ILLUMINE COLLECT NEWS

Carving a Scene of His Own

An Interview with BMX legend Casey Smith

Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Gasa

For Casey Smith, BMX is a more than just a hobby or sport but a mantra of freedom. As he explains in Jeremy Lux’s latest interview for Life in Motion, hitting skateparks and landing tricks in the Midwest was not only a unique way of getting into BMX, for Casey, it was an escape-- a way of life.

Smith grew up in the small town of Delavan, WI population 8,463; a small, idyllic town known for being the “clown capital of the world”. Smith attributes it to the town’s history as a touring spot for old school circuses. “It’s a cool place,” he adds. But what’s a 12-year-old to do in a former circus town with dirt trails?

For Smith the answer was easy; ride em. His bike back then was a pink, late 80’s model Schwinn that he shared with one of his best friends. They built their own jumps and trails, until after awhile they heard of another group of riders across town who really opened Smith and his friend to the world of BMX.

Looking back on those days, Smith is content. “It’s been my life and I’ve never slowed down. Every day since then… I’ve just loved it.”

Just to get a sense of his dedication, Smith made a skate park his home away from home, spending a couple days a week at the park. Thing was, the park was almost 20 miles away in a neighboring city. So, he and his buds would routinely make the trip… on bike.

Smith spent a couple days a week at a skate part.

He recollects:

“It's pretty ridiculous because we were like 14 to 15-years-old and riding 19 miles one way on back roads, and the speed limit was 55. People are just flying past us, but we were determined. We were fully into BMX and riding 19 miles to get to the skatepark was not even an issue at all. We didn’t give it a second thought.”

As Smith grew older he left the Midwest behind for the East Coast BMX scene in Virginia. But he’ll be honest, it was tough cracking the scene. Smith explains that some of the riders in Norfolk were territorial but that didn’t stop him from trying to carve out his spot in a park on the northside of town. Along the way, Smith cultivated his own scene.

“I tried to promote a positive vibe at that park, despite the fact that the surrounding area wasn’t the best in Norfolk,” he explains, “You had a lot of kids going through some bad stuff.”

But for those kids, BMX served the same purpose as it did for Smith during those early days back in Wisconsin; an escape.

“So, through me riding the bowl every day, I was able to draw people in and show them that there’s friendships and bonds to be made,” says Smith.

Today, Smith maintains this air of positivity towards the sport. His rules are simple; “Go to the skate park and don't try to be a professional BMX rider. Just go there and ride. Have a session, have fun.”

Smith also encourages BMX for those who have a passion for travel or photography. He recollects on his first trip to a skatepark called Chenga in Brook Park, OH. A trip that he says gave him a “different sense of freedom than he had previously experienced.” He also talks about trips to other parks in Cleveland, Austin, San Antonio, and more. In short, BMX will take you wherever it leads.

As for photography and videography, Smith mentions his early days of taping tricks and riders, except where today’s riders maintain vlogs and YouTube channels, Smith and his crew had one guy with an old school, over-the-shoulder VHS cam filming everything.

“Midwest BMX was pretty groundbreaking in that they basically created web videos. that really got me hooked on filming,” Smith says. He admits that he enjoys snapping photos more than shooting film and he’s always down to shoot sharp pics of a fellow rider.

At his core, Smith is a self-proclaimed “BMX junky” willing to plant some seeds and help the sport grow. When questioned about advocacy and kids growing as riders he is sincere and to the point: “Mentor people. You as a person, can’t change the world yourself…but what you can do is affect people’s lives,” he continues, seeing firsthand with the Norfolk riders, “You can go out and you can change a kid's life. Whether you're a coach for a basketball team or whatever, you can mentor these kids. That’s how you change the next generation.” 

Check out Casey on Instagram: @caseysmithsonian and YouTube: Casey J. Smith.

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This interview is an excerpt from Illumine Collect’s Life in Motion podcast, a new series showcasing the lifestyles and lessons of people inspiring adventure and change. To hear the full interview be sure to check out the Life in Motion podcast on iTunes.

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