Bob Haro put freestyle BMX flatland on the map in the early 1980s with the help of “Action Now” magazine, formerly “Skateboarder”. When mullets, the Walkman and Duran Duran ruled the world, the sport of flatland BMX was disappearing. But as the years passed and bike sports progressed, with BMXers following skateboarders into skateparks and halfpipes, flatland became more popular. The sport had reached its peak in the late 1990s with the X Games, after which officials decided to clip flatland in 2001.
However, this was the year when Martin Drazil, our own ambassador and enthusiastic collaborator, came upon this sport for the first time. It was love on the first sight. And while he has achievements that he’s very proud of, for example 1st place in Nokia FUSE or 17th place in BMX Flatland World Circuit, he still keeps his regular job. Because flatland is not only a sport for him, it’s a way of life, which is reflected in everything he does.
“I remember it as if it was today. I was working at Slavia – a famous café where the first Czech president Václav Havel used to sit for hours, and one day I saw some kids doing tricks in the open space behind the modern building of the New Scene, which is a part of the Czech National Theatre in Prague. I was totally stocked about that, it was the coolest thing ever and I fell in love with it immediately. And I still have the exact same feeling today, fifteen years later,” says Martin.
Martin got interested in flatland because the tricks those kids were doing looked impossible. Flatland is a very complex form of BMX that involves using your mind and your bike to create original tricks. “It was so different from anything I had ever seen,” Martin remembers.
As soon as Martin saved up enough money, he bought his first bike. It wasn’t exactly the flatland model, but it was still BMX. It took some time for him to train enough to get at some level and to dare to come to the New Scene for the first time. “You know, I was pretty shy to ride in front of more experienced guys back then,” Martin says. Since that day, you can catch him riding there, whenever he’s got free time. “It’s outdoor, so we’re limited by the weather. If it’s not raining, snowing or freezing, we’re there,” Martin explains. It seems it can’t be a coincidence that one of the few good places to practice flatland in Prague is situated right on the piazzetta of the Czech National Theatre. Almost as if the riders were magically pulled to this place of art. And from a certain point of view, their activity can’t be described as anything else.
In the early years of the Internet, it was harder to gain some relevant inspiration. The most important thing for Martin’s style evolution was watching movies on VHS cassettes, brought to him by a friend from a trip to the US. “If I were to name two greatest heroes, without doubt, it would be Martti Kuoppa and Viki Gomez. Both are widely recognized as the most original riders in the history of the sport. They have invented and innovated many tricks on their quest for originality,” Martin says. According to Martin, the key thing in contests is the style, as judges mostly appreciate riders with a unique and genuine style of riding. Martin describes his own style as smooth and flowy.
Professionals like Martin are often very dedicated and will spend several hours a day perfecting their techniques. You can get injured very easily by the pegs, pedals or bars if you loose your balance. In a competition, talent and skills are judged by the ability to maintain coordination and balance while performing a variety of difficult and elegant moves. According to Martin, it takes at least a month to learn a bigger trick, well, if you have several years of experience.
“If you want to manipulate the bike into more imaginative positions, without failing, you have to be patient. I’ve trained almost every day for at least fourteen years! And it still makes me happy to nail a new trick for the first time,” Martin explains.
For Martin, flatland is not only a sport, but first and foremost, it’s a way of life. Thanks to freestyle BMX, Martin has had the opportunity to travel to many foreign countries and meet a lot of new friends. “If I was sitting at home or in a pub, it wouldn’t have been possible,” Martin believes. He names Barcelona and Paris as his favourite spots. “It’s usually sunny there and both cities have an enchanting atmosphere,” Martin says. During his career, Martin took part in more than one hundred contests in many European countries. Martin considers the second place at the Czech and Slovak National Championship as one of his greatest achievements. Also this year, he’ll take part in at least ten international contests with the highlight being the iBMXff World Championships at the NASS festival near Bristol, UK. “I’d like to ride as long as I can. There are guys doing flatland even in their late forties, so why couldn’t I?” he smiles.