Brian Cox’s life is a study in duality – and perseverance.
The 23-year-old WCC student is a talented BMX rider and photographer as well as a recovering drug addict.
“I’m on both ends of the spectrum,” Cox says. “I’m either really stoked or excited on something that I’m doing or just really bummed out. I’m never really in the middle of it.”
Quiet and reserved, Cox has a striking physical appearance, with artful tattoos of photography aperture numbers wrapped around his body, scars on his knees and back and road rash from past exploits on his bike.
Longtime friend Jordyn Reindollar, 22, calls him “persistent when in the moment” and “never one to give up when he falls down.”
Cox’s savvy on wheels started at the age of 12 with skateboarding. By 15, he was bored and sought to emulate the flips and big air that BMX riders are notorious for.
“I’ve always seen it, and I always thought it was way harder and scarier than skating,” Cox says.
He’s most at home riding on the streets of downtown Honolulu or in drained swimming pools and rundown lots and “exploring where I’ve never been before.”
Being creative comes naturally when scouting the urban landscape for new ways to tackle man-made structures.
“(With street riding) you kinda have to figure things out,” he says. “Like a monument or statue, I don’t see it as a statue. I see something I can grind or jump off of.”
As he became better at riding, his creativity also came through in the form of photography.
“Photography I kinda got into because I was always taking photos of my friends skating and biking,” he says.
“If you watch Brian take photos of people at the skatepark, he’s always trying to give advice to his friends and brainstorming new ways for them to hit the jumps and get his shot perfect,” says friend and fellow biker Gage Rodrigues.
Cox admits to disliking photography of landscapes and sunsets. Choosing instead to provoke and galvanize, he adventures to abandoned homes and graffiti-lined bunkers as backdrops, utilizing black and white filters and angles that accentuate shadows to reveal expressiveness, raw emotion and the realness of life.
“I got into more of the artistic side of it … I started following more conceptual, different photographers,” he says.
Watching the X-Games and BMX dirt riding fueled his need to go higher and faster. He found inspiration in Dave Mirra, who holds 24 X-Games medals, and Chase Hawk, who he’s personally rode with and whose style he says is “unreal” and looks like surfing.
Cox’s photography draws parallels with Sally Mann, a photographer who was famous in 1990 for the nude depiction of her children. She commonly photographed them doing typical child activities like playing board games and swimming, but the photographs frequently touched upon darker themes like insecurity and loneliness.
“Her photography changed the way people looked at it … she got famous for taking photos of her family, and a lot of the photos of her kids were not ‘appropriate’ at the time they were living in, so they got frowned upon … later people started to view and accept it as a form of art,” he says.
Cox’s photography and riding, however, were put on hold during one stretch of his life. Sheltered and homeschooled for the majority of his childhood, WCC was the first formal school experience for him. And it was the first time he had to deal with peer pressure and drugs.
“When I started going out when I was in college, people asked, ‘Did you wanna try this?’ I was just like, ‘Might as well.’ I didn’t know where to draw the line.”
Cox quickly got sucked into drugs, picking up, doing cocaine and getting as far as meth and heroin.
“When I was younger, I’d never thought I’d be doing coke everyday,” he says. “I couldn’t stop.”
As the cycle continued, it began to tear at his social life, his schooling and his love for biking and art.
“I was doing it at school to get through the whole day and then doing it at my restaurant job at Willow Tree. Then I’d party all night after work and then do it for the whole week,” he says.
His need to satisfy his addiction brought him as far as to attempt suicide.
“Doing that made me realize how I was destroying my life,” he says. “If I didn’t, I’d probably be homeless, still on drugs.”
He attempted to go to rehab but his eventual relapse from being surrounded by fellow addicts spurred him to buy a one-way plane ticket to California to try and escape his problems.
Once he arrived, he wasn’t able to stay at his friend’s house like he intended and was forced to live on the streets. His parents’ decision to bring him back home helped start his road to recovery.
The drive to get rehabilitated and back on his feet now keeps him motivated to not fall back into his old ways.
“I’ve been clean for three months now,” he says. “I’ve been trying to ride every day, just trying to be strong.”
He spends much of his time at Waipio Bike Factory, fixing the things he loves most and “trying to stay super busy so I don’t fall into the trap again.”
He came across a small bag of cocaine on the ground a few months ago and found the willpower to throw it away without a second thought.
“If you wanna be an awesome photographer or ride to the best of your abilities, go out and don’t be scared to fail,” Cox says. “That’s always gonna happen in the beginning. The more you do it, the better you get. Be yourself, but don’t be afraid if being yourself means being different or weird.”
A variety of obstacles still lie in his path. But never one to accept failure, he’s tackling everything in his way–with two feet on his pedals and two wheels on the ground.
by Sean Romuar, Special to Ka ‘Ohana