Arms stretched out to his sides, Mat Hoffman soars 25 feet into the air, hovers for a fraction of a second, then morphs into a blur of wild pirouettes as his banana-yellow BMX bicycle plummets back to earth. But Hoffman botches the landing and smacks into the warehouse floor face-first. Staggering to his feet, he thrusts both fists triumphantly skyward. “I’ve never tried that trick before,” he says. “The reason I didn’t pull it off was the handlebar got stuck in my pocket. But man, I feel like I’ve got it now.”
He certainly does. Hoffman, 30, has single-handedly—and often with no hands—taken BMX biking to new heights. He is a 10-time world champion “vert” jumper (the term for bicycle stunts performed in a half-pipe). His moves on terra firma defy economic gravity as well. As founder and CEO of Hoffman Enterprises, Hoffman presides over an extreme-sports empire that includes bicycles (30,000 BMX bikes sold last year), toys (1.7 million miniature bikes and action figures sold) and Hoffman Promotions (which organizes bike shows and produces programming for ESPN2).
“Mat keeps BMX biking healthy,” says BMX Business News staff writer Steve Buddendeck. “As a businessman, he will take risks for the good of the sport, not necessarily just for himself.”
Like any CEO, Hoffman has taken a few falls. In his case, though, that has meant 46 broken bones, 50-plus concussions, more than 200 stitches and 14 major operations. “He’s always in a state of disrepair,” says friend Johnny Knoxville, who cast him in October’s Jackass: the Movie, “but there’s no fear or quit in him.”
Hoffman has been that way since the age of 5, when, holding an umbrella, he tried to imitate the Flying Nun by jumping off the second story of his Edmond, Okla., home. At 11, Hoffman—the youngest of four born to Matthew, 58, who runs a medical supply business, and teacher Geovanna, who died in 1990—allowed his oldest brother, Todd, to dangle him and his bike over a makeshift plywood ramp after Todd promised not to let go. Todd let go. “He cussed me out,” says Todd, now 38. “A few minutes later he was asking me to do it again. And again.”
To keep his adrenaline flowing, Hoffman began performing at jumping and stunt exhibitions. At 16, he became the youngest pro in BMX stunt-riding history. He successfully launched Hoffman Bikes in 1991, but everything came crashing down for him in 1993 after a particularly nasty wipeout. “I had so much internal bleeding that they gave me 20 minutes to live,” he says. An emergency splenectomy saved his life, leading him to quickly marry his ballerina girlfriend Jaci Keel, now 32. “I was only 21,” he says, “but I knew what I wanted in life: commitment.”
With the 2000 arrival of daughter Giavanna, Hoffman, who lives in a four-bedroom stone ranch home near Oklahoma City, has curtailed his most dangerous stunts, but with Hoffman Enterprises thriving (his autobiography The Ride of My Life comes out Sept. 24) he’s not ready to swap his bike for a briefcase. His business pursuits “are all interesting,” he says, “but they all take second to riding my bike.”
Adam Cohen in Oklahoma City and Michael Haederle in Albuquerque