Exorcising the ‘Draino’: The John Parker Interview.


“Back in the early 90’s, at the height of ‘Hoffman mania’, a kid from Middle California appeared on the radar – It seemed as though he was winning contests in no time at all and had a big bag of tricks; he was the first person after Mat to learn flairs, making it seem like a possibility for us ‘mere mortals’… The parallels with Mat continued; he was quiet and he was humble, yet he had a crazy intensity and an apparent unwillingness to back down when it came to new and impossible tricks. I liked him from the start! John inevitably turned pro, quickly making a name for himself; he had a great style but he also seemed to be a bit crazy – He developed a reputation for trying tricks that weren’t supposed to work (no handed candy bars, body varials) and also for his cat-like reflexes (somehow, always being able to land on his feet)… I’ve known John for at least 15 years and he never fails to surprise me; always happy, always positive, always an original. One of my favourite vert riders of all time, humble as hell, a psycho with a smile, a guy I’m proud to call my friend, John Parker” {Introduction by Simon Tabron, 23rd of December, 2010}

John Parker Portrait, courtesy of bart at fatbmx...

Full Name: John Brian Parker.

Nationality: American.

Sponsors: Product support from Hoffman Bikes and EVS Gear.

D.O.B: 12/30/73


John Parker was born in “Paso Robles”, a town (officially a city) roughly located between Los Angeles and San Francisco…


1) John – How did you find it growing up at Paso Robles?

John: “Slow. I was left to my own design mostly. I lived well outside the city limits of a small town, so I wasn’t bombarded by typical social distractions. Whether that was good or bad, it led me to rely on my own desires and eventually to BMX. Once I found out what you could do on a bike I was focused on pushing myself a little further…”

By the late 80’s, BMX had taken a serious dip in popularity – With limited popularity, and little financial backing, the freestyle world was entering a recession…


John Parker, Day Smith and Local {Photo courtesy J.Parker}

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… A generation of chiefly tenacious teens had the responsibility of keeping the show alive – John Parker was at the front of the pack…

2) What specifically attracted you to “Freestyle” as a sport? And, how did you go about setting yourself up as a rider?

John: “I started riding in the summer of 1988. A couple of my school mates had BMX bikes. After I witnessed them doing old school tricks such as frame stands and rollbacks, I was immediately interested. It was a sport I knew nothing about. After looking through some old magazines that a friend gave me I fixed up an old Huffy from the garage. I played around on that for a few months – Jumping over dirt mounds and such. I roofed a house that summer with my brother to earn money for a proper bike. I bought a used Dyno Pro Compe.”

3) At what point did you start taking a bias towards Qtr pipe riding?

John: “Almost immediately I started building ramps and playing around on them. My dad was a general contractor so I had all the tools, nails and scrap wood I needed to start building wacky ramps. I had never even seen a ramp outside of videos and magazines so the first few attempts were quite lame. I started on an eight foot quarter pipe, with two feet of vert, in a dirt field.”

John Parker on his very first quater pipe, photo from Bmx Plus, July 1999.

4) Who were your main role models?

John: “I had a lot of imaginary friends and a vision of how things should be. In the bike world I was mostly influenced by Mat Hoffman. I always tell him what an influence he had on me years before we met…”

Matt Hoffman is a friend, fellow competor and hero, to John Parker {Photo by Chris.W.Smith}

5) When did you first set foot on a real “vert” ramp?

John: “I can’t remember my first vert session. It came on slowly from crappy quarter pipes to a real 8ft vert, half-pipe, over the span of a couple of years. At first there were a few other riders in my town with the same interest. We wanted to ride everything – Flat, street, ramps, dirt…”

6) Who did you ride with at this stage?

John: “I had a few friends that were driven to progress – Jacob Duarte, Ed Borla and Andy Parkin. They kept me motivated, by stopping by my house to ride my ramps, every week or so… I always had a new trick to show off.”

This is a photo of Johns friend Edward Borla in action {Photo sourced from Edward Borla}

Matt Hoffman and his crew launched a new contest circuit in the early 90’s – The B.S Series (The Bicycle Stunt Series). This radical format helped inject new blood into the sport, by offering new disciplines, categories and bigger cash prizes…

7) Tell us about your first contest?

John: “My first contest was the 1992 BS Contest in Glendale Arizona – Death in the Desert. Funny thing was I went the year before to ride the contest, but was overwhelmed with a 10ft ramp and ended up not entering. I went home and immediately started building a ten footer… Came back the next year with a different attitude! The most vivid memory of that first contest is riding the night before and Mat Hoffman doing a can-can look-back in my face.”

Not long after John got hooked up by “Wilkerson Airlines”…

8} Was Wilkerson Airlines your first deal? & what did it mean to you?

John: “My first sponsorship was from Ron Wilkerson (Wilkerson Airlines). He hooked me up with a bike and some wheels. I did a couple of shows for him. At this time being sponsored was more about the recognition, that I was good enough to be sponsored than anything else.

It wasn’t until Woody Itson picked me up for GT Bicycles, that I started travelling around the world and making a living riding bikes. I’m lucky to have known how good I had it.”

9) Going back onto the subject of contests – How long was it before you started winning events?

John: “I won the second contest I entered, the BS comp in San Jose, CA. Then I won all the amateur BS contests in 1993. By that time I was sponsored by GT Bicycles and touring so it seemed natural to turn pro.”

10) What cliffhanger moves were you working on during this period?

John: “I have no idea… I was mostly learning tricks in shows at this point. It was pretty motivating to ride in front of big crowds after riding by myself for so many years. Tail-whip x-ups, no foot can-can seat grabs, flairs, 900’s, 540 whips…”

John Parker, Cover of BMX PLUS {Courtesy of BDJ at FatBMX, thanks also to Ben Crockett at BMX Plus, for permission to use}

The mid-nineties saw the birth of the “X-Games”. During this time period John Parker had established himself as a household name in the BMX world – At this stage he had featured in all the major printed publications, the TV and videos…

11) How did you deal with “fame”?

John: “There wasn’t much to deal with… Now if you asked me how I dealt with ‘expectations’ that could be another story. Being well      known amongst bikers means they expect a high level of riding – At shows, contests, fresh off the plane, on crappy ramps, etc. That was a little frustrating, and stressful back in the day.”

12) How did the first X-Games compare to other contests such as the “Worlds” and the “B.S.Series”?

John: “It didn’t feel so different on the ramp but there was definitely a new vibe going around. The cameras, the countdown to drop in, the

security and all the hype changed things. Sometime in there the focus went from what tricks you did to what place you got.”

13) What was your highlight of the 90’s in general?

John: “Riding bikes, travelling, getting married, moving to AZ. Things were easy in the 90’s… I just rode my bike and everything else fell

into place.”

The year 2000 marked a new era for contests – The B.S Series was to be replaced by the “CFB BMX Series” (Crazy Freakin’ Biker Series). After a decade of hard-core vert riding, “Round.1” of the series marked John Parkers first “Pro” title…

14) What did it take to win the title? How did it feel?

John: “I won a contest against Mat Hoffman – That is a bit of bragging rights! I’m not sure what I did. I never really prepared for contests. We just got on the ramp and rode. The best part about competing back then was pushing to impress yourself.”

John Parker, at a more recent event, the LG-Games {Photo courtesy of Bart, at FatBMX}

Following the first CFB contest John Parker went onto get “Top Ten” finishes in most of the high-profile events he entered – These included countless X-Games events, CFB contests, BS contests and the Worlds…

15) What tricks did you have to have on lock-down in order to consistently place so highly?

John: “For me it was going high, some good fives and five variations, tail-whips, double-whips, flairs… Contests in the 90’s weren’t about flawless 30 second runs. We just rode and sometimes the whole world would stop until we pulled a 900… Sometimes that took a few tries!”

With what may have been the peak of his career done and dusted it was time for John Parker to settle down… Or was it?

16) 2005 saw the birth of “Sophisticated Rider”. Where did the inspiration for the magazine come from? And what was the goal?

John: “I’ve always been a bit of a writer. I figured I would take what I’ve been immersed in for the past 20 years and write about it. I just wanted to do a magazine that was a little more ‘grown up’. The idea was to cover our sports and riders with a thoughtful twist of the real world thrown in. As much as we all love bikes, skateboards and moto sports, there is a whole world out there. The more you see and know the better you can make it all work for you. I wanted to show readers a little bit of that world.”

A cover of "Sophisticated Rider", featuring rival and friend, Kevin Robinson {Image sourced from archives}

17) In 2006 you confronted your nemesis, and pulled the illusive “Draino” – What’s the story? And how did it feel to finally land  it after 13 years of dogged attempts?

John: “The Draino was one of my big inspirations for moving east to Pennsylvania. Riding Woodward everyday with Kevin Robinson, Tom Stober and Chad Kagy helped me do things on my bike I had only dreamt about.

Before doing the Draino in the foam I’d only get a shot or two at it. Usually that ended up in bruised heals and bent handlebars. Walking around on my tippy-toes got old, so I put that trick on the shelf for a long time. I always knew I could land it proper if I could do more than a couple a here and there. After a couple days in the foam and pulling a few on the resi-ramp I set a date with Jared Souney to shoot. I told him we’d shoot it “next Friday”, and we did. There is some pretty good footage of it on you tube, and some good crashes…

… I was relieved to pull it more than anything. I got to cross it off my list of ‘things to do’.”

Guest Quote: “He’s an animal, gumby with a smile. I wish I could tomahawk like him.” – Chad Kagy

Thanks for your time Mr Parker – Before we wrap this up, I’ve got a few more ‘general’ questions, just to let people know a little bit more about what you’re up to at the present…

18) After decades of shredding, how’s your situation with injuries?

John: “I’ve been lucky. Not too much to talk about injury wise – Broken foot, broken leg, hundred or so stitches, and more concussions than I will put a number to.”

19) How often do you ride nowadays? And what about progression?

John: “I ride more than ever! Largely because of the shows I’ve been doing but riding is just a part life. Progression… I finally learned proper look-backs this past summer. Put some pegs and a front-brake back on so, I’ve been playing around with a little flatground. I just moved back to Arizona and there is a cool skatepark right down the street so I have it fairly good.

I’m planning on competing next year. I rode a couple of contests this past year and had fun; got 10th at Salt Lake City Dew, and 14th in Vegas.

Hoffman Bikes has been keeping me set up with a good ride. EVS has been supplying me with helmets and gear. I’m pretty well outfitted with them.”

John Parker, Invert at Bakersfield {Photo supplied by J.Parker}

20) Do you have any advice for kids who are starting out who want to be Pro?

John: “It is a whole new world from when I was coming up. You can’t be a successful pro by just being really good on a bike; you have to be competitive. Getting paid, especially in this environment you have to show up on TV, magazines, videos… You got to have eyes and ears following you…

… Two bits of advice that hold true in any career: Love what you do and look out for the people that helped you get where you’re at.”

21) Right, before we call this a wrap – Any shout-outs, closing words, etc…

John:“I have to mention a book I’ve been writing for almost two years. It has consumed me in much the same way riding has. I won’t go into details except that it isn’t an autobiography and it isn’t about riding. I like to call it ‘Catcher in the Rye for thirty-something’s’. I’m going to put a bit of it up online at www.AndrewSarcus.com by the end of the year.

I always have to thank my wife Joleen. She makes everything I do a bit more possible. Thanks to Woody Itson for handing me his business card after the BS Contest in 92 and then some. Thanks to Mat Hoffman for inspiration in my youth and even now in my not-so-youth. Thanks to everyone that has ever shared a good vert session with me.”

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