Interview and photos by Jeff Zielinski
It should come as no surprise that Josh Harrington is equally comfortable on ramps and street, after all, he grew up in Greenville, North Carolina. The "Pro Town" influence was evident early on with Josh, who was shredding vert while still in high school and has since progressed into one of the most gnarly handrail riders BMX has ever known. But there is still so much more to Josh's riding, aside from traversing the globe filming street bangers, he can still rip up a park course with the best of them, and when the sessions over, he's a guaranteed fun guy to kick it with off the bike, as well. I've heard it said before that Josh "is a rider's rider." And I couldn't agree more.
We were shooting photos once in Greenville, and I remember some dude who was jogging past stopped and talked to you, and after you pulled the trick you rode over to us and mentioned that the jogger was your high school teacher or something. What was it like being born and raised in "Pro Town?"
That guy was my little league baseball coach. I played every sport I could up until I was 12 years old in 1996 which is when I found BMX. He shouted out to me and said, "Hey Josh it's cool to see you are still riding that little bike" and he wished me the best. It's a pretty small town, as well, so it's easy to run into people that have lived here for years. Growing up in Greenville has been rad. When I first started riding it wasn't anything like it is now. People didn't move here for the parks or to do better in contests. Back in the day the riders in Greenville were more like a family, now it seems some people come to town just in hopes of doing better in contests. Everyone that comes here has a good time—it's hard not to.
It's safe to say you were around a lot of pro riders while growing up. Which riders did you click with the most and how did they influence you?
When I was getting into riding there were a few pro riders in eastern NC and they did have an influence on my riding to some extent. I was impressed by different riders for different reasons, some made me want to just go big on ramps while others had a sweet tech style or were riding more street. Since Greenville is such a small town we all were able to hang out together a lot so I clicked with everybody that was here. Riders came and went constantly over the years so it’s hard to say a particular person had more influence on me over another, but obviously the ones who have been here for a long time and while I was growing up were definitely riders that I looked up to and wanted to emulate. Dave Mirra, Leigh Ramsdell, and Ryan Nyquist were definitely near the top of the list.
I think one of the first times I heard of you was back when you were a teenager shredding a vert ramp. How did you first get into riding the big ramps?
Jaycee park had a quarter pipe that I rode when I was starting out. Some friends had backyard ramps that we used to session too. It seems like Mike Mancuso has always had a vert ramp in his yard, I think that was the first time I ever rode vert. Dave Mirra had a massive vert ramp at his old house and we rode that, he donated it to Jaycee park years later and we were able to keep the vert shredding alive.
Back then I think some people were looking at you as the new school of vert riders—one of the few younger riders in a crop of mostly older dudes. But then you progressed from vert into being one of the most skilled handrail riders in the business. Can you explain that transition?
I've always ridden street, but my first real coverage was at contests for riding vert. Actually, there was a period of about a year where Greenville didn't have a skate park because Jaycee park was getting remodeled, so that may have played a role in my street riding habits. Overall though, I'd say that I've been riding everything since I started, it's just that web edits weren't around so nobody really knew I rode street. All the media attention was focused on the contests.
It's not often that someone who rides ramps as well as you do carries it over to street—specifically rails (probably because you can broke off so easy with rails). Do you feel like the well-rounded rider is getting a bit lost these days? Maybe riders are slowly just becoming so focused on riding one terrain…
I've always appreciated riders who are down to shred everything. Back in the day if you rode—then you rode bikes on whatever—whenever. These days, a lot of kids get into riding to try and do well at contests or to try and get sponsored some day and if that doesn’t work out hang it up and go on with life. Kind how the normal kid that plays a ball sport stays involved with dreams of being a pro and give it up once they don’t make the high school team or get to play for a college team. To me BMX is about enjoying it for what it is and adding as many aspects in as you can so you never get burnt out or stop riding due to your level of riding or what you are getting out of it. I do feel it’s getting narrowed down to specific types of riding which is fine because it’s not my place to say a kid that grows up riding street in New York city really needs or wants to go out of his way to find a vert ramp to call himself an overall rider, but that’s just what works for me. Some kids just don’t enjoy jumping or even leaving the ground so they do what they enjoy. Whatever it is that keeps it fun for a long time is the right thing to do. Joe rich, Josh Heino, Leigh Ramsdell, Dave Mirra, Drew Bezanson, Dennis Enarson, Rob Darden, Garrett Reynolds, and Duncan Gore are a few of the dudes that have seemed to hold it down and have fun on everything over the years.
How do you think your ramp background combined with burly street has influenced other riders, like Garrett Reynolds, for instance? I've heard him mention your name a few times…
Garrett is on another level and really enjoys having fun with his friends. He is not scared and knows what he is capable of on his bike. That is a good combination to be the best. Riding ramps teaches you a lot of bike control and many of the tricks transfer over and give you that little boost of confidence when you are linking things together or doing things in or out of a line, rail, or whatever you find. Street is the best—there's nothing like riding things meant to help you walk up and down hills. If I influenced Garrett I am honored.
The Premium team has shaped into a blend of technical street riders and ramp riders (who are all a good deal younger than you). You're kinda like the wiser and experienced troop leader in a crew of young guns…
Being supported by a company like premium for this long is a dream come true. I'm really blessed to be able to represent a company that I believe in, as well as ride with a group of guys with such talent. I have a little more experience on the road than some of these guys, but we all just pull together and make it happen.
Who do you ride with on the regular in Greenville lately?
I’m not trying to use actual names because I ride with whoever is down to cruise, and I don’t wanna leave any of the homeys out. But lately I have been riding with Dan Foley, Rob Darden, Quinn Semling…
Have you thought about moving anywhere else?
I’ve been all over the world and Greenville's a great place for me—my family and friends are here and I’m pretty content. I do love spending time in places with more street spots and places where the winters have nicer weather. So I could end up out of here soon, but maybe never…
What's the status on the End Search follow up, Still Searching?
When we made End Search the majority of the crew lived in town and we would just film and chill all the time—which made things a lot simpler and cost efficient. When the idea to make the sequel came about, we all still lived in town—shortly after that the crew got spread out across the country/world which has put the brakes on things for a bit. Our main filmer/rad dude/homey [Tony Ennis] moved out to San Diego with another one of the searchin' dudes Ty Morrow. Nyquist moved out to Cali to be with his family and everyone else is busy with familes and other obligations/video projects. We did a couple trips and got things going and shortly after decided to put things on hold to let everyone focus on their other obligations/video projects. I’m using a lot of my footage in the Deadline video, I’m honored to be asked to be a part of what I think will be one of the best videos of all time…
What else is in store for you in 2012?
I’m gonna be ridin' my bike all over the world, also planning to film stuff for the Markit video—which should be a lot of fun! I'm tryin' to dial in the specs for my new signature frame comin' out, got some plans for fixin' up my house, ping pong, traveling around, and I just got a new German shepherd puppy named Brooklyn (Rozay is her nickname).
My sister Haley is an inspiration—if she can do it then anybody can. And my mom for takin' great care of her. All my family and my friends know who they are. Thanks to all my sponsors and anybody that’s made me laugh along the way, keep doin' what you're doin'.