots.
Are you on Twitter, Instagram and all that other social media shit? How can people keep up with you? Do you have a portfolio website?
I’m on insta, @Jcobbs, and Facebook although I goof around with those more than take them serious. JoeyCobbs.com is where you can check out my professional work.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully living happily, you never know when your time is up.
What’s the last song you heard, movie you watched and website you visited?
Some Murder City Devil song, Moonrise Kingdom, Ryan Schude’s photography site
Do you have any shout outs or thanks?
Thank you to my lovely wife Shona, my family, Brain and LA at 180dist, all the Demo guys and thanks to Kurt for this interview!
Anything else you want to say?
Bla Bla Bla, I’ve said enough!
Check out the PHOTOGALLERY TO GO WITH THIS!