From the Archives: Joe Johnson, 1998
Joe Johnson. If Joe still rode today, doing the same tricks he did in the early 1990s, he would still be considered one of the top BMX riders. He was that good. Joe was way ahead of his time, and during that era was the only person capable of beating Mat Hoffman in a vert contest, and he did. He was the first rider to do tailwhip airs, and double tailwhip airs (he also came insanely close to a triple nearly 20 years before anyone else would do it). Joe is a legend. One of the best who ever rode a bicycle. Still.
I grew up a few miles from Joe, and began riding his backyard halfpipe around 1985, a couple of years before he became “The Joe Johnson.” I was 9 or 10, and to this day Joe calls me “Kid Jared.” Joe’s younger brother Phil was a year or two older than me, and we rode together quite a bit at the time. In 1986 Joe got sponsored by Haro (THE team at the time), and before you knew it the magazines and big name pros were rolling through Stoughton, Massachusetts. Josh White, Brian Blyther, Spike Jonze, Dennis McCoy, Dino Deluca, and countless other legends passed through Joe’s backyard during the late 80s. Without Joe’s ramp and the crew of guys that rode there, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be still doing “this BMX stuff” 25 years later.
In the early 90s after extensive touring with Haro and GT along with a few injuries, Joe faded from the scene at the top of his game and focussed on school. But Joe was so far ahead of his time that the legend lived on.
On rare occasions Joe would pop up for a session out of the blue. In 1998 Joe got hooked up with a random demo through Dennis McCoy. Mind you, this was almost 8 years after Joe faded off the scene. Dennis got Joe a Mongoose Hooligan (DMC was riding for them at the time) and Joe was back at it for a minute. Out of the blue one weekend Joe showed up at Impact Skatepark in Providence with his new, fresh out of the box Mongoose, and an unworn pair of Vision Street Wear high tops (also 8 years past their prime). There was a little bit of wow factor, but at this point most of the kids in the park had no idea who he was. I think Kevin and I figured he was going to kill himself.
Impact had a six-foot mini ramp with a steep transition. I think it was a seven foot radius cut at six feet, which is pretty quick. It was built that way on purpose (Kevin Robinson wanted to still be able to do airs on it), and while it was a little bit scary, you could blast it if you wanted to. Joe showed up, 8 years off the horse, and proceeded to do fully-clicked lookbacks at six feet out. Not modern day faux-lookbacks where you air opposite and do a turndown. Legit straight up and down air lookbacks his normal direction. Clicked. And turndowns? No problem. It was amazing to see. It was like watching the GT mini-ramp tour from 8 years prior. Then he put the box jump in its place, just like it was a 2-Hip Meet the Street contest 10 years earlier, complete with can-can lookbacks. You just don’t see people do those anymore.
Joe came out and rode a few more times over the years. I saw him at a couple of sessions at Rye Airfield in New Hampshire after I moved back to the east coast, and he came down to Woodward a few times to ride in the mid-2000s when I was living out there. Joe still works with Dennis and Paridy McCoy on occasion behind the scenes at the Dew Tour events, so shake his hand next time you see him, and thank him for the tailwhips.