Jaime Dempsey hosts one of the coolest shows you may have never heard of and is one the co-founders of ATWYLD, a high-end women's motorcycle apparel company based in Los Angeles. Though Jaime had no prior TV or film experience, her adventurous, charismatic and outgoing personality – and genuine passion for motorcycles – make her exactly the right person to host a show like "Ride n' Seek."
"Ride n' Seek" is a History Channel Asia program Dempsey has hosted for the last half decade. Recently Jaime sat down with RideApart over a few beers to discuss her clothing company, mountain-top tattoos, driving a Lamborghini and the rise of women in motorcycling.
RideApart: So, can you tell us a little about "Ride N Seek?"
Jaime Dempsey: The concept of "Ride n' Seek" is to have someone – me – travel around different countries in Southeast Asia on two wheels, experiencing the culture... It showcases what the countries have to offer when you go a little bit off the beaten path. Each season covers a new region: the Philippines, Borneo, etc.
RA: What type of bikes have you ridden on the show?
JD: I’m on different types of bikes all the time, depending on the sponsors. The first season it was just Harley so I was on a Sportster Forty Eight 1200, and the second season they mixed it up and gave me a Ducati Hyperstrada for the first half and a Harley Dyna for the second. It’s been five years now, so I get them mixed up. The third season was a Ural with a sidecar, and then a scooter by Kymco; I think it was a 500. Last year was purely Kymco, so I rode a fleet of different scooters, which helped me blend in a little bit better and live like a local though I’d always prefer a real motorcycle. I’m not sure what I’ll be on this season.
RA: What are some of the main differences you’ve noticed between motorcycle culture in Southeast Asia and the United States?
JD: In some major ways there isn’t a huge difference. Everyone is supportive of each other and gets excited when they find out you ride and want to talk about it... They have bike nights just like we do. They have big group rides, that kinda stuff. You do see bikes and scooters utilized as economical transportation way more, though. But that kind of enthusiasm (for motorcycles) is universal. You do commonly see two or more people on a single bike, sometimes four or five people will all be hanging off some little bike.
RA: Anything that’s really surprised you?
JA: Yeah, people will split lanes in two lane roads between their direction’s lane and oncoming traffic and it’s just a normal thing for them. Maybe it makes them better riders, or maybe it just makes them crazy, I dunno.
RA: What are some of the coolest motorcycle-related things you’ve seen while filming?
JD: Well I made some friends in Manila that opened up a flat track there. One of the guys I know there is now doing flat track schools for kids, so they’re getting kids who are 5 years old and teaching them how to ride around a flat track. They’ve built these mini-flat-trackers with training wheels, it’s pretty cool.
RA: In the show you're sometimes put in some odd situations, how privy to these are you?
JD: They do purposefully throw me into situations blind, I think they love doing that because I’m not an actress; I can’t fake my reactions and I think that’s part of what makes it authentic. They’ll tell me bare minimum things, so I can at least dress appropriately.
In season two they told me I’d be doing a “massage." Just a traditional massage was all they told me. They get me in there and set me up and I’m facing my camera with my back to the woman doing the massage. At one point I see she starts taking out these cup things and I think: “Oh it's a cupping massage. I know what this is.” So, I’m describing to the camera what’s going on and at some point the director behind the camera whispers to me to take a selfie, and I’m looking at the cups on my back and can see they’re halfway filled with this red liquid and it takes my brain a minute to figure out that the red liquid is my blood, which explained the prick I felt earlier. They enjoyed my reaction to that. I think it’s part of the show.
Another time we were at a dairy farm and the guy told me we were gonna do some type of pregnancy test and he takes out a glove that goes up to my shoulder, and I remember looking at the director and just shaking my head ever so slightly. So, things like that happen.
RA: What’s been your favorite experience so far while doing the show?
JD: I tracked down this women in this remote village in the mountains of the Philippines. The ride up there is beautiful, they have the most twisty roads I’ve ever been on, called Bitukang Manok which translates to “chicken intestines”, it’s one of the most dangerous in the world. There are huge cliff drop-offs, no barriers or shoulder and it’s not wide enough for two cars to pass each other. People actually volunteer to stand at the hairpins and direct people with flags, holding off different cars, so that each will know when to pass through. So ,that was a little scary because people have died there, but they (the locals) ride this every day.
So, you ride all the way up there and get to a certain point where you have to get off and hike. You hike for like two or three hours up into this tiny little village and there are kids running around naked and barefoot and there are little black pigs running around and this is the village where Fang-Od (or some say Weng-Od) is. She’s the last remaining traditional tattoo artist from her culture... She was 96 and she is the one that chooses your tattoo or she has to approve of what you want. So, it has to be something traditional from their village and she can say "yes" or "no" on whether you “deserve” this tattoo. For me she chose this centipede (pictured below). It is a warrior’s tattoo because it represents speed and strength. Within a matter of minutes, she just looked at me and said this is what you’re getting.
She had the thorn waiting, (a thorn from a lime tree and charcoal are used as the needle and ink in this village’s traditional tattoo application) and a bamboo stick that she uses for the tapping (to drive the needle into the skin) and set up the charcoal. I was just sitting there and all the sudden she just started. So we're in this little bamboo hut hanging off the side of this mountain range where you could see a valley of rice (paddy) terraces and halfway through the tattoo it started pouring rain and then thunder. It was so dramatic, it gives me goosebumps just talking about it. It was such an amazing and beautiful experience.
RA: How are you typically received in the places you travel to?
JD: I stick out like a sore thumb. I’m white and blonde, covered in tattoos and riding a motorcycle, being followed by a TV crew. But people have been remarkably welcoming - the local riding communities especially, now that a few seasons have gone by. And I’ve thought about why these people would be excited to see a foreign person travel around their own country and (it’s because) they’re proud of where they live. They ride all these roads and are so happy to see someone who isn’t from there experiencing and enjoying them.
RA: Has the show introduced you to any new types of riding that you’re now into?
JD: Well I haven’t gotten to the level I want be at but... I did become a lot more inspired to better learn to ride off road. They also had an idea to have a pro come and teach me some MX riding, so they brought in this guy Brian Wave who was an old British MX champion who lives in Borneo now and does these guided tours off road. So he gave me a little training session... My plan is when I come back from this season, the first thing I’m gonna buy is a dirt bike. I’m thinking maybe a Honda 150, I’m gonna have to sit on a few and see. Dirt riding is just really fun. There's no traffic and when you do fall it’s not a big deal. You can usually just pick your bike back up and go.
RA: So how did you get into riding in the first place?
JD: I was always attracted to independence and freedom they (bikes) offer and when I was younger they just looked so cool. They also just looked really fun and adventurous and all of these things I liked. I was bartending in Philly, where I lived at the time, and a guy that I worked with rode and I asked him one night after work to teach me how to ride his bike and I just fell in love with the thrill of being excited and scared at the same time. I took the MSF course right away and I got my first bike, a Yamaha XS650. Since then I’ve owned a few different bikes and I just keep trying to move forward and improve my riding skills and be more involved in the scene, and as the community grows as does my riding ability and I’ve had a lot of support from friends that ride.
RA: So, tell me about your riding gear company: ATWYLD.
JD: It’s a clothing company for women started by me and my two friends: Corinne (Lan Franco) and Anya (Violet), who are also co-founders of “Babes Ride Out” and “Babes in the Dirt.” We make women’s riding apparel designed and made in Los Angeles and we combine style and functionality. We use materials like D3O and Kevlar. Our second collection is being released soon. Also this upcoming season will be the first season of "Ride n Seek" where I’m allowed to start wearing ATWYLD stuff on the show, so I can combine the two.
RA: Tell me how you see women’s role in the motorcycle world changing?
JD: I think it’s evolving to a point where it's no longer a surprise to see women on bikes. It's becoming more of one community instead of men and women being separate. So many women are getting into riding right now and it's also become this “hot” thing with fashion and lifestyle brands. Just last week, Lee jeans reached out to me to use my Triumph Bonneville in a photoshoot. The influx of female riders gives us a major opportunity to effectively shape the role and direction of women in riding so we’ve put a lot of effort into establishing ourselves in that way which was one of the reasons we wanted to start ATWYLD.
RA: So what is it exactly about motorcycles or riding that’s special to you?
JD: I’ve always said that I think motorcycles are very empowering. When I’m on my motorcycle I’m in my helmet and a lot of the shit that I stress about in day-to-day life just melts away and I’m just thinking about the road that I’m on, I usually have some tunes playing on my Bluetooth device and I’m just feeling the road and feeling my bike and that’s all I’m thinking about. It clears my head, gives me a sense of strength and a sense of freedom. It gives me a sense that I’m accomplishing something, even though I’m just riding my motorcycle. It just kinda makes me feel like I can do anything, I dunno… I just love it.
RA: Any chance of "Ride n' Seek" someday making it onto the History Channel in the United States?
JD: For the time being it doesn’t look like it. The History Channel (in the United States, to the best I know, haven’t shown an immense interest. The show is only airing in Southeast Asia on the History Channel because they need to offer a certain amount of local programming, so this is one of those local program shows. Unfortunately most of my friends back in the States can’t watch it because it only airs there. Of course, my family is super proud and so they like to put them on YouTube.
RA: Jaime, thanks so much for taking some time out to answer some questions.
JD: Thanks. It was a pleasure talking to you.