The Friday Interview: Taj Mihelich on Texas Toast

Moving past the initial stages of riding BMX and becoming familiar with who was who and what was what, I quickly became drawn to what many consider the golden era of the Etnies team: the stage of the team where guys like Sandy Carson, Ruben Alcantara, and Taj Mihelich led the charge and showed the BMX world an alternative to what was going on in mainstream BMX at the time. Whether it was places they visited, the videos they made or what have you, the Etnies crew was always up to something unique and interesting-and this spread to the contests and BMX events they’d be at. There was always a heavy presence of the etnies team at more DIY and jam style events, and to me, this was always infinitely more compelling, attractive, and relatable than the guys that would just hit big contests, and go home, much like professional athletes. 

Fast forward to 2010. Yes, contests are much improved with much more rider input, but there’s still something missing from the contest scene-a super core, down to earth jam/contest setting thrown by riders, for riders. Things started getting really interesting towards the end of the year, when I heard rumblings of Mihelich being in the stages of planning Texas Toast, a back to basics, down to earth BMX get together that some claimed would “save BMX.” Once all said and done, it was pretty much true-Taj and the rest of the Odyssey crew had made something truly amazing happen and brought hundreds of BMXers of all shapes and forms to congregate in the early stages of an Austin, Texas summer and have a blast. 

It’s been well over a year since the first Texas Toast contest and the second annual one was pushed back until October 13th and 14th of this year-one of the many changes and enhancements being done at the Toast contest this year. BMX is all over Toast like twelve year olds at a product toss and plenty of rumors and speculation are surrounding the event-and that’s not a bad thing. That being said, however, I figured the time was right to give Mr. Taj Mihelich himself a phone call and set the record straight on what’s happening at this year’s event.

The man with the plan-Taj Mihelich at Texas Toast in 2011. Photo: Jeff Z.

Where are you guys at and how are things going as far as the Texas Toast Jam goes for this year?
So far, everything’s going well. We’re planning out all of the ramps, dialing in all the sponsors, trying to get everything ready…I’m having a really good time designing the ramps and especially the Guantlet of Death this year. It’s going to be really funny. I’m trying to make sure there’s enough entertainment going around this year for everyone that’s going to be there, and make sure that everyone has a good time.

How did last year go overall? What were some of the strong things you felt you had down pat, and what did you feel you could improve on?
Last year, it went great, considering that we really did it on a shoestring budget and had never done anything like that before. We were blown away by the support we got from everyone that came out. Despite the really intense weather and temperatures, everyone seemed to make their own fun. This year, I really just wanted to organize things a bit better so that there’s a little bit less confusion, because last year we were just kind of winging it. We wanted to make sure that there’s more stuff that people can ride all day, so that people have things to ride all day long-and we want to make bigger and better courses.

The Fox entrance to last year's Gauntlet of Death. Photo: Jeff Z.

Speaking of bigger and better courses, I’ve heard you’ve added a flatland event. Is this something you’re doing in co-coordination with another event that’s kind of been lumped into the Toast festivities?
Yeah, the Texas Flatland Roundup is in its eighth year, and it’s coincidentally scheduled for the same weekend as Toast. So, we asked them to just join forces with us. The venue has a really nice warehouse that has really good floors, so they’re going to use that for the flatland event. So it’s going to be during Toast, at Toast, but still sort of be its own little event that they put on.

Also, street stuff is a bit different from everything I’ve heard. What’s different about street compared to last year’s event?
For street this year, it’s in a covered pavilion. It’s going to be its own separate entity-last year it was kind of a part of the Gauntlet. The course is going to be kind of based on real street objects-so it’ll be pretty open and the contest will focus on certain areas at certain times. So the focus will be on the rail setup or big block setup, or stair setup or the wedge ramp setup or the wallride setup, rather than doing runs where people do runs in a certain amount of time. It’ll be more sessions on certain areas of the course.

Sean Sexton with a crisp opposite whip off of the castle at last year's event. Photo: Jeff Z.

Is the dirt jumping going to be pretty fun and simple like last year, or have you made some adjustments for this year’s contest?
We’re going to include some wooden elements in the course this year. We’re inside of a lumber yard for this year’s venue, so it seems appropriate to do some stuff with wood. It should make it pretty unique, because it’ll be dirt jumps similar to last year’s…which were pretty fun and not the hugest jumps in the world. They were good for tricks and stuff-this year we’re going to include some cool, Toast-style wooden elements that will make things new and interesting.

Chase Hawk flipping a 360 over the last set at last year's Toast Jam. Wooden elements will be added to the fun for the dirt course this year. Photo: Jeff Z.

You mentioned the venue is new for this year-what does this lumberyard offer you that you couldn’t do last year?
This year we have more room, and we can start building on site a month ahead of time. Last year we only had a few days. So this year, we’ll have the opportunity to build bigger and better stuff. Also, we’re kind of working with the lumberyard so we can get the wood at a discount and build bigger and better stuff because we can afford to do more. This year, it also gives us a way to have a separate area for dirt, a separate area for street, a flatland warehouse, room for people to have tents, and vend, and display stuff, and we have space for a long and extravagant Gauntlet of Death.

I’ve heard you’ve put Darryl Nau in charge of after parties-is there one big official one, or are they spread across throughout the weekend?
Darryl’s got parties planned for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night of Toast. We’re going to have a few video premieres and bunch of fun things planned with him. We’re going to be able to put up info about them soon, but each night there’s definitely something fun going on.

I’ve heard there’s a bit of a situation with hotels being booked since the Austin City Limits music festival is going on the same weekend. Do you have any tips or advice for people who are trying to book rooms or find places to stay?
Rooms are out there. The only downside to it is that the only hotels that are closest to the event are downtown, which are kind of the most expensive ones anyway. And, with ACL being in town they’re either booked up or increasing their prices. But, there’s hotels, in particular by the airport, that are cheaper. There’s hotels north and south of the city that are cheaper, they’re just out of the way by a couple of miles…I would recommend anyone to book as early as you can, and be ready for fun.

Who do you have announcing this year?
Darryl and Steve Crandall are announcing again, and Leland [Thurman] is looking to make some sort of guest appearance.

An announcing match made in heaven? Darryl Nau and Steve Crandall are an awesome duo on the mic and killed it at last year's event. Photo: Jeff Z.

Do you have the same guys building the trails this year? Who’s on the official build team so far, if there is one?
I don’t have an official dig team yet. It’s a budget issue…I really want those dudes to come back, but we’re sorting out the money. Ryan Corrigan is in charge of all of the ramp stuff, so we’re in good hands there, much better than when I’m building stuff [laughter].

Is there anyone else important that have been instrumental in helping out?
Basically, I’ve been really impressed and happy with how many core BMX brands have pulled together to contribute with what they can to make this thing happen. We don’t really have a massive corporate sponsor that’s sponsoring the whole event-it’s just kind of been smaller, cool companies coming together to make it happen.

Any last words or details you’d like to throw in there?
Rider registration is now open-spaces are limited, just because we can’t have a million people. We’ll keep posting updates on In the next couple of days I’ll be able to post up what riders have registered and which pros are coming. So we’re really excited to see the riding.