Photography: Michael Harris
What can you say about Simon O’Brien? Well leading up to this interview I did what I always do before I interview someone. I dig through old magazines, videos, watching online edits, just to give me some ideas about questions and maybe an angle I could take. Within a few hours of going through Simon’s videos and magazine coverage, I was in awe of the trickionary the man has, this to me is what separates the men from the boys. If you want to go session whiplashes he’ll hang with you, if you want a backwards halfpacker session, he’ll destroy you, if you want a front wheel tech session he can do it all, if you want a back wheel session he can do all that to. There is honestly not to many people you can say that about, yes of course he has won the X Games and numerous other big contests, but for me he’s much more than a contest rider. Simon is one of all time greats, I couldn’t wait to get this interview started. Hope you all enjoy it!
Basic stuff first Simon, lil intro about yourself, where your from, age, how long have you been riding?
My name is Simon O’Brien, I’m from Australia, I grew up inland at some small country town, I moved to the coast at the age of 7. Since then I have lived other places for work and travelled a lot. The small town i live in is called ‘Erowal Bay’ in the ‘Jervis Bay’ area, a surfy/national park area, lots of good surf breaks and wildlife. An army and navy base, a couple of schools, it’s one of the fastest growing areas on the south coast of Australia, it will end up a pretty developed area.
Apart from surfing theres not a lot of distractions or stuff that interests me around so I find it good for riding as long as you stay focused, theres a lot of drugs and drinking around though,maybe has to do with the Australian culture, but then I guess it’s everywhere, it’s sad. I’m 32 years old, birthday in September. I have been riding seriously from 1994 so about 16 or 17 years, hectic. As a kid though I would ride my BMX around doing jumps and all that, riding a bicycle is just fun.
It’s been a while Simon, what you been up to recently?
Yes it has been quite a while unfortunately, it hasn’t been a conscious decision to stop travelling for riding and contests, just the way it’s happened. After a big trip in 2006 I guess some work with my bike came around, touring with an art/theatre show (brazil and australia) so I pursued that and then had work at Tokyo Disneyland for a while. For the next 2 years I then renovated a house which was very educational in just all the jobs Ive had to learn, to fix certain things and now i’m in search of getting a career going. This year I’m studying and doing some job interviews so that next year I can hopefully start the career. I’ve never made great money from riding and as I get older I have other goals coming into my life which I want to pursue, such as interests, family, new mentally stimulating challenges. Flatland is my passion and I will always try to ride. But it’s just that time ya know.
I remember the first time meeting you, Raleigh North Carolina for the CFB contest in 2000, White Big Daddy, you had dreads, tell me a lil’ bit about your first experience in the US?
Yeah man, that was my first real trip, to see what the scene was really like and whether it lived up to the magazine hype. When I first got to LA, it seemed like I was in the movies, was pretty awesome. I found some things about america just so easy to like, weather, food, its cheap, lots of things, it was great. I was excited, a long way from home and knew like 4 people there and they were street riders, ha.
Colin Mackay was a huge help in the days of my USA trips, he has been very helpful to most fellow Aussie riders who make their way over there because he was already set up, he’s a top bloke. It was a good feeling though to see so many different international people there, they were like me, traveling, riding, meeting new people, enjoying life! Being so far from home was a little daunting but meeting so many people that trip was the best. Some people were friendlier than others but that’s life. Riding wise it was great to be around other people that also had the commitment and passion to progress flatland.
But most of all it was great to see that riders all around the world are only human, they all crashed, I was so happy,haha, in Australia all we saw were the videos, wow everyone is so good and dialled, it was great to see everyone was human! When I don’t travel so much, I really miss those times, different and amazing countries, great people, good stories to tell, bad stories to tell, I think of myself as very lucky to have had some of the traveling opportunities I have had and very lucky all the times people have let me stay and therefore been apart of their lives for that time, I know it can be hard if your busy or need personal space.
It’s pretty much a given, that you go down as one of the all time greats in flatland, the period of time where you rode the yellow ares stands out in my mind, you were competing a lot, killing it, but also killer video parts as well, which is not easy to do, and of course you won X Games, what was your preparation like going into the x games, I am always curious what riders do to get ready for such big events?
Man, thanks heaps, hearing that is very humbling because of the hard work I’ve put in and hopefully people like it. I find comments like that as you get older mean more because you have less time to prove yourself as a determined person to kill it at what you love, flatland is the only activity that I’ve ever known that I 100 percent wanted to pursue. So thanks. I honestly think what it came down to was that I didn’t have any expectations of myself with the X Games, my riding was pretty consistent around that time and I was in Greenville, park rider heaven and I honestly wasn’t riding that much,just chilling, partying and a bit of riding.
I then got back to Chad and Amy Johnston’s a week before the X Games and at this point I didn’t care, I was happy to be attending. I rode flat for a week and was feeling good, but still didn’t feel like I was there to win, so I just did my best and enjoyed being there and it just all worked out…..I was sooooo stoked! Sometimes that’s the best way, being there for the right reasons.
I can understand that, you naturally didn’t put yourself under pressure…Nowadays when you compete, do you prepare for it? Like did you just prepare for the Down Underground you recently won?
I just ride as much as i can, go over stuff I know, try and dial a few new combos. Get in the right frame of mind, going to the event to see friends and show some new stuff. Show people I’m still around.
You are one of the few riders that kept a brake on the whole time I’ve known you, what’s your
opinion about brake riding vs brakeless riding?
Man, I like brakes and I like the S&M BC style of handlebar, taking my brakes off or getting 2 piece bars isn’t gonna make me a better rider. Everyone runs no brakes and 2 piece bars, it’s getting played out. With your brakes off, just means your gonna do tricks relative to no brakes, doesn’t mean the no brake trick is better than a trick with brakes. But each to their own, if it makes a person feel good on their bike, then go for it! And I do think the 2 piece bar look is nice though.
Great points Simon! Also you are one of the few flatlanders that released not just one solo DVD but two! Tell me about that process, what did you get out of it?
The first dvd was what I wanted to share with people, because I felt I wanted to show people more of my riding and it was a challenge to do something creative, DVD wise. After this I was stoked on how fun it was and the satisfaction I got from doing it. Feedback from people was great also. So then I was like, I’d like to try harder and do a better 1.
I had met Mason Rose and he was amazing at editing and had help from Stewart Munro, so I was really stoked to try hard. But then my frame with Colony came out and I wanted to promote it with the DVD, the only thing was that I felt like I rushed the dvd then, I was happy with a lot of it but know I could have done a lot better if i spent more time on it…..oh well, that’s life.
Tell me about your sponsorship history and also to where you are at now with Colony?
I guess the real first sponsor I had was Etnies and they’ve been helpful ever since, Australia etnies distro are rad. Then a couple random sponsors here and there that fell through or whatever. Bikes sponsors were Ares, We the People, St. Martin and now Colony. Things are ok with Colony, bit of help which is cool. They’ve stopped doing any signature parts and will just do a couple flat parts and frame. It’s good they are contributing some parts to the flat scene.
Many people dream of having there own backyard riding spot, you are one of the lucky few, is it as good as it seems having that on your doorstep, do you ride elsewhere a lot?
Yeah it’s great, was better when I used it a lot more but its been great. I live in the country/coast so there’s not to many riding spots so to have that there is the best, sometimes I have to fend off my idiot brothers because they use the spot for cricket….. I hate cricket. I ride at the local high school a lot when I can, out of school hours, it’s a bigger spot which is good, I like the feeling of being in a big space.
That’s about it, although if I go to sydney, I like spots up there and the different vibe of a city.
What’s your opinion on the way contests are going, we used to see you a lot at big events such as the Worlds, CFB, X Games, and so on and so on, but a lot less over the past few years, what changed for you?
I’m getting older and I wanna get paid,ha. First and foremost flat is my number 1 passion, I love it, it gives me identity and a sense being. For years I only really had travel(flight) paid for which was amazing and I am grateful but having a shitty job so I could travel whenever has been good and bad at the same time.
I’m at that point in my life ya know, looking for a career so I don’t leave it too late and I’m over the job i have now, have been for a long time. It hasn’t been a conscious decision not to go to comps, it’s just I don’t have anyone paying my flights so that’s expensive and then I’ve been trying to get educated to get a good job, so therefore I’m just busy and it’s hard to get the cash together, Australia is far and flights can be expensive. It’s just unfortunate that there’s not much money or help in flatland.
Yes totally agree Simon, that’s always been the downside of flatland. Moving on… This question concerns aesthetics. How do you know when a combo is finished? Can a combo last too long & lose its appeal?
I think it’s amazing if you can do a long bad ass run but it gets boring. I think to make flatland more appealing it needs to be a little more short and explosive i guess. I know it’s easier to say, but when I watch a Skate or Breaking dvd for example, there quicker shots, more clips, different spots etc. I personally feel that is way more appealing. I like how Martti did his solo dvds, a couple of tricks to every combo, just quick and explosive. I found when I was editing my dvds you really realized how much better things could work with shorter clips, not saying my clips were short enough, but it was something to aspire to.
What would you say has been your most progressive time period so far in riding?
So far was when I was on the yellow Ares. But to do with my riding career, most progressive time hasn’t come yet….over the past couple of years i’ve been trying to transition to a career, once thats sorted. If Steve Mulder and those guys are still killing it at 40, then yeah…it hasn’t come yet.
Besides flatland, we also know you ride a bit of park? Tell me about that? Do you have a lot of local parks to session?
Yeah park is fun, I just love riding ya know, whether it’s manualling a mini or some flat, rolling on a bike is fun and feels like freedom. It’s another challenge, I like messing with it, I always have. I have a bunch of cool flat style stuff I still wanna do. It’s just finding the time and a sunny day, wet in Australia these days. Theres a lot of cement parks around which is great, it’s really good. But Australia is spread out so sometimes its bit of a drive. Maybe thats why theres not many flat riders here, to many parks to distract people:)
What in your eyes makes a good combo?
um. Hard and original tricks, short and not to messy. nice style. Something like I do..
On HTCS, you talked a lil’ bit about being happy to be away from the European scene, in terms of riding differently. Can you expand on that a lil’ bit, and also what are you influenced by on that note?
Last time I was over there it just seemed like everyone had a very similar style of riding, I’m not perfect, but I’m just saying thats what it seemed like. I think 9 times out of 10 the people you ride with will have some sort of influence. Of course there is a bunch people that really stand out with their own style etc, just an observation. And now the only photos you ever see are no brakes and jumping bars. I like living here in OZ to do with riding because there is a lot of good weather, when it’s not raining, and I like the individualism of flatland, it’s not a team sport, I’m doing the work and I’m doing it my way.
And that’s something I try to do when I ride, different sorts of tricks or combos my way. Aspiring to be like Akira Okamura
I am pretty certain your trickionary is bigger than most out there, do you still ride like you did when you were coming up, if you have changed, what would you put that down to?
When I was coming up I had a lot more time, or my priority was riding. So I wanted to learn as much as i could, I enjoy learning a trick or combo, I get a lot of satisfaction. I learn new stuff here and there but I also try and think of the best ways to combo some good tricks that I already have. Sometimes I feel things could be done so much better, I think if you want to be the best you can be, you cant really be to content with where you’re at.
Rather than your typical ending, this is to the point and awesome how it is! Thank you for your time Simon!
Thanks heaps for the opportunity to do this interview Effraim, appreciate it!