21 Nov INTERVIEW: Is Thomas Henderson the most metaphorical man in BMX?
Thomas Henderson is a polarizing character. Upon meeting him, you will likely experience a well-defined emotion or sentiment. These reactions could range from admiration to condemnation, intellectual stimulation to confusion, excitement to discomfort, intrigue to disengagement, amusement to outrage, or something entirely different.
I first met Thomas 10 years ago at Kaskitayo skatepark in Edmonton. He was a long-haired, long-sleeved, headphone-equipped BMX rider who would charge across the park in long, drawn out lines. Whenever Thomas was in motion, the contours of his face would sharpen and tense up. He appeared intimidating like a man ready to go to battle. Everyone at the park seemed to know him, but nobody talked to him. It wouldn’t be until about an hour into a session that Thomas would interact with the other riders.
Today, Thomas can still look daunting as he loops around a concrete bowl. However, he appears much more approachable on the deck than he used to. Be warned: he may talk your ear off. For Thomas, riding is a “treat” and a “work-out.” When Thomas is eager to session, he takes full advantage of it. That means he might snake you, but it also means he might hype you up to try a trick with him. His moods are contagious. If the conditions are right, he is the best person to energize a session. Thomas once announced an entire BMX jam using a pylon as a microphone. Picture an adult male telling complex jokes and making light-hearted insults—hardly providing riding commentary—with an orange, foot-long cone in front of his face. That is Thomas. With that being said, I hope this interview sheds further light on BMX’s most metaphorical and perhaps misunderstood man, Thomas Henderson….
Scenic footplant. Whitefish, Montana. 2016. Photo: Justin Schwanke.
Let’s start with a common question for context. What got you into BMX?
I’d like to first start this interview by saying that my written responses lack the vivacious and sparkling spontaneity that has endeared me to so many, including yourself, my hot-sauce averse friend of almost 10 years.
More to the point, I will attempt to sternly peer through the musky ether of time for this question.
I grew up in a forgettable and safe suburb on the south side of Edmonton called Yellowbird. According to playground lore, the name was derived from the original inhabitants of the land who had an ancient burial ground underneath the elementary school’s portable classrooms. This was unbeknownst to my parents. They were/are busy professional types who make cheddar stacks to take the fam out in the Grand Cherokee for wing night at Chili’s. Much of my childhood was spent traipsing around my neighborhood by foot. I would often go to my friend’s house to have discussions about how no one was good at Gran Turismo.
Eventually, as an alternative to foot travel, I got an oversized mountain bike with disc brakes. I quickly learned endos and rear wheel skids. There was a ravine 5 minutes away from my parents’ house where some local ruffians had mounded wet muck together. It coincidentally dried into little launch ramps. That was where I got my first taste of air, sunshine, and bystanders demanding I do an aerial maneuver. The seeds were planted…
Kaskitayo skatepark opened the second summer of my “cross-country bike imitating Red Bull Rampage” identity. I would take the MTB XTREME to the park. In the early days, I considered my “banger line” as going down the roll-in, up the bank, turning around, and jumping safely out of the quarter. Not long after that, I realized that when one was to land at 90 degrees whilst attempting a 180 on a 26” trail bike, things got warped like flat-earther logic.
After going to United Cycle many times to mend my improperly used bicycle, I noticed they were selling a second-hand 2003 Diamondback Venom bike (with the wish bone frame). I badgered my parents incessantly about the bike during every commercial break of Jeopardy.
So long story short: B-Day 2005, I got a BMX. I still have one in 2018 (well two technically, but that’s not as poetic).
Thomas airing one of Edmonton’s most famous, yet seldom ridden spots. 2016. Photo: Justin Schwanke.
Describe the Edmonton BMX scene for those who may not be familiar with it.
Edmonton is cold, yep.
We have a truly wonderous amount of skateparks for such a Northern abyss. This means that the local scene has some rad-ass park shredders. There are also lots of scooters. You shouldn’t be chummy with young riders who get better as the season moves along. They’ll only switch to scooters and break your heart again. There are also 35-year-old vaping bystanders that say they used to be able to do hop 3 whips back in Newfoundland. There are 14-year-old girls in Drake shirts filming make-up tutorials at the bottom of banks too. There are 9-year-olds that want to fight your Dad. We also have some nice, genuine people. It’s a melting pot.
Street wise, security isn’t really that bad compared to other cities. We might have the most “citizen heroes” that you will ever come across though. These are the civilians selflessly defending bus benches from the horrors of a feeble grind. Oh, and West Edmonton Mall has some cool spots. It isn’t the biggest mall in the world anymore though.
After more than 10 years in Edmonton, our long-time shop, Transition BMX sadly closed it’s doors last year.
We had a slippery indoor park that existed from 2015 to 2017. We now have a much grippier indoor that will exist from 2018 to ???.
“Wall” to fakie behind Edmonton’s most prized hockey rink. 2018. Photo: Justin Schwanke.
Tell me a true story that includes at least one of the following topics: eating pretzels, getting a haircut, and/or climbing a mountain.
I ate a pretzel once in a train station in Germany.
I used to have 9 inches of hair. I got it cut off and donated the hair to make wigs.
There are some mountains that you can drive up most of the way, park, walk like 10 minutes, and be at the peak. It’s a lot easier than normal hiking. Trust me.
Oh, and my old karate teacher met Chuck Norris once in the late 1990’s. That’s a bonus answer. You’re welcome.
No matter the activity or setting, Thomas clearly lives a life full of raw emotion… 2018. Photo: Justin Schwanke.
How did Kaskitayo skatepark in Edmonton define your BMX experience?
Kaskitayo is a modern masterpiece of shapely quarter pipes, sultry banks, and wheel-height steel rails. It’s positioned spitting distance (many people confirmed this) from a 7-Eleven which held my Saturday afternoon diet back for many years (holy Taquito!). Kask taught me how to air a quarter, a hip, and a spine. I also experienced the transcendent joy of tearing around bowl corners really fast, y’know?
What BMX video has made the strongest impression on you and why?
Drop the Hammer probably had the biggest impression on me. It was the first video (DVD disc youngin’s!) that I ever watched/owned. 12+ years later and the riders and clips still represent an accurate cross-section of our freestyle sport. Transworld vids are good for that.
I might include Insight in there as well, specifically singling out Dak’s section. It was and still is the future. That last 180 over the rail into the parking lot… You ain’t touching that!
Euro air. Westlock, Alberta. 2015. Photo: Justin Schwanke.
Can you tell the readers about your professional life? What do you do for a living?
Don’t lie to me and say “readers.” We all know Russia replaced the humans on the Internet with pro-Putin bots and Jordan Peterson…
I am a Red Seal Plumber who started his own business in 2017. Boring. Next…
What sparked your interest in travelling?
Probably being from and living in Edmonton.
Montjuïc Cemetery. Barcelona, Spain. 2013. Photo: Justin Schwanke
Can you tell the story about bombing Olympiaberg Hill in Munich, Germany? Why did that event have such a profound impact on your life?
Well…. before our journey to Germany (say it fast), I was unfortunately in a sorry state. I drank too much, smoked too much, and had a dismal attitude. Germany—a spectacular country with precise scientists and stunning women—has lots of good cheap beer. The first portion of the trip consisted of me constantly seeking out alcohol. This was good for the bottom line of the liquor store, but it was bad for my floundering ambition and wobbly bike control. It was also bad for whoever was within an 8-foot radius of me.
Around 1:00 that day, we pedalled to the top of Olympiaberg hill (I didn’t know it was called that until I saw the title of this question). I had already fed the monkey on my back and gave him a little beer stein too. I was tipsy. At the apex of the hill, I looked out at the vista before me. I saw a Mercedes Benz logo on a nearby skyscraper, floppy-haired retirees walking their wolf-like dogs, and what appeared to be a beautiful rolling hillside just over the fence from the viewing area. I decided it was my destiny to ride my brakeless BMX down the grass slopes and safely dismount in celebration several hundred yards away. This was not the most well-thought out route. The zig zagging walking path cut flat sections out of the incline of the hill. Nevertheless, a video camera was positioned at my inebriated form. With a slap of my knee, I was off….. Until I wasn’t. I made it to the first walking path intersection on my way down which was about 100 feet from the top of the hill. I got tossed off my bike and unceremoniously smacked my helmet-clad head against the unyielding earth.
As the cliché goes, I don’t recall the specific details after that. However, I do remember stopping to go the bathroom at a recreation center in the Olympic park. I was woozy and most definitely had a concussion. This mental fog coalesced into me momentarily believing I was in rural Alberta at an ice rink (there were people playing hockey in this German recreation center). Once I realized that I was in Germany, I still couldn’t remember how I had got there.
Later that evening, we returned to a relative’s house by way of an Audi on the Autobahn. I thought about how dissatisfied I was with my current station in life, my bad attitude, my health, my isolation, and my constant pull of addiction.
The next day, I didn’t want to drink as much. The day after that, I made a challenge to drink only 2 beers at the end of the day and smoke 1 cigar. After that, I chose to have no beer or cigars for the rest of the trip. I returned home to Edmonton deciding to not drink or smoke for 3 weeks. I wanted to see what the results would be. That 3 weeks turned into 1 month, which turned into 3 months, which eventually turned into 3 years. I got addicted to the idea that all the elements of my life which I thought were out of my control, could be understood and altered for the better with small, consistent steps.
In June of 2017, I broke my sober streak. I sometimes drink, and maybe have the odd cigar (Don’t start smoking! Just chew pencils instead). Knowing the other side though, I am very aware of what type of life I can be led into at any time. I still occasionally put restrictions on myself to prove I can do it and keep myself stoked.
Gap across the triangle wedge. Berlin, Germany. 2014. Photo: Justin Schwanke.
What is the worst purchase you have ever made?
That’s an easy one. Last year I ordered a 2001 Toyota Altezza Gita station wagon from Japan, via a local broker. It was a dang cool car, but it got the mileage of a Kijiji-sourced dump truck. The stereo didn’t work, and it was not an economical replacement for my timeless Toyota Matrix. Add this to the fact that I just started a business, it clearly wasn’t the right choice at the right time.
Coincidentally, after almost a year on the market and many ridiculous trade offers refused (a cleaning company’s S10 pick-up with a welded shut door… Come on!!!), I sold the vehicle. I dropped the Altezza off at the rail terminal for shipment to Ontario. It’s a weird feeling to drive a car somewhere, and then leave with no car and a backpack. I later celebrated the vehicle sale by continuing to make fiscally responsible decisions (listen up youngin’s!).
What’s your favorite part about living with fellow Weird & Revered crew affiliate, Jesse Baraniuk?
Lordy, can the boy cook!
Assuming that they can ride a bicycle, what animal do you think would be best at wallrides and why?
I was going to say a gecko, but I think they would be more attuned to handplants. They could just stick there forever with no risk.
However, let’s say a jaguar. They are seldom seen in the wild so they probably have all sorts of urban-transferable skills that we or the German scientists don’t know about. Final answer.
The OG Weird & Revered crew at Kaskitayo skatepark. Edmonton, Alberta. 2015. Photo: Dan Corbett.
Any last words of wisdom?
Next time you think you are winning in an intense argument, just imagine what a dog would think of your vocal tone. That should humble you to be less combative. More than ever, the world needs the moralistic overview of Golden Retrievers.
Oh, and they add foaming agents to toothpaste for no other reason than it has the physiological effect of cleaning… It doesn’t actually serve a functional purpose.
Also, there are too many Dorito’s flavors. Enough already!
Another thing, you can borrow my 6 mm allen key, but you have to bring it back. Don’t make me come find you.
That is all.
Thomas Henderson footage from the Weird & Revered video archives:
Thomas section – 7:32 to 9:44.
Thomas section – 8:20 to 9:23
Thomas section – 3:20 to 4:27