TOM SANDERS PHOTO BY DANIEL BENSON
20 Quitters Derrick Girard
64 Under Fire Dan Lacey
22 Soapbox BMX vs Money
82 The Transition Marv
24 Colts Nick Seabasty
98 Back From The Future Ian Schwartz
32 Hide And Seek Owain Clegg
108 Union Life Wolfman
48 A Life Less Ordinary Ashley Charles
134 The Garbage Man Thomas Calliard
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the albion — Vol. II, Issue Eleven
Editor-In-Chief Daniel Benson firstname.lastname@example.org associate Editor George Marshall email@example.com associate Editor Steve Bancroft firstname.lastname@example.org Publisher Tim March email@example.com art Director Robert Loeber firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographers: Daniel Benson George Marshall Steve Bancroft Scott Marceau Devon Danham Joe Cox Jermie Pavia Artem Chernousov Copy editors Mark Noble Alex Allan Photo Editors Steve Bancroft Daniel Benson George Marshall advertising Manager Steve Bancroft Group Publisher Tim March
addional Graphics: Ross Teperek
London office Catering Amy Silvester
Film archivist Imacon
Magazine production manager Tim March
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technical Lead Steve Bancroft
Subscriptions Executive George Marshall
Bournemouth office Catering Scania Price
Finacial analyst Tim March
Camera Surgeon Steve Bancroft
Finacial analyst Tim March
Distribution Strategist Steve Bancroft
Digital director Daniel Benson
Marketing and Events Director George Marshall
Marketing and Events Director George Marshall
Digital Development Steve Bancroft
Marketing and Events Manager Daniel Benson
Marketing and Events Manager Daniel Benson
ad operations Tim March
online Editor In Chief ?
Finacial analyst Tim March
Human Resourses Editor George Marshall
Intern Steve Crandall
Content Distribution Manager Daniel Benson
Editor at Large Steve Bancroft
Content associate Steve Bancroft
Large Editor Tim March
angry Late night Phonecalls Tim March
Website Manager We have a website? Digital Coordinator What does this even mean? Distribution George Marshall’s unreliable Vauxhall Astra Van Receptionist Depends on who is home.
Visual midwife Rob Loeber
Digital Editors: Daniel Benson George Marshall Steve Bancroft
Director of Sales and marketing George Marshall
Credit Control Tim March (sort of...)
Content distribution Manager Daniel Benson
Production Manager George Marshall
Credit Supervisor George Marshall
Content distribution associate Steve Bancroft
Executive assistant Daniel Benson
Management accountant Daniel Benson
angry Late night Phonecalls Tim March
Marketing admin Steve Bancroft
Senior Researcher Tim March
Credit Control Tim March (sort of...)
addional Graphics: Ross Teperek
Pressday dog walker Tim March
Management time Supervisor George Marshall
Digital advertising manager Steve Bancroft
technical Lead George Marshall
Management accountant Daniel Benson
Head of Marketing Daniel Benson
Cover artist Adi Gilbert 99seconds.com
Marketing and Events Director George Marshall Marketing and Events Manager Daniel Benson online Editors Daniel Benson Robert Loeber George Marshall Steve Bancroft Tim March thanks Rich Forne Amy Silvester Dub Jack Rubio Joe Tek Aurelin Hutchins Laurence Lucile Calliard Blackjack
not FoR RESaLE ContaCt
tHE aLBIon InC.
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The Albion BMX Magazine is avalible at all good bikes shops in the UK & North America. See thealbion.cc for more details. Logo and icons designed by Ross Teperek. This issue is typeset using the Plantin font family, designed by Frank Hinman Pierpont in 1913. Albion Grotesk was designed exclusively for this publication by Robert Loeber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted in any form without premisson from the publisher. The publisher cannot accept responibilty for errors in articles, advertisments or unsolicated manuscripts. The opinions and words of authors do not necessarily represent those of the publisher.
Finding a theme where there isn’t one.
If we were going to put out a UK themed issue, it would look a lot like the one you’re about to read. As phone calls and emails confirmed riders and the cogs started turning on what would become issue 11, it became clear that the four riders featured in our main interviews provide a well-rounded and complimentary view of our island nation. Riders in the UK don’t have it easy. The streets are crowded, the skies a perpetual grey and the ground wet for days on end. It’s an environment that you’d expect would nurture cynicism and despair, which in the deepest, darkest days of winter it invariably does. Yet from such negativities have come great variety. Within a few miles, whole dialects and cultures can change instantly, the clash creates difference and open minds and it’s no different in British BMX. Ashley Charles, Nick ‘Marv’ Martin, Owain Clegg and Dan Lacey each provide their own little
reminder of what talent and originality can come from the UK shores. But, this isn’t a UK themed issue. We track down Ian Shwartz and find out what one of BMX’s true originals has been doing since he last graced our screens and magazines. Tim ‘Wolfman’ Harvey talks about his blue collar life. Steve Crandall tracks down the one and only Derrick Girard for an (almost) quitters feature and ‘Little’ Nick Seabasty shows that whilst BMXers might bow out, there’s always new picking up the baton. Instead of a themed issue, we’ve created an issue we’re proud about and possibly one of our best yet. It showcases the best of what BMX stands for and not just here in the UK. I don’t think many magazines get excited about reaching issue 11 – it’s a an inbetween number. But like any other Brit, we don’t need much reason to celebrate.
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< THE STAT
THE NEXT EVOLUTION OF FOOTWEAR FROM THE ACTION SPORTS ORIGINAL
THE FUTURE. AVAILABLE NOW.
Departure aurelin Hutchins and his salvaged backyard skatepark. Words and photography by Daniel Benson
On the outskirts of a small town called Volx, in the southern French Region of Provence, Aurelin Hutchins has transformed the land around his farmhouse with an amazing selection of ramps and quarters, created entirely from found and salvaged wood. The eclectic nature of the place is framed perfectly with the craggy hills and farmland that surround it. The place is so far removed from generic skateparks and our city streets, but so inherently what BMX should represent. Aurelin has helped shape a scene that is self sufficient, seemingly going to all this effort for his own and his friend’s amusement. It’s clear that Aurelin is a fixer, a problem solver – a genuine craftsman. The type of guy who if he lived in Britain would have a large shed at the bottom of his garden with so many job specific tools and solutions to practical problems that he could be mistaken for Fred Dibnah’s son. The place is a community, well and truly off the grid from BMX and the pace of life elsewhere in France. Food is cooked communally, tobacco and booze shared amongst friends late into the night. Nobody sits around on a laptop, nobody posts the scene onto the Internet and nobody worries about life outside of the room, at least just for a little while. It’s good to strip back what can often seem like essentials of modern day life to realise what really matters. [above] Aurelin Hutchins, Hip Boost. [left] Blackjack, Downside Table.
Quitters Derrick Girard (Almost)
Words and Photograph by steVe CrANDAll
Now and again you come across a free spirit on your travels. A unique soul, someone with enough character to make a lasting impression and then some. Sometime in the late 90’s while cruising around New England with the FBM crew, we happened across a kid from Maine drinking beers in the parking lot and roasting harder than anyone else at the park we were riding. He was only a teenager, but he carried himself like some kind of grizzled old fisherman or a lumberjack. Over time we became friends, all the while hearing strange stories about a kid from Maine named Derrick, who would become known as the Maniac. A true ape, a genuine original, the type of kook who has his own dialect and operates more on instinct than with any social graces. The kind of dude to jump in the rig on a moments notice with little or no warning and bring nothing more than a pack of smokes, a bottle, his bike, maybe a length of rope and a wig... The tales of this dudes antics are beyond legendary, including and but not limited to actually striking fear into Lou Bickle. Nowadays, he can be found in no less extraordinary situations, but in a more “normal” scenario as a homeowner and a part of the workforce, working as a machinist and as one of the New England All Stars...Still a Maniac, still a badass! Where do you live nowadays? Lyman, Maine, where I originated. Can you describe an average day? Wake up, crap, make a coffee or a chi, go to work, dial a bunch of stuff, come home and tinker then usually chill with friends and fam. What kind of work do you do? I use CNC milling machines. I think my boss just takes crazy jobs to see if we can find a way to make it happen. Can you tell us some recent mods you’ve made? My dad and I put a submersible artesian well pump down in my regular (hole in the ground with water in it) well. But it’s shitting the bed anyway, I saw some dudes boring their own point style well, with PVC and a garden hose online and was intrigued. Do you know where your bike is? Of course! I have a ten-speed and a couple three speed Sturmey Archer cruiser bikes and my BMX that people will pump the tires up on and sesh around on once in a while.
Can you remember what year you started riding for FBM and when you had a pro model frame? What has changed from those days to where you are at in life today? All shittin’ aside? No, I can’t remember! But I will never forget when I was having a good old time at East Coast Terminal on a welded up Dirtbike and you asked me if I wanted to be a part of FBM. My first thought was “there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna ride an Angel of Death” then I saw Tag’s Night Train and of course, I was in. I’ve got the first prototype Deployer that some douchebag spraypainted hangin’ up in my house right near the checkered flag from the Demo Derby. What gets you stoked in your day-today life nowadays? The hopes of puttering around in this Model A Ford my old man and I are tinkering on. When was the last time you rode BMX? I think it was with Weasel and the MOD apes at Rye. . . It’s been a long time.
BMX vs Money
Any good stories from recent adventures? I took a couple of friends on tour with me and my dad recently to haul a couple of 1930s-ish car bodies out of the woods and I was stunned at how nuts my old man is about vintage tin. It was fun. What are some of the more memorable mods you’ve made over the years? Ahhh, one time me and Nutter found a whole bunch of rope, most of it sat around for years but some of it got used. Like the rope swing over the pool in Ithaca, there’s still a zip line that goes across my backyard, that’s pretty fun. You ever barrel roll a sidecar? Randy Mueller and I managed that in a snow storm once, luckily it was real snowy so it wasn’t to bad sliding down the asphalt, just cold! Has BMX taught you anything useful in your current day-to-day? If you’re having fun then keep doin’ what you’re doing, if not then do something else.
Soapbox bMx vs Money Words by pete GreaveS
“At least it brings money into BMX” is your standard devil’s advocate position when it comes to the discussion of energy drinks / trainers / jeans / headphones / processed meat snack / deodorant / beard trimmer etc companies attempting to wangle their way into our pastime. “Great, let’s fill that swimming pool where that multinational put that comp on in with all the money that’s come into BMX and play around in it like bloody Scrooge McDuck! It’s going to be class!” Apart from the fact that the net benefit to BMX is a few pros get paid and someone gets money for filming it. I should make it clear at this point that I’m not having a go at either the riders or the documenters who take money off these companies; I’d imagine it’s a pretty easy choice (and one I’ll never have to make, so I have no right to judge anyway). They get paid, and it isn’t like there’s an ethical decision... If someone started taking a cheque from a company that manufactured weapons banned by the Geneva Convention I might have a go, but we’re the lucrative 18-24 male demographic, not the foreign policy making demographic. It’s pretty unlikely that LockheedMartin and BAE Systems are going to be assembling a BMX dream team anytime soon. Nope, fair play to anyone who gets a cheque off them. But don’t fool yourself into thinking they’re bringing money into BMX. You don’t butter any parsnips (or get listed on any stock exchanges) by paying out more than you need to spend. Someone does a calculation of how much they’ll have to spend versus how many kids they’ll reach and how many of them are likely to buy a beard trimmer as a result. In the case of companies that sell a product that BMX brands make as well they aren’t just not really putting money into BMX, they’re funnelling it out. They pay in fuck all (in the context of the Nike / Specialized / Adidas / Giant balance sheet) and a load of kids start using their stuff, taking a much more significant bite out of real BMX companies’ market shares.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but BMX is massive now. I was helping out in a year ten engineering class earlier this month and when one of the kids noticed my grazed knuckles it transpired that 13 out of the 14 boys in the class rode too. That is a lot of completes. I think the BMX industry can get by pretty much fine with those kinds of numbers! What about the amazing competitions these big companies put on? Fuck their jams. Show me any rider who prefers those managed corporate affairs to Lambrini jams, Ghetto street comps, Texas Toast or anything else put on by BMXers and I’ll show you a 12-year-old off his tits on Monster who doesn’t know any better. But it isn’t the boring samey contests, the taking money out of actual BMX companies’ pockets or even the orange beanies that really piss me off. It’s the fact that ‘big’ money ruins everything. Particularly sports. Remember when top flight football used to be a load of blokes with day jobs enjoying the good honest sportsmanlike pursuit of kicking the shit out of each other? Neither do I... I was born in 1983 and money had long ruined football by the time I was at school. The rot has set in really deep now; footballers are, broadly speaking, a homogeneous load of ludicrously wealthy, thick, boring walking cocks and the stadiums are all named after websites. Surely everyone agrees that money has ruined football? I’d think it was shit anyway to be fair, but that isn’t the point. The point is that BMXers are interesting! There’s crack addicts, particle physicists, philosophers, farmers, a metric fuck load of graphic designers, machinists, welders, doctors, policemen, soldiers... there are probably BMXers doing just about everything. You have to be pretty bloody good on a bike to make a living off it, and that’s exactly the way it should be. Keep money out of BMX, and you keep BMX interesting.
BMX vs Money
‘LittLe’ Nick SeabaSty Your first thoughts when meeting ‘Little’ Nick Seabasty might go something like this – “Wow, this dude is tall, how did he get that nickname?” or “This guy laughs a lot, I wonder if he’s on drugs” or just, “Damn, this kid is a boss on the bike.” He’s an unassuming shredder – a sleeper agent of sorts – who will come out of left field with a banger in the early afternoon. He works all the time but never seems to have enough money to do cool things. He partakes gratuitously when a blunt is being passed, claiming it advances his riding abilities. He can land in a manual out of anything and roll out of 180s at any varying degree. He can hop super high and won’t puss out when a giant railhop is found. He will ride all night and never once complain about being tired or sore. A trooper when it comes to shooting photos or filming, he’s always willing to do ‘just a few more’ to get the shot perfect.
Words and Photography by SCOTT MarCeau 24
[a] Pegs, Eastern Pennsylvania
[b] Gap wallride, Central Pennsylvania [next] [c] Railhop, Central Pennsylvania
earching Nick on Google yielded a number of interesting facts. For starters he is the only Nick Seabasty in the world, or at least the only one documented on the internet. Seabasty is obviously a pretty unique name, but he has little to no idea of the origin or meaning. He has two older brothers, one of whom got him into bikes in the first place, both constantly pushing him to do more and get better. Nick laughs a lot and sometimes comes through with a wild joke or a completely sarcastic comment when it’s least expected. His humour is so similar to mine that it sometimes throws me off and I’m left completely dumbfounded. He is very supportive of other riders during a session, especially when other people are filming a clip or getting a photo. When Nick isn’t holding onto his handlebars, you can bet he’s holding onto his iPhone, chatting up some teenage girls on Twitter or posting sunset pics on Instagram.You want a fun fact? Nick’s myspace URL was ‘animal_fo_lyfe’.
"Were you good at basketball, or just tall? I was good, you dick."
Having worked at Nation BMX in Sayreville, NJ, for a number of years now, bikes play a huge role in Nick’s everyday life. Getting flow from Cult and having recently been added to the Primo family, Nick has his foot in the industry door and has no intention of taking it out. I can almost guarantee that he will soon be added to the long list of riders from Central Jersey who inspire other riders and leave a mark on BMX as a whole. Who knows, maybe someday he’ll even move away from Jersey...
Albion: So, Nick James Seabasty. Nick: How do you know my middle name? Hahaha, I don’t know, it was just a shot in the dark. You’re from Woodbridge, New Jersey. When’s your birthday? June 4th, 1992. Jesus, I feel old. How long have you been riding for? Good question. Eight years? Eight years. What are your first memories of BMX? Riding Berkeley Trails on my Mongoose. They were around the corner from my house, but they just tore them down. My older brother used to ride, so that’s how I got into it. I met a few dudes that I still ride with today. What was the most exciting thing for you on a bike back then? Learning how to bunnyhop curbs. Then hitting feeble grinds on unwaxed ledges. I’ve been grinding ever since, I guess. Who were the riders you looked up to when you first started? I mean, obviously the dudes that rode in Jersey and the area... Bob, Ed, DeHart. What was the first riding video you saw? It was either a Props or Criminal Mischief... I remember going to the Can
I Eat? Premiere when I was thirteen though.
What keeps you in Central Jersey? I like it here, it’s got everything I want. It’s got spots scattered throughout. There’s a mix of everything. You can be in one area that’s a city, then the next town over is like a back-country type place. So if I get sick of one area, I’ll just move to the next. Did you play any sports growing up? I played basketball here and there. I actually almost quit riding to play basketball at one point. Were you good at basketball, or just tall? I was good, you dick. So is the nickname Lil’ Nick or Little Nick? I don’t know, it really doesn’t matter. Most people call me by my full name nowadays. How did you get that nickname? I was always the youngest one riding in the crew... I was thirteen and everyone else was like 15 or 16. So it was just an age thing, or were you actually a small human? I was pretty short, I guess. Well, I was an average height and then I just kinda grew... it happened. People just kept the nickname going because I was still the youngest one.
‘Little’ Nick Seabasty
What’s your favourite kind of spot to ride? I like low, mellow handrails. So does everyone else. Fuck you. I could ride a curb cut and have fun, so it doesn’t really matter I guess. What’s your favorite trick? Icepicks? Icepicks are up there... I like 180s because you can do them in and out of any trick really. What made you recently put two more pegs on? To have more options, I guess. I was doing pedal grinds and I kept fucking up pedals all the time.
What is your favourite riding video? Besides the obvious ones, I’d say my favourite is the 2x4 video. It’s very overlooked and so underrated. Shit, you’re right. That is a really good video.What are your favourite non-BMX movies? Hmm, kinda gay but I really like 500 Days Of Summer. There’s nothing gay about a heterosexual love story. True. I like The Butterfly Effect too. That’s gay, because Ashton Kutcher is in it. I’m guessing you like Donnie Darko as well, then? What is that? I’ve never heard of that movie.
[Silence, dead stares] You’re fucking kidding me. I’ve never seen that movie. Don’t tell anyone that. Go see it as soon as possible. What do you think is going to happen on December 21st? What? What does that even mean? Jesus... Some people say that the world is going to end on December 21st for a number of different reasons.You’ve never heard this? Haha, whatever. Is this interview gonna come out before then? Probably not. Then I guess it doesn’t matter what I say then, does it?
Photo: Martin Ohliger
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HIDE AND SEEK
OWAIN CLEGG: THE GREAT EXPLORER
don’t trust the ladder. I’ve had more faith in whispers of sweet nothings from a stripper. Stood in water and looking up, the climb to the 18th century stone full pipe above seems higher than earlier perceived. A fall would snap bones. The ladder’s metallic legs stand submerged on hidden slippery rocks a foot or more beneath the surface of a black stream. A fast current pushes against the base of the ladder. The cold water is deep enough to breach the top of my Wellington boots yet too shallow to break a fall. The wet boot soles are slippery on the thin metal steps. We have only the one pair of boots – the ladder stands alone unsupported and on the piss. To some surprise I have a genuine sense of fear. With an expensive and delicate camera flash in my backpack, I shake the ladder checking its foundations. I stop for a second and take in the situation. I consider the risk and think about my broken collarbone still recovering from surgery weeks before. I foresee the months ahead with a new sling or cast explaining this far-fetched scenario. Stood there, with the water up to my knees in the cold Scottish dawn air, I question what I am doing with my life. Suddenly the banal nineto-five office life holds a newfound appeal. Looking on from the safety of the riverbank stands one of the UK’s most respected and widely liked riders – Owain Clegg, a man known for finding and riding the country’s most hidden and difficult spots. His eyes are wide open and his face has an expectant beaming smile. He is enjoying the moment – I am not. This is not normal behaviour. To me, this is the single most bizarre situation I’ve found myself in since my false tooth fell out during a job interview – to Owain, this is BMX.
Words and Photography by GEORGE MARSHALL
[a] Frontside boneless, West Scotland.
Hide And Seek
Jewel In The Crown Against my better judgement I make the climb up onto the elevated full pipe to set up the flash and get safely back down. The ladder holds its ground. I wade out of the water and pass the boots to Owain for his turn. Our lookout James, a local rider from Owain’s hometown of Chester, signals that someone is approaching. A man walks towards us wearing an authoritative high-vis’ jacket. Months of planning, two days driving, the cost of a hotel family room and a set of ladders is about to be wasted. “Morning mate,” Owain greets the man in his chirpy northern accent and assertively begins to make small talk. The shiny new ladder is in full view and still in place. Owain’s bike and helmet lie by the water’s edge. The man, an engineering inspector, fails to put the elements together and eventually leaves wishing me good luck with my ‘university project photographing Scottish bridges’. The inspector’s visit makes us nervous and there is a definite air of doubt and fear. There’s a lot to go wrong. With the coast clear Owain restarts the climb with a rucksack full of various gardening tools to remove dirt that has built up over the past couple of centuries. Owain is on alert, his head bobs up and down like a meerkat as he scans the football field beside and the road above for anyone who would sound the alarm. Between joggers and dog walkers he dashes up to the full pipe for short bursts of cleaning. He looks stressed. I am stressed. Yet my fear is not being seen by an elderly man with an overweight labrador or even being caught by the police, I’m scared about missing the picture or worse, I fear for Owain riding a narrow slippery full pipe with a 15ft fall to the rocks below. Months ago Owain described this bridge as the ‘jewel in the crown’ – the one to get. ‘A fucking ball ache’ would have been a more fitting description. For the amount of time, money and effort, we could have built a half decent ramp in Owain’s garden. “This isn’t normal,” I tell James, as Owain climbs the ladder one handed, holding his bike in other hand. Owain makes it on the narrow stone deck and secures the buckle on his helmet whilst sat on his bike and gives me the thumbs up. The culmination of months of planning and an enormous amount of effort and money had come down to this – Owain to ride for a matter of seconds and for me to push a button.
searching for spots in the Scottish wilderness was ticked off. “Pass me that T-shirt, we’ll clean these ladders up and I’ll take them back to B&Q – job’s a good’un.” Owain says as I place my camera equipment between sandbags and kitty litter in the back of the van amongst a stack of spades, saws and rope. The contents of Owain’s van are tools to make the unrideable rideable, the inaccessible accessible. Every problem pre-empted. Owain has a watertight common sense. He enjoys a challenge, it satisfies his methodical nature. Despite being older than Owain, I feel able to sit back to let him organise everything. At his side you feel like you’re in safe hands, even be it down a dam or up a ladder balanced in a river. He’s the kind of man you’d go to war with, which incidentally it sometimes feels like when you go to shoot a single photo – it’s a military operation with hiding, planning and execution. In a distinct contrast to just about every BMX rider I’ve ever met, Owain possesses the reassuring responsible nature of a middle-aged man. He isn’t your typical modern age English rider. Instead of having a taste for ‘Gary Gurners’, an addiction to Medal Of Honour and living off a diet of crisps and drinks that rot your teeth, Owain listens to BBC Radio Two, leaves the house every day with a packed lunch prepared the night before, doesn’t trust Sat Navs and calls tattoos ‘job stoppers’. Usually on trips I take my bike, my riding shoes and a shirt for nights out in loud bars. For a weekend with Owain, the bike stays at home and I wear a Gortex jacket, leather boots and clothes I’m happy to throw away. I pack crap T-shirts for a weekend with Owain Clegg. I’ve spent time with him before – I know the drill. When I undertook this assignment I knew he would lead me into situations that to the average person are quite simply weird. Days spent with him can feel more like an adult’s version of hide and seek. At his instruction I’ve crawled like a commando past farmer’s houses and followed him deep under the Welsh valleys down underground pipes so dark you cannot see your hand in front of eyes and walk blindly for half a mile all to find a wet transition, only to learn he found the spot on his own. This is not normal behaviour. Normal people do not go down dam tunnels on their own, walking into the darkness and into the unknown.
Sandbags And Kitty Litter We return to Owain’s white VW Transporter van triumphant, carrying two wet ladders, heavy camera bags, a bike, a pair of wellies and a bag of brushes and a set of garden shears. The danger was over. The primary objective of our three-day trip
The situations Owain puts himself in are dangerous. If you get in trouble beneath a dam, a kilometre along a pitch-black tunnel, nobody is coming to help you. You’d be lucky if your bones are found. His sensible and responsible mindset is matched by a reckless desire to ride the hazardous and most remote spots.
Hide And Seek
[b] A hearty full pipe, West Scotland.
[c] Toboggan, West Scotland.
Hide And Seek
The two traits are an odd pair, but also a perfect marriage. The hazardous and labour-intensive nature of the spots Owain rides demands someone of his resourcefulness and dedication. It is this combination that makes Owain unique. “I try to keep the risks to a minimum, but maybe that’s part of it.” Owain tells me as we drive back to B&Q where we’d bought the ladders. By ‘it’ I assume Owain means the reasoning behind his love of finding his spots. “It’s all Mad Jon’s fault [Jon Taylor, inventor of the hand plant]. He started taking me places back when I was about 18 or 19. Jon rode Telford full pipe years ago when there was a hosepipe ban. I saw the footage and we went back in a group. It’s on the side of the road so Ali [Whitton] wore a boiler suit and a high-vis’ jacket to look like a road worker so we could put sandbags over the overflow pipe. We made it rideable. I think that day down Telford full pipe kick started it all for me. “At that time we’d go somewhere most weekends trying to find and ride other full pipes or reservoirs. It was the done thing back then.You’d see T1 guys like Garret Byrnes and Joe [Rich] looking for spots on videos. Also people like [Bob] Scerbo and [Brian] Wizmerski were on the east coast [of USA] finding and riding spots. As we got older those trips died out.You see it less and less.”
on my own, driving down endless dead ends. I once found a transitioned bank in Wales by feeling the transition with my hands on my knees it was that dark. I do it for that buzz you get coming round the corner of a tunnel and finding a hearty full pipe, knowing no one has ever ridden it. Sometimes I find a spot, I know I’m not even going to ride it but I’m still happy, I still get that buzz. Often finding the spots better than riding them, I know that sounds bizarre. “A big part of the satisfaction is shooting photos also. A photo of an incredible spot is so more memorable than a skatepark photo. Shooting photos is like building a back catalogue of spots. It’s something to look back on with fond memories. Being a sponsored rider I have an obligation to shoot photos, but that’s not the reason I ride the spots. I’d be out there if I was sponsored or not. I’d hate to think how much time I’ve spent searching for spots…Mad Jon has a lot to answer for.” The Egg Carrier
Seeing Owain’s smile as he walks back to the van from B&Q without the ladders and presumably with a full refund in his pocket, I sense part of Owain’s satisfaction in riding his spots is the challenge and seeing a plan through. The bigger the ball ache, the bigger the reward. Just as a dedicated trails rider spends hours in the woods with a spade in hand, Owain spends hours either online looking at reservoir and dam forums, or on the road surveying potential new drainage ditches and bridges.
“I wouldn’t have started riding at all if wasn’t for Mad Jon. I’ve known him since I was four years old. He used to ride with my brother who skateboards. I saw Jon do a demo at the local village show. He did his GT Air Show routine: tailwhip, backflip, and a truck driver. He had all the tricks down from doing so many shows. After the show we followed him on mountain bikes and he did a manual for what seemed like a mile. That was it for me. After that I got my first bike. I went round this lad’s house from school and he had five or six bikes in his garage… I thought, ‘something’s not right here’, you know what I mean? He had one ratty BMX, it had mags on and the frame had a double top tube with a plate with circles cut out between the tubes, Ali and Jon named it the ‘Egg Carrier’. That was my first bike. It’s still in the loft.
He returns from B&Q, climbs back into the van and pulls a banana out of his never-ending packed lunch in a Tesco’s bag. I ask him if all the time and hard work is part of the attraction. “Definitely.” He answers with a nod of the head. “So much work goes into just finding the spots let alone riding them. Before Google maps, I found spots in North Wales by looking for reservoirs on a map and then go and have a look in my van after work. Some nights it would be pitch black. I’d be there
“The Boneyard opened around that time and Jon was coming to the end of travelling so much doing the GT Air Shows. When it first opened the ramps were built by parents. Every quarter there, be it four foot or nine foot, had vert on it and half the decks were not screwed down – the place was a death trap. We rode there every day. Jon knew everyone in the UK scene and we started travelling to contests. We began to start getting known a bit I suppose,” Owain says modestly.
[d] Roll in, Frodsham, England.
Hide And Seek
A Cynical Englishmen
[e] Bombdrop, Talacre, Wales.
Under the guidance of Jon Taylor, Owain and Ali Whitton quickly became rising stars of the UK scene. In 1999 Ride UK magazine singled out Owain to be one of the faces that would be progressing BMX in the next decade. In the early 2000s Owain became a permanent face in magazines and at contests. “On paper I guess my biggest achievement was when I won King Of Street, a Red Bull street contest in the Birmingham NIA. I won a WFF wrestling belt style trophy and two grand, I treated everyone to Little Chef on the way home, it was an ace day out.” He tells me, nodding with satisfaction at the memories. The early 2000s was a golden era for Owain. It was a time he started to develop his reputation for riding epic spots through producing some of the most iconic photographs of the period in partnership with Dig magazine photographer Ricky Adam. Meanwhile, his close friend Ali Whitton was having success of his own. “We both went to Woodward [USA]. Ali really had the drive to make a life for himself as a pro rider in the states. At that time very few English riders were making it out there, Bestwick was chipping away and Murray maybe. Being a US Pro wouldn’t have worked for me. The pressure to do well at contests would have done me in. I never considered BMX as a career.”
"I’m at the stage where I want riding to be completely on my own terms, to be able to ride without the pressure I put on myself"
Over a decade since that first trip to America, the two worlds of the old friends couldn’t be further apart, despite their shared origins of The Boneyard. Never to belittle his accomplishments, Owain lives in a semi-detached house in the North of England and sells sick bowls and other cleaning supplies to hospitals for a living. In comparison, Ali Whitton lives in an all-American mansion and travels the world working as a stuntman on James Bond movies. I ask Owain about the differences between the two and what he thought when Ali began to make it as US pro leaving him behind in England. “I was proud of him. I think Ali was always destined to be in America. He’s always had an enthusiasm towards everything, Americans like that. Americans are very accepting of drive and determination to succeed. That’s why America works for Ali, that’s his nature. I enjoy being a cynical Englishman. I grew up taking the piss and enjoy good banter. I love England. There’s a lot of nob heads here and the weather’s shit – I love it.” Disappearing Into The Boneyard In total I made three separate trips up to Chester for two or three days at a time. Unlike most sponsored riders of his calibre, Owain couldn’t
Hide And Seek
spare more time. On top of being one of the country’s most accomplished riders, Owain runs his own business: Essell Cleaning Supplies, in partnership with his mum, and supports a young family with his partner Rachel and young son Seth. Every second of daylight was utilised to its maximum. We’d be asleep by midnight and up before dawn. The diminishing daylight hours were spent in his van driving throughout Scotland, Wales and England, ticking off a list of potential locations marked on his road atlas map with a biro’d star. Some days would be split between shooting photos and delivering cleaning goods. One minute we’d be climbing through a thorn bush or sliding on our knees down a steep hillside to a dam below, the next we’d be delivering gallons of bleach to a primary school. “Bleach is such an ancient product. A school shouldn’t be using this.” He says with authority returning to the van. “Being a rider, running a business and a having family is a juggling act. The biggest reward for me is making it work with such a short period of time that I have available. I can’t take a week off work, I’m lucky if I get one spare Saturday in a month. I have to balance my time. Having Seth has taught me not to waste my time, which is a good lesson in life. At the ‘yard’ I just enjoy going down there and doing a new line or transfer. I go down there on Tuesday nights with friends I’ve known for years, sit on the deck and enjoy the banter. I could quite happily disappear into The Boneyard. “There are times where I simply don’t have the opportunity to give back to my sponsors in terms of getting coverage. And I’m the kind of person that feels bad about that, all the time. The people who do support me have supported me for years, and I just feel bad for them as there are riders out there that could churn stuff out for them. I’m past that age where I’m able to ride and travel all the time and produce stuff. They never ask for much from me, they’ve never said ‘do this, do that’. “Recently the pressure of being sponsored has started to get me down. If I have two hours to ride a week I want to be able to enjoy it and not worry about getting photos or filming. That’s not what I started for and it’s not what I want it to become – it takes the fun out it. “Going to these reservoirs out of the way gives me the opportunity to do this article. If I bow out tomorrow I would look back on this article fondly. I’m at the stage where I want riding to be completely on my own terms, to be able to ride without the pressure I put on myself. I need that freedom to keep it fresh in my mind. When you’ve been riding as long as I have, you can go through lulls in wanting to ride. I have seen many riders quit over the years through letting riding get stagnant.”
For his final photo Owain wanted to bomb drop off the deck of a lighthouse and down onto a mellow slippery bank below, surrounded by a maze of rocks. Crashing looked unavoidable. With the rain clouds rolling in on the Welsh coast we both knew full well this would be our final opportunity before deadline. The first attempt wasn’t pretty. Owain landed in a frantic heap, laughing hysterically as he does with his every crash. He climbs back up the lighthouse steps and up onto the fence. He looks up and gives the thumbs up. There he pauses in an uncharacteristic moment of hesitation. He steps down and waits. After a minute of frustration he regains his composure and climbs back up. “COME ON, YOU GOTTA GET SETH!” he shouts into the sky. With that he bomb drops off the deck. He lands smoothly on the bank and navigates perfectly through rocks rolling out on the sand. “I had a mental argument up there. Looking down all I could think about was Seth and work, and the consequences of crashing badly.”
With our work done, Owain drops me off the next morning at Chester train station at 6:50am. We shake hands and he hands me an Aldi plastic bag. It contains a packed lunch consisting of an apple, a banana, bottle of water, Dairy Lea Cheese Dippers and various other snacks. It was a parting gift that reaffirmed my impression of Owain as generous and organised, always thinking of others and thinking ahead. Although he may not be enjoying the glamorous rewards of a US pro career, it’s for good-natured acts such as this that Owain has earned himself a position of almost unparalleled respect amongst UK riders. Over twelve years as one of the UK’s most prolific riders Owain has built up a reputation through his tireless dedication to riding. That reputation and the spots he has unearthed are his legacy – his life’s work. Owain now enters the ranks of English BMX legends, a name to be spoken about for years to come. Whether he bows out from the limelight or not, his time is not over yet, there are plenty more question marks on his road atlas – there are more ladders to climb.
Hide And Seek
Words and Photography by Steve Bancroft
Interview: ashley charles Ashley Charles has made it: a full blown Pro bike rider getting paid to do what he loves best under the endless blue skies of BMX’s heartland. In these seemingly lavish times of energy drink dollars and overnight internet stardom, at first glance his story may not appear that extraordinary and you could well be forgiven for underestimating the sheer magnitude of Ash’s achievement, but upon closer inspection it soon becomes apparent that his success is no flash in the pan – it’s the end result of over half a lifetime of dedication and unwavering integrity. From his humble beginnings of working as a bus mechanic and riding the glorified dried-up puddle that is Slades Farm on the central southern coast of Ol’ Blighty, to living out the Californian dream in Long Beach at the ripe old age of 30, the length of his journey is undeniable. He’s a long long way from where he began, of that there is no question, but it’s not the physical distance that make his story so gallant – an 11 hour aeroplane ride from Heathrow to LA is affordable to anyone with a monkey – Ashley’s bike ride of personal growth and discovery has cost him over half his lifetime.
A Life Less Ordinary
’ve had a long day flying over the Atlantic Ocean and the sprawling concoction of geographies and cultures that is North America – and upon my eventual arrival in Long Beach, while I was excited to be back in the current BMX capital of the world, I wasn’t really looking forward to traipsing round the well-worn lap of the same old bars, drinking the same cheap beers. And I was in luck, as Ash has hung up his tanker and I was treated to a night of fresh tea, home cooked veggie chilli and good conversation. Ash lives with his girlfriend Tree in a cosy annex in the luscious leafy-green back garden of a house in Long Beach. He’s vegetarian, she’s vegetarian, he has long hair, she’s a practising holistic masseuse from Syria. You can imagine what their house smells like... it’s that homely but worldly aroma of herbal tea and incense... the smell of honest simple values and open minds. Tree’s artwork hangs from the walls; abstract oil paintings and intricate hand-sewn tapestries. A large white cat struts in through the permanently open door. His name is Freeway, named after where Tree found him. Once abandoned, he is now a picture of health, strong and proud and looking a lot like a polar bear. It’s safe to say that Ash lives free, his idyllic home reflects his hippyish values, but let it be stated early on that he is no washy space head, far from it – as will become apparent throughout this interview, Ashley is vehement in his beliefs and not afraid to let you in on them. That first night I slept out back in ‘Big Blue’. Ash’s house is modest and their quaint two-seater wicker sofa is a bit too cosy for a man of my length. Big Blue is their van, an old Chevrolet Beauville from the seventies. With paintwork faded from decades of sunlight, panels dented from numerous hedonistic roadtrips and a general aura of bohemia, the General Motors classic is a reminder of both America’s once unrivalled automotive industry and the revolutionary changes brought about by the counter culture movement around the time of its inception. The van has character. And like they say about dogs, the van looks a lot like its owner. The doors clunk loudly in objection to being opened too fast. The steering wheel fights back with 5.0 litres of V8 torque if asked to turn too sharply. The well wornin motor has been round the clock a number of times, but it starts up first twist and the reassuring sound it kicks out leaves no doubt it’ll still be going strong for many years to come. The van is happy and performs flawlessly when driven with care and consideration; just don’t ask it to jump through any hoops and you won’t get bitten. We get up early and eat a breakfast of homemade organic pancakes with fresh fruit syrup. To say Ash takes care of himself is an understatement. For the last couple of years he’s been plagued by knee injuries. He’s had two surgeries and things still aren’t right, so he does everything in his control to
make the situation better. And good food, good sleep, good exercise, a good woman and a positive outlook seem to be doing the job of a healthy anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) just fine. We load up the van. Our loose plan is to drive six hours north to Yosemite Valley to take in the sights, ride some concrete and shoot photos. Big Blue crawls out of LA in an endless conga of traffic. A guy in his fifties passes us at walking pace in a shiny red convertible sports car. He looks over to us, and with an enthusiastic smile raises his arm, extends his thumb and little finger and gives his handsignal a shake. I believe it’s called a ‘hang loose’. With long hair flowing in the breeze through the open window, headbands on and faces unshaven, the vibes being emitted by Big Blue obviously resonated with something in this guy’s youth. Maybe it was dreams of something more than creeping along an over-crowded freeway in an expensive car breathing in toxic smog.
[a] Casual hip table, Lion’s Den Skatepark, Fresno, Ca
We spend the night in a cheap motel at a rest stop off Highway 41. It’s a soulless place amid an equally soulless mess of fast food restaurants and their accompanying neon signs. We arrive at a concrete park in Fresno the next morning, the gates are locked but there are people inside riding, about five guys on bikes. There’s a long plaza style street course leading to a tight and deep bowl section. It looks good. We jump the fence to have a pump around. Our feet had barely touched the floor when we hear “Ashley Charles... oh my God, are you Ashley Charles?” A kid of around eighteen is straight up to us with his hand outstretched eager to introduce himself. Ash looks a little surprised but happy at the recognition. They shake hands and the guy has his day made as Pro Biker Ashley Charles happily chats away like he’s known him his whole life. I was a little surprised at the friendly warmth Ash was giving out myself. I’ve known of him since he was 12 and I always knew he was a nice guy deep down, but there was a phase lasting a few years when he had a reputation for being a bit obnoxious, or arrogant, or a combination of both.
"I’d like to show people how easy it is to be happy... just show them how simple it can be"
When his long-term fan and newfound friend drops in for his next run, in an attempt to broach the awkward subject, I asked him if he was aware of how he was once considered. “I definitely think I was a bit of an arsehole when I was younger, without even really knowing it. I was just a teenager, I wasn’t arrogant in a cocky way, not as in I felt I was better than anyone else. I just didn’t give a shit, just in the way of any typical teenager. All I wanted to do was ride BMX bikes, I liked metal and punk music and getting smashed, I just didn’t give a shit about anyone else. But I started travelling when I was 19, when I first got on Wethepeople, and I feel that snapped me out of that mindset.”
We ride the park for a while and, like the seasoned veteran he is – without a wheel hung or a foot down – Ash takes to the unfamiliar terrain like a duck to water. Unlike his overt friendliness, his instant adaptation to new concrete comes as no surprise at all: Ashley was raised by Slades Farm. An old concrete skatepark from the seventies made up of a sprawling shallow irregular bowl with a snake run and a tight steep pocket, Slade’s Farm is not much to look at and a timeless work of art at the same time.
"We ate shitty food for three months, had Jack In the Box for christmas dinner, rode a bit and got smashed"
After we’re done shooting a photo of a casual table over a steppeddown hip I ask Ash how his riding has ended up so versatile “Yeah, that’s Slades for sure. Every foot of every transition is different, it rolls or it dips, or it bulges or it kinks... If you grew up riding there you could go to any ramp and you were used to it, because you weren’t used to anything.”
It makes perfect sense. We chat and joke around with the locals some more and tell them of our vague plans for Yosemite. They tell us about Fresno’s meth and Juggalo problem. One particularly stoned rider relays a whole issue of ‘Wilfred’ to me – a show about a man and his talking dog friend – it was really funny and now I don’t need to see it. They tell us of this place they know called The Sanctuary, set on an Indian Reserve just outside the national park. They give us vague directions and we pack up and head off.
[b] Turndown, The Sanctuary, Oakhurst, Ca [next] [c] Sign tap, Oakhurst, Ca
As we drive further north and the hot arid air of Southern California cools and the landscape turns from barren yellow desert to green tree lined foothills. We talk more about Slades and more about the beginnings of his BMX journey. “I started when I was 11 and after that I literally didn’t stop riding,” he begins, “at first we’d go down Slades when it was raining, just so there was no one else there. It was scary back then, the scene was huge, there’d be 20 plus riders all day. It was really intimidating.” We talk about how he’s grown up in magazines and how that all came about. “We’d just be doing jumping tricks all day. We’d ride the bowl doing flyouts. Then Mark Noble and Mark Cornick from Ride Magazine showed up randomly. BMX was so small back then and we had a bit of a bigger scene, they turned up and we had shit going on. Phil Bray, Darren Longman, my brother, me... and they were quite surprised. I was the smallest of the bunch, and it was rare for a small young dude to be doing jumping tricks. Mark realised there were a bunch of kids who were pretty good so he’d just bring down bikes and we’d test them, and we were loving it too as all our bikes were so haggard.”
We talk about first bikes and reminisce about names from the past and all the legends of the SFL [Slades Farm Locals], Kev Looker, Kenny, Paul Muir, Mark Tate, Darren Longman, Phil Bray, Leroy, his brother Darryl... the list went on and on. Back then I always remember Ash as having a particularly dialled bike, shiny Haro Shredders with die-straight wheels. I ask him how he ended up riding for Haro. “We went to Southsea Easter comp in I think ‘96, we all went up there on the train. Even back then we were still just jumping out the bowl all the time, I would snap frames every other week. I easily went through eight or nine frames in a year, more than that. An Ammaco, a CW, a Hooligan... man, I can’t remember the rest. So we all go to this Easter Jam, I remember I had a Tim March frame at the time. I loved that bike. On the train I was proper excited, we were all pretty scared, I remember thinking, ‘Shit, these guys are going to be amazing, we don’t stand a chance.’ But we got there and they sucked! They all had amazing bikes but they couldn’t do anything. We all had ratty bikes and we showed up there and fucking smashed it. Everyone just won everything, it was awesome. It was right after that Pete Hawkins phoned up my Mum, he was like, ‘come up to the skatepark one day’ – he used to run the park. I was 13 or 14, he had a sports promotion company and worked for Shiner who distributed Haro. He asked if I wanted to ride for Haro, I couldn’t believe it. It just went from there.” The gradient is changing now, you could hear the change of pitch of Big Blue’s lumbered groan. In front the horizon rises up into the sky as we start our assent of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The conversation drifts about between Pete Hawkins and some of the gigs Ash got involved in through his promotion company. “One memorable one,” Ash recalls, “was a TV advert I did for Raleigh, for a bike called a Dirt Cross. It was with the football player Stuart Pearce... he used to play for England... he was a fucking wanker. Honestly, he was not a nice man. Pete Hawkins would send out résumé to people who might want riders for filming or adverts. I got to go to Nottingham for two days and it was funny because the day before we filmed it I crashed on my face and had a big graze on my cheek. A make up artist had to cover my scab up. I got 400 quid. The bike was horrendous. When I showed up I remember seeing the bike in the corner of the room and thought, ‘you must be joking’ – it was like a mountain bike, a kid’s mountain bike with big motocross suspension forks and gripshift gears. They decked me out in a Kappa tracksuit, elbow and knee-pads, and a stupid helmet. The shoot was in a tennis court at a sports club, they soaked the place with water and they literally had no idea what they wanted. I was 14 years old and they were like, ‘the footballer is gonna run around dribbling and doing kick-ups and we want you to ride around and make it look like you’re trying to tackle him, on the bike.’ I was like, ‘What? Tackle Stuart Pearce on a bike?’ I got £400, I didn’t give a fuck, it’s okay to sell out when you’re 14. Get it out the way early right?”
A Life Less Ordinary
Just as he finished his recollection of a day with the jumped-up penalty-missing loser, we saw a sign for The Sanctuary. Our plan was loose, we didn’t know what we wanted to find by stopping. We didn’t need anything, but we were curious to see what form BMX would take up here in the hills. We parked Big Blue up at the top of a hill, some locals were patching up the trails down below. We walked down and made our introductions. We met Pope, the guy who works there, a crazy guy named Dirty who is of indeterminable age and as loose as our plans, and a large handy looking Native American whose name I missed. Dirty’s age really was some pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey shit. The story of this place is one you’d only find in America. They have an indoor skatepark, a shop, an outdoor skatepark, trails and three family sized detached guest houses all set out on a few acres of leafy rolling country. And it’s all paid for by a casino. It turns out that Waylon, the fabulous guy who owns The Sanctuary, is a member of the Chukchansi tribe of Native Americans. In 1987, in the Cabazon Decision, the Supreme Court ruled that as long as a form of gambling is legal in the state where the reservation is located, the state can’t regulate gambling activities on the reservation. So, immune from prohibitive regulation and taxation, the tribes set up big casinos on their land which bring in a shit ton of tax-free money that is then distributed among the surviving tribe members. And being the stand-up guy he is, Waylon ploughs all those lost dreams and gambling chips into BMX and his local community. I stopped being surprised by what BMX throws up at an early age – experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of Backyard ‘96 as an innocent 16-year-old boy kind of neuters you in that respect – but this compound of lawless bike riding awesomeness really is a sight to behold. Pope runs the place, he’s... I can’t describe him... let the fact that, after spending ten years writing
for BMX magazines, I can’t find words to paint an accurate picture of this guy, serve as testament to just how unique he is. Within ten minutes of being there we’re offered an open invite to ride whatever we want and the keys to a three bedroom, three bathroom mansion. Being BMXers – and therefore never the type of people to look a gift horse in the mouth – we gratefully accept and get settled in. 2-Hip is run from here, their old tour jumpbox sits collecting spiders nearby and a sorry looking 2-Hip branded limousine sits idle waiting for its next excursion. After a good snoop around and a short but sweet session in the tight skatepark the sun has sunk below the mountains and Pope has headed off to a Halloween party, so we make a fire and sit out on the veranda of our new house shooting the shit once more. We talk about the jumps in front of us and make plans to ride them first thing in the morning. The talk of jumps and jumping tricks bring the conversation back to Ash’s youth.There was a time when he was known for his double barspins and superman seat grabs, tricks that back then were anything but common place. We talk about when his style changed and what influenced that progression from elaborate jumping tricks to the simple and stripped back style he’s famous for today. “I’m a simple person. I don’t like having a lot of possessions,” he starts off, “I don’t like having too many clothes, it frustrates me. I just like simple looking, good looking stuff over... style has always been important to me... growing up my favourite riders were Magilla and Ground Chuck, you just can’t get better than that. When I was growing up and progressing my riding it was all about trails. Trails were massive, and although people still did tricks it was way more about style... Stauffer or Chuck... big tables or 270 x-ups. Everyone stopped throwing their limbs everywhere and started taking note of style.”
A Life Less Ordinary
A Life Less Ordinary
I make the comment that his current riding style is very refined with every move well considered and executed with a heavy dose of clinicalism, “I’m a perfectionist aren’t I?” he says in response, “I’m just not going to do something unless it feels right.” I ask what he means about being a ‘perfectionist’. “Well it’s the same with everything in my life. Like when I wash my clothes, every single time, they’re always folded in a certain way, real neat. When I cook food, I have to clear away everything as I’m going along, like when I’m cutting up veg. Things have to be clean and clear. Like my bike, if it’s not completely dialled then it just frustrates me and I can’t ride it. I get it from my mum, I know that, she’s ridiculously clean.” It’s a response that goes a long way to explaining the precision and control that is so apparent in everything Ash does on a bike. We cook some food – all fresh veg and no meat of course – and get an early night. In the morning we ride the jumps and shoot photos. Ash takes to the unfamiliar trails within a couple of runs and after another brief session we head off to the giant Redwoods and breathtaking grandeur of Yosemite Valley. We spend the next few days driving around the wilderness, taking in the sights and riding anything we find with an inkling of transition. The air is clear in the mountains, and the gargantuan forces of nature are impossible to ignore – the thousandmetre cliff faces and gigantic trees can’t help but raise questions of significance and what it means to be a human on our big blue planet. Big Blue the van is the crucible for many conversations for the remainder of our trip. Ashley Charles is a thinker: a green loving environmentalist at heart with strong opinions on the current state of the world and humanity in general. He lives a positive and healthy lifestyle and enjoys the simple pleasures afforded through such an existence. I ask him if he attributes his conscientious outlook to BMX or whether something else has inspired him to approach life in such a manner, but before he has time to answer I bring up his ‘Concrete University’ tattoo and ask the significance of that in how his life turned out, turns out it means a lot. “At its simplest I guess the Concrete University thing applies to Slades and growing up with a tight group of friends and a less than ideal skatepark. But its meaning has progressed a lot from there. I value that place as a starting point for me: I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for bike riding. I didn’t go to university, I’m not academically that clever. If it wasn’t for Slades then I wouldn’t have started riding, if I hadn’t started riding then I wouldn’t have travelled and if I hadn’t travelled then I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’ve learnt so much through travelling, and that’s what I was getting at in the article I wrote in the last issue, people don’t get that from BMX any more. I have a true love and respect for BMX because I’m happy with who I am and I’m happy with who I turned out to be, and I attribute that to riding and travelling and meeting
different people from all over the world, so I feel the Concrete University thing means that more than anything.” I press him some more on how experience has shaped him as a person “I did an apprenticeship as a bus mechanic, a heavy vehicle mechanic. I did that for three years and I got on Wethepeople just as I finished. I went to America for three months after that. We got smashed. We drank every night. We ate shitty food for three months, had Jack In The Box for Christmas dinner, rode a bit and got smashed. I came back from there and went to Madrid with Wethepeople, that was my first proper trip. It was around that time that I met Ruby too, she turned my life around really, I owe her a lot.”
[d] Tree stump barspin, Yosemite Valley National Park, Ca
It’s refreshing to hear someone talk so openly and confidently about things that mean so much. The stripped back simplicity makes sense to me and I can’t help find myself applying that same logic to my own life. I snap out of it and push a bit further, inquisitive to know how far he’ll open up about the influence of an ex-girlfriend with a Dictaphone running. Again his openness is refreshing and a testament to his sureness of self. “She was just a great person, a great human. Meeting her was the point where I turned from having an arrogant and close-minded attitude to a far more open and positive one. She just never had a bad word to say about anyone and was so positive, she opened my mind. She was vegetarian, had been for ten years, I was eating with her a lot and that just went from there. It was weird to me that someone would be so non-judgmental of anyone, and really... I don’t know... I would say stuff and she’d be ‘no, no, no... you have to look at it like this... from this point of view.’ I’ve grown a lot since then, but I sure do owe a lot to her.” On our way back down from the mountains we stop off for one more concrete park and another night in a cheap Motel 6, back near Fresno once more. Ash’s knee is playing up and it’s while he lays on the bed with a bag of ice balanced that we record the final words for this interview. We talk first about sponsorship changes and how he ended up living in California; “Well, I’d been living in Bournemouth my whole life, I was 28 and I decided I wanted to move. I just wanted a change. I’d been travelling for ten years and basically I wanted to have something different.”
"If people don’t like what I’m saying then it’s purely because they know it’s true and they don’t want to hear it"
We talk some and eat crisps. I head out for a walk. There are crazy people outside so I cut it short. We record some more words, this time on the current trend of fourpeg street riding. We talk about energy drinks companies and we talk about smoking weed and the moral obligation riders have to not actively promote something of that nature... it’s safe to say that Ashley Charles is both confident and
[e] Toboggan, Belvedere Skatepark, East Los Angeles, Ca
A Life Less Ordinary
outspoken in his views – his opinions have been shaped over half a life time behind the bars and he’s not afraid to air them in public. If the remainder of this text reads like a rant, then let it be known that it is no co-incidence, for Mr Charles has a side to his nature that is near militant: after all, he does ride for Bicycle Union. We work through the topics, first off his opinion on the latest incarnation of four-peg street riding; “I’m into some of it, but I feel like a lot of people throw pegs on because it’s what they think they need to do. They’re scared and think they need to do what’s new. I’ve got no problem with four pegs, I’ve ridden street forever, I love it. I just don’t like all this pecking around on ledges, it’s just not progressive at all. Someone’s gonna get offended, but I don’t give a shit. I just don’t like the pecking and tapping around... like peg tap to over peg tap, I’m not into that. But then again it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just not what I’m into. I’d rather see Burns or Chet do something deadman. I know why it’s popular, it’s new and accessible, but it’s just not progressive. I love riding flat bars, ones that slide nice just over peg height, I love that, but I’m not about to go and film a bunch of stuff on it and make out it’s a big deal. It doesn’t make sense to me. There are flat bars everywhere, street riding to me is about finding unique set-ups and making them work. You don’t make a flat bar work, it’s the same as every other flat bar, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to ride... it’s like the peg chink, but on a larger scale. It’s a phase, like the manual to nowhere 180. I just feel like it’ll be looked back on in a couple of years time and it’ll be a joke – it’ll be laughed at – if someone has flat bar clips in a video...” The next topic is the promotion of weed within BMX, there are no hesitations in his reply, he’s deadly sure of the words he speaks, “It’s just ridiculous,” he stamps down with conviction, “it’s like a childish school playground thing, like you’re trying to impress the girls or something. I mean... shaking your splif around on camera? So everyone knows that once you’re done doing that interview you’re going to smoke that splif... How are companies okay with that? Most of those companies are owned by grown men who probably don’t smoke weed, and they’re selling product to kids and they see weed as a way to sell them more product and make themselves more money, because their rider is talking about weed and smoking it on camera, waving it around... come on. The riders and the companies have a responsibility to tighten that shit up. The other day I found out that there’s a famous BMXer who smokes weed, and when I found out I was shocked... I wouldn’t have ever thought it. And that’s almost the way it should be, there’s no need for anyone to know it, it doesn’t matter, it’s not relevant to anything. Them smoking weed is fine, but there’s no need to publicise it. I smoked weed for years, have you ever seen me smoking weed in a video or an article?” I haven’t, and with that we move on to the next contentious subject: energy drink companies. We talk about living right and taking responsibilities for your actions, about how he lives green and environmentally aware, and has a stance against corporate companies and for trying to promote living a meaningful existence. I ask whether he thinks those ethics are a product of BMX? “Definitely,” he starts off, again with a tone of unwavering conviction, “that was a big deal way back, that was the whole punk mentality, DIY and ‘fuck the man’. It was ingrained into you from an early age. All the riders I looked up to had that mindset, people like Joe Rich and Taj and companies like FBM, they were all about the little guy and keeping things in-house. Like, why would you involve some guy in a suit in BMX? What has he got to do with what we do? Why would you represent a company like Monster or Rockstar, unless you’re willing to stand up and go on the record as saying, ‘I don’t give a fuck, I’m just doing it for the money’. People go on about Monster and Red Bull and they say they do all these good events and help people go places, but the reality of it is, they don’t give a shit about that person and they don’t give a shit about BMX, the only thing they give a shit about is making money.
[f] Tyre Slide, Belvedere Skatepark, East Los Angeles, Ca
Those so-called ‘cool events’ don’t have anything more behind them than big companies using everyone involved to make money. That’s my opinion: I have good friends and team mates who ride for those companies and it’s up to them, but I can’t understand how you could back that, I just don’t get it myself.” We both know that what he’s saying will rattle some cages, but to reiterate again, Ash is a grown man with BMX credentials that include the infamous caption ‘Ashley, bar spin, age 12’. It’s getting late, we don’t speak about it, but we both know we’re getting into the closing stages of wrapping this interview up. In the van we’ve been talking about the need for a BMX Union, a real life body that lobbies for the best interests of professional riders. I ask Ash to lay out his thinking behind that dream, and his answer is hard to argue with; “BMX used to be a community. I want to live in a community. BMX can still be a community, where everyone helps each other, not just with everyone out for themselves... These days people just jump in and instantly want something from BMX, there’s this quote I saved the other day that I think sums things up really... [pause while he looks it up on his phone] ‘It is by attempting to reach the top in a single step that is the cause of so much misery in the world.’ I don’t want to preach anything to anyone – having an opinion is one thing, but telling people how to live is another – BMX used to be good at sifting out the bullshit, nowadays the holes in the
sieve are getting bigger and some big nuggets are getting through. The bigger the party the easier it is to slip in. Energy drink companies are the devil, people might get pissed off by what I’m saying, but I’m a 30-year-old man, I’ve been riding over half my life. If people don’t like what I’m saying then it’s purely because they know it’s true and they don’t want to hear it. BMX is something I love and care about, and to watch it get fucked by a bunch of neon energy drink companies, is frustrating. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m a happy person, I just don’t like watching something I care about fuck up. Like if you have a friend who you see starting to get a problem with drinking or anything else, you pull them to one side and have a word with them, because you love them, because you care about them. That’s all I’m talking about here. We just need to band together as an industry and take active steps to promote that.” Ashley’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place: he wants what’s best for the people and the things he cares about. In an effort to close this thing out, I ask him, if he could do one thing to change the world, what would it be? There’s a long pause as Ash looks up to the ceiling... the words he eventually finds are a fitting end to both our trip and this interview, and they go a long way to revealing the inner working of Ashley Charles; “I’d like to show people how easy it is to be happy, to strip away everything materialistic and the things they think make them happy and just show them how simple it can be.”
A Life Less Ordinary
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UNDER FIRE THE DAN LACEY INTERVIEW Words and Photography by GEORGE MARSHALL
t’s a strange feeling, knowing someone is trying to kill you. It puts your mind on edge. The Israeli tourist guide stated the city of Tel Aviv to be ‘a safe bubble in a hostile region. A liberal city with a vibrant nightlife and beautiful beaches – a gay paradise.’ Being in a hostile region, Lacey had concerns. “It’s completely safe.” I tell him. “The south and north suffer from suicide bombers and rocket attacks, but Tel Aviv is in the middle, it’s out of range. We’ll be fine.” I assure him before our flight from Luton airport on a cold winter morning. This trip was meant to be our last trip, the sun blessed conclusion to a year-long project that is this interview. Dan had good reason to be concerned. The day before our flight the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) assassinated the head of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian political group that governs Gaza, an area of land 40 miles south of Tel Aviv. The two nations are consumed by deep-set bitter hatred for the other. For decades the fragile ceasefire has only needed a spark to ignite into warfare. The violence was sure to escalate during our stay, but not in Tel Aviv – rocket attacks never hit Tel Aviv. We arrived at our apartment late into the evening, meeting filmer and part time resident Rich Forne and Lacey’s close friend Bruno Hoffman. The apartment belongs to Rich’s Israeli girlfriend Anise. “There’s a bomb room down stairs.” Rich laughs minutes after our arrival. “The walls are solid steel and the door is like a safe. It’s building regulations. Every new house has to have one.” Rich tells us light heartedly, as we gaze at the city skyline from our balcony looking forward to the week ahead. Our conversation is suddenly interrupted by a noise I shall never forget. A deep droning siren echoes into the night sky from in the distance, loud enough to wake an entire city from a deep sleep. “What’s that Anise?” shouts Rich calmly, without alarm and heading indoors. “What’s this? A drill for something? Does this happen every night or what? That would piss me right off,” Lacey says with a smile, while sipping on a cup of tea. We continue to joke at the deafening noise. Not one of us for an instant realises the severity of the situation. The siren stops after thirty seconds, leaving the city stood still in silence. Bruno starts talking. His words are stopped dead by a thundering explosion. The mood drops. Our minds fill with questions. What was that? Are people dead? How close was it? Are we safe? We look to each other for answers. In an instant we’d been taken from a beach holiday to a war zone. “I felt that before I heard it. Was that a bomb? Welcome to fucking Israel eh?” Exclaims Lacey looking for smoke on the skyline. Through the internet we learn it was a long-range rocket attack from Gaza, and it had been intercepted by an Israeli defence missile on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. “That’s the first rocket attack here in 20 years, since Saddam fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv during the Gulf War back in 91’. That alarm hasn’t been heard since then. It’s going to get mental now.” Warns Rich, looking concerned. “Next time we need to get in the bomb room, we’ll be safe in there.” That first rocket attack was to become the first of a daily ritual of hearing the siren, taking cover, and waiting for an explosion as an Isreali defence missile intercepted the rocket. Not all rockets were intercepted. Three Israel civilians died in a similar attack in a nearby town. With each day the rocket attacks became more frequent and closer as the violence escalated from both sides. Our fear of the siren grew with every attack. On the news we saw acts of horrific violence from both sides, we watched the IDF’s brutal shelling of Gaza and we watched Hamas gunmen on motorbikes dragging corpses of suspected spies for the Israeli army. The death toll rapidly grew in our first few days, most heavily on the Palestinian side. We spent those days riding in the city, ready to take cover at a moments notice. In the dark evenings we sat on the balcony listening to the shelling of Gaza in the distance, and the deep vibration of helicopter gun ships cruising overhead. One evening we return to our apartment slightly shaken from witnessing a rocket being shot down into a fireball. The siren sounds for the third time that day. Myself, Lacey and Bruno calmly head down to the bomb room, whilst Rich is somewhere in the city filming. We sit in the safety of the bunker. The apartment doorbell rings from upstairs. “Shit is that Rich?” Lacey exclaims and leaves the saftey of the bomb room to go upstairs to let Rich in. Moments later a huge explosion shakes the room, obviously from nearby. I come upstairs to find Lacey pacing on the balcony, shaking his head. “That was fucked bruv. I was here right on the balcony and felt the explosion. It was just over there, about 400m away. I nearly jumped to the ground for cover.” He tells me clearly taken aback by the experience. “I barely slept last night.” He tells me the next morning over a breakfast of hummus, scrambled egg and pita bread. “Three English tourists and a German? We’re prime targets.” He says in a mild cockney accent. We watch the morning news and the outlook doesn’t look good.
[a] Rail hop, Hastings, UK.
[b] Nose manual across and down, Liverpool.
Rich predicts waves of suicide bombers entering the city and a ground invasion of Gaza. It was time to consider our personal safety. With four days left of the trip we discuss at what point do we leave, at what point do we think we’re in enough danger to fly home. We agree that as soon as people start dying in Tel Aviv, that will be our cue to get on the first flight home. “All this makes you appreciate, where you come from doesn’t it? I grew up in one of the most safest, most beautiful places in England. I’m not overly familiar with rocket attacks and suicide bombers.” Having wanted to ask him for sometime how someone from a picturesque medieval town has such a reputation for being a hard man, I press the red button on my voice recorder. “I grew up on an estate. I can’t remember much from my childhood. For instance I don’t know who my dad is. I know his name and where to find him but I don’t know what he looks like. My mum had me when she was 16. She was a top class show jumper and she had a bright future ahead of her. I came along and she had to get a job. My dad was a piece of shit. He stole money from my grandparents and bolted not long after I was born. Whatever… you know? I am where I am today and I didn’t need him. Fancy a tea? Milk no sugar right.” He says standing up to flick the kettle on. “I’m not saying that has effected me or my childhood, I’m no psychologist, but apparently I was a bastard as a child.” He says handing me a brew. “My granddad took me to karate and kickboxing for the first time when I was five to get some discipline. He took me to scare me. I remembering walking in and the instructor was a big dude wearing a white Gi with a black belt, shouting at everyone. It petrified the fuck out of me. My granddad saw it was good for me. “It was a graft – I’m not going to sugar coat it. From a young age I trained up to four times a week. You had to put in hours and be committed. Karate and kickboxing were very hard on me. Both physically and mentally it was tough. My instructor would kick the fuck out of me. He toughened me up. From the age of 11 he’d kick me all round the room. Back then I remember moaning about it, I’d be bruised to fuck, my ribs would be done in, chest and stomach, everything fucked. I’d be done-in for days after a session, but I’d always go back to the next session – no questions asked. Some people would have fucked it off but I loved it.
“I remember my first ever fighting competition. I was fucking shitting myself – it was horrendous. I knew from that day that as soon as you’re shitting yourself you’ve lost. I found out through fighting that you have to be confident in yourself. I learnt that at my first fight, I was about nine or ten, and there was kids there younger than me. At that age you didn’t hit each other in the face, you’re a kid, you’re all padded up but you’re still throwing digs. There was also the older, bigger dudes there doing full knockdown fighting. Knockdown fights in karate are no punches to the head but you don’t wear gloves, you full on just pound each other in the chest until one of you drops. I saw that as a kid and thought, I want to do that. “Being a ginger kid I remember getting bullied a lot at school by the older group of jockey kids. Training helped me build my confidence during that time – it has made me what I am today. Life experiences make you who you are. I’d be a completely different person without kickboxing and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. I was Sussex Kickboxing Champion, I went to the National Championships in Wales and came back with firsts in kickboxing and karate. There was a point where there weren’t many fights I wasn’t coming away with first place. I’ve got three boxes of trophies at my grandparents house. “At about 16, BMX wasn’t a big part of my daily life. I’d started riding a few years before but all my friends suddenly quit riding and got cars or motorbikes, so karate and kickboxing was my main agenda. Being 16 I wasn’t allowed to do full contact fights, but when I turned 17 my instructor put me in the category for it. I did a couple of knockdown fights like the ones I saw when I was 10. But it wasn’t like I thought would be. I fought against big slow middle-aged dudes, I was dancing rings round them, not to sound like a dick but I was so light on my feet when I was young and still supple. But if I got a dig off them I knew about it, it hurt. I was able to put in six digs to their every one. When I started doing kickboxing fights I was even more out of my depth, but I enjoyed that. “For a few months my instructor had been going really hard on me, kicking the crap out of me. I said to him, ‘What are you doing? I’m going home and I can’t walk for two days. Hit me by all means but don’t do me in. What’s your deal?’ He said, ‘well the Tokyo Championships are coming up in a six months and I’m entering you for it’.
The Tokyo Championships are a full contact tournament, that happen every one or two years in a massive savage arena in Japan. The world’s best would be there. He wanted me ready for that. I was 17 and thought let’s do it. I was going for it and started upping my training. “Around the same time I left college and got job at Seventies down the road in Hastings. Suddenly BMX was in my face everyday. Being around bikes all day, all I wanted to do was get home and ride, but due to training I couldn’t three nights a week. I began to feel like fighting was a burden on me for the first time. My passion for BMX was growing and it started to interfere with training especially when I got hurt. With the Toyko tournament coming up I couldn’t train as much as I needed due to injuries from riding. One day my instructor sat me down and told me, ‘we’re not sending you to Tokyo’. He said, ‘we’ve decided to send this other little ‘chavvy’. The other kid was not ready. I knew I’d eat this kid alive. He didn’t stand a chance. The fighters in Japan are nutters, I was shitting bricks at the idea of going when I thought I was going. My instructor told me he wasn’t sending me because I’d missed training from being injured. His decision killed me. After that I was done with fighting.
“I didn’t cut fighting completely out of my life, I dropped out slowly. Instead of training three times a week, I started training once every two weeks. My grandparents put a lot of time and money into my fighting. My granddad to this day still does all the books for the clubs. My decision to quit didn’t sit well with my grandparents. Karate had built a really strong bond between my grandparents and I. They didn’t talk to me for a bit after I quit. That broke my heart. “My granddad is the only person I am legitimately afraid of. When I was kid, a teacher’s words carried no weight, they’d threaten me with a detention and I’d think that’s hardly going to end my life, but I actually thought my granddad could end my life.” Dan says laughing, looking back. “He was the scariest man to me. But it made me respect him.” He says in admiration for his granddad, and I ask him if, in the absence of his dad, his granddad played a father figure role. “I think so. He was and still is my hero. He’s the most knowledgeable man I know. If the world ended and only he survived, civilization would be back to normal in a week. He built his own house and his own car, he’s 80 and he’s still in full time work drawing blueprints for Cruffs dog show. He fell out a tree the other week with a chainsaw in his hand. We can’t stop him.”
Dan grew up with the UK’s most prolific riding scene of the time on his doorstep. In those formative days as teenager at Hastings skatepark he was much different from the Dan Lacey we see today. “I grew up watching the Number 10 DVD everyday and looking up to all those older riders in that video. I feel gifted to have grown up around that scene. That’s why I had the long hair, rode a brake and had a different style. Fads come and go. I used to imitate Ross Tanner. I wanted to do fufanus and 540 hurricanes, I wanted to do the stuff Ross did, I wanted to be Ross. I kept a brake on when everyone else was taking them off because of Ross. Eventually I took my brake off but I still just rode park and trails brakeless. Then I started riding street with Bas [Sebastian Keep], he pushed me to ride street.” “When I was 14 or 15 I’d see the likes of Ross and Dean [Hearne] at Hastings skatepark. They’d be on brand new bikes and they’d give me their hand me downs, I thought just getting free parts would be the biggest thing ever. At that time I never contemplated ever getting money for riding my bike, let alone flying all over the world. Back then I thought being sponsored was spending your days in the back of a transit van on road trips. That was the dream you know?
“My first sponsor was Bas’ T-shirt company, Roundabout. After a trip he asked me if I wanted to ride for Federal. I said yes instantly. I already rode one. I’ve been on Federal forever. My first proper frame I bought was a Federal Division, in Ferrari red. Federal was the local brand, so I had to support it. After a year or so I started getting paid a little bit. That was the most bewildering thing to me… I thought, I’m getting paid to ride a bike. Stu Dawkins has supported me through Federal since day one. Federal will always be my priority because of Stu’s long support. He’s helped me out so much over the years.
[c] Tooth hanger to 360 over, Tel Aviv.
“I was working at Seventies until I got sacked for turning up late. I deserved it. Any other job would have sacked me earlier. Afterwards I couldn’t find a job that would let me go on trips at short notice. I couldn’t afford a phone or a laptop, so I was out the loop of Hastings. I ended up at home all the time at my mum’s in Rye. I was about 18. My mum and my grandparents were really pissed off with me. In less than a year I’d quit kickboxing, quit college and got sacked. They thought I was on the lonely road to nothing. “Being stuck in Rye wasn’t good for me. Despite being a beautiful town and by the beach, there is a large accumulation of dickheads. There are more
[d] Ledge ride, Tel Aviv.
coke dealers there than people that sniff it. A lot of lads there have never left the town and think they’re Billy Big Bollocks. If they came here to Tel Aviv where there’s rockets going off, they’d break down. I consider where we are now to be a hostile place. There are air raid sirens going off and rockets being shot at us, but you walk around and no ones giving me shit or making out they’re a hard man. “I have to worry about my brother. He’s not like me, people say I look intimidating… my brother doesn’t. He’s got long brown curly hair and he’s skinny. He’s got mates but they’re not the kind of people who can have a row. If some knob head kicks off it’s not going to go his way. I have to watch out for him. “My brother got his face smashed in by a local wannabe hard man with a knuckle duster. The guy was a local dealer. He was a horrible piece of shit. He used to get a local frail kid who had cancer to do drug drop offs for him. He was bigger than me, fat fucker. He was always tooled up. He was one of those guys who could live a quiet life but decided to be the big man of a small town and made drama for himself. He enjoyed people thinking he was a hard man, then judgement day came… he flopped. “I approached him after he hit my brother. I’d never had a run in with him before and he tried giving me a load of mouth. I beat the shit out of him in broad daylight in front of five of his mates. I told them ‘unless you want to get fucked, fuck off.’ They took ten steps back and left him. I beat the fuck out of him. He pissed his pants and was crying his eyes out. “Every dog has his day and he got eaten. There’s always someone bigger. I know there’s always someone bigger than me, that’s why I don’t go around giving it the hard man routine. These days you can get stabbed for just looking at someone, depending where you are. All these so-called hard men in Rye have never had to contemplate that. “When the police first nicked me I was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. I said, ‘what deadly weapon? The ‘chavvy’ has a couple of bruises and a broken nose. I would have chopped his head off if I had a sword.’ The kid got his arsed kicked and couldn’t handle it. He accused me of having a sword to save face. “I was charged with GBH [grievous bodily harm] and battery, and assault by beating. I was looking at four years. My mum gave me the prep talk for going into prison. She told me to keep my head down, go the gym and try to not get on the wrong side of anyone. She told me to become a meathead. That was a sudden realisation that I might have fucked it. I broke down when she gave me that talk. “I was 19 facing prison. It was just before everything kicked off with my riding career, my
first video part hadn’t come out yet. My career suffered at the hands of that bullshit. I filmed my Brighton Ain’t Ready part while I was on bail, my head was in pieces – I was bummed how it came out. I shot my Ride interview in a week, we rushed it because we thought it would be my last chance. “I went to court two days before my 20th birthday. I’d been to a magistrates court before then and the hearing was adjourned and referred to be Crown Court because it was deemed too serious of an offence. On the day it was a 50:50, I was getting out or going in. It was one or the other. “If it wasn’t for my granddad I’d probably still be in prison. He built my case. The prosecution case rested on that I was a psycho and that this lad was a golden boy with no history of drug dealing or offensive weapons. My granddad made my barrister look like a chocolate teapot. My solicitor and barrister were useless. My granddad went on MySpace straight away and found all these pictures of him and all his mates wearing balaclavas, holding the knuckle-duster, baseball bats and knives at the camera trying to look like bad men. We printed off their profile pages which said ‘personal interests: fighting.’ In my defence we produced that evidence to show he wasn’t a golden boy. The court called a recess and the judge threw out the case. I remember jumping up and shouting ‘FUCKING YES’ in court. I wasn’t going inside. I even got compensation for all the train fares and wasted time. “The guy never got arrested for hitting my brother. But I feel like he got more than he bargained for. He openly pissed his pants and cried in front of his mates and then went to the police. Not only is he a bitch but he’s a grass. It’s stitches for snitches man. We didn’t go the police, my brother could have but he didn’t, so I went and sorted it the old fashioned way.” In the years that have followed his narrow escape from prison, Dan has established himself as one of the world’s best-known street riders. A fearless approach to street riding has led to major contest wins and the support of a desirable list of sponsors. As one of the highest profile UK riders he lives a life far beyond the dream he once had of touring the UK in the back of a Ford Transit van. But in an age of media trained riders, Dan’s success has been accompanied by a reputation of being out spoken and through a heavy association with smoking, controversy has never been too far behind. “Because I’m a loud mouth people mistake that and think I’m going to bang someone out. If something needs to be said, I’ll say it. I don’t say stuff without reason. It’s always justified. You see a lot of riders just saying everything is awesome. I prefer to speak my mind. I think kids prefer that honesty and character. I’ve had a couple of companies tell me they can’t hook me up because I was too ‘controversial,’ put inverted commas round that if you want.”
[e] 360, Tenerife.
“Maybe I am controversial. I used to have a lot of photos of me and clips of me smoking. I’ve toned it down nowadays, I decided to take a back seat on it and avoid the stereotype. At the time I was kid. I enjoyed a smoke and was acting up for the camera being a knob head. What do you do when someone points a camera in your face? The cameras came out when I started smoking. Some photographers and filmers wanted me to smoke to the camera, they choreographed it. For a while I played up to that image and it fucked people off. I had messages from people telling me I was a bad influence on kids. If a kid saw me smoking a winner and wants to try it, go for it, if a kid doesn’t want to try, don’t try it. Simple. I grew up with my idols getting drunk and pissing on each other, but I didn’t feel the need to do that. If you’re going to hate me because I smoke, hate me. I’m past caring what people think of me. Smoking is bad for you. At 15 or 16 I started smoking a lot. My fitness started deteriorating massively – smoking fucks you.
"My granddad made my barrister look like a chocolate teapot"
“I see a lot of top ramp riders living healthy lifestyles, they don’t drink, don’t smoke and go to the gym everyday. That to me is an athlete. I take a different approach. I wake up, eat a good breakfast, cup of tea, smoke a winner and go out riding. But I respect those guys. Some of them make over 100k a year. Good for them. Ramp riding is media orientated, they get asked to film commercials because anyone can understand a double back flip. A hanger down a rail doesn’t get the same response. People don’t get it. “Being a street rider, it’s harder to make a living. I’m in debt. I can’t get a loan at the bank, I haven’t got a credit rating so I’ve had to take loans from my family over the years. Kids see my sponsors and think I’m making bank. There’s very little money in BMX. It’s only in recent weeks after years of working at it that I’ve started to make a comfortable living from riding. I’ve only recently been able to afford to move out of my mum’s house, and that’s brought us closer together. Suddenly now my old dear understands what I was working towards, she’s finally accepted it. “As you progress in the BMX industry, the further you get the more you’ve got to push it. I look at my sponsors list and think I’ve got a lot of people counting on me, but they don’t hassle me for it. If you start to drop off a bit it’s obvious to everyone. That’s why BMX isn’t fun at times. You have to put a lot of pressure on yourself to maintain a certain level of riding, if you don’t people quickly cotton on to it. I feel a pressure to keep doing the big stuff to maintain my reputation.” In recent years Dan has made a name for himself by doing the biggest, and therefore most dangerous, 360s. I knew when I decided to photograph an entire interview with Dan, there would be moments of terror and intense pressure. I knew that some of the stuff he wanted to shoot would be dead man scenarios. Missing a photo would not be an option, there would be no second attempts.
Shooting this interview began in January 2012. Dan met me in Tenerife saying he had one thing he wanted shoot – a big 360, the biggest of his life. In the car as we drove towards the spot through a Spanish town he described the spot as simply ‘epic’. We arrived to find a gap bigger than I could have possibly imagined or dreaded. A mistake on something this size could kill. I tried not to think about the risks, as I nervously set up my camera. I was terrified just looking at the gap, and all I had to do was push the button. I double check everything. I burn off a few bursts of blank frames. Meanwhile Lacey looks like he’s preparing for a fight. Restless, he takes a jab at the base of the huge wall as he composes himself. Once set up I give him the thumbs up. He immediately carries his bike up the steps. “You good yeah?” he shouts from the top. “Yeah.” I shout back, my finger trembling on the button and he disappears round the corner. I expect him to take at least two or three run ups, and a last thumbs up before any attempt. This does not happen. To my fright and shock Dan suddenly appears in the viewfinder of my camera going mach 10, I slam down the button. I watched through my flickering viewfinder as he spins the gap, lands and rolls several metres and out of the frame. Still looking through the viewfinder I then hear the slide of pegs on the marble floor. After landing and rolling a good few metres, he’d lost balance on the slippery floor. Lacey gets up, grabs his bike and instantly marches back towards the stairs. “Lacey, I got it. I got the sequence, ” I shout to him. “NAH MAN,” he shouts back and climbs to the top and again disappears round the corner for a second time. Again he comes flying round the corner, does a perfect three, clearing the gap with ease. But this time I didn’t see him roll out of the frame. As he lands he gets thrown to the floor. From my viewfinder I see him slide out of frame on his head. One of his crank arms had failed, and span round 180 degrees on the square axle. The force of the drop was too much. Seeing him fall to his head from such a height, at first I feared the worst. His screams of agony clutching his foot, came as a twisted relief he was still alive. Most men would have shattered in a thousand pieces from such a fall, but not Dan. Uninsured he refuses an ambulance and we drive back to our apartment. In the car at a petrol station, I show him the video and sequence. “Fuck it. I’ll take that.” With that his mood lifts from being one of pain and sadness to euphoria. “My foot might be broken, but I’ll sit off for a month of shit winter weather and then I’ll be back on it. I just did the biggest thing of my life. I’m never going to do anything bigger.” He told me from the car with his swelling foot on the dash. “After Tenerife I was stressing.” Dan tells me looking back, sat in Tel Aviv. “That three in Tenerife was the be all and end all for me. Kids have been saying ‘why don’t you do 360s anymore’. The answer is, I physically can’t. I’ve done 360s, now I physically can’t do them. My foot won’t take them anymore. At the time I was thinking fuck, the year has just started and I’m out of it. I thought I’d be irrelevant in six months. I don’t ride for money, I really don’t, but the fact I get paid to ride means I need to be able to ride to get paid. I ride BMX because it’s what I want to do. There is a realisation that BMX is not always fun. Sometimes you’ve got to go to work. If you want to do something you know you’re completely scared of, you’ve got to switch on.”
[f] Tooth hanger, Tel Aviv.
Recalling Lacey’s preparation in Tenerife I ask him if his childhood training to be a fighter helps him in those moments where he faces a potentially deadly setup. “I think it has. I enjoyed the fights, the months of build up, hours of training and all the times of my instructor kicking the fuck out of me was for that one moment. It was all about getting your body and mind right for that moment, and coping with the fear. When I was a kid there would be a tournament every two months to get you used to fighting and having that fear. The tournaments prepare you for when you’re older, when fighters train for a year for a single fight. I know kids from the tournaments who used to shit bricks before a fight, now I see them years on doing casino room fights and they’re not even sweating. I would have hoped twelve years of fighting would have made me more confident. It has helped my riding. I think about when I used to prepare for a fight and someone would strap your gloves on, gum shield goes in, and you prepare yourself, you’re ready. It’s almost same thing when you’re going to do something big. Say it’s a rail, at one point I always strap my ankle brace on, sort my head out, take one look at it, turn and bang it out.” With four days remaining in Tel Aviv, Dan crashed on another 360, this time injuring his hand. We needed one last photo to complete the interview. The next day his thumb was heavily bruised and swollen. I suspected it was broken and was resigned
to the prospect that this article had to go to print lacking a big rail photo. I could not see how anyone could ride on a hand so injured. But that judgement was an underestimation, I was forgetting how years of getting beaten by a kick boxing instructor must thicken the skin. On the second to last day, Lacey put the pain of his hand and the distraction of a bombing on a nearby bus just hours before out of his mind. He prepared himself for one last photo. Obviously in pain he did his biggest toothy hanger to date, landing it second try. Drawing confidence and experience from his childhood as a fighter, it is acts of such mental and physical strength that make Dan Lacey one of the elite street riders in the world. Never have I met any rider so hardworking, brave and dedicated to shooting an article. For me it is this true grit that best defines who Dan Lacey is, a genuine hard man, a true fighter. We return to our apartment knowing we finally had all the photos we needed, after almost a year of injuries and hard graft. The day’s bloodshed had prompted a ceasefire on both sides. Over a hundred people had been killed since our arrival seven days ago. The timing of our stay could not have been any worse. Our final trip ended as the first, Dan flying home with a suspected fracture and a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. On that final morning the rocket attacks stopped, our days under fire were over.
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THE TransiTion Nick Martin
With interviews – whether they appear on television, in a newspaper or in this magazine – there is a boundary between the interviewer and the interviewee, yet it is a relationship that is often reciprocal. The interviewee might have something they want to say, a show they want to plug, a political idea they want to get across, or a new bike part they want to promote. An interview is about finding something out previously unknown and going into such a scenario, more often than not, both parties know that with a bit of give and take, both sides can get their story heard. I’ve found that we, as BMXers, wear our hearts on our sleeves. The interviewer is one of ‘us’. I am one of us. The boundaries are blurred and in turn, we become privy to detail and stories that would be the making of the average sports reporter. But though our interviewees might make the experience easier for us, there is still a line to cross, questions to ask, detail to explain and habits to record. What if the interviewer knows all these details already? What if there is no line to cross because you know the person like they’re family – what if he’s your closest friend? I’ve been putting off Nick ‘Marv’ Martin’s interview for some time now. I’ve always wanted to do it because on the most basic level, he’s a talented rider who has marched along to the beat of his own drum. Over the ten years I’ve known him I’ve seen him consistently do some of the biggest tricks of the day. He was the first to barspin MACBA back when it was a big step higher in 2005 and spun the bars again over the Hayward Gallery concrete ledge above Southbank during his Ride UK interview back in 2007. In the same interview he bars 180’d the London Bridge Ten. In Newcastle he hopped the rail from The Sage into the Baltic carpark during Battle Royale. In Bristol he was the first to barspin Lloyds. And most of this doesn’t even compare to the stuff he did in Sheffield – the city that provided the fertile ground for Marv to progress quickly and often with absolutely no fear or hesitation whatsoever. This is the same guy who can get through the Epsom mainline without a problem and might even throw out a superman seatgrab barspin if you catch him at the right time. One of the reasons I’ve been putting it off is I knew that I’d end up admitting to a few things myself with this interview, I was always going to have to put some of myself
in this. He is my closest friend and in many ways, it’s him that has kept myself riding over the years and in some oblique way, maybe he played a unconscious hand in myself having the motivation to do this very magazine. If I’m being totally honest, if we hadn’t moved to London together, I doubt I’d even be riding today. But the main reason for doing it now essentially boils down to Marv and his riding. It’s true I’ve been putting off doing this myself, but Marv has reached that ripe old age of 30 after a good 12 years of consistently dropping his heavy bag of hammers all over Europe, I didn’t want to catch him in his twilight years. His riding has been defined by big, balls-out tricks and I didn’t want to miss that. In a conversation we had out whilst riding the city late one night, Marv said himself that this was a bit of a strange time for him with riding, as he knows he can’t keep – or even want to keep – doing the big moves all the time, so he’s finding a way to enjoy riding and get that same buzz. I think it’s a common stage to get to in your riding, one you younger guys might not yet understand. The thing with Marv is that he is simply one of the most confident riders I’ve known. He never backs down and when he’s done the big hitters it’s always been 100% commitment. I wouldn’t be surprised if that never disappears. Hopefully it won’t. Another reason why I wanted to do this is that I’ve always thought my friend to be a misunderstood character. If you remember his Ride interview back in 2007, he has no qualms drunkenly calling out whoever took his fancy. To be fair to Marv, Rhys Coren guided him into a wasp’s nest of controversial topics, something that later Marv would be somewhat resentful about. Part of me knows though, that given the time and how atop of his game he was, Marv was full of confidence and even sober had no problems letting his views be heard, he would have said that stuff anyway. Over time he seems to have mellowed to a point of general ambivalence to riding and his fellow riders. Occasionally that old Marv rears it head, sometimes to my amusement and other times to my annoyance. It’s a characteristic that has drawn a line in the sand for those who like and dislike him. It’s a line that was drawn a long time ago yet one that has crystallized opinion ever since. This isn’t an attempt to dissuade the critics. That isn’t my job. But at least I can try and portray accurately what my good friend is like today.
Words and Photography by DaNiel BeNsoN 83
thought I’d use this interview as a fact-finding mission. For someone so close to me, I know many of his weird habits. He runs like a girl, he has to have a routine, there’s always a right and wrong answer to a question, he calls people ‘wieners’ and ‘cool cunts’ respectively, he has a wooden lolly stick in his wheel which he touches before he does something scary (I’ve always thought this strange for someone who has such an analytical brain). Yet with all I know about him, there are big chunks of his past that I played no part in. I started back at the beginning, in those uncomfortable and stifling days when you don’t feel right in your own skin, the time before I met Marv when he moved to university. I got in touch with his life long friend, Joe Riley. “I knew Marv when we were at John Rankin Primary School. He was a very feeble nerd and hung out with his equals. I didn’t speak to him much then. He didn’t play football so in my opinion, he was gay. He then went to Parkhouse Secondary School and I went to another, so I didn’t know anything of him there. I can imagine his first four years there he spent hiding with his nerdlinger mates, avoiding the bullies at lunch. In fact, I know he was terrified of our mate Beau. This was around the time he started rollerblading with his cool crew. We knew his older brother, who’d given himself the title of the BJK – Blow Job King. Some of our crew rode mountain bikes, which at the time was a big thing in Newbury. Initially it was Mike Ward, Rob Bartlett, Jeeves and Josh Fry and we all hung out at these jumps we built in Northy Park. Then we met Marv at Bayer (a business area with some pretty lame street – a few benches, rails and a shit wallride). He was rollerblading with his nerd crew. Apparently Marv was alright on blades, he could do the Bayer rails. Anyway, he had a go on Mike’s bike and we encouraged him to try a feeble on a bench, basically hoping he would hurt himself. But he loved it and the next week he had bought a BMX and was hanging out with us. At this point he was still very, very nerdy. He was wearing Granny Dryden style glasses (old woman from Postman Pat) and was riding a huge Mongoose Fuzz, wearing combat trousers with knee pads bigger than his legs and a helmet without fail. He didn’t have much craic back then, very shy and spoke with a kid’s voice. I don’t think his balls had dropped just yet. The thing is though, Marv got good real quick. This was about the time of our GCSE’s and Marv had a revision timetable that he’d set up with his mum that had scheduled BMX times on there. He had a few nicknames back then too. Granny Dryden or Dryone for a bit – I came up with that. Then Postino Pat because basically we were sat around our mate Pat’s house well stoned one day and realized that he looked a bit like Marv. Then he was Starvin’ Marvin’, from the South Park character (they had the same physique). Then Melv, or Street Melv too for a bit, but eventually it just came back to Marv and it stuck ever since.
He gained a bunch of confidence at this time too and got even better at riding, better than all of us in fact, despite us having ridden a lot longer than him. But outside of riding at this point, he was still a nerdlinger. One of the high points of this time was the Small Boners Jam. Some dude called Graham Smallbone had some trails and they organised a jam there. They built a huge set of doubles for the jam, bigger than anything anyone had ridden at the time and Marv killed it when he did this well slow barspin over the set. After that we call got well hammered and slept in a field, although Marv might have had to go home. His mum had him on a tight leash.” Not too long after this Marv moved to Sheffield to study Physics. For all the BMXers who I have met who followed the trajectory of art/photography/ graphic design, Marv was studying on a ‘proper’ course, yet the image he presented was one of some skinny guy in baggy clothes who’d gotten lost at a Drum and Bass rave in a field in Berkshire and somehow found himself sat in a physics lecture in Sheffield. He’d wear hugely baggy jeans that were nipped at the waist with a cotton army belt that gave him the appearance of an egg timer. He spent his first year in Sheffield largely unnoticed, riding with Matt ‘Bowlhead’ Adams and Lucien Harris, a skater who he lived in halls with. Big changes happened in the second year, when Marv moved into a house with Lucien, Bowlhead, Joe Cox and Rob Hate. 31 Bruce Road became the infamous Hate House and Marv met a muse in the talented Joe Cox, who explains here how the new Sheffield residents became accustomed to their new surroundings.
[a] Feeble, The City, London
“Marv was central to the Sheffield scene. If he wasn’t riding I felt the session was lacking. When the session was in full flow, Marv and I fed off each other. I felt like we were perfectly matched riding wise, in the sense that we both learned from each other and took roughly the same time to learn new things. One Tuesday night everyone had gone out apart from Marv and I. It was around three in the morning and out of nowhere Marv said ‘Jason Mellors has done Octagon 18 and we haven’t’ I thought ‘yep, that’s true’ and just as I was about to take another sip of my Tescos Value lager, Marv had put the bikes outside and we were heading up to the rail. When we got out there it was kicking out time of the club next to the rails. There were hundreds of drunk people stood there watching as we did this rail. We both went down it, nodded to each other and rode home.”
"i used to think a lot of riders were shit and i was better than them, which is a pretty childish way to be"
Sheffield Marv and Newbury Marv were two very different characters. In Sheffield he played the alpha male in a house of generally quiet and reserved (when sober) individuals. It led many to be surprised that Marv had a nerdy, awkward past at all. He had a chest in his room that was rumoured to hold an old scene video that had a squeaky, skinny
Marv riding and singing the Baywatch theme tune on it. Joe Cox was one of the few to see it:
maybe that’s what he needs. I start with Sheffield and why he decided to leave.
“I’ve seen the infamous CCC tapes (Cool Cunt Crew) where Marv gives a squeaky, barely pubescent performance of the Baywatch theme. One night Lucien and I, under the motivation of severe cabin fever, turned over Marv’s bedroom and found the key to the chest where the video was hidden…. The tape had a potentially life ruining performance on it for somebody going into their second year at uni.”
“I really looked up to the New York and New Jersey scenes – Animal, basically – and I thought ‘London is like New York. If I move there it’ll be like New York.’ I just saw London as an untouched gem. It still is. Nobody really goes looking for stuff, really searching stuff out. They’ll ride down a street and take a left…. Anyway, I’d finished university and I was looking for physics based jobs in Sheffield and I couldn’t find any. I needed a graduate training programme and they were all miles out of the cities. I thought there must be physics based jobs in London. So I decided to move down here and find a relevant job and have something new to ride. I remember the first weekend when we moved down, we were with Joe Fox and I thought ‘fucking hell, this place is unbelievable.’ Everything about it blew my mind. We moved down on the 3rd of July 2005 and on the 5th London got the Olympic bid then on the 7th we had the bus and tube bombings. I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, this place is crazy.’ That was a wake up call. We moved into a good scene and we were motivated. Joe lived on the other side of the city but we rode together. Owain [Clegg] moved down shortly after us. We met Taliban Tom and [Matt] Jenkins around the same time and then Richie [Goff] moved down a year later. It was a really good scene.
The fact of the matter was that the house needed somebody with some balls and a backbone to deal with people like Mr Paul – the first Hate House landlord – or the rare occasion when somebody might be asked to leave, or that the rubbish needed taking out, which literally meant disgorging most of the house. Marv stepped up to the challenge of providing a little bit of structure and level headedness to a household that was fuelled entirely on food and drink that came out of blue and white packaging and operated so completely off the grid of acceptability that it made a pack of feral dogs seem domesticated. Marv brought with him a list of rituals that didn’t quite fit his personality and still don’t to this day. We got into the habit of kissing our fists and bumping them together before anybody did anything scary. It became a real bonding thing during the filming of Voices, I for one felt that the ‘power’ I got from my friends actually gave me the confidence to do something, maybe it did? More often than not, it was Marv doing the scary things, so he’d be getting power fist bumps all the time. Along with this he’d touch the lolly stick in his front wheel before he set off towards death or glory. Joe recalled another weird habit he had – only watching the Dirt Bros video on the first of the month: “When the new Dirt Bros video came out, Marv bought it. Usually when a new video entered the house, it would get watched on repeat for a few weeks then either worn out or smashed. Marv decided that we would only watch the Dirt Bros video on the first of the month – and only once. Don’t ask me why, or even why we went along with it.” Friendships were forged all over the North of England. The whole scene felt so unified and so separate from anything else that was going on. Marv progressed so quickly over this time, with Joe and a whole list of other Sheffield locals and not so locals to feed off. Sheffield was the place to be and Joe and Marv were the riders to look out for. Pragmatic as ever, Marv knew the halcyon days of Sheffield were finite. Life was creeping into a scene that had been in it’s own perfect world for the last four years. With a physics degree from Sheffield and the thought of new terrain to ride he made the decision to move to London and get a job in the sciences. Seeking similar fortunes, I joined Marv on this move down to the capital. Seven years later we share an office together and live moments apart. If we were any closer, we’d be joined at the hip. One evening, after a failed attempt to record anything audible in a pub whilst he watched the football, I asked Marv to take a seat on the rancid little sofa bed in the corner of our office. Usually, after lunch he’ll take a nap on there for 20 minutes – another ritual that I’ve watched him do over the years. Tonight he’s laid out awake and I sit in a chair. I tell him that this feels like I’m his psychiatrist and Marv tells me that
I tried pretty hard to get a job in physics, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. You need to get a graduate training place, and you can only get one of those in the first three years of graduating. The first year I was at fucking Subway making sandwiches, then I moved here and applied for a role at the National Physics Laboratory, which was basically a project that I’d done my final year project on. I thought if I got it I could live in South London, be near Joe Fox and get to work easy. But I didn’t get it that year, then I got a job at Kontraband and then applied for the same job the following year. I only got a 2.2, but my final year project was so perfect for the role I thought I could get it.” My girlfriend told me that she’d walk into lectures after Marv’s physics class and the board would be covered in ridiculous equations and algebra that looked so difficult it made you dizzy. Then Marv would walk out, in a ridiculously baggy Base Brooklyn hoodie and ask her is she was going to Drum and Bass Arena later. It didn’t add up, it still doesn’t. I ask what his final project was on. “You’ll like this – Calibrating a pyrometer in an ultra high vacuum.” Marv tells me, with a certain amount of pride in just how ridiculous it sounds. “Sounds fun”, I reply. “I feel kinda bad as I left all of my degree work at the place in Hackney Wick. But I didn’t get the job and I can’t remember shit from it now. What’s funny is Joe Cox has started to get into quantum physics now. He’ll ask me questions about it when I see him. I’m like ‘Jesus, Joe. I don’t fuckin’ remember mate.’ I do regret not getting into it a bit, but those types of jobs aren’t easy to get and they’re never in cities. There’s another part of it that I’ve realised recently and that’s that I kinda blagged it. I never really did that well with it, but because it’s so black and white you could copy other people’s work.” I burst out laughing at this admission. ‘There’s something I don’t know,’ I thought. “So, you cheated?”
“Yeah, I guess I cheated quite a lot. I only hung around with two people from my class, one was that old drug dealer, Bosworth and another guy called Tom. I was alright at the advanced mathematics, but that shit was fucking hard man. I only got 50% in that and the same in my final exam but with all the coursework, it was real easy to copy. There were so many wieners on the course that you could approach for answers. Sooner or later somebody from the class would go to the tutor and ask to be pointed in the right direction, then they’d work it out. Tom and I would walk up and ask some nerdlinger if we could see what professor blah blah had written and then just copy the answer. So I guess getting a job in physics would be hard anyway because I cheated. I’m probably selling myself short there, it’s hard to tell now.”
"it’s kinda depressing, man. seeing your friends having it and now they’re not bothered and i’m still here, hungry for it"
Marv’s still laid out on the sofa in his psychiatrist/nap position. I notice a bottle of whiskey that’s been knocking around the office since Christmas. I don’t know why it hasn’t been finished off already and even though I don’t think we’re in the mood to get drunk, I pass the bottle to Marv and he takes a sip. I remember the old saying that ‘there’s truth in wine’ and remember Marv’s old Ride UK interview, which he did drunk and without reservation. I ask if it bothers him that people’s opinion of him from some of the stuff he said might have crystallised and still be the same today.
[b] Barspin Air, London
“I don’t really know. I can’t imagine what somebody else might think of me. Somebody might think I’m a prick and somebody else might think I’m sweet. The thing is, after that interview came out, I think I actually got worse. I thought people were idiots, not just BMXers, but people in general. I think I went around it in the wrong way… Since then I’ve actually become friends with some of the people I binned. Like I slated Leo Forte and I apologised for doing it and now we’re ok. I mean, some people I thought were idiots will always be idiots in my mind, but yeah in the past I just went about letting that be known in completely the wrong way. It’s probably got more to do with my own insecurities with meeting new people and dealing with them. The thing is though, most people are peckers! That’s what you want me to say, isn’t it?” “I reckon that’s what people expect you to say, yeah. But you do seem a lot less angry these days. I don’t even know if that’s the right word, but stuff doesn’t wind you up as much as it did.” “I guess I just don’t want that shit to bother me anymore. I don’t want to go ‘oh some out of towner has come and done something I want to do.’ I guess it was selfishness, thinking I didn’t want someone to
do something on a spot I wanted to use. Like I said earlier, I don’t want that stress of worrying about it. With what I aspire to ride, no out of towner is even going to find it. That sounds a little arrogant, but what I mean is that the stuff I want to ride is hidden, or it’s so shit it doesn’t even look like a spot. I used to hate it when I’d see people at Dalston Jazz bench. We rode it for five years, I was the first person ever to wax that ledge, I remember seeing it get built, it was our local spot. But now, what the fuck am I going to do on it? It really is only a straight ledge. I was like that that in Sheffield too. I used to think a lot of riders were shit and I was better than them, which is a pretty childish way to be. I think I stopped thinking like that when I realised I wasn’t that good. Riding was, or is, moving so fast and I realised I couldn’t keep up with that.” “When did you think you were good?” “Before I was even any good myself! When I was still coming up! I used to think ‘why has that guy got a sponsor?’ I probably shouldn’t say this, it doesn’t look very good on me does it? But riders were getting free stuff and I got nothing until I was 24. All my mates were so good at riding and I couldn’t understand why nobody was getting anything. Like I remember my rim was so fucked because I’d been riding so much and I couldn’t afford a new one and I remember getting annoyed that someone who I didn’t really rate was getting them for free.” “It seemed to only bother you though?” “Nah, that’s not true man. I just spoke up about it and had a pretty vocal opinion on it. It bothered others too. It bothered Joe. We would’ve ridden for anybody, man! You know how fucking broke we all were and how much we were riding. We didn’t give a fuck what we were getting as long as we could go out riding. Joe, Newrick and me rode for Snafu! I don’t want to talk shit on them but Jesus man, they weren’t exactly top dollar were they? We would’ve ridden for anybody as long as we didn’t have to pay for shit. I mean, I’m not trying to say we were all the best, but Joe definitely fucking was, he was the next level. I guess I was jealous of people getting free stuff for what seemed like nothing when I’m trying to bum a second hand frame.” Marv pauses, getting the events straight in his head… “Then eventually a bunch of us started getting free stuff…” I remember when this happened. People had been getting a few parts here and there, but with Voices came a level of attention that nobody really expected. The shitty bikes were replaced with full, pro set ups. I recall Dan Cox looking appreciative, but almost embarrassed at the brand new set up he’d received from Federal. The quality and reliability seemed so strange to the set-ups people had gotten used to. The buzz in Sheffield had already began before Voices was released, but with this new found
[c] Gap to Rail Ride, Dalston, London
notoriety, Marv felt like the tables had been turned, I continue, “and you worry that there’s a kid out there like you used to be going ‘why is that guy getting free shit?’” “Probably, yeah… But I’ve paid my dues man. I’ve done some stuff.” “Do you think that’s important?” “I’m not really sure. When I was younger I didn’t really care if you’d done some good stuff in the past but now you’re shit. If you were shit you were shit in my eyes. It didn’t matter to me as a kid how long you’d been riding or what you’d done. I think that’s a pretty standard way for a kid to think. But now, yeah I like seeing people who’ve killed it in the past doing the simple stuff they were known for. Like how much I’d give to see a new photo of Kris Bennett doing a no foot can now. Or Jason Enns, he’s mid 30s and he still does good stuff, maybe one or two good edits a year of stuff that’s actually good, but Enns could just table a hip and I’d be pleased to see it. I’ll tell you what, a better example would be that recent Catty edit; there are about six clips of Garrett Byrnes on there. He does an X-up and it’s so fucking good. That’s what I want to see and I guess that’s why guys are still hooked up.” “But they don’t sell the frames unfortunately?” “I don’t give a fuck Benson, that’s what I like to see these days.” “So you think you need to pay your dues with interviews and sections before you get hooked up?” “I did yeah, but now it’s complicated. From a business point of view, you’ve got to get in there and get some good riders. Somebody might get good and hooked up on a team that isn’t very big and could end up on there forever and nothing really happens. It used to be that some guy would be out there killing it for ages and then he’d finally get hooked up on a team, I guess there wasn’t as many teams back then either. It was a pretty long process. But now there’s so many people out there who are good and so many companies out there too, Dave from Swindon can get hooked up real quick if he likes. He hasn’t even got time to put out a section on a video, or put out an interview. Before you know he’s on Mickey Mouse Bikes. You don’t really have to put it out there, but that’s just how it is.” “So it’s like a sellers market, but you could end up selling yourself to somebody shit?” “Kind of, but that’s a pretty shady way of looking at it. Like if I hadn’t moved to Sheffield and met Joe, I’d probably be riding for Mickey Mouse Bikes.” I like how Joe and Marv have similar opinions of each other in regards to riding. I remember when we moved to London and I almost felt inadequate, in the shadow of how the pair fed off each other with their riding. I bring it up with Marv and as
usual he gives me a straight answer back. “I guess until I left I didn’t realise how much I liked riding and hanging out with Joe. When I was leaving Sheffield, I was probably better mates with you than Joe, but as soon as we got down here I was like ‘fucking hell man…’ I mean, Joe and I rode a lot more similarly than you and I did. Joe liked doing barspins and tricks basically and it just sort of changed. No offence to you but…” “Joe was a lot better than me…” “Yeah, and he was a lot better than me too. . . than anyone. I’d gone from riding with someone every day who was way better than me and I didn’t really think about how that would affect my riding when I left. But on the other hand, when we were riding together all the time, my riding changed too. I never really did manuals before, but you did and I kinda got that from you. And icepicks too, I started doing a lot more of that stuff.”
[d] Butcher Grind, The City, London. [e] Rail Hop, The City, London.
“You can’t have got much else from me, huh?” I reply, thinking of the times they’d train tricks out of the bowl corner (fondly known as ‘Cockmaster’) at Devonshire Green Skatepark, whilst I repeated the same things I’ve always done. But I think it’s an honest compliment, Marv’s riding did change when we moved to London, but mine did too. I gained a lot of confidence in my riding, the big stuff didn’t seem to faze him and I tried to focus on that when I was about to do something dangerous myself. If he walked to the top of the stairs, in a few minutes he’d be back at the bottom with another accomplishment. It’s impressive how he’s dealt with it. It’s equally impressive how motivated he’s kept over the years.
"i’d gone from riding with someone every day who was way better than me and i didn’t really think about how that would affect my riding when i left"
“I was thinking about this recently. So many of our friends have dropped off. I’ve actually been through scenes. I’ve outridden a lot of people. It’s kinda depressing, man. Seeing your friends having it and now they’re not bothered and I’m still here, hungry for it. It just sorts me out though. It always has. If things are shit I can go for a ride and I feel better. It doesn’t matter if that’s Mile End on a Thursday afternoon or riding round the city at night. My family will call me out on it ‘why are you still riding around on that bike’ and sometimes I’ll feel almost embarrassed about it, but it’s the greatest thing. I feel good just riding down the street. When I ride to work, I take a detour just to hit this one kerb every day on Shacklewell Lane, it’s fucking amazing hitting that every day. That’s why I stay motivated.” We call it a night, lock up and start walking home. “I didn’t mind doing that, it was good to think about some of that stuff,” says Marv. I mumble “yeah, al-
[f] Access Hop, Hoxton, London.
right”, like a nervous Jay from The Inbetweeners. “I’ll see you tomorrow”, I say. “Yeah man”. Marv takes a right and I go left, probably walking in the doors of our homes at exactly the same time. There isn’t an end for this piece, things continue on as they always have, Marv sitting across from me cackling at something or someone on his computer, followed by a nap after lunch on the sofa, then later some food, riding, drinking or just sitting off doing nothing. The one evening recently when I didn’t see him, he ended up taking a girl on a date to the same pub I was drinking in, purely by chance. I remember one stage, when we’d just moved to London and were working together in a factory in West London, our bodies had sync’d up to the stage that we’d go and take a shit together, siting in stalls beside one another talking about where we’d go riding later, shitting out the exact same food and booze from the night before, like a pair of girls on their periods.
There are many aspects of our personalities that shouldn’t have gelled as well as they have. For me, the glass is always half full, whereas Marv’s is half empty, or at least it was until recently. His need for structure and routine should clash with my wayward appreciation of time and space. I’m a dreamer and Marv’s a thinker. He looks for answers and I look for compromises. Yet our differences seem to operate in perfect unison, like a bunch of pluses and minuses creating an answer. He only needs to throw me a scowl when I say I’m staying in for me to know that what he’s saying is ‘you haven’t ridden all week.’ I need that, his motivation and commitment to riding is inspirational. His level headedness has kept me in check on numerous occasions. That imitable style he has still makes him one of my favourite riders to watch. There’s a lot I’ve taken from him over the years, hopefully I’ve given something back.
Nik Ford, Redditch. 30.06.12
FOR MO SCAN
AT I O N O N T H E
Ian Schwartz Ian Schwartz came from the future, rode a bike around here for a few years, and then moved on to the past. Once in a blue moon – due to no discernible circumstance – a true innovator shows up: Someone whose circuitry is wired slightly contrary to the status quo, someone who walks unguided by the hand of history, someone who considers the world in a paradigm all of their own. In art we had Pablo Picasso, in science Albert Einstein, and in 21st Century BMX, we had Ian Schwartz. More-often-than-not slightly eccentric by nature, these mysterious vanguards act as torchbearers, revealing new portals to the masses as they forge their own path through uncharted darkness, the light from their torches unearthing doors to new realms, doors that – until their intervention – lay out of reach of the unordained. At an early age, being the creative thinker of heightened intellect he was, young Mr Schwartz took hold of the BMX of the day and peeled away the layers one by one until it was stripped all the way back to its most basic elements. And from there, he rearranged these fundamental blocks to build a new BMX all of his own. At the height of his influence – although it would contain NBD hammers – a typical Schwartz line would look peaceful, like he was just cruising down the street on his way to get the paper on a Sunday... if you’ll pardon the pun. This new form of BMX he created was more simple, more fluid, than its predecessor. His signature reworked style had a simple grace not afforded to a rider with pegs, brakes or a regular cassette hub. It was as much about going backwards as it was forwards. All at the same time it was fast, lazy, silent
and smooth... I think an appropriate modern word for it would be ‘steezy’ – style with ease. A pioneer in the fields of crankarm grinds, pedal slides and the potential of freecoasters, to this day Ian’s impact on BMX runs deep. He’s left behind a legacy of video parts and if anyone ever gets around to building the BMX Hall of Fame – with rolled up trousers and a pair of Loteks on – there’ll be a waxworks Ian Schwartz stood on a plinth along with all the other individuals who have helped shape our sport. But, to the detriment of BMX, the more Ian progressed as a bike rider the greater the inherent pressures of being a paid professional became. It reached a point where the fun was being overshadowed by the expectations – so, disillusioned by the bike industry and what it means, or takes, to be a pro rider, around three years ago he turned to embrace new avenues which had began more and more to consume his daily thinking. Having grown up on a family farm, he found himself drawn back to the land, and to a more simple and satisfying way of life. Unfortunately, Ian’s exit from BMX was tarnished by a bout of internet drama. It turns out that, no matter how gifted or trailblazing a person may be, in these times of unprecedented interconnectivity, no individual is immune form the incessant allure of drama and gossip. And, subsequently, shortly after Ian officially quit, his dirty Y-fronts were subject to – short of being projected onto the moon – the most thorough public airing imaginable in BMX. With all ethical issues of whether such a personal subject should ever have made it on to the internet aside, the situation was not ideal, and the outcome undoubtedly had an effect on his relationship with BMX. That incident may well have been the final severance but the fact of the matter is, both Ian’s heart and hand had quit BMX before any of that drama reared its ugly head.
Words and Photography by Steve Bancroft
ong ago, Ian’s love of BMX had been replaced by dreams of a sustainable life as an organic farmer. He swapped BMX DVDs for books on traditional agriculture, his Loteks for work boots and his bike for a pitchfork. From BMXer to farmer is an undeniably massive shift in lifestyles but at the same time, having gotten to know Ian a little through travelling together on a few occasions in the past, it’s not an all altogether surprising one. And after spending time with him out on his farm, learning a new respect for living off the land and witnessing firsthand the satisfaction offered though the lifestyle he’s chosen, it makes the decision seem like a very smart one indeed. I’m sat waiting for Ian outside arrivals at Columbus airport; I was watching all the cars and buses as they filed around the one-way system to pick up their friends and loved ones. Most of the cars were swanky SUVs or executive looking saloons; I wondered what car Ian would be driving. The shiny cars continued to come in swathes, all different colours and models but, fundamentally, all the same. Then I spotted one coming round that broke the mould. ‘That’ll be Ian’ I thought to myself and immediately began collecting up my things. The vehicle was a well-used red pick up, small and practical and, most importantly for purposes of identification: Dirty. It was too far away to see who was driving but I knew it was him. Ian pulls up at the kerbside and walks round to greet me. He’s wearing work clothes: jeans, knitted jumper, oiled stained cap and scuffed up leather shoes. He looks happy. He looks healthy. He smiles and offers his hand. I meet his hand with mine and we shake, a traditional English, none of the ‘slide and bounce’ that is protocol in Long Beach, where I’d just flown in from. Just like a man’s shoes, you can tell a lot from a handshake. His grip is firm,
the skin on his palm and fingers rough, much rougher than mine. You could feel the hours of working the land in his dry and calloused hand. The hand obviously belonged to a man who works with his hands, juxtaposed awkwardly against someone’s who types on a keyboard and presses the button on a camera. We exchange pleasantries as he lifts my bag into the back of his truck and places it carefully among the empty buckets and dried cornhusks. As well as shoes and hands, you can tell a lot about a man by his car too. Inside the cab is ‘busy’ – littered with practical objects like tape measures and wood tools. The interior is dusty with dried mud and a crack on the windshield extends from low down on the driver’s side right across to the middle. This is no BMXer’s pick-up, this is a farmer’s pick-up. Ian navigates the tangled airport road system without a blink of hesitation, he’s been here many times before. I ask about the last time he was at the airport, “Oh, that’ll be a while ago” he says with a wry smile, “after the last filming trip we took for Sunday. The last time I rode my bike.” I ask if he means that about being the last time he rode, still unsure to what extent he has actually ‘quit’. “Yep, just never built it up after that trip. I just never felt the need to”. He replies in a matter of fact kind of way. We go on to talk about how he came to hang up his bike, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s made a clean break. I ask him where his bike is now; “In the garage round my mom’s house. The wheels aren’t on it, but I know where it is.” “Do you think you’ll ever ride it again?” I ask with caution, unsure how we’ll spend the next few days if we get all this over with too quick. “Maybe” he replies, again with that
Back From The Future
cheeky wry smile one his face, “if it ever seems like fun again.” As we drive towards his farm the landscape outside the car is barren, the leaves have all been pulled off the trees by storms and the miles of endless fields lay empty of crops. It’s autumn in Ohio, I guess that’s what you get when you come to rural Ohio in Autumn. We pull off the interstate and head south on a single carriageway road. We talk about stereotypes: Stereotypes of farmers and stereotypes of Ohio. Straight away it’s apparent that Ian has a wealth of knowledge about the area and about farming. He gets stuck straight in and talks about the hardships of modern farming, not the physical hardships, but the financial ones. It seems the industrialisation of farming has killed off hundreds of thousands of family farms all across America, nowadays, if you want to make a living off growing crops then you need a big acreage and hundreds of thousands of dollars of modern machinery. The road snakes around between hills and forests and barns and grain silos. The fields start to get smaller, as do the farms. After an hour or so we pull off the road between two well-weathered sandstone gate pillars and start off down a tight gravel track. We pass a group of small buildings on the left. “Our neighbours are Mennonites,” Ian proclaims nodding towards the main house, “they’re like the Amish but less strict.” I enquire as to what the difference is. “Amish don’t believe in using modern conveniences or motorised machinery, but Mennonites are a bit more lenient, they have cars and trucks, but they’ve all got to be painted black.” His answer is a wonderful sentence that serves as a reminder to how, even in an industrialised western country like America, there is still such diversity of culture and doctrine.
After about a mile the track narrows as it enters a wooded area. Grass begins to grow in that raised space between the wheels of the truck, the trees part and a simple wooden house comes in to view: Ian’s house. As we pull up outside we’re greeted by a herd of tiny cats. There must be ten or more: grey ones, black ones, leopard print sort of ones, all bounding over each other coming up to say hello. “Oh yeah, as well as corn, we kind of accidentally farm cats too.” Says Ian smiling once more. Turns out they bought a couple of cats to clear some mice when they first moved to the farm and things went from there. As we walk though the door we’re greeted by a homely warmth. It’s as if you’ve walked into your Nan’s house when you were five years old: a caring heat that could only come from a wood burner in an old wooden house. The main part of the building is a log cabin dating back nearly two hundred years to 1816. Inside is a simple family home, with simple wooden furniture and all the fixtures you’d expect from a traditional farmhouse: wood burner, large rustic dining table, fresh vegetables waiting to be prepared. Ian lives here with his wife, his stepdaughter and 8-month-old baby girl, Eleanor. There are no remnants of BMX. It’s clear just how clean of a break he’s made. I dump my bags in the house and we take a walk around his farm. “We have 50 acres of land with a few old barns and a pond,” he explains. There’s an obvious note of pride in his voice “About half of it is fields and half of it is woods” he goes on, “it’s a real back-woods kind of farming community area around here.”
Back From The Future
The Schwartz family moved to the property a little over a year ago and it’s very much a work in progress. We walk around the boundary of his main field, the bravest four of the ten kittens follow us, running around our feet as we walk and talk. I cut to the chase and ask how he’s come to be living out here on this idyllic farm in the country. “Basically, six or seven years ago I came to the realisation that I wanted to be a farmer. I grew up on a farm and I thought it could possibly offer me the type of lifestyle, the pace of life that I wanted for myself. It just fit, so the more reading I did, the more re-educating of myself I did, the more interested and engulfed in it I became. It was around the time I was getting burnt out on BMX, with all the pressures and everything, so my mind was already starting to wander.” Intrigued to hear more, I ask him where he thinks the farming desire originated, “I think it was born out of...” he starts, but pauses before reconsidering his answer and changing tact slightly, “... I tend to be cynical and pessimistic about our world, and I’ve always felt like – and I know a lot of people say this but – I was on the outside, like in a crowded room, I always felt alone. I never really related to a lot of people. So my whole life I was always tending towards being contrary to norms. From an early age it always felt like I was fighting against what everyone was telling me I should do. My whole growing up, that contrary attitude was kept going through BMX, then I had the farming experience from my childhood, I knew the way it worked, I knew what that lifestyle was like and that wasn’t necessarily what you were expected to do – it’s become more popular and accepted in the past few years – but for a long time it’s not what your parents wished you’d become. They don’t want you to grow up to be a farmer because it’s so hard to make a decent living doing that these days. I just wanted to simplify everything, I did it with my bike, and I’d do it in every aspect of my life I could... I’d just try to analyze every single thing in life and ask myself, ’Is this necessary? Is this actually doing me any good? Is this making me happy or more content...’ and I guess through that process I ended up here.” It makes sense, the life he’s living now is certainly not the status quo, and it’s an explanation that goes a long way clearing up why he chose to ride the way he did. I ask if him quitting BMX was a result of the same analysis. Did he stand back and look at what he was doing with a rational, logical eye and deem it not worth it in the long run, “Yeah, my mind changed about a year or so before I officially told my sponsors that I needed to get out, as soon as my mind changes then there’s no going back, there’s no going back. It just clicked, it just wasn’t doing anything for me, I was getting more negative things than positive things out of it. I tried to hold out, I didn’t want to just quit
on that dime and then regret it later, so I tried to hold on but I was forcing myself to. In my head I’d been done with it for a while.” “Towards the end it felt like I was riding because I needed to. Like I said, I was never once told by my sponsors that I needed to get my act together or film more or pull my finger out, but there was always this inherent pressure with getting a pay cheque. The feeling that I owe someone, that this is part of the agreement, and I would feel bad for not riding. I couldn’t be one of those guys who just collected a pay cheque who didn’t do anything and just rode it out for as long as he could, maybe told the filmer or boss man that ’yeah, I’ve been filming... I’ve been riding’ when you’ve really just been drinking and hanging out, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that. So I was trying to fill my end of the deal, and rarely was I having fun when we’d go out and film, I mean... there were times, but not usually.”
"I never really related to a lot of people. So my whole life I was always tending towards being contrary to norms"
The sky is darkening as we head back from the fields to his house, inside the fire’s still burning bright and his wife is cooking tea. After we eat we sit around and play with the cats and play some board games with the kids, and before long it’s time for them to go to bed. Once they’re settled down we crack a couple of beers and I set about filling Ian in on what he’s missed in the last three years.
Ian doesn’t have the internet, and when I was arranging my visit I’d have to wait up to a week for a reply to an email. The nearest public internet connection to his house is about an hour away, at the library in town. He usually goes there once a week to check mail. To say he’s out of touch with BMX would be an understatement. He was pleased to hear that his old Lotek team mate Mikey Aitken was back and riding again, it was around the time he began to detach from the sport that Mikey crashed. I tell him about Randy Taylor and it knocks him back, he’s visibly shaken and genuinely saddened by the news. He perks up a bit when I tell him about the popularity of crankslides in today’s BMX, but slunks back down a notch when I point out they are predominantly done on the pedal, rather than perpendicular on the arm such as his own trademark style. I ask him about going on Road Fools and how he found that experience, he answers with the honesty of someone who knows he’ll not ever go on a trip like that again “I felt like I was thrown in at the deep end on that trip. I was with a crew of the world’s heaviest hitters. It just wasn’t my scene. Everyone was hungry
[a] Pedal slide, South Bank, London, 2006 [b] Bank pop, Euston Station, London, 2006
[c] Crankarm grind, Sheffield, 2006
and better at riding bikes than me. There was no room for my process of building up a session and getting in the mood and playing with a few ideas and maybe figuring something out and getting a clip. It was: roll up to a spot and send what you got straight off the bat. Hammer after hammer would get chucked down the stairs, the set would literally get trained and only the strongest or more-hungry would get a look in. It’s not that I thought the dudes were overly competitive, it was just an atmosphere that I wasn’t used to, an atmosphere that didn’t lend itself to my riding. I had a good time though, it just wasn’t what I’m used to.” “I’m riding around with and going on all these trips with people like Aaron Ross and Chase Hawk, those guys can do anything they wanted to on a bike, and they could probably do it first try. They didn’t have to learn things, they just decided to do it and then did it. I’m not like that, I’d look around and just think ‘I’m not this. I’m not a pro bike rider’ I’m a capable bike rider at best, when I got to that level I just felt out of my league. I understood why I was there – because I found a niche that people appreciated, and were psyched on – but it’s not the same, I didn’t have what it takes.”
"I tried to hold on but I was forcing myself to. In my head I’d been done with it for a while"
“I’ve always tended to have done best with that whole kind of underdog thing going on. When it’s like that I don’t have pressure and I feel I have nothing to lose. But as soon as I’m in that pressure where I feel like everyone’s watching me, everybody has expectations about me, I’m sensitive to that. Too sensitive to that, it’s a flaw I have for sure. And my natural reaction to that is to introvert, and to pull away from it and fight against it. Even if that means fighting against the very thing that I used to wish I could do, ever since I was young. It got to the point where I really started to dislike it, hate it even…”
“I spent my whole life focusing on BMX because I loved it so much, I was kind of knowingly sacrificing the rest of my life, for that short span of time. And readily knowing that it was setting me up to have a rough time once it was done... I was conscious of it, but I didn’t have a plan for how to deal with that, my plan really was, ‘it’s basically gonna suck when I’m older’ [laughter]. But all of sudden... it’s so corny... it was a random Willie Nelson song that popped into my head that said something about farming, it just put that spark into my head, this romantic line in a song, it made me think about it and my mind never went back, it was like ‘that’s the answer to what I want to do with myself ’ and I just never
Back From The Future
looked back. I tend to get obsessive about things I’m interested in, for 15 years that was BMX, but from that day onwards it was farming. From then on all I thought about was natural agriculture and farming.” It all seems so logical and simple when you hear the soft, well considered words come out of his mouth. It gets late and we hit the sack; I’m on the floor in the living room, Ian, his wife and their two girls sleep in beds arranged around the wood burner in the makeshift downstairs bedroom. We get up early and have a cooked breakfast, it’s cold outside and Ian’s got some work to do over at his dad’s farm. We drive the 40 minutes to the house where he grew up, it’s a picturesque place and I feel jealous of the childhood I imagine he had there. The ground on his own farm isn’t ready to grow on yet, he planted some tester crops this summer and things are looking good for next season, but for the last few years he’s been growing his own corn on land he rents off his parents. Ian makes his money by making flour. He has his own stone burr gain mill that he built himself. He grows his own crops using no artificial fertiliser or pesticides, harvests them himself and then grinds his produce on a homemade mill into flour which he goes on to package up and sell at farmers’ markets and through a select few shops. It’s about as honest a profession as you could wish to imagine. From hanging out for the last couple of days it obvious Ian is very conscientious of his impact on the world around him. From the short amount of time I’ve spent with him I can see what he gets out of his new lifestyle, it’s hard to put a finger on, but I can see it, and I know it’s a good thing. He lives a simple, loving, humble, happy and healthy existence, and I think that’s all he wants. I ask him where he’s going with his farm, where he wants to take it; “I guess I’m searching for the perfect agriculture that can actually sustain itself, I try to model after the natural cycles as much as I possibly can. I want things going slow – for the most part things move too fast in today’s agriculture and that’s a big problem, whether it be the machinery or the way the plants grow or are fed. I basically want to create something for myself to enjoy that no matter how much I over think it, I can still sleep at night and still be comfortable with it. It’ll always keep evolving, I’ll always be overthinking what I’m doing and changing this up. My tendency has always been towards simplicity, a simple life is very attractive to me, and I believe in the idea of cutting out any sort of machinery that is typically
regarded as essential, so anything that I can do by hand I will, anything where I can have a connection with the land instead of sitting in an air conditioned cab on top of a roaring engine, where I can’t hear anything and smoke and dust are stopping me seeing clearly. I’d much prefer to be down there at ground level watching what’s going on and feeling what’s going on.” “I’m influenced by the immense potential and immense gratification that you can gain from something that takes a very long time to accomplish and the incredible beauty that can come from it... our farm might not be the beautiful picture I have in my head in my lifetime, if my kids chose to carry on what we’ve started then they might get to see it in their lifetime, there’s a good chance I won’t, but it’s still incredibly gratifying that I’ll be able to give them that, and hopefully one day they’ll appreciate it.” I spend the next two days learning about farming and enjoying being out in the country. When it’s time for me to
fly out I’m genuinely sad to leave, I like Ian and I like his company. His views and way of life are refreshing and his motivation and vision is inspiring. On the drive back to the airport I ask him if it was weird me coming out to stay, if it made him rethink any of the decisions he’s made. I guess, in a roundabout way, what I’m asking is, “did it feel weird to quit riding after all you put in?” Like the life he chooses to live, his answer is anything but complicated; “I felt kind of guilty at first, like you’re betraying this massive thing that’s been such a big part of your life for so long, but on the other hand it was so easy to do because I was so done with it. Like I said, my mind had definitely gone in a different direction and was thinking about all these new things that I was excited about, it wasn’t strictly about being burnt out, it was about being excited about something other than BMX. I’m glad I got out when I got out. I never once regretted getting out when I did and I’m glad it’s all worked out the way it has. I had a great time, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
Back From The Future
Tim “Wolfman” Harvey
Union Words and Photography by Kyle emery-PecK 108
"Wolf is old school. Going in to work before the sun rises to paint all day doesn’t really sound appealing, but Wolf has never really looked at work to be ‘appealing’"
Wolf is a union painter. He quite frequently works 50-60 hour weeks painting the exterior and interiors of high-rise buildings, starting as early as six and finishing 12 hours later. As you can probably imagine, you wouldn’t want to huck yourself over a rail on a kid’s bike after painting all day, I’d imagine it’d be the exact last thing you’d be wanting to do. But Wolf isn’t your average guy, and even after all that work, such things can be a common occurrence with Wolf – he’s on that type of level. The idea for the interview came about after he and I started riding on a regular basis here in SF. I was amazed by his commitment to work and also to riding. When he was getting off work and I had a day off from my job, we would go out riding together. What I like about Wolf is that he didn’t chase the Californian BMX dream, he knew that the reality of it was very different from what you see. Instead, he chose to work and keep BMX firmly in the place of a pass-time, something he does after he’s got off from a hard day’s work.
[a] Table, China Banks, SF CA.
Wolf is a pretty simple guy and it shows in the way he chooses to live his life. He’s married, works full time, and rides his bike when he can. You can tell he values his free time, no moment is wasted. He’s always got some project or activity going on, whether it is installing hardwood flooring in his house or catching an A’s playoff game on a weeknight, the guy stays productive. I ask him how he keeps up this motivation “The way I stay motivated is to always be looking around for the next crazy set-up or spot. I drive around a lot going to job sites, so of course I keep an eye out for driveway set-ups or whatever… Riding is more rewarding when you have to search out your spots. SF feels like an east coast city in that respect.” On riding newly-found spots he goes on, “it’s a matter of getting a trick done, not one-upping someone’s trick. To break ground on a new spot and get a clip or a photo is where it’s at. I’d much rather do that than show up to some spot that’s been in 20 videos.”
"He appreciates the things that he has in his life and does not take for granted the position that he is in. His work and his riding keep him humble"
Wolf grew up riding with the MOD crew in Massachusetts – a scrappy crew of dudes that had a set of trails in the area. Wolf was one of the younger kids in the scene and like most in his position he had to earn his stripes. Riding around those dudes shaped Wolf ’s mindset on what riding was really all about and it shows in the way he rides now. “Riding with dudes that were so much better than me meant that I had to progress. If I pussied out on something I’d never hear the end of it.” It’s a commitment that Wolf has carried throughout the rest of his life, right into the street riding and the things you see in these photos. Wolf had ramps at a young age that he and his dad built in a barn dubbed The Wolf Den. When the weather was shitty the MOD crew would always come over and session. Lots of quality Northeast riders like Sean Burns, Brian Yeagle, and Derrick Girard would come out and ride the Den. “Seeing Brian ride at an early age really showed me what BMX was all about.” Some of the experiences he had not only shaped the way he rode his bike, but how he approached life. The all-or-nothing attitude seemed like the only way. Wolf moved out to the west coast when he was 17 due to family and school problems. Like most people that come to California, it’s for a fresh start, and Wolf moved 45 minutes north of San Francisco to a town called Petaluma. The town is home to the infamous Petaluma skatepark and with that place came a bunch of new friends and tricks, which built upon the big, floaty style he’d learnt back in Massachusetts. “I met Eddie [Cleveland] at the skatepark when he was down here on a trip with Hoder. They were psyched on
Tim “Wolfman” Harvey
me, and Hoder asked me if I wanted to ride for his tee shirt company CAME UP.” However small, this was Wolf ’s first introduction into the BMX industry, but more importantly it cemented a friendship with Eddie that still lasts to this day. Wolf ’s new crew on the west coast had its own unique style. Simple tricks on unique set-ups seemed to be the way to go. Riding and filming with a new crew in the Bay Area opened a few doors. Sponsors caught a glimpse in his video debut in ‘Off The Map’, where he had crazy footage from the east coast and in his new home here on the west coast. After bouncing around frame sponsors for a couple years, Wolf found his home on Stranger. “The Stranger crew were up filming on a trip here in SF, and while they were up here, Rich [Hirsch] asked me if I wanted to ride for Stranger. I said sure, it made sense at the time and it still does today.” Wolf never got into BMX to make money. For him, it is not about making a living riding BMX. If he does he’d have to claim it with his taxes and that means that he wouldn’t get as much disability and unemployment money when he’s on a trip or injured. “I refused my cheques from Fremont cause it would affect my taxes. It’s not worth it.” It’s a strange view of riding, for somebody who is sponsored. Not getting paid and getting free stuff is seen as a stop gap to the elusive, monthly pro cheque. Not for Wolf, some free stuff from some friends that keeps the wheels turning is all he’ll take from BMX. You should understand that BMX is more than a hobby for Wolf, but working is his priority. Wolf is old school. Going in to work before the sun rises to paint all day doesn’t really sound appealing, but Wolf has never really looked at work to be ‘appealing’. He looks at his job more as a position of security and it allows him to live life on his terms. If he didn’t have his painting position with the Union he wouldn’t be where he is now. His hard work has allowed him to establish credit to get a loan for his mortgage. Working in the painting industry has taught him other trade skills to work and maintain his new home. “If I wasn’t painting, I’d be an electrician, or maybe working in the hospital.” Any way you look at it, Wolf is a hard worker. He appreciates the things that he has in his life and does not take for granted the position that he
is in. His work and his riding keep him humble. He’s not afraid to get dirty to complete his tasks and you’d never hear him whining about it. To put it simply, Wolf is a man’s man. He’s not one to shy away from the realities of life. Wolf is part of a Union and it has its pros and cons; he pays $200-$400 a month on dues that go towards providing a variety of services such as health benefits and administration. That may sound like a lot to the average BMXer, but it does have its benefits. It’s not just services the Union provides, “The Union also helps me find work when it’s slow. They point me in the right direction and keep the money rolling in. If it wasn’t for the Union, I’d be worse off, it’s always a big debate what’s better, but I’m glad to be Union. Someone’s got my back so I work harder knowing that.”
"Being busy all the time with work has really made me value my free time. I have all day to think about what I want to ride, so when I go out, I make sure to make it worth it"
When I asked Wolf about any sketchy situations on the job, he said that most of the time things run smoothly, although he tells me about one time on a fire escape. “I was painting a fire escape 15 stories up and there wasn’t anywhere to tie off to. I was working untied and had to paint the bottom of the fire escape and had to pull some Stallone moves straight out of Cliffhanger. If the wind got crazy or I lost my grip, I would have been a dead man for sure.” I ask him about the repetitiveness of the job, which happens with any full time work, even a professional BMXer. “Most of the day to day of the job is pretty mundane, a lot of the job is prepping to start applying paint, sanding away at walls to make them a paintable surface can take all day – eight hours of that will drive any man crazy, but I’m getting paid at the end of the day, and that’s what matters… And after work there is always BMX and a few sips of whiskey to be had.” Work has its benefits to riding too, it’s easy to get burnt out on riding if you’re doing it day in, day out, but full time work gives Wolf a new appreciation of his time spent riding. “Being busy all the time with work has really made me value my free time. I have all day to think about what I want to ride, so when I go out, I make sure to have fun and make it all worth it.”
Tim “Wolfman” Harvey
[b] Feeble, Marin County CA [c] Sleeper Gap SF
[d] Church Railhop, SF.
His hunger for riding while maintaining a 50 to 60 hour a week job is truly impressive. On top of that he is happily married, living with his wife in his new home back in Petaluma. Wolf has already done so much in his life that not many BMXers can say they’ve accomplished. To add to this, Wolf is only 26 years of age. He’s grown up fast and for many people in his position, the BMX would be put in the garage as life catches up and other seemingly important things take precedence. But that isn’t Wolf; he’s still that passionate guy who loves to ride his bike, getting the same enjoyment he’s always drawn from it. At the end of the day, this is the only thing that really matters to Tim ‘Wolfman’ Harvey.
[a] Mike Hinkens, Wallride, Rotherham. by Jeremy Pavia
[b] Boris Galas, Whip Hop, Moscow. by Artem Chernousov [c] Louie ‘Bambi’ Mires, Can-Can, East London by Daniel Benson
[d] Denis Pavlov, Barspin, Moscow. by Artem Chernousov [e] Bruno Hoffman, Alley-oop Three, Tel Aviv. by George Marshall
[f] Jimmy Rushmore Downside Footplant, East London. by Daniel Benson
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The GarbaGe man Thomas Calliard I have no idea what Thomas looks like when I arrive at Toulon train station. I think back to the grainy videos that I’ve watched and I draw a blank. A scene comes to mind – it’s a young Thomas on a French TV show doing multiple one-handers to a live audience. I try to ignore the baffling scene in my mind and focus on the face. Again I draw a blank, concentrating on the attractive female presenter instead as I wander through the entrance hall. If I hadn’t been daydreaming I would’ve spotted him right away. It wasn’t even the antique of an Animal hoody that he was wearing that gave him away. There was something else, something so acutely street about him that called his bluff right away. It certainly wasn’t the longhaired ramp rider from the TV show but it was definitely The Garbage Man – the one and only Thomas Calliard. “Yo Dan! You made it.” His clear English made me feel that this interview was going to be a lot easier than I first expected. I introduce myself and make my apologies for my lack of any French, a default thing I seem to do with any non-English speaking foreigner I meet. “No problem man,” He replies, his good grasp of English making me feel more and more stupid. We head to his van and we start talking instantly, missing out the chitchat. I quickly feel at home around him, his attitude is warm and friendly. He digs his hand into the door compartment and pulls out two cold beers, “welcome to France!” he proclaims as he hands one to me. “You couldn’t get away with this in Paris. No way man.” He points to the beer in his lap as he drives us back to his home and wife and daughter, a mile from the Mediterranean sea and a far cry from his previous life in Paris. I’m imagining there’s a good few people who have got this far in and are going ‘who the fuck is Thomas Calliard?!’ Let me explain: I feel that with this magazine it’s almost a moral obligation to show you, our readers, every aspect of BMX – from the big pros with the big tricks to the guys on the periphery. What’s the point in opening the magazine and knowing every face in there? How much can you learn from that? The fact that you may not know Thomas Calliard has as much to do with geography as it could do with your age. To put it simply, if Thomas was English or American, you’d know about him. In France, I’d say he’s somewhat of a national institution – if he isn’t, then he should be. With BMX being such a visual, expressive and open-minded activity, you’d think language barriers and borders between countries might not be so prohibitive, but unfortunately it’s often the case. Since the mid eighties Thomas has been making a substantial mark on French BMX, being World Champion at 18 on vert and riding with the best riders in the world for many years. If I’m being honest, this early stage of his riding was all news to me, for the Thomas I knew was the ratbag street rider nicknamed The Garbage Man – a pioneer of what’s possible with the half cab and the whip hop. The ‘Prince of Paris’ as I once heard him called.
Words and Photography by Daniel Benson
[a] Backside Boneless, Volx, November 2012.
e pull up to the house he bought just over two years ago with his wife, Laurence. “Here it is” he says, standing arms out, facing his home. “Do you miss Paris?” I ask. “Not at all. I miss friends, but no, not at all. At least in the suburbs I have friends, but Paris. No, I don’t want to ever go back. All grey and aggressive, lots of useless people… We moved because my wife’s family is from the South. She used to work in La Defense and she just couldn’t do it anymore, with the train every morning, it was just too hard. We had our little daughter and when you’re in the Paris suburbs, when you go to the kid’s playground and have to check for syringes, it gets boring. I don’t want that life for my daughter. So we decided to take the gap, sell our flat – which we got lucky with selling as we got it cheap and sold it for a lot more – then moved to the South.” I’m expecting The Garbage Man to live in some hoarder’s paradise, but the house is spotless and homely. Laurence is making some food for us and their five-year-old daughter Lucile shyly scopes me out from the sofa, probably confused by my strange, foreign accent. ‘The Garbage Man has done okay for himself’, I think. I ask where the nickname came from. “I was a real garbage man, for eight years man. It was really good. It’s amazing what people throw away in the garbage. When I started doing the business with Ralph [Sinisi] importing Animal and Skavenger I used to sign my emails with ‘The Garbage Man’, so it stuck from that.”
"if i could choose how i could ride, i’d ride like Jamie Bestwick. it’s so smooth, there’s no shock."
The following day, Thomas has plans to go and meet up with Blackjack – a name that brings back memories of a super smooth trails rider from the early 2000s. Before we leave, we smoke and drink coffee. Thomas loves to smoke, after all these years, after all those cigarettes, he still seems excited at the thought of another one ‘mmm, cigarettes’, he’ll declare randomly and without provocation when the idea of smoking comes to mind. His attitude on drinking is very similar and with that, we’re stood in a field somewhere in Provence waiting for Blackjack to arrive at his trails, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer at 11.30am and it all seems absolutely fine. This is France, after all.
I’m still confused about gaps in his history. You must understand that for all his achievements on ramps, it was street riding where he really became influential. He seemed to be in direct linage with guys like the Gonz and even the amazing talent of a young Edwin Delarosa. It was the sort of street riding that seemed so removed from blasting vert ramps and going fast and high, but for the time, so influential and so cutting edge. “You made that transition from being a pretty well known and famous ramp rider to become a really influential street rider in the early nineties. Not many riders made that change…” I ask.
The Garbage Man
“When I was young I only rode flat, just because it was easy – you didn’t need anything. After that, some ramps showed up and I rode ramps for years. Then, I can’t remember when, but the ramps disappeared… and the riders too. So I started riding street with some skateboarders and in the suburbs where I’m from, the spots were really good. There was some really interesting stuff, like that concrete transition spot from the old videos. It was a nice spot, so no need to take the train anywhere to go and ride a vert ramp alone.” “I never knew you as a ramp rider?” I ask, still confused with this transition into someone who appeared to be so ‘street’ with his bike, the way he rode and the videos he was making at the time. “I guess people always remember the street thing, with the half cabs and full cabs. But if I could choose how I could ride, I’d ride like Jamie Bestwick. It’s so smooth, there’s no shock. But to be good on ramp you need an indoor spot, which isn’t for everybody. You have to find good friends to ride with.You can’t ride vert alone. The motivation is pretty hard. It’s not like street riding, you always find dudes who want to go out and do that. When you get older, you won’t want to go out and ride street all the time. Trust me, the bones don’t like street riding. When you see guys doing huge 360s down stairs and landing both wheels at the same time, I’m sorry to be the guy to say, but you’ll pay for that.” “But the half cab thing,” I add, still wanting to get to the bottom of this change in riding style, “you were the first guy to be doing some of the stuff associated with it?” “Umm, kind of. I’m not sure if I’m the first guy doing them. Julien Pouplin – who is the graphic guy at Soul BMX magazine – he was the only guy I knew who did both BMX and skateboard, he did some half cabs and fakie hops, so he was the first I guess. We were always trying to find ways of doing skate tricks on bikes. I came up with the full cab just because I was doing half cabs all day and it was pretty simple like ‘hey, let’s try and do 360, not just 180.’ It just happened like that.” “I always thought Edwin did the first 540 cab, but I also remember you doing a full cab, a cab bars and a 540 cab down a set what seemed to be a little earlier?” “I don’t know really, when I saw the first Animal video I noticed that we were going in the same direction and Edwin hadn’t seen what we were doing and vice versa. For me, a lot of people were trying to do opposite tricks, but because of the skateboard influence, I thought ‘let’s go backwards first’.” “Never with a freecoaster?” “No, no no. I hated them because of the gap. I didn’t think that you needed them. But then you see what someone like Bruce Crisman is doing with
their freecoaster and it’s amazing, I love to watch that. Riding with one though, I hated the feeling. I always used the chain to help me get pop. With a coaster it feels so different. I also think that a bike should be as simple as possible. No brakes, no complicated parts. Just simple and basic.” “You were early on the tailwhip hop too?” I ask, remembering many photos that appeared in French magazines of Thomas whipping down stairs and over street hips.
"They aren’t magazines anymore, they just show that people buy and sell BMXs. it’s just the in between. it’s about what can bring in the money disguised as journalism"
“I guess I did it a long time ago, maybe 2000. I messed around with it for a long time but always in the old school way with the foot on the frame. But that was the same deal, it was always from hanging around with skateboarders, the tailwhip kind of looks like a 360 flip, it’s a similar motion.” We spend the early afternoon at the trails with Blackjack and some locals. Blackjack, like Thomas, is back after a couple of years away from riding. For Thomas, it was down to back problems that he’s only recently being able to fix. With his street riding days behind him, he prefers to spend his time at the trails and back on the ramps. “Do you miss street riding at all?”
“Yeah, I miss that unexpected element of it, like going out and not knowing what you’re going to find and do. Like you come home and you’re surprised and happy with yourself because you did a really good wallride. Trails and ramp are a little more predictable. You kinda know already what you’re going to do that day. So yeah, part of me does miss riding street.” It’s November and I’m at the trails. I think of the unfortunate trail builders who might have got a month or so of riding in back home. A little later on, I’m told we’re going to some ramps about 10kms away at a guy called Aurelin Hutchin’s farmhouse. Aurelin has constructed a park out of found wood and scrap objects that instantly reminded me of those early photos of Mat Hoffman’s backyard ramps in Oklahoma. The ramps were big and the backdrop was mountains and freshly ploughed fields. Quite simply, the place is a sanctuary from the busy, dirty skateparks you find elsewhere. I can see why Thomas likes it, the friendships here have been forged over the years and the location is like a retreat to grow old on your BMX gracefully. We spend the evening sat in the house drinking wine and beer, eating food and of course, smoking cigarettes. I’m lost in translation but I feel at home.
The Garbage Man
As a courtesy, occasionally somebody will translate for me, but for the most part I’m happy just being part of what’s happening. We ride the ramps the following day then drive back to Toulon. I normally fall asleep straight away in cars, but I enjoy talking with Thomas. His energy and enthusiasm spreads around the van and keeps me awake. I ask him how he came to start his distro, Clande. “I’ll try and make it short, but it’s pretty long. There was a crappy shop in Montpelier that tried to distro Animal and they never paid Ralph. They ordered like 10,000 euros worth of product. Bob Scerbo turned up and tried to get the money back and they said no, then my friend Gervais Rousseau tried too. Ralph called me and said ‘can you try and help me get the money back’ so of course I said ‘why not’. I set up a crooks thing, what you call it… a swindle. I called the guy and gave him a fake name, I said ‘my name is Jean Michael Byree and I’m a really good businessman’ or something along those lines ‘I want to take on Animal distribution but because of you there’s a problem. If you don’t pay I’ll call the tax people and they’ll screw you up so you need to pay up quick. So hurry up!’ This went on for two months and I didn’t think I was getting anywhere and then at the end the guy went ‘okay, I’ll pay you but we have to meet up.’ I went, ‘no I can’t do that, how about you meet my business partner Thomas Calliard? He’ll be dealing with the BMX side of things. I don’t have time for it, he’s my good friend, so if you make the cheque out to his name we can get this sorted.’ Three days later a cheque turned up in the post with my name! My wife was telling me that if it has the fake name on it, it’ll be useless and if he’s smart, he’ll put the ‘real’ name on there, but then it arrived and it had my name on it, Thomas Calliard. Ralph was really good to me after that.” The sketchy situation somehow reminds me of another conversation we had, when Thomas was a stuntman in Luc Besson’s movie Transporter 3. I ask how that came about. “One day, I was having dinner with my wife and her brother and this guy called up and said ‘do you want to be a stunt man for a Luc Besson movie?’ I was like, ‘good joke’ and hung up. He kept ringing so I thought, ‘damn, maybe this guy is for real.’ I went for a meeting and had my bike with me and said ‘look, I need my Bob Scerbo bars, they’re really specific’, but they went, ‘no, you don’t choose nothing.’ Basically what happened was they got a mountainbike trails guy and myself to do the stunts, but the trails guy couldn’t go fast to hop on benches and stuff, so he got in a mood and walked off set. They went ‘Thomas, the trails guy has gone and we need somebody to do all the stunts, we’re sorry, but we will pay you double.’ I was like, ‘yep, no problem.’ We went to the Ukraine to film the chase scene. I remember one set-up, where I had to jump up onto this truck then through a window, one of the other stunt guys said ‘don’t pull it first go, say it’s difficult and they’ll give you more money.’ So I did that, even though it was pretty easy. I crashed it a few times then the morning of the next day,
[b] Half Cab, Les Ulis, 1999 [c] Double Kink Rail, Metz, 2008
The Garbage Man
the stunt coordinator said ‘Thomas, I know this is hard. But we’ll give you more money to pull it this morning, we’re running late with filming’ ‘Yep, no problem’ and I did it first go. “How much did you get for that movie?” “8,500 euros for three weeks work.” “And that’s how the distro started, with those two stories?” “Yeah, pretty much. It felt like that money from the movie had dropped out of the sky, so I felt like I needed to reinvest it into BMX as that’s where it all came from. My wife said the same thing.” “This is after you were the Garbage Man? You used to work with the gypsies when you were a garbage man, right?” “Yeah, I just love the gypsies. It’s just a different world. I love their life, the way they live and the way they think. When I married my wife I said ‘let’s buy a caravan and go and live with the gypsies!’ because they invited me to come with them. Laurence said, ‘No Thomas, we can’t run away with the gypsies…” Thomas laughs at the story. I finish rolling him a cigarette. I don’t doubt for a moment that he would have run away with the gypsies. I can see that Laurence keeps him grounded. He needs it and he knows it. “The raclette, dude. It’s gonna be real good.” Thomas declares unannounced, referring to the traditional alpine dish Laurence is preparing at home as we drive back towards the coast. The following day we have some lunch in Toulon before I have to catch the train back to London. We sit outside in a place by the harbour, as boat masts quietly chime together and locals walk by, overdressed in winter coats and hats. We order beer and sandwiches and, like a precursor to everything else in Thomas’s life, he makes another cigarette.
Nike, Red Bull, Monster and stuff, you might think that because they’re at every event, they’re big and BMX is big, but the truth is they give a very little bit to every event. Over a whole year it might seem like everyone has done okay out of it. But the truth of it, nothing.” “You’ve got some tight friends but you’ve been somewhat outspoken over the years, it is fair to say you’ve lost a few friends through BMX?” “Firstly, I’ve made some amazing friends from BMX. A lot of the guys who I met back when I did the first Clande video around ’96 I’m still good friends with today. All the friends that I’ve lost, it’s always been business related. People wanting stuff from me because they suddenly think because I have this distro and I’ve moved to the south of France, I’m rich. When close friends ask you for a lot of money for nothing, yeah it’s sad. I guess I’ve had a small amount of depression with that over the years. I always think I’m smart enough to feel the wind turn and notice friends changing, but when you find out you were right, that’s hard to handle.” “You’ve got some issues magazines too, haven’t you?”
"Trails and ramp are a little more predictable. You kinda know already what you’re going to do that day. so yeah, part of me does miss riding street"
“Yeah, definitely. It’s pretty hard to explain, but I just don’t like what they do with French magazines. I’ve tried a lot, I used to be really friendly with the people at Soul but because of all those big brands… those big, big companies. They aren’t magazines anymore, they just show that people buy and sell BMXs. It’s just the inbetween. It’s just not good. It’s about what can bring in the money disguised as journalism.” “Why do you think this has happened then?”
“There’s some amazing French riders, like Luc [Legrand] for example, but they really seem to fly under the radar…” “Yeah, there’s a lot of that. There are only two real pros in France – Maxime Charveron and Matthais Dandois. You look at people like Luc and he lives in a van and picks apples occasionally, no money at all and he’s one of the main French pros. It’s all fake, people think riders do well but it’s just not true. It’s just how it is in France.” “But racing is really, really big here, does that never translate to what we do?” “That’s so separate. It’s part of the big federation so it’s part of the national institution. Cycling is huge in France but BMX will always remain a kid’s thing. There’s no winner, nothing like in the other forms of cycling. The BMX we know doesn’t translate to that, especially not in France. For example with
“Just money, man. I can understand it in a certain way because if you’re doing something for a long time, you’re going to want to make some money out of it. It’s pretty logical. But you don’t have to lose the first thing, which is speaking and talking about riding. Magazines these days are just showrooms for people who could invest money into it. Anything out of the ordinary isn’t good in magazines any more because it isn’t targeting what the big companies want.”
[d] One Foot Air, Les Ulis, 1999
“Do you think magazines are still important?” “No, not at all. Younger riders these days don’t care about nothing other than having bike parts for cheap. It doesn’t help that most magazines are useless in what they write about. At some point, you need magazines because they make BMX look real – ‘Here’s the brands, there’s the riders and there’s the photos and the stories.’ It’s supposed to
bring everything and everyone together, not do the opposite…” Thomas pauses and looks at me before talking again. “I’m not sure you like my answer?” [e] Barspin, Les Ulis, 1999
I laugh, “You can say what you want man, I find it all interesting.” With my departure getting closer, I change the conversation back to Thomas and his riding; “It seems like you have a nice scene now, with the people you ride with.” “Yeah, we’re all getting older and it’s the only thing I need right now. I had back problems and couldn’t ride for two years and I really missed it. It’s like a
The Garbage Man
drug, you know? When I came back to it, I knew I didn’t want to be going to big events; it’s not me anymore. Like Blackjack, it’s so cool to go and ride his trails. He’s got his son and my daughter and his son play together while the daddies play together on the dirt jumps. It’s relaxing to be able to do that after work, just having fun with friends. I need to keep away from the injuries so I can take my baby girl to school in the morning and post the product. It would be hard with my leg in plaster. But yeah, riding trails, they’re so good for that. There’s no shock, you’re in the countryside and there’s nobody to break your balls. Street riding can be bad for that, it’s stressful – and that’s one thing I don’t want in my life anymore.”
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