Interview with Kenton Hoppas, bicycle courier turned film maker

Hoppas, owner of Aloha Bicycle Courier, contacted us a while back to inform us of his new project: a documentary on long term bicycle messengers. I conducted an email interview to find out more about his new endeavor.


Photo from Kenton Hoppas
Photo from Kenton Hoppas

Bike San Diego: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to San Diego County?
Kenton Hoppas: In 1999 I was working as a graphic designer in a corporate communications company in Indianapolis.  I realized I needed to find a passion in my work I wasn’t enjoying.  I knew bicycle messengers existed, I knew I wanted to live by the ocean and learn to surf, so I quit my job and moved to San Diego with no job or place to live.  But I did have a plan.  The plan was to start a bicycle courier company with the mission statement, “Consider it done.” Up to that point I felt the same day delivery industry had more of a “We will do our best” attitude.

BSD: What keeps you riding after all these years?
KH: I continue to ride because I love to ride. I don’t drive a car. A bicycle lifestyle has always been in my blood. I knew it was a mode of transportation that I would use forever if possible.  And to date, I pretty much ride everywhere for everything I do. Yes, I am still a messenger.

BSD: Who is your inspiration and why?
KH: My inspiration has to be my wife.  She keeps it real, and always reminds me with her attitude and kindness that life isn’t about accomplishment, it’s about love and respect. I’ve got a long way to go.

BSD: Where do you live and work?
KH: I own my own company, and enjoyed a year or two that I didn’t have to be on the bike for deliveries, but still rode to work and around on errands. The economy crashed and I’m back on the bike full time doing all our companies deliveries. I live in Encinitas with my wife and 2 year old daughter. I ride the coaster train to work and home.

BSD: What inspired you to create a movie about bike messengers?
KH: A homeless man gave me a camera one day back in 2005. That’s another story. But I had never shot any video, ever really.  I just feel in love with making these little 2 minute movies about my friends at work. My first video has been viewed over 55,000 times on youtube to date.

Is it any good?  Not really, but I knew there was a market for a messenger documentary.  I progressed in my film making and won a bike at the first annual Cottonwood Creek Film Festival in Encinitas for a film that encouraged people to use their bike to commute to work. From there Peder Norby gave helped me make a film about sustainability and our homes.  I shot a few more short documentaries, then a live action short submitted to Cannes Film Festival and then I launched my production company Sweet Corn Studio.

BSD: What inspired you to choose James and Kevin as the two messengers to base your documentary around? I am also wondering why you didn’t pick someone from San Diego.
KH: I started filming last year in San Diego and I just didn’t feel I was finding the story I was looking for.  So I put the project on the shelf and went onto other projects.  A year later I called James and Kevin and asked if they would be the focus of my documentary. They said yes, and I launched the project soon after that.  Well, that’s not completely true. I actually launched the project two weeks before I even told James I was doing a documentary about him! The thing was, James was my first employee at Aloha Bicycle Courier, my messenger company.  He had moved here from Seattle and came to work for me in 2003. He worked for me about a year, but always remained a friend after leaving.  He then moved to Portland a few years ago.  I chose Kevin and James because they are quite different as individuals, they live and work in different side of the country, but they have two major things in common.  They are both owners of their own messenger company, and they are both excellent examples of what a “Career Courier” is all about.  Of which we hope to discover and share in depth during the film. All you have to do is google Kevin “Squid” Bolger and you will find out why I choose Kevin. He’s maybe the most famous messenger in the world. Seriously.

BSD: What are your thoughts about the San Diego messenger scene?
KH: The SD messenger scene is like no other.  It is relaxed, laid back, all but attitude free, and just a lovely bunch of guys and girls.  It’s small though. Only about 20 riders on the street at best on a daily basis. So with numbers that low we just don’t have as many events and community like NYC or Portland.

BSD: What can San Diego do for the messenger community?
KH: That’s a tough one.  San Diego can’t do much, but individual businesses can. Too many companies through away millions of dollars paying FedEx and UPS to do next day deliveries only a few blocks away.  The client loses two ways, they pay MORE to have the delivery done and it doesn’t get done until the next day.  If they used a same day company they could save money, get it there the same day and give the local companies a boast in sales. More deliveries locally and more messengers would have better paying jobs. What can San Diego cyclists do for the messenger community?
That I am not sure of.  I’m open to suggestion. Help support my film? At the very least go to the site and get signed up for updates and win some cool swag over the next 6 months.

BSD: Do you have a target audience?
KH: Yes, the cycling community as a whole, nationally.  Cyclist seem to be interested and at times fascinated by the messenger community.  “It must be nice getting paid to ride your bike.”  It is, you just don’t get paid much. But if I dare to dream, and I do, I hope this film is the Endless Summer of our generation. That it sweeps the nation in theatrical release and shines a light on a community and industry and two men who make it all happen, day in day out.

BSD: What do you want the take home message to be?
KH: To answer one question, “What are the aspects of making a career as a courier.” We all think we know what everyone does at their job and what it must be like.  The dentist, the lawyer, the mechanic. But each story is unique to each individual.  I just hope to cover some common ground within the industry that people aren’t aware of. Because the job is a lifestyle and much more than just getting paid to ride your bike. If it were just for the money, we all would have quit a long time ago.

BSD: Would you be willing to do screenings in San Diego? What can we do to make that happen?
KH: Yes, local screenings for sure.  Adams Avenue is a supporter of the film and we will do a screening there at the shop when the film is finished.  And while the film won’t be completed until Spring 2011, I will be more than happy to make arrangements to have multiple screenings anywhere we can get two or more people!

Thank you for taking your time to do this!