By Sean Murphy, Photo Editor
All the way from Salzburg, Austria, Red Bull athlete Thomas Oehler wheeled to UNF Oct. 27 with his head-turning trial biking. Oehler demonstrated mind-blowing control while riding his bike and placed himself in critical positions on the most abstract objects — urban and natural — all while maintaining a confidence that put viewers in awe. The Spinnaker sat down for a Q&A with Oehler to talk about his career.
Q: How have the States treated you? You like it here?
A: Yeah, I like the States. There’s a lot of good riding spots on the college campuses I’ve been to, so that’s really good for me. And being able to ride a new campus every day is pretty exciting, as well.
Q: Spots better over here or more or less just different from Austria?
A: No, not yet. [Laughs]
Q: Besides riding UNF’s campus, have you taken your own time to maybe find a little solitude and take a ride by yourself?
A: Ah, no, because I got here two days ago at night. And my luggage didn’t arrive, so I got luggage yesterday afternoon. Then, I was so tired from the flight, I just ended up hanging out the whole day and chilled.
Q: How about the girls?
A: Didn’t see too many girls yet, really. [Laughs]
Q: What about school? How far did you go?
A: Yeah, I made bachelor’s like a year ago in sports science. I’d like to get my master’s in sports management. I wanted to start this year, actually, but when I came back from The Back to School Tour, I was all tired and didn’t want to go to school, so I’ll just do it next year probably.
Q: The schooling is different over there, is it not?
A: Yeah, we’ve had bachelor’s and master’s since a couple years now. They’ve made some changes in the system to fit the international regulations.
Q: That’s cool, so you’re into school, then?
A: Yeah, you know, my sport is fun, and I love to do it, but it’s not like I’m earning millions of dollars or anything, so I have to get work at some point.
Q: Do you see your bachelor’s degree relating to what you’re doing now — traveling as a professional athlete?
A: I mean, I have my own little business as well, right now. I’m selling bikes — trial bikes — because it just fits what I do. But that’s more like a hobby, actually, but still I have a lot of experience in events and coordinating things, so that’s why I want to get a master’s, as well, in sports management — ‘cause it just fits right in.
Q: When did you start riding seriously?
A: Um, like seriously, it’s hard to tell. But I’ve been riding for Red Bull for 11 years now, and that’s pretty much when I started to ride almost full time, and then I finished like normal school. I started to do like competitions when I was 12 and got really into it. But it wasn’t like 100 percent, yet. So when I finished school at like 18, you could say riding was 100 percent of what I did. And then I made university besides that, and it took me like six years to get the bachelor’s. [Laughs] It took me forever.
Q: That’s OK, I’m halfway through my fifth year and still have one class left.
A: Yeah, but you know it’s like all the traveling, and then you’re gone in the summer. And then you come back in winter and want to do something, but they don’t let you take the courses because you don’t have the other courses from summer. Yah know, stuff like that, and it just holds you back a lot. But it’s all right, it was a nice hobby.
Q: What about other action sports? Growing up, did you experiment?
A: Well, right now, I’m doing everything with wheels. That’s pretty much what I did all my life; it’s what I started with. I was riding bikes since I was like 7 or 8 years old. I rode little motorbikes as well, and then I started trials at 12. Besides that, in winter, I’m doing skiing. I love free riding, country stuff. And in the summer, I’m on the bikes all time, free riding and doing cross-country for training.
Q: Do you train outside of riding?
A: Yeah, a little bit of endurance training. And when I did competitions, I did 20 hours a week in the fitness center, so it was really intense. But I’m not competing anymore, since like three years now. So it got a little bit more relaxed for me, which is good. [Laughs]
Q: Have you taken any good beatings lately on your bike? Any falls that you can remember? Or primarily do you jump off in time by now?
A: Yeah, exactly. [Laughs] You usually jump off the bike before it’s a crash, so it’s not too bad, really. I had, like, three major injuries in 15 years. A broken ankle, broke a little bone in my hand, and dislocated my shoulder, but that’s about it.
Q: How do you plan on pushing your riding in the future? Is their something else, like school, that you want to push harder?
A: For the next couple years, biking will definitely be No. 1 on my list.
A: [Laughs] No, like freestyle. The thing for me is competitive trials are really regulated, and it’s real static. I like to add flow to my riding, and you just can’t do that when competing. I like to ride free and combine my street riding with a little BMX — just cruise around where I’m able to be creative using any natural or urban environment I can.