It’s no exaggeration to say that Mat Hoffman created modern BMX riding as we know it. He not only kept the sport alive during its darkest hour, but he was so far ahead of his time that he pushed the boundaries of what had previously been believed possible. He became a legend in his own lifetime, and he achieved that legendary status almost immediately upon exploding onto the BMX scene while still in his teenage years.
Mat Hoffman’s life is BMX riding, his attitude towards his own body it that he sees it as merely another element of his bike, and his incredible ability to pick himself up and keep on riding when all others would just limp away, forever broken, has made him the undisputed king of BMX riding, possibly for ever. Mat Hoffman not only created many of the most popular stunts today, but he invented the mega ramp, set World records and amazed his doctors and peers alike with his incredible physical toughness, and his uniquely committed attitude towards making BMX more spectacular than it has ever been. During a career that has been truly remarkable Mat Hoffman has become the most celebrated BMX rider ever, but what is the legendary rider doing now in 2017? Ride along as we find out.
Mat Hoffman’s Early Life
Mat was born to Matthew and Joni Hoffman in Oklahoma on January 9th 1972. He was the youngest of four children, but he began showing a fearless attitude to danger at a very young age. At seven he built a flying machine out of wood scraps and rode it off of a 15 foot high home-made ramp with his older brother Travis. Mat was injured and Travis broke his hand, but that was just the beginning. Building ramps and riding bikes down them were a frequent activity for Mat and his brothers, at 11 he got his first BMX bike and his dad built a ramp in the back garden, and soon Mat was showing the kind of extreme commitment to practising BMX stunts that eventually made him a legend.
At school Mat was a naturally gifted athlete, excelling at hoops and football, but his favorite sport was wresting. The coach told his dad that Mat had a bright future in the sport ahead of him, but Mat had only one aim, and gave up wrestling in the eighth grade to focus on BMX riding. Mat and his BMX buddies had no idea that what they were doing was anything out of the ordinary, but in 1986 he sent a picture of himself in mid-jump to a BMX magazine and the response was an unexpected surge of amazement from other riders, Mat was already achieving a professionally high standard after a few years of constant practice.
Mat Hoffman’s Domination of Freestyle BMX Riding
Mat entered his first major competition in 1986, it was the General Bicycle Freestyle Championships at Madison Square Garden. He had originally intended to enter as an amateur but his dad told him to enter as an expert, sure that he would win. Mat arrived and was noticed immediately, he wore a full face helmet and body armor, unlike all other riders and it soon became clear why he needed the extra protection. Mat completely stole the show, winning the competition by a mile and leaving Madison Square Garden with 15 sponsors vying for a deal with him, pictures of him performing stunts at the competition were soon adorning every BMX magazine that existed.
Veteran pro riders such as Eddie Fiola, Mike Dominguez and Ron Wilkerson had been at the top of the BMX World before Mat Hoffman, but they knew this teenager was an incredible step-up in ability, and a major threat to their livelihood. Mat’s ability to gain bigger air than anyone combined with his stunts that saw his legs kicking out in every conceivable direction was not even an evolution of what had been done before, it was a complete re-definition of what was even possible.
Mat Hoffman’s total domination of BMX riding became complete in 1989. In January that year, aged just 17, he rode in his last competition as an amateur, and then in the same event rode as a pro for the first time. He won both times, picking up his first winnings of $2,200 in the process and earning the nickname ‘Condor’ for his incredible high flying abilities. The established professionals began to accept that from that point forward they were in a race for second place, so far advanced was Mat Hoffman, and in March 1989 he made that crystal clear to anyone who hadn’t realized it yet. At the 2 Hip King of Vert series he performed the Holy Grail of Stunts, the 900 – Two and a half rotations of his bike in the air before making a clean landing. The Canadian crown went crazy, and seconds later Mat was somewhere in the center of a mob of ecstatic cheering fans.
That achievement, long attempted without success by other professional riders began Mat Hoffman’s decade long total dominance of BMX riding and he was soon an international star. In 1990 he performed the first flip fakie at the Bercy Stadium in France in front of thousands of fans and in Mansfield in the UK he managed to pull off the first 180 backflip, also known as a ‘flair’, which was so far ahead of its time that no-one had even considered that the trick could be possible to achieve.
Mat was the undisputed king of BMX but other factors in his life were hard to deal with, his mom Joni died in 1990, aged just 45 and amongst the heartbreak Mat was also the champ of a sport that was at its lowest point. BMX racing was in a slump, popularity of the sport had declined sharply from its previous high-point in the mid 1980’s and money was tight for all professional riders. BMX magazines disappeared from the shelves and competitions become rarer, with less prize money on offer, but Mat lived for BMX riding, and he single-handedly began a mission to bring it back.
In 1991 Mat opened Hoffman Bikes to provide better bikes and equipment for riders, and Hoffman Promotions, that would eventually lead the way for the resurgence of the sport and the establishment of the X-Games. Hoffman Promotions developed the Bicycle Stunt Series and ESPN began producing and televising the series in 1995. Hoffman Sports Association was formed and became the main organization behind freestyle BMX events around the World, including the first X-Games in 1995. The event, that brought together BMX riding, skateboarding and other extreme sports was held in Newport, Rhode Island and Mount Snow, Vermont. It saw more than 500,000 fans attending in total. Mat Hoffman’s incredible ability and shrewd investment in the future of the sport had created a golden future for freestyle BMX riding.
Mat Hoffman’s Most Serious Injuries
Mat had not only created many new stunts, but he had increased the excitement and limits of what was possible. In 1991 he built the first mega ramp in seclusion in Oklahoma. The 20 foot ramp saw him jumping over 20 feet above the ramp, a clear World record at the time, but Mat wasn’t in it for the glory, he just did it to see if he could. He attached a small motor to his BMX to get even more air and jumped 22 feet, but he paid a high price for it. The motor sent him off balance and he crashed into the ramp from forty feet up. After a minute he woke up and felt dizzy. An ambulance was fortunately called before Mat briefly flat-lined. His spleen had exploded on impact and he would have died within 20 minutes if he hadn’t have made it to hospital in time. He was back on his bike within a few weeks.
More injuries, most of them enough to permanently retire a normal human followed. Mat underwent experimental knee surgery in Canada in 1998. He didn’t take anaesthetic and held drill bits for the surgeon as his knee was drilled into, Mat is known for an incredible tolerance to pain. A fellow rider described him once as a ‘real life Rambo’ due to his habit of casually sewing up his own injuries with a suture kit he carried around with him, without any kind of anaesthetic, because he became so tired of going to hospital for just a few minor stitches.
In 2000 Mat took some time off to heal from his injuries, relaxing by base jumping off of a mountain in Norway, on his bike of course. But at the same time other riders were claiming World record high airs at about 18 feet. Mat was understandably put out by the short memories of some and once again returned to a home-made 24 foot high mega ramp in Oklahoma. On April 1st 2001 he achieved 26 feet of air, after being towed by a motorbike up to the ramp, it was a new World record that still stands to this day. The next day he tried to improve the record, but this time he slammed into the ramp after a fall of over 50 feet, and this injury was his most serious yet. Mat was in a coma for a week and had suffered actual brain damage. He lost his sense of taste and suffered from amnesia for months, eventually he took a full year to recover from his injuries.
What’s Matt Hoffman Doing Now in 2017 – Recent Updates
Nothing can stop Mat Hoffman riding, he came back in 2002 at the X Games VIII where he achieved the first no-handed 900, a trick that was his alone for another 9 years. Steve McCann eventually repeated it in 2011, and the two men remain the only riders who have ever managed to complete the trick and land cleanly.
In 1993 Mat married his wife Jaci, and with the birth of their first child, daughter Giavanna in December 2000, he began to think more long-term about the risks he was prepared to take for the sport he loved. Mat decided to retire from the sport competitively and the couple had a second child, a son, Jet in 2003. In 2004 X-Games introduced the mega ramp to the competition, more than a decade after Mat had invented it. The mega ramp is now a standard part of the X-Games series competition, which was slowly catching up with the innovations of Matt Hoffman, but his abilities are still only just beginning to be equalled by other riders.
Matt has returned to X-Games since then but has concentrated more on supporting other riders and promoting the sport that has made him a living legend. He came back for X Games 13 in 2007 in Los Angeles and was featured in a 2010 documentary for ESPN produced by Jackass director Jeff Tremaine entitled ‘The Birth of Big Air’.
Matt has also featured in the Jackass TV series and Jackass Films, he has worked with Activision to produce video games such as ‘Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX’ and in 2005 he was elected the President of the International BMX Freestyle Federation. He designed the Mat Hoffman Action Sports Park in Oklahoma City which opened the same year. The park is today recognized as one of the best skate/BMX parks in America.
Mat’s natural brilliance in BMX riding and tireless effort in increasing the popularity of extreme sports has been the single biggest contribution from any individual in the resurgence of extreme sports in recent years. The X Games is a Worldwide phenomenon that has enjoyed a huge increase in popularity in the last decade, and for that we can all thank Mat Hoffman, but the crazy high-flying daredevil is typically modest about his immense influence on the sport.
After astounding doctors, riders and fans for years with his talent, innovations and incredible recovery from serious injuries, and with a record of over 60 broken bones and over a hundred concussions Mat sees BMX riding as more than a sport, to him it’s a way of life. Not something you do for the money or the glory, but just because you love to ride.