In the year 2000, Mat Hoffman and the HSA crew organized a run of contests known as the Crazy Freakin' Biker Series, or CFB for short. Even though the CFBs served as X-Games qualifiers for BMX, the comps retained a grassroots level vibe, set in dirty skateparks across the country with a multitude of classes and disciplines for both amateur and pro riders. This is where I first got to see Corey Martinez—then just 17 years old—on a BMX bike. He had traveled to the comp alongside friend and riding cohort Seth Kimbrough, who was already competing at a professional level. But Corey signed up for the amateur skatepark class instead. At the time, I was serving as an event organizer/judge for the CFBs. And knowing Corey's skills, I asked him if he wasn't better suited for the pro class.
Corey quickly shook his head "No," saying something to the effect of "I'm not ready to be a pro yet." That was fine with me—I didn't want to put any additional pressure on the guy. So he stayed an amateur, did fairly well in his class, and went home with a stack of prizes instead of a pile of cash. After the comp I remember thinking that he'd probably become quite the professional someday.
These days, the name Corey Martinez is synonymous with the word "pro."
Born in Texas in 1983, T-Nez (as he's affectionately come to be known) grew up in Decatur, Alabama. As a young buck, he was introduced to BMX racing alongside Seth, but their tastes quickly turned to freestyle. The duo picked up sponsorships from a local shop named High Wheels—which eventually opened up a skatepark—and started traveling to contests throughout the U.S. Eventually, Corey (and Seth) started popping up in Ride BMX Magazine as well as in multiple issues of Props, firing out unique street-inspired lines at the many contests they traveled to, including Mat Hoffman's Bicycle Stunt Series and Crazy Freakin' Biker series. Corey also picked up his first bike sponsor, Standard Byke Co., and shoe sponsor, Airwalk.
As the years progressed, Corey began moving away from the contest scene, opting to film video parts and shoot photos instead. He also began traveling more extensively alongside the likes of Brian Wizmerski, Bob Scerbo and Van Homan, taking trips to England for the Backyard Jams and staying on to ride new spots and explore new cities. During this time period, Corey also picked up a clothing sponsor from Kris Bennett's own Square One, and a component sponsor from Animal Bikes.
This is when the hype started to build. Everyone knew Corey was a ridiculously good bike rider, but the rumors circulating around some of the lines Corey was throwing down for Square One's Wide Awake Nightmare video were downright insane. He was literally rewriting the book on street riding. His intro to the video summed it well: "Corey Martinez, he's from Alabama, and he makes stuff that should be impossible look like it's easy," said S-1's Kris Bennett. And as soon as his opening section was shown at the Toronto premiere in March of 2003, all eyes were on T-Nez and the uprail to abubaca to backwards rail that capped off his section. With progressive riding on street, pools and skateparks, set to the soothing sounds of Boston; Corey Martinez's section from Wide Awake Nightmare became an instant classic. And if you look hard enough on YouTube, you might still be able to find it. Six years later, it's still rad.
Fortunately for us, Corey Martinez's story doesn't end there. Next up came his groundbreaking section in the 2003 Animal video Can I Eat? Combining a handful of wild rail transfers, some photoshopped Ford logos and the Eric Clapton song 'Layla,' Corey again amazed the entire BMX world. In my own humble opinion, it was the combination of these two video sections that cemented his status as a BMX legend. And even though he's since gone on to produce newer sections with even crazier riding, you never forget your first impressions.
In mid-2004, Corey switched up sponsors, moving over to UK-based Federal Bike Company and Orchid Footwear, one of the first rider-owned shoe companies in existence. He got back down to business, producing yet another standout section in the 2004 Federal video Trafaelio, scoring a full-length pro interview in Ride BMX Magazine, and beginning work on his first signature shoe from Orchid Footwear. Corey also scored NORA Cup Number one street rider of the year award in 2004, repeating in both 2005 and 2006 for a three-peat. Eventually, a few more sponsorship changes went down. Corey left Federal to co-found United Bike Co. alongside Ian Morris, designing a signature line of products, including frame, fork, bars and seat under the Trinity name. He also picked up Red Bull as an energy drink sponsor, Duo Brand for grips and tires, and everyone's dream sponsor, Levi's, for jeans (yes, he is now gets paid to wear the same pants you are probably wearing right now).
But there's a lot more to Corey Martinez than a litany of BMX moves and some high-profile sponsors. You don't get this far on skills alone—there's gotta be one heck of a personality to back it up. And Corey is a humble, good-natured, fun-loving person. He's married, he attends church regularly, he's into home remodeling and he's a big fan of dogs. He's also overly positive about absolutely everything. And he's more than happy to put in work for what he believes in.
Still, there's a mischievous side to Corey: he's a stacker. You know the one guy that sleeps through everything when you're on a trip? Don't be that guy around T-Nez. You run the risk of waking up underneath a pile of hotel chairs, empty Subway fountain cups or whatever superfluous matter might be floating around the room. I should know (see pic).
Maybe that was payback for suggesting that Corey turn pro before he was ready - I've never asked. I just laughed when I saw the photos on Corey's camera the next day. Regardless, we should all be happy that he ultimately decided to make a career out of BMX -- the sport is much better off with him at the forefront.