In the scheme of world history, the early 1980s may not seem so long ago, but in the small world of BMX Freestyle, the three decades since have been an incredible evolution. There have been major ups and downs in the industry. Top pros went from making six-figure incomes to hundreds of dollars at best, and back again. Products have evolved tremendously. The Internet has made new tricks spread like wildfire, and globally televised events and demos have helped make freestyle more recognized, and in many ways more accepted.
I first saw BMX freestyle as a kid in New England in 1983, and was hooked. It was different from anything I'd ever seen before. There were no rules, and no coaches. Freestyle took the wheelies were already trying to ride around the neighborhood to a new level.
In those days everything we knew, and everything that influenced us, came from the magazines we'd see out of California. But at the same time, an amazing freestyle scene began to develop in New England, and in other pockets around the country. The riders in our area were fortunate to have some great people like Ron Stebenne putting together events, and really promoting what we were doing as both different, and "real." The events were a place for us to get together and share new tricks. In no time, we had contests happening all over the region every few weeks -- a gathering spot for everyone on a freestyle bike in the region. No matter where you were from, we could relate to each other because we all had a similar interest. It didn't matter what you wore, or what your bike looked like, or even how good you were. We all came together, and had fun. None of us thought any of that would matter all these years later. I certainly never anticipated I'd be around 20-inch bicycles nearly every day of my life since then.
New England had some incredible bike riders at the time -- some of them better than the top pros who we saw in magazines who would come through every summer on promotional tours. We knew we had great riders, and a great scene, but the magazines and the industry in general were in California. Without the speed and audience of the Internet, getting our scene noticed was a challenge. While eventually the scene did get recognized, much of what happened there still went without notice until the Internet made everything more globally accessible. BMX in New England in the '80s remained largely local 'lore.
It never occurred to me -- and I'm sure no one else for that matter -- that one day, someone would actually take the time to make a film about what was happening in our little scene back then. Scott Moroney, Dennis Langlais and Jeff Winston are doing just that. It's a niche story, yes, but for those of us who were there, it's a story full of memories, and a story hopefully other riders from the era, and even modern-day riders will appreciate. Whether we knew it at the time or not, the scene in New England did have an influence on BMX Freestyle, and many riders like Joe Johnson, Chris Lashua, and Kevin Robinson have left their mark. I'm just glad someone was willing to tell the story: "A Wicked Ride" is just that. After watching the trailer, I hit up one of the filmmakers, Scott Moroney, to find out more about what went into making it.
ESPN.com: You were part of the first generation of Freestyle riders in New England. What got you into it?
Moroney: My dad brought me to an ABA BMX track and the world just seemed to make sense. I watched all the chrome bikes, colorful uniforms, and rodeo style announcing. That lead to my buddy Jon Catanzaro convincing me that freestyle was way cooler, and that I should at least try it for ten minutes. That's all it took for me to sell the absolute best BMX bike I could imagine (an '84 GHP) and dive head first into freestyle.
A few weeks later we saw the Ron Stebenne's Mountain Dew GT Trick Team for a week straight at a mall. Chris Lashua, Dennis Langlais and Gregg Macomber. We were their unofficial cheering section and this lead to us being grommets for the team whenever we could hang out for shows, or watch team practices. Those guys had a show that was like nothing I had seen before. It was BMX freestyle with a real "show" aspect. From then on I just followed them around until I got a spot on the team some time later.
Growing up riding in the '80s in the Northeast, most of what we saw was in the magazines, primarily West Coast riders. What was going on back east at the time? Were people on a mission to get recognized, or were they just doing there thing?
Being from outside California at the time was a disadvantage in one sense. New England and other areas like Kansas City Crew with Dennis McCoy, we had to scrap and claw for all the media coverage we could earn. We all wanted to be BMX heroes, but even more so we just wanted to ride. At some point it just became a mission for the guys in the region [to get noticed]. If you didn't love it then the quest to be in a magazine faded real fast, as the hard work set in. There wasn't anything that was going to stop us from riding every minute we could find in each day. Snow, rain and darkness were just something to work around. Without the aid of regular videos or the Internet, figuring out a trick was a puzzle.
Do you think there was a defining moment, or time when people started to take notice of what was happening in New England outside the region?
Yes. We hosted the first AFA Masters in Fitchburg, Mass. during the summer of 1985 and then the AFA Masters Finals in Manchester, N.H. later that year. These were epic events for our region, our guys, and I would even dare to say for the sport overall. Ron Stebenne and our local competition -- called a contest back then -- crew of volunteers had developed a true judging system and a very dialed organization method that Bob Morales (AFA Founder) soon adopted.
Those events put riders like Dennis Langlais, Chris Lashua, Matt Bennett, Jeff Larson, Paul Delaiarro and Joe Johnson on the same stage with the best in the sport. The young guys like me stood in awe as we watched all our heroes go head-to-head with our own New England riders. It kicked our region into a higher gear, and launched so many other riders like Kevin Robinson, Darren Pelio, Gregg Macomber, Rich Upjohn and many others to new levels.
You traveled around to contests and toured doing demos in the early days. Was there anything special about the scene in New England in your eyes compared to what you were seeing elsewhere?
By late '86 the New England guys were starting to crack into the top spots at the AFA Masters events and get on the factory tours around the world. Joe Johnson was emerging as one of the dominant and most innovative ramp riders, while Darren Pelio brought a new hyper-spastic style to flatland. Chris Lashua and Dennis Langlais continued to move up in the pro ranks and get plastered all over the magazines. There was just this rising tide resulting from the intense riding scenes throughout the six New England states. The energy that guys had and the "everybody's in it for everybody" attitude was so amazing. So many tricks were invented here that are still staples now, including the tailwhip air by Joe Johnson. I just saw a t-shirt last weekend that said "No More Tailwhips." That's almost 25 years in the making. Not many tricks had that kind of staying power and impact.
What prompted the making of the film?
Dennis Langlais had the idea for a few years, and we had discussed how to do something. I wanted to do something just about the AFA Masters in NH, but in his every "all or nothing" mindset he said "We aren't going to do just Manchester, we're doing the whole damn thing."
In a thirty minute phone call we had an idea, had recruited Jeff Winston, and had a plan to just go for it. I wrote a short summary of how the story may flow and it was born. It seems a bit surreal now, but I am glad I made that call.
Had you made a documentary before? Did you know what you were getting into?
I have been doing all types of corporate and training videos on and off for years. Jeff is a great storyteller and had made several "shorts." Dennis was the brainchild of how to actually get it done. I knew we had the mechanics, and creative juice to do it, but it didn't sink in right away what a huge effort it would be to review a few hundred hours of VHS, interview dozens of people, and just work the storyline to get it right. I also just trusted Dennis' passion for it. He has a vision like nobody I know. A year later we have a great deal of the film done.
Was it difficult to pull together content from all those years ago?
I had a few pictures of myself and one VHS tape when I hung up the phone with Dennis and Jeff. The Internet searches for info were thin at first, so I decided to cast a wider net and find a small group of my close friends to see what they had. Pretty quickly we launched the "Grass Roots" group on Facebook to reconnect all these guys and launch the idea. The response was quick and inspiring. The VHS tapes and photos started arriving to my doorstep in droves. These guys in New England were all-in because we all knew the same story deep down, and wanted to see it finally told.
We use the Facebook group to organize riding events now, pose questions to research details, or just share some of the cool stuff we remember and post updates on the production and fund raising effort on Kickstarter. Those have both been a great tools. Five years ago we would not have been able to do this project. What would have taken years back then will hopefully be done by this spring thanks to social media.
Had you stayed in touch with a lot of the riders from back then or was it all just a product of the Facebook connections?
I have always been close with Dennis (Langlais), Chris (Lashua) and a few of my other teammates, but most of us all drifted off into different things in the early '90s. I had connected otherwise with a lot of the New England guys on Facebook already before we started the film. The cool thing is that without fail, that first phone call or meet up erases decades without contact in an instant. There is a unique kind of friendship or brotherhood that exists in New England. Everything I have asked of any of these guys in the project happens immediately. I believe that are no better friends than your BMX buddies. New England is no different. We all share something that you have to have been involved in to understand.
Has this project sparked a riding bug in some of the old faces from back in the day that might have put down the bike?
Absolutely. Bike sales must be way up in New England! This past summer the Cote family resurrected the "King of Flatland" series for a 25-year reunion event. We are also organizing skatepark, dirt, street, and flat sessions regularly. I think most of the guys are now looking forward to May 18 when Kevin Robinson is holding a true old school contest, with a traditional quarterpipe and wedge ramp, in Providence. That should be a fun event that we hope brings a ton of guys out from New England and other states. It will be great to hang out with everyone and see what everybody still has to throw down on flat (ground) and vert (ramp). One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of seat posts on display that day!
The film "A Wicked Ride" is nearing completion, and currently in a Kickstarter funding phase. If you'd like to contribute, you can do so on Kickstarter.