Photos: Jim McKay
Flatland is full of surprises. watching TJ Perry’s winning run, I would never have thought in my wildest dreams he would ride to Tears for Fears. But it happened, and it seems to fit pretty nicely. TJ has been off the contest scene for a long time, so after this big win this weekend I wanted to catch up with him to talk about his return to the contest scene, his run, helping out with the contest, his setbacks with illness. He’s certainly not scared to voice his opinion, but and heres the but….he backs that up by getting involved, and making a difference. Without further a due lets get right into this.
Firstly congrats TJ! AM winner this past weekend in Austin Texas.You’ve had a rough few years with illnesses, this must make this win feel pretty good?
Thank you very much. It was part illness part injury. I messed up my left wrist very badly a few years ago in an accident coming home from the grocery store. I could never afford surgery to get it sorted out so I had to sit and wait this whole time in order to ride. I picked up my bike for the first time in a long while back in the summer and just rode with my left wrist wrapped very tight. After all the weird things that have happened to me these last two years this feels like I kicked bad luck square in the teeth, and it feels AWESOME.
You mentioned you hadn’t been riding much, how much preparation went into this contest for you?
This is going to make me sound stupid on a few levels, and it’s a long and weird story, but here goes.
I wanted to come down to Austin to stay with Adam Diclaudio and check out the scene since it has gained such an awesome reputation over the last couple of years, but we could never figure out a date that worked. A series of weird events lead to me being able to pick out a plane ticket, but then I got a job and couldn’t request time off right away. At this point I didn’t know about Texas Toast. I wanted to come down for a full week and Adam wanted to take off a full week so we could really get some riding in.
Rewind to York Jam. I had spent a few weeks riding here and there while I was looking for a job so I would be able to ride and enjoy myself in York, but immediately after my insurance dropped me and my stomach problems popped up again. From July 1st all the way through to maybe the beginning of August I couldn’t touch my bike if I wanted to. I felt sick all the time and was really really bummed out. Finally, after the help of a few doctors who were willing to give me some advice on over the counter things I was starting to feel healthy again. At this point I was healthy enough to work, but didn’t have any time to ride. So far, no riding in July, and I got maybe two 3 hour sessions in during August because of my work schedule.
After August my hours were rolled back and I was able to ride more so I set aside some time to ride. It rained a bit so I missed out on most of it, but I did get a day or two in. On September 10th I was at work and completely threw out my back similar to what Adam did this past weekend. My lower body completely gave out and I couldn’t move my legs. I pretty much had to be carried home to bed where I stayed for roughly three weeks. I had bought my ticket at the beginning of September and I was freaking the hell out that I wouldn’t be able to go to Austin because I couldn’t stand up without help. I was on painkillers 24/7 for at least a couple of weeks, but I did manage to watch every season of Breaking Bad, so that was a plus!
A few days into October I was able to stand up and get around on my own and physical therapy helped me limber up enough to get on my bike. I went out and just tried to do tricks to build up my lower back and my core a bit since they were the most damaged from the strain. It was a few days of pinkie squeaks and hang 5s. Real basic stuff until I felt confident pumping again. Pumping can absolutely destroy your lower back at my spot because you have to constantly pump anything to keep speed. If I can’t pump it or scuff it at my spot I can’t really do it.
I got on the plane to Austin really worried I would get down there and completely screw my back up again. I was so nervous just riding at the OG that the first few days I hardly pulled anything. I think it took me twenty or thirty tries to pull any of the links I eventually came up with for my run. I don’t know why I can ride just fine in public but in front of other riders I get very nervous until I “warm up” to them. That took a bit longer because there are a lot of really good riders down there (Adam, John Yull, Frost, Alex Johnson, just to name a few) and I was shaking at the OG. I don’t think anyone knew though since I don’t think anyone aside from Frost had ever seen me ride in person.
So in case all of that was too long for anyone to read: I was in no way prepared for this. At all. Seriously.
From the Facebook updates, It seems like you really got stuck in before the contest helping out cleaning the floor everyday, what was the set up there, why was it so dusty?
I don’t want people to misinterpret any frustration I vented on there to be a reflection of how I viewed the contest itself. The venue was basically the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just a huge lumber yard that Taj magically transformed into this amazing contest site practically overnight. I don’t think flatlanders can really appreciate the craftsmanship that has to go into making a solid street course, or the trails that they had to actually bring dirt in for. When it came to the flatland area, it just wasn’t a super high priority with very good reason: we are not important and haven’t been for a long time. That might seem like a kick in the gut to some people, but if we as riders have any hope of being brought back into the fold of BMX we are going to have to pick up the slack and put our backs into it.
The flatland area was in a huge warehouse that had previously been used for storing and treating wood among other things. It almost looked like chemicals had been spilled everywhere on the floor and left to soak in. There was a power-washer there but it was faulty and thankfully EZ Chris Anderson was on hand to help pick up a new one to get the cleaning process rolling quicker. We tried sweeping and using leaf blowers to get some of the dust out but nothing worked. Once we had the power washer we had a lot of work to do, but with people taking shifts power-washing the area we had the contest floor prepped and ready to go for Saturday.
Chris Balles did such a great job getting flat incorporated into Texas Toast and without Taj’s enthusiasm and help this event would have never happened. Both of those guys deserve SO much respect and love for what they pulled together with regards to the flatland contest that I cannot sing their praises enough.
What I and others had a real problem with was a room full of flatlanders who will remain nameless, some of whom take it upon themselves to call themselves “organizers” pack up their things and walk out the door when we asked them to help finish up the last part of the floor for the contest on Saturday. I wanted to take the power washer and spray down the area they were riding in so that they either needed to help or leave but Adam stopped me. Instead we asked for help and were told by one rider “People came here to ride, not help.” right before that person and a whole crowd of riders took their bikes and left. Not only did they leave us to fix the flatland area but they left piles of trash for us to clean up from where they had been riding.
One person out of that whole group came up to me later on and apologized personally for leaving a few things in the area, but nobody else did to anyone else who stayed and helped. I’ve never felt so angry and frustrated with flatlanders before in my life, and it’s not like people reading this haven’t seen or heard me when I get mad about dumb things riders do. I wanted to leave and go session the OG since at that point it was getting to be around 9pm, but I was not letting this event get screwed over because nobody wanted to lift a finger to help out, and neither were any of the riders who stayed. Chris and I finished power-washing the second half of the floor while Adam filled in some cracks in the ground with quick setting concrete.
As mad as I still am about what happened I can say without any hesitation that it went from being the worst floor I’ve ever seen at a contest to being the best floor I’ve ever ridden at any event in all my years of riding. It was tedious work but it really paid off. Once it got hit with a little water and simple green it was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
You haven’t competed in a long time, just for the record how long has it been? What made you decide to compete at Texas Toast?
The last time I competed was at Fight with Flight in Indianapolis in 2009. Before that maybe it was at Battle at the Beach or one of the CFBs. I really worked hard to get dialed for that contest and I just couldn’t hold it together during my qualification run. I think I ended up in 8th or 9th because I touched so much. It’s strange because I came up with very similar links for Texas Toast that I was doing back at Indy and I feel like I was even more dialed back then. I had some very rough stuff happening that I won’t go into back then, but it is what it is. I took a pretty big spanking after that.
A lot of people at the OG were telling me to enter on the eve of the contest. I was feeling so nervous about it but Chris kept encouraging me to enter. I wasn’t really consistent at the OG and I hadn’t ridden the floor at the contest site yet, but after the pre-jam at the OG I went back to Adam’s and mulled it over. After everyone went to sleep I got on my computer and pre-registered. I kind of figured, I’m halfway across the country, I worked hard getting the floor the way I would want it if I were to compete, and I haven’t shown up anywhere in years. The worst that could happen is that I screw up my run and the whole thing is forgotten about in a week or two by almost everyone, so hell why not?
You’ve gone on record many times, saying you wont go pro? For all those that don’t know, explain your decision to stay AM?
Well, first off, I don’t think my tricks are pro difficulty. I know that’s kind of subjective because some tricks are easier for some than others and obviously my tricks are going to be easier for me than say, Matthias’s tricks or Dom’s tricks, but I just don’t think they hold a candle to what the real pros do in their runs. I have a few switches that I came up with on my own, or some that I came up with the same time someone else did, but nothing like what’s done in pro. I don’t have a Katrina, or any of that insane cross footed whiplash stuff Dom does. To me, it’s insane to think I could do anything comparable to the level of riding those guys throw down.
People have pressured me over the years to turn pro, but the reality is I’m just…not pro. I can pay a contest fee and enter the pro class for sure but what does that get me? If I landed my whole run perfectly I have the potential to qualify if lots of other people screw up. Is that pro? I don’t think so. Pro to me is being able to show up and know that if I hit all my tricks, I could take the contest. It’s hitting a flawless run and coming up tied with Matthias or Terry. If I can do that, then yeah I’d be pro. The reality is, I can’t. I won’t be able to for a long time, if ever!
Pro is also being professional and taking a hobby you’re passionate about and turning it into an avenue worthy of being dubbed something of a career. I don’t do shows. I don’t have sponsors lined up to cover my air fare. I don’t have anyone giving me parts. In terms of being what a professional actually is, I’m not a professional at all and neither are quite a few other people in Pro at the moment. If I had a regular spot I could ride, and someone helping me cover expenses and a few parts, I would consider it. Until then, I’ll continue being what I am, an amateur.
Has the win got you motivated to compete more again?
Yes and no. I cannot describe how stoked I am on winning solely because of all the little setbacks I’ve had, but I feel it was some kind of fluke. I was so nervous and it was so stressful for me. During qualification Adam asked me what I should ride to since he had his MP3 player and everyone was bringing up their Ipods up with their music and i didn’t have anything. I just told him “no eighties shit!” and he said “what about tears for fears?”. I looked at him for a second and laughed and said sure. I thought it was funny and I attribute my win to just treating it like a joke. If I think about competing again it would be something I’d obsess and stress over. There are only so many cat videos on youtube I can watch to decompress some of that anxiety about competitions you know. Cat videos are finite and contest stress can go on for as long as there are contests.
I love doing well at contests and traveling, but I don’t want it to take over. I don’t look at other riders when they place below first with any animosity or anything, so nobody take this the wrong way, but Andrew Faris said it best at the end of one of the Baco videos and it accurately sums up my feeling going into any contest I’ve ever entered: “Second place is for pussies!”
How was your stay in Austin, you were there for a week right?
I had a blast. We rode every single night, and every single morning after Adam Tyler and I would wake up and go “Ok, seriously, we are taking tonight off” and by lunchtime we’d be talking about when we wanted to head to the OG. I love everyone at the OG and I don’t think I’ve laughed as much as did in the last week as I have in the last year.
As controversial as this might sound, and lord knows I avoid controversy, but York PA is dead. It’s not Mecca. it’s not some holy site that everyone should make their way to once a year. Austin is where the spirit of the sport is for me now. I’ve been to so many York jams and left so disappointed, and every single night I left the OG I felt so happy and motivated to ride again the next day. Everyone is on their bikes. Everyone is pumped for what everyone else is doing. Everyone is motivated. It just feels so alive and I’ve never experienced anything like that anywhere else. I think York jam should be cancelled and be replaced with A-Jams or something.
If you haven’t been to Austin, you don’t know what I’m talking about and probably think I’m full of it. You probably think I’m full of it regardless of my stance on Austin but whoever is reading this, just go. Wait for a contest, or wait for summer to pass. Just go with an open mind and be ready to ride your tail off.
Any final shoutouts?
I would like to thank Adam Diclaudio for being such an amazing host. He let me crash on his couch all week and took me around showing me the sights of the city. We rode every night and I wish we could have ridden more, but tempus fugit I suppose. Please get well soon!
I would like to thank everyone at the OG for being so welcoming, and I would like to apologize if at any point during my stay I screwed up the order of the jam circle and snaked anyone. A huge thanks goes out to Chris Balles for organizing the flat contest and pushing me to enter. Thank you goes out to Taj, and everyone who made Texas Toast happen, especially everyone who picked up the power washer and had their hands go numb from the vibrations. Thank you to Luke and Neil at Bunnyhop Bikes for helping me stay on a working bike these last few years.
Thank you to my awesome mom who helped me get to Austin and thank you to my beautiful girlfriend Michelle for driving me to and from the airport at the crack of dawn and the middle of the night and thank you Effraim for giving me the opportunity to share my experience down south.
Also, if you made it this far, thank you for reading this. I hope it was informative and enjoyable.
Now go ride.
Thanks TJ! Congrats once again, great winning run!