As seen on psbmx.com…
THE CHRONICLES OF CHRIS (The Chris Smith Interview)
Part One: The Lost Scriptures of Smithy.
/// Name: Chris Smith /// Nicknames: Smithy & Valleyside /// Hometown: Welshpool (UK) /// Years riding: 14 /// Supporters: Dartmoor Bikes (UK), VP-USA, Force Field Body Armour, Vendetta Brand and Fluid BMX Store (flow) ///
Chad: You ready? Let’s get this interview started… How exactly did you start riding?
The main spark behind my riding career was a failed cycling proficiency test during primary school – the experience got even worse, as my cohorts busted ceremonial wheelies past me! Nevertheless, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as I had a chance to pass the test the following term – so, like a scene out of a film, I went away and began ‘training’ (…Eye of the Tiger!…). Inevitably this stage included learning some basic manoeuvres (wheelies, skids and the endo) – I found myself swiftly becoming a slave, to a regime of tricks and stunts – it was as if the spirit of riding had possessed my sole. Naturally my Halfords type MTB took a thrashing – and I soon became a regular fix at my local bike shop!
A year or so passed, at which point the mechanic suggested a; “BMX Stunt Bike”, as they were; “…built for stunt men and mud jumps!” – it sounded good, really good! I left the shop and started giving my Mum a bunch of hassle – in the end she got the idea, she could see that BMX was a positive pursuit! Soon after I had a fresh BMX – I even remember the date: 7/3/1998 – shit, I’m sounding like I got granted a life sentence or something – a life behind bars! And that first ride was a ‘Mongoose Supergoose’… Dude, I was hooked, I rode hard every day, I owned it, BOOM!!!
Chad: Which riders proved inspirational in your early days?
Tough question, there were a lot of incredible riders at the time! Thinking back to the year of ‘98, I remember having difficulty finding BMX media, nothing was easily sourced (I live in a small town, not very metropolitan!). However, MTB media was easy to get! I remember buying magazines like ‘MBUK’ (Mountain Bike publication) for the ‘Trick Tip Sections’; and later on buying video classics like ‘Chain Spotting’ and ‘Dirty Tricks & Cunning Stunts’ – hence throughout 98’ and 99’, my heroes included dudes like Jez Avery, Steve Peat and perhaps two of my favourite role models of the era; Martyn Ashton and Martin Hayes – they shredded street – full time hammer time! I always remember the video scene where Martyn Ashton busts a fakie wall-ride in order to disarm a gun-wielding villain – classic action! I quickly assimilated a good proportion of what I witnessed in the MTB films.
Sometime during ’99, I got given a copy of ‘Baco 7’ – this VHS cassette, complete with a rainbow themed cardboard case may as well have been the bible – dudes like Dave Friemuth, Rick Moliterno and yourself (Chad Degroot), totally shredded street, ramp, dirt and flat – I remember being totally spellbound by technically amazing riding, combined with a dope sound-track! Leading on from BACO 7 my favourites included US videos like ‘Nowhere Fast’ (2000), ‘Ride Turbulence’ (2001), ‘Criminal Mischief’ (2001), ‘Baco 9’ (2001) and ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’ (2002). For the new kids on the block, these titles were some of the most influential VHS cassettes of the early noughties – dudes like Dave Young, Brian Castillo, Joe Kowalski, Brian Kachinsky and Van Homan became some of my new heroes!!! More recently, it’s been all about the Etnies series – they’ve left a serious impression – riders like Ruben Alacantara and Nathan Williams just smash everything in sight!!!
Chad: Tell us about the first time you really scared yourself?
The first time I got scared was probably the first drop-off I did, or maybe even the first Sand Double… The first major talking point in my career was a trials inspired side-hop of a set of telephone boxes in 1999. It was late on a Friday night and me and my mate Elmer were passing a set of telephone boxes, just outside a shop. I had already talked about doing them, but had yet to get the courage. On that night something inside me twigged and I just said “fuck it!” – I had a flat tire at the time, but my friend let me use his bike, a new ‘Raleigh’, complete with 1pc cranks and skinny tyres – I climbed upon the telephone boxes; by this time, all the other local youths had congregated around, in order to witness what may well have seemed like a kamikaze showcase! Once afoot I steadied myself on the pedals, right near to the edge, at which point a police car started approaching – I remember being very cocksure of myself – it was as if the police could not touch me, because I was so good – so with that I walked the plank. It was the first time I had experienced such a feeling of descent on a bike – I landed at about 75 degrees (typical trials style), the basic 1-pc cranks bent by about 30 degrees and my left leg blew of the pedal… Nevertheless, everyone was left in amazement, including the fuzz. And despite the fact I had tapped a foot on landing, it was as if something extraordinary had just happened that night (NB. Both ‘On The Down Low’ (VHS/1998) and ‘Shutdown’ (VHS/1999) by ‘Ells Bells’ featured ‘drop footage’ where feet were dabbed – it was not so critical in the late nineties!) – I always remember passing my friend his bike back – disgruntled? Just a tad!
Chad: Tell us about the first interview you did and what it meant to you?
Way back in 2002 Seventies hosted the Backyard Jam Telford (UK) – an event which me and my friend Nick had been preparing to enter! Somehow we had been invited to attend the event a day early, to meet the riders and organisers. We turned up and to our surprise were greeted by the BBC. They wanted to interview our crew on a one-to-one basis, I was nervous, but I got it done… In terms of what the experience symbolised, I guess it just meant we had been interviewed on TV, the same as the football players, or the rugby players! It’s not as if it went to my head or anything!
Chad: When did you do your first handrail?
I was 14 and proud – a phase I remember clearly as Nowhere Fast had recently dropped! At this stage, I remember sending three credible handrails, within a two to three week time frame.
The first rail I sent was known as the ‘Law Courts Rail’ in Shrewsbury – it’s a short skinny rail, with a kink to flat section near the bottom of the stairs and a drop on the one side – I remember hopping scared and landing in a feeble grind, I pulled of, cleared the steps, rode for a few feet before my front wheel gave way on a grass patch section adjacent to the landing.
On another occasion I was out riding with my friend Nick in Telford – we found this mellow handrail at an underpass, bar-height, maybe 5 long stairs – I hit it, slid it clean! I proceeded to do it about ten times in a row; my confidence was peaking! I noticed there was a lower-level brick ledge which the vertical uprights of the handrail were based on – I said something like “I’m going to drop of the end of the rail and toothpick the lower ledge”… and with that I went and got it done – this was intense stuff at the time and we both agreed the feat was “next-level shit!”. Looking back it was of a calibre comparable to VHS cassettes such as ‘Clicked 6’ (UK VHS/2001), but I was several years younger than the rival stars! By the following year (armed with a shiny new Panasonic video camera) I was going out and shooting up to four handrail clips a day!
Chad: Can you remember the last time you scared yourself?
I try to scare myself a little every time I ride! So I’m going to have to refer to the last major talking point – a gap to drop set-up I tried back in Shrewsbury (UK), in 2006 – it was sketchy on a number of counts. First I had to ride across a narrow(ish) wall with a drop to the right hand side – I also had to generate enough speed to clear a six foot gap over the adjacent wall, which stands approximately 3ft lower – following the adjacent wall is a 10ft drop to flat – that’s roughly a 13ft drop in total, maybe more! To make things worse the landing actually sloped upwards by 2-3 degrees… it gets worse still, there’s fuck all run off…
… Anyway, I give it my first attempt – I HUCK it, landing at a relaxed angle… BOOM! I ain’t even strong enough to hold onto this horse! But I ain’t going out like that… So I cue up again, ready for a second attempt, I figure I’ve got to land with the bike steep as hell (trials style landing), otherwise my wrists won’t take the strain! Second attempt; I land steep as fuck (no breaks!) – bad idea!!! The back wheel literally self-destructs on landing, maybe thirty spokes snap – I get thrown over the bars and whipped into the floor! OUCH! I’ve always said I’ll go back again and defeat my demons – but having suffered with broken feet since, I have no idea whether or not the situation will manifest itself again!!!
Chad: Was this your first contest, how did you do, and what came of it…did you become a rock star from that?
The event was sick – crazy tricks and the crowd was big, maybe 1200 spectators! When it came to my run I was phased, it was my first contest! I crashed twice, but at the end of the day, I still managed to beat 24 dudes – and despite not being the crowd type, I went on to ride more events…
Another event which springs to mind is the Barcelona Extreme Games (Ed/NB. Pro Street Participant) in 2009 – another wild event! I rode in the same qualifier as Nicholi Rogatikin –all I remember is hucking a big 540 out of a 6ft Qtr, then pedalling my ass off at the jump box and dropping a 360 off to flat – I remember walking off the course and bumping into Sergio Layos – we had never met before, but we just started talking like we were old friends, he even congratulated me on my run!
One more event that springs to mind is the Four Seasons Contest (Ed/NB. Redditch Skatepark), back in 2006 – I won Mini/Spine – I don’t even know how… All I did was pop street moves!!!
Chad: What are you doing for a living, how you paying the bills?
I think the term ‘Freestyling Freelancer’ describes my current occupational state the best! As a rider, my costs are about 80% covered by brands that I work with in the industry – this includes frames, components and clothing! On occasions I’ve had travel and hotels paid for as well! But I ain’t getting no easy ride, I work hard for my shit – one day I might be filming, the next I’m doing a photo-shoot! And if I’m injured, you can guarantee I’ll be producing test videos, online bike-checks or interviews – I got it all going on…
… I’m also the sole proprietor of an enterprise known as ‘Valleyside Distro’ – this is my own initiative centred around the importing, marketing and distribution of BMX components – at present, Valleyside Distro is the main portal for brands like ‘DECO’ and ‘Sugar Bikes’ to penetrate the UK market place. If you know what’s up, drop me a line! Besides sales, I’m also concerned with selling advertising space, coordinating co-sponsorships and liaising with riders and events… You know, all the general stuff that BMX labels tend to do!
Chad: Tell us a little more about your history as a videographer?
As you know, I was a fan of bike videos from the word go. For me, making my own films was a natural progression – it was also an excellent way of time capsuling a glimpse of the action! Looking back, it was my Dad who bought me my first camera in 2001. The first films I made were known as the ‘MWD’ (Mid-Wales Destruction) videos! These were analogue type productions, without music! Nevertheless they featured some wild street moves, jackass inspired stunts and guest appearances from pro riders like Matt Beringer and Steve Crandall… Later on I progressed to making films using digital editing software – after a few attempts they became quite polished edits! I released ValleySideStyle in 2004, which ended up getting reviewed by FatBMX Magazine and 23mag… Stoked!
Chad: I know you have mentioned events, how do you have time for that and where is that going?
Events are a great for ‘meeting the scene’, ‘spreading your influence’ and ‘helping the cause’! As a brand operator (valleyside), it’s in my interests to be involved in the events, whether it’s the ‘grass-roots’ local jam or the major European events, I’m into it!
In the last three years valleyside has co-sponsored local events, like ‘The What Summer Jam’, ‘The Ripping and The Tearing Jam’ and ‘The Welsh Flatland Championships’ – and on other occasions valleyside has functioned as ‘media partner’ for major events, like ‘The Bike Hall Contest’, ‘Simpel Session’ and ‘The BMX Masters’ – this involves online promoting, event filming and journalism! I guess in short, I’m generating brand awareness in return for logo placements, etc…
Chad: You mention the word “PRO”, what does that mean to you and have you had any proper sessions with this so called “PRO”?
I guess a pro rider is somebody that does the contests, features in the magazines and represents brands – ideally, a pro should also have the skills should pay the bills – and the more bills a rider can pay through riding, the more pro they are!
I’ve met a lot of big names over the years, but I’ll tell you about the first pro I met and rode with. It was the Summer following the Backyard Jam – I went on a trip to Cornwall and during my stay I got to visit Mount Hawk (indoor mecca for BMX’ers). It was here that I met Mark Theaker (Ed/NB. Mark Theaker, A.K.A. Theaker/Tweaker is a reputable UK Pro) – Theaker was cool! We chilled and I remember him being a bit of a joker – but his riding was no joke… Wild 540’s, flips and whips!!! It was nuts to watch, especially after seeing him in the magazines. On a subsequent visit, I filmed Mark Theaker for one of my earlier bike videos (ValleyStyle) – I remember he seemed impressed with my riding, and even hooked me up with some ‘FACET’ stuff (FACET was his label)… I was stoked!!! After all… “It’s a tough job and I’m very good at it… And that’s the way the cookies crumble!!!“.
Chad: Where do you see your bike taking you to this coming year?
I honestly don’t know what’s happening right now… We’re experiencing turbulent times with the economy and shit, you know – give me a second whilst I consult the crystal ball… Crystal Ball says “Jerusalem”… Crystal Ball is giving me instructions as well… Apparently I am to “pray real fucking hard the dear Lords going to forgive my sorry ass!”…
… But I ain’t ready for no redemption yet… I still want to wreak some more havoc!!! Knowing me, I would get to Jerusalem and celebrate by popping a wheelie down ‘Mount Zion’… I would get to the bottom and pop a crazy ass tuck over the ‘well of soles’… SMASHING THE SPEED LIMIT WILL BE A PART OF THE PROCESS!!! But I won’t be rolling with no pegs man… TOO much RESPECT for that SACREDTECTURE!!!
Chad: With so many new riders popping up, do you prefer the ‘new’ or ‘old’ style and are you inspired more nowadays?
About my preferences, it’s a tough call – in all fairness, I look at the ‘tricks’ and ‘style’ of the ‘individual’ – BMX to me is about being an ‘individual’ through ‘freestyle’ – so I have no preference over ‘old school’ or ‘new school’ – I can appreciate the latest web video from ‘Rob Ridge’ just as much as the latest web video from ‘Chad Kerley’ or ‘Dakota Roche’ – I can appreciate the pain and suffering that goes into their art, regardless of what estate they grew up in, or who delivered their classes in school, you got me?
And you know what Chad, I would love to take the safe option, by telling you that I am bewildered by the energy and enthusiasm of today’s youth, whilst they look up to my years of toil and pain… But I have got to keep it real! The way I see it, I got just as much energy and creativity as I did ten years ago! That’s more than the vast majority! So, to anyone reading this, don’t be thinking I’ll be losing my edge anytime soon… Just last night I dropped a ‘Switch-foot Alley-OOP 360 tooth-pick’ out the side of a 6ft Qtr Pipe – for the layman that is tech shit and I may be the only man in the world doing it!!! Boom!!!
Chad: What is riding about to you?
Well Sir, traditionally, my riding has always been about having my own space, or my own zone – this helps me get creative behind the bars; and when the seven moons have aligned, it’s time to get funky fresh – at this point, time is of the essence – all I have is my bike and a fresh canvas – a format to realise something truly unorthodox, yet acceptable to my contemporaries…
… And you know what, in more practical terms, it’s just good to go out, slap something together and let loose with something whack! Failing that, nothing beats a good tuck bunny-hop over a bench or something, they always felt dope! Lately I’ve been riding a lot more park and there are always new riders to session with – often the youths.
Chad: Tell us about some of the sponsors and hook-ups you’ve had over the years?
I’ve been looking forward to such a question, I’m glad you asked, I’ll take you through some of the support I’ve had, the ones that stand out…
During 2005 I started communicating with Scott Sutton (Owner of Vendetta Brand) over the internet; after several emails I started visiting Scott and the Welshside Crew down in Cardiff. We would often ride Cardiff street, Skate Extreme or the indoor park at Bridgend. After a while Scott signed me to his label, Vendetta Brand – this was my first notable sponsor and the episode was documented in the Welshside Column (Ride UK/2006) – I still get flowed Vendetta Brand clothing, even now, after all this time! Plus Vendetta have helped support events, through my enterprise, ValleySideDistro.
The next milestone started during the Spring of 2009 – I was street riding in Shrewsbury, when I bumped into Keith Easom, who had been developing his 22″ company, Faction Bike Co – subsequently, we started corresponding about product testing and stuff – before long I was testing their first ever 22″ bike! Not long after I became a marketing rider for FBC, this included a presence in the magazines, their websites and their social portals – so far, so good – and keep your eyes peeled for bigger things! Also, it’s a little known fact, that I was the first rider to do legitimate handrails on a 22″ bike!
Another twelve months passes, we’re now in 2010 – at this stage I became an ambassador for AME grips – this involved ‘Mr Svenson’ over at AME flowing me and the valleyside team a box of products to test, in exchange for written testimonials. So if you’re reading this Mr Svenson;
AME make great grips, using good rubber!
Next stage – near the end of 2010 I joined the Dephect collective for a few seasons, this included the privilege of a blog on their website – throughout my time with dephect they hooked me up with some mighty-fine apparel, featuring some of the dopest designs on the streets! Thanks again guys!
Fast-forward to 2011 – at this point I started product testing for VP-USA, thanks to their brand manager, Erik Saunders. Back in 2011 I had a profile on their website, which described me as a member of their “European Team” – the layout has since changed, but I’m still featured as a marketing rider. The highlight of 2011 was featuring in an advert for the ‘VP-001’ (BMX Plus Magazine).
And during 2011 (Jan) I also started riding for Sugar Bikes – they sent me a frame which lasted 14 months! And throughout 2011 and 2012, I was flowed products by DECO BMX (April, 2011), Urban Kreation (July, 2011), Forcefield Body Armour (September 2011) and Dartmoor BMX/UK– much of this has centred on product testing and online reviews, for both ValleySideDistro and FatBMX! Thanks again to all my supporters!
Chad: Tell us a little more about ‘Force Field Body Armour’?
Just recently I closed a deal to ride for Force Field Body Armour – traditionally FFBA are a company who specialise in body armour for the motor sports industry, but in more recent times they have diversified, by supporting MTB riders, snowboarders, etc – I believe I am the first BMX rider to join their ‘athlete support programme’ – stoked! They have just sent me a set of ‘ZEUS kneepads/elbowpads’, which are FFBA’s top of the range knee and elbow protectors! These are ideal for BMX and look bomb-proof! I’ll be dropping product reviews for ValleySideDistro & FatBMX, so keep your eyes peeled!
Chad: What sponsor or parts are you running now?
Good question man! At present I’m currently testing components for ‘Dartmoor Bikes’ (UK), ‘Deco BMX’ and ‘VP-USA’! I’ll tell you a little more about how each brand are supporting me..
Starting with Dartmoor Bikes – I’m currently riding the ‘Nami II’ frame, ‘Thorn’ 2pc cranks, ‘Reflect’ stem, ‘Razor’ hubs and ‘Raider’ rims (amongst a few other Dartmoor bits) – the best thing about Dartmoor hardware is that everything is light, easy to install and strong as hell! In short, SWEET as a NUT!!!
Next point, my forks, these are the ‘FuForks’ (DecoBMX) – these babies have proven tough as hell! And yes, again they’re light! One last thing, they have removable break lugs – genius!
I also recently received a test bundle from VP-USA – this includes various pedals to be tested by the ValleySideDistro team. Personally I’m testing the ‘VP-69n’ pedals, as well as the ‘VP-VICE’ pedals. The VP-69n is a carbon fibre version of the ‘VP-69’ pedals – they are light and so far they have held up to the punishment I have given them! The ‘VP-VICE’ pedals are one of VP’s alloy sets; I have not tested them yet, but they look nuke proof!
Chad: Any thanks you’s, shout outs, piss off’s or HOLLAs?
I would like to thank the following individuals for their support: Scott@Vendetta Brand, Keith@FBC, J.Svenson@AME, Elliott@Fluid BMX Store, Matt@Dephect, Erik@VP-USA, David@Sugar Bikes, Clive@Urban Kreation, Stuart@Force Field Body Armour, Graham@Dartmoor and DECO BMX! Shout-out’s to the Valleyside Massive, The Welshside Crew, the Mid-Wales riders and anyone I forgot! And Holla to the Queen! Thanks for reading!!!
/// Questions prepared by Chad Degroot /// Edited by Elliott Parington /// Photography and Videos: Scott Sutton, Matt Dyer, Keith Easom and many more! ///