Jack Kelly Interview

Back when I first met Jack Kelly around nine years ago he was just entering the world of street riding. I remember taking him out to ride a few schools and he would just hop on the shittiest rails with terrible run ups. Maybe it was because it was all new to him so he was just excited–or he simply didn’t know any better. Whatever it was, it helped mold him into the rail slayer that he is today. Jack’s certainly come a long way from the days of two-foot tranny flairs and me having to tell him to wear a black helmet because colored ones were ruining all my photos. Jack is one of those guys who is basically good at anything he puts his mind to. He’s a real problem solver who I think kind of lives for it–no matter what the situation, he seems to be the one to take the reigns and try to fix the problem. Be it when you’re stranded on the side of the road with car troubles, building a DIY setup, renovating your house, or having bike problems–Jack’s the man you would want with you in a time of need. I think it’s how he approaches his riding as well–as he tends to get pretty mad when he can’t pull something quickly. It’s almost like that problem is getting the better of him. But then he will dissect any rail in front of him and proceed to tear it apart. –Cooper Brownlee

Photos by Cooper Brownlee, Jeff Zielinski, Pat Freyne, Jake Deering

Interview by Jeff Zielinski

Your part in Focalpoint’s Alive & Well was pretty insane. That was your first time filming for a DVD part, right? How was your approach or mindset towards filming for that project different?
Yeah, that was my first ever DVD section, I think my mindset was to just make the best video I could. I was super excited to film for that because I really wanted something I could be proud of and know I worked hard for. And seeing the reactions from all my peers at the premiere really made it worth it. 

How long did you film for Alive & Well?
Six months was the time frame we had, I can’t remember why, but I think it worked out quite well. Everyone was going so hard every time we rode and I know it gave me motivation to get all the clips I had planned to get”one day”.

That tire ride you did for your ender didn’t even seem real. How many tries did that take?
I can’t quite remember how many tries it took, but if I had to guess it was around the 50s–which might not seem like a lot to some people, but trying to tire ride one of the longest rails I’ve ever ridden was exhausting mentally and physically.

What did it feel like rolling away from that?
Honestly, relief in its purest form. I had put so much energy and focus into getting that trick and I wanted it so bad that when I rolled away from it, and then realized it was over, it was just a feeling of overwhelming relief.

Did any of the filming for your latest Colony video overlap with the filming of Alive & Well?
No not at all. I hadn’t filmed any clips for months after filming for the DVD. I kept telling Cooper “I’m on holiday” [laughs].

Seems like you did the LA rail tour in your new Colony video. Was that the goal of the trip, to put a serious hurting on every famous rail in LA?
[Laughs] No, not at all, I just love riding rails and all the perfect setups are well known spots. So naturally I wanted to go there to ride them.

I witnessed you pull two clips first try on the same day–the curve rail crank arm to 180 and the kinked rail feeble. Was that a lucky day, or do rail tricks just tend to workout easy for you?
I was actually saying to Cooper later that same day, that I hoped you didn’t think I always land stuff first try [laughs], because next time we shoot photos you will be disappointed. Somehow that day I was lucky twice.

Since your Colony video just dropped, I have a few more questions… Did you have any specific tricks in mind for specific rails? Did any of them not work out?
I would basically just watch a bunch of LA based BMX videos while I was there, and hit up who ever to find out where certain spots were that I liked. Then once I got there I would decide which trick I wanted to do. If I call a trick before I get to a spot I’ve never ridden, I usually discover the trick won’t work or I just end up doing something completely different.

Which clip gave you the biggest fight?
The crank 180 down the kinker. It was a mixture of me not going fast enough to smoothly go over the kinks and constantly leaning wrong. Every attempt was a learning process, I would go too slow, lean forward too far, hop too high… So I kept trying until I had it figured out. And it was also really hot!

Do you prefer big rail moves or tech rail moves more?
I’d say tech rail moves, but on down rails. I always love seeing combos down rails and ledges more than a flat ledge or rail combo.

Which riders inspire you?
I get direct inspiration from my friends. Every time we’re out riding someone will do a trick and I’ll be like, “damn, that was sick, I want to do something like that.” Sometimes it’s the smallest things, but it will give me ideas for other tricks or clips and get me stoked to try some tricks I wouldn’t usually do.

Who are five riders you think are pushing it the hardest on rails right now?
Well, first and foremost, without question is Nathan Williams, I don’t even need to explain that one. But off the top of my head, without going through recent videos. People who I think always have an abundance of rails in their videos are Rob DiQuattro, Dan Lacey, Mike Vockenson, and Calvin Kosovich.

Why are Australians so good at rails?
Maybe Australians are good at rails because we have so many grass landings [laughs].

What is the secret to doing feeble grinds on round rails?
Hop straight, aim the front tire to land on the rail, and as long as you’ve hopped straight your back peg will find its own way, then just lean a little foreword so your front wheel has some weight on it to prevent it slipping off and to control it better, and just focus on where your front tire is the whole time. That’s a pretty detailed version of how I do it, but everyone’s different.

What’s your dream trick on a rail?
It changes all the time, but one thing my friends always joke to me about is a barspin-to-hanger down a rail. I definitely have no intention of doing that trick, but it would be awesome to see.

Joking, but not joking… Do you ride much else besides rails?
Not really [laughs]. My favorite thing to film on is rails. When I’m not filming I ride everything, but every time I have a clip idea or come up with something worthy of filming. It always seems to be rail related.

I saw that pegs-to-backflip attempt from the A&W outtake on your Instagram. That was pretty nutty. I’m assuming that rail with the little kicker spawned that idea? Do you think the end needed to be a littler taller for you to get it all the way around?
I don’t want to make excuses because I’m sure there’s someone out there that could do it (probably Dylan Stark) but if it wasn’t as mellow, and had a bit more transition to lean back on, I could have possibly gotten it around further. But that was my second attempt at it, the first being about a year earlier, both attempts ending the same way. I obviously didn’t learn my lesson.

You hurt your knee while filming for your latest Colony video in LA and had to cut your time in California short. What happened?
I was warming up on a seven or eight stair rail when I looped out on a switch ice, landed on my feet and my left knee just couldn’t take the impact and my knee fractured and my ACL snapped. I hurt the same knee on the first day of the trip, doing a tire ride on a cut off rail, so I think that contributed to it. Once I hurt my knee I could barely walk the next day and was basically stuck to my good friends Barney and Tatiana’s couch. So I decided to fly home to get surgery ASAP.

What is the status on your knee now?
Post op, currently waiting another five or six months until I’m allowed to ride again under surgeon’s orders.

Speaking about injuries, I’ve never seen you ride without a helmet on, which is obviously a wise decision. Have you always worn one?
Ever since I started riding I’ve worn one, because I used to ride to the local BMX track and it’s illegal to ride your bike on the road or footpath without a helmet, so I didn’t want a fine. Then eventually I couldn’t ride without it, because knowing my luck, the day I don’t wear it will be the day I need it most. 

I’ve noticed a number of riders in Australia wearing helmets while riding street in videos–more so than anywhere else. Do Australian riders just take their safety more serious than riders elsewhere or what?
I think it’s mainly the legal thing, not wearing a helmet is illegal in some states. Majority of the time they don’t enforce it that bad, but places like Adelaide city will fine the fuck out of you, while there are real crimes going on…

From an outside perspective, it seems like when it comes to BMX talent, Australia has no shortage-from podium placing park riders like Kyle Baldock and Logan Martin, less is more bowl blasters like Dylan Lewis, tech ramp wizards like Alex Hiam and Tom Stretton, and of course no-fear street killers like Calvin Kosovich and yourself. Is that just the tip of the iceberg? And what is about Australia that breeds so many incredible riders?
That’s definitely only the tip of the iceberg, I can think of so many Australians that are amazing riders that I would put in the same category. I’d love to write down who I think should also be mentioned, but I started writing names and realized I was going to be here for hours listing everyone.

How long have you been riding for Colony?
Five to six years possibly, I can’t actually remember. But shout-out to Clint [Miller] for having me as part of the team. It’s been a real treat so far.

What’s it like riding for an Australian based company owned by a legend like Clint Millar?
It’s great, Clint is always down for my ideas and it’s also great that the TM (Cooper Brownlee), lives in the same city, because he’s basically the reason I even have web videos, photos, and most likely a sponsor [laughs].

What do you do back home? Do you have a day job?
I’m a plasterer (a gyprocker & taper for the Americans out there). It’s a full time job so it doesn’t leave me with much time to ride during the week unless it’s daylight savings. I usually do most of my riding and filming on weekends.

Do you think if you moved to America you’d have more opportunities as a pro rider?
That’s a tough question to answer and I think a lot of it is personal opinion. But BMX is a lot larger in the States, so there are more opportunities, but with that being said there are also a lot more people who ride over there. So maybe it’s not all that different?

Have you ever considered making the move?
A few years ago I did, but currently I’d prefer to stay here with my family and friends. I’ve got a good job situation and a beautiful girlfriend. So making that move would be too hard and probably not the most beneficial thing for me.

2017 is coming to a close. What are you looking forward to for the next year? Projects, videos, signature parts?
Looking forward to being able to ride and travel again. I have a new signature part coming out with Colony that I hope people like. There are no videos in the works, as all of my stacked up footage has been used now. There will be a behind the scenes sort of video from my last edit that will be dropping any day now though.

Want to give any thanks?
Thanks to all my friends and family, thanks to Colony, Verve, and LUX for supporting me. Shout-out Coop who films all my videos, and thanks to Jeff Z. and RideBMX for the interview!


Portrait: Cooper Brownlee

This gap-to-feeble is one of Jack’s bangers from the A&W video… But where is the rail? Photo: Pat Freyn

Steep, locked, and opposite… Hanger from the top. Photo: Jake Deering

Despite a downhill runway and the rail being kinda tall, Jack got this crankarm-to-180 first go. Photo: Zielinski

Riding rails as if they were ledges… oppo feeble-over-smith-hard 180. Photo: Brownlee

Apparently not all crankarm 180s come easy for Jack, this one was a battle. Photo: Brownlee

Predator crook-to-180 from last year. Photo: Zielinski

A few hours after jack pulled the curved crank 180 first go, he feebled this infamous LA kinker first go too. It was a good day. Photo: Zielinski

Gap-to-rail same as day as Jack’s kinker crank 180. Do you see a trend here? Our boy Jack kills it. Photo: Brownlee

Oh yeah, Jack is a tire ride champ Marathon rail ride with a curb at the end. Photo: Pat Freyne