In celebration of the launch of our new vurbmoto Red Program, I thought it would be a fun idea to take a walk down memory lane and explain, in detail, exactly how I got my foot in the door within the dirt bike industry. Actually, no. That’s a lie. You know what really happened? Wes Williams was telling me something, which led me into telling him how I got my start in this industry. Then, as I am moments away from wrapping up my next installment of Frame of Mind, ‘ol Wes tells me that my first opportunity in the industry should be my next FoM. So, now, here I am, after two days writing my original installment, I am now starting all over again to discuss the detailed story of how I got my start. Thanks, Wes. However, the original installment is almost complete and shall follow the release of this one. Unless Wes would like to derail my flow. Again. Ass.
As I am sure some are highly [un]aware, I raced locally in Southern California. I was, at my best, a really shitty 125 intermediate kid (yes, I am old. I raced when we went by skill levels, not your age, and when two-strokes reigned supreme) with dreams of racing 125 West Coast SX and select outdoors. HA! What an idiot I was. I really loved technical tracks that had more of an SX style flow to them, and I always felt I would have been a decent SX rider. Outdoors? Nah, dawg. I’m good. But, back then, my select outdoor schedule was Troy, Ohio (RIP), Broom-Tioga (RIP), and Steel City (RIP). Shocking. My favorite outdoor nationals are now nothing but a ghost of Christmas past. Also, why in the hell did I think I could get away with racing a select outdoor schedule like I was Jeremy McGrath? On the plus side, I was incredibly aware I would’ve been a privateer. Or, maybe a fill-in rider for Yamaha of Troy? Ahh, shit. RIP to them, too. Why do I only seem to like the things in our sport that no longer exist?
Eventually, in my shitty 125 intermediate days, I realized I had no more desire to move forward with my racing. To reach that next level just felt too unattainable for me. However, before I gave up on “the dream,” I was a junior in high school and enthralled with photography. I took photo my junior and senior year, was a “staff” photographer on our yearbook team my senior year and an avid fan of Garth Milan’s work within the pages of the now defunct TransWorld Motocross Magazine (this RIP trend is seriously getting out of hand). Quickly, I knew that my backup plan to racing was to be a professional photographer for TWMX, and I was hell bent on figuring out how to make that dream a reality… at 16 years old. Ignorance is bliss my friends.
At the time, one of my sponsors was ENZO Suspension (operated by Ross Maeda, Donn Maeda’s older brother). Through Ross, I would eventually meet Donn, who has a legacy all his own. The founder of MX Racer (RIP HAHAHHAHAHAH fuck me), which is still my personal favorite print publication, Donn then moved on to start TWMX in 2000 with Garth Milan. I met Donn around 2003 or 2004 out at the original Lake Elsinore MX Park. Once I met Swap and I realized photography was something I truly loved, I would cautiously and bashfully annoy him with ideas of bringing me onto his staff. Luckily, for whatever reason, Swap took a liking to me and never told me to pound sand. Instead, he would take me under his wing and help me with camera settings and very basic pointers here and there. But, I was just some 16/17-year-old kid with no experience behind a camera. Looking back at it, there was no way in hell I would ever work for the biggest dirt bike magazine in the world at the time.
After graduating high school in 2005, I landed a job at BEST VIP Transportation answering phones and booking reservations for people in need of town cars, limousines, and buses for whatever the occasion may have been. That summer would also be the end of my “racing career” as I called it quits in August of 2005. I quit racing, had no camera, and was absolutely terrible at my job answering phones. TERRIBLE. Thank you to my then boss, Rob Vaughn, for not firing me when he should have and, instead, letting me quit. From there, I would go onto land a job at Disneyland where I spent almost two years working for The Mouse. During this time, I had saved up enough money to purchase a used Canon 20d and a used Canon 17-40 L-Series f/4.0. I, again, started bugging Donn about a job at TWMX. But I would get nothing more than a silk pass to SX that would allow me to bring in my camera to shoot photos from the stands. I remember shooting like crazy all day and even the night show. I would wander the stadium levels by myself, armed with a Canon 20d, a rented 70-200mm with a converter to give me 300mm, shooting everything I could. I would submit my photos to Donn in hopes something would, at best, make the TWMX website, but it never happened. I kept shooting, bothering Donn and eventually, in 2007, Donn told me he’d have a credential set aside for me at the 2007 Hangtown Classic to shoot on the track for TWMX. It was all I had dreamed of! If I couldn’t be on the track as a racer, this was, unequivocally, the next best thing!
Swap told me that TWMX would not pay for my air travel, lodging, food, or rental car. So, if I wanted to do this, it was on me to find a way up there. At this point, I had been fired from a Starbucks and was now working at an art supply store stocking shelves. I saved up all the money I had from that job and paid for my own travel to get up to Sacramento. In 2007, we were still on the old outdoor format of flying in on Friday, practicing on Saturday, and racing on Sunday. So, for a kid making $8.00 an hour, this three-day jaunt was costly. But I had no option; I had to do this in order to invest in my future. Armed with my credential and light brown photo vest—I remember hustling my butt off that weekend—shooting everything I could in hopes something would catch the eye of Donn and Garth. After the weekend concluded, I submitted my selects to the crew. Honestly, I had no expectations. If I could get a small gallery on the website, then that was a win. And, this was pre-social media, so being on TWMX at this time was a big damn deal. Somehow, Donn and Garth liked what I shot at Hangtown. They ended up buying close to 10 photos for print. Yes, that’s right. I said print! They didn’t want a web gallery, they wanted to purchase my work to run in the magazine. Not only did they run multiple photos in the Kickstart section of the magazine, they ran a few of my shots in their Hangtown feature and, most importantly, Garth selected a photo I shot of Ricky Carmichael to run in the SCAN section. Back then, SCAN was, essentially, Garth’s art gallery of still imagery. And, to have your shot in that section was the closest thing to winning a championship. It meant you had a damn good eye and were somebody to take notice of, especially because it was primarily Garth’s work that lived here. So, if you saw a different name credited for the photo, you knew that was somebody damn talented. I ended with a half page shot of RC in SCAN and wrote my own caption for that photo. That moment changed everything. I was a published photographer. The paycheck was cool, but I didn’t care about that. The fact that I was now a published photographer in the most iconic section of the biggest MX magazine in the world during this time was baffling to me.
From there, I had the same arrangement for the Washougal National in 2007. I managed to capture a few photos of James “Bubba” Stewart blowing out his knee in the second moto, which TWMX would purchase from me and run a full two page spread for their feature story about this race. Understandably, this only fueled my fire more and I did all I could to convince Donn to hire me. I recall sending him e-mails saying that I would work for free as a custodial person and pick up and take out all of the trash in their Tustin, California, office just to have my foot in the door. But, again, no dice. I offered that trash service multiple times. I was desperate and wanted in badly. Well, eventually, come December of 2007, I was a cashier at Target and I got a text message from Donn. He told me I was going to interview Trey Canard and Dan Reardon for the website. I would have to typeset my interview and submit with photos. It was my test run to see if I was capable to be part of the editorial staff at TWMX. I remember calling both Trey and Dan, nervous as all hell, but armed with questions and ready to kick some ass. I accomplished both of those tasks without screwing it up too badly and, by the end of 2007, I was offered a full-time position on the TWMX staff as an associate editor.
I went from working at a limousine company, Disneyland, Starbucks, an art supply store, and Target while offering to take out the trash at TWMX and doing whatever it took to get my foot in the door over there to, finally, after years of failing and struggling and assuming I’d never get anywhere with my passion, to being the youngest full-time staffer hired at TWMX. Back then, we had no vurbmoto Red Program, no social media and, really, the Internet was fairly young. But, what we did have, and what I had and still have, is that driven mentality to figure out how the hell to do exactly what I love and make it work. I’m forever thankful for Donn giving me the opportunity and I truly hope the young kids reading this article right now, that are in our vurbmoto Red Program, can find some inspiration and motivation in my journey to get to where I am today. I was a kid who just had a dream and pushed and pushed to make it happen and failed and failed, but always got back up and kept pushing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up working for clients such as Red Bull, GEICO Honda, SHIFT MX, Fox Head Inc, American Honda, American Suzuki, and more. But, somehow, someway, it happened. So, if you’re reading this right now and in the early stages of your career and trying to figure this out: do not quit. Keep fighting. Everyday. You will fail. And, you will fail again. But, you need to fail. That builds scars and calluses and character. I still fail at this job… All of the time. But, if you truly love it, you will embrace the struggle and realize this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Stay true to yourself at all times, be humble, be polite, and always push to be better. And, most importantly… Ask questions. I maybe bad at social media, but I am always happy to answer questions about this career path, so please don’t hesitate to reach out or submit to our vurbmoto Red program. And, if somebody like myself, who had a learning disability that made it a colossal challenge to even finish high school can make this happen, so can you. In the words of David Goggins, “Stay in the fight.”