It’s Better To Burnout, Then To Fade Away
Ian Schwartz, still finding his own way.
Interview and photos: Jeff Zielinski
From his slim and simple bike setup to his unique bag of tricks and clever use of street spots, to say that Ian Schwartz was a major influence on the current direction of street riding would be an understatement. So when he announced that he is no longer going to pursue the role of a professional BMX rider and become a full-time farmer, the news struck a chord in the BMX scene. However, anyone who knows Ian well enough probably wasn’t too surprised by this news, seeing as he has always been one to stick to his ideals and follow his gut instincts-regardless if the outcome is uncertain. Living by that logic gained him a lot of notoriety in BMX and will surely help with his future as a forward thinking farmer, as well. --Jeff Z.
While growing up on your family’s farm did you ever realize, maybe in the back of your head, that one day you’d end up back there?
No, I really didn’t. My brother and I would talk about wanting to grow up to be farmers when we were little, but my dad would quickly shot those ideas down. He would say, “You can’t make a decent living doing it and it’s only going to get worse.” By probably 14 years old or so I had totally written the possibility off. I can’t blame my dad for saying those things, he was pretty much right. But, it is a stereotypical example of what has happened over the past 30 years. The children are no longer encouraged to take on the family farm, they are actually discouraged from doing so. They are pushed to “go out into the real world” to “make something of themselves.” And because our family farms are no longer being held as worthwhile endeavors, they are dying. And when we loose control of our food system as we are heading towards now, things will get pretty ugly. It has just been through a few chance things that my interest has been sparked again, and my family is being supportive.
“I didn’t feel like I was able to concentrate on BMX whole-heartedly anymore.”
When your old Maynard house roommate and fellow Pro rider Eli Platt moved on from his BMX career did that influence your decision at all? Or at least make you ponder moving on as well?
Well, it was more a case of us both being in the same place about BMX at that time. He was able to make a quicker, more confident decision than I was. So, I hung on for a bit longer to make sure I wouldn’t regret moving on. Plus, I wanted to finish my Sunday part and do a few other things.
What was the tipping point, when you knew you wanted to concentrate on farming full time?
I’ve been learning and talking about farming for the past three years or so. I went and stayed in San Francisco last winter. I did plenty of riding, but I also spent an enormous amount of my time reading books on agricultural stuff and self-subsistence living. That was when I really came to the decision that it was time to do other things with myself. I didn’t feel like I was able to concentrate on BMX whole-heartedly anymore.
Gracefully guided fakie 180.
“I feel like I was held on a higher level than I was truly capable of.”
Your section in Sunday’s Up, Up, and Away was super long, two songs, did you already have your mind made up by then, was that like your farewell section so to speak?
Well, yes and no. I’ve been struggling with feeling burnt out for the past year or so, but I wanted to hang on until the video was done. It wasn’t long because I knew I was quitting or because I wanted it to be a dramatic farewell section-nothing like that. It just worked out that way because we filmed for so long and I was going on almost every trip we did. I was really iffy about how long and drawn out it was, but every clip meant something to me and I didn’t want to cut anymore out. So that’s what we worked with.
Fakie 180 barspin.
Did you become jaded with being a Pro BMX rider?
Yeah, you could say that. Although I always liked the idea of being a BMX pro as I was growing up, the reality of it is that I don’t have the personality for it. I don’t like pressure, and I’m uncomfortable with that much attention. Although I’m proud of what I’ve done on a bike, I feel like I was held on a higher level than I was truly capable of, skill-wise. I’m no Chase Hawk, no Aaron Ross. I just fit a niche that some people thought was fun to watch. But I eventually started feeling incredible pressure to be a better rider than I actually was and I didn’t like that. I was always internally motivated to be creative and push myself. As soon as the expectations and pressure came from the outside it took most of the fun out of it for me. And that’s not saying anything bad about anyone or anything in BMX; it’s just part of the game. I just wasn’t able to deal with it well.
“If your main motivation is monetary, then neither BMX nor farming are for you.”
Forward pedal grind-to-hop over.
Do you look at this as more of a career move or a passion?
Well, I don’t know, I guess you could say both. I feel weird talking about BMX, or farming for that matter, as a “career.” BMX has been my life for the past 15 years and for the past five it paid some of the rent-same with my hopes for farming. It’s hard to make a good living farming, but honestly I don’t know if I want that anyways. If your main motivation is monetary, then neither BMX nor farming are for you. If I have an off-the-farm job the rest of my life and the farm breaks even, so be it. That’s still a dream-life to me.
360-to-fakie around trash can.
That’s great, I totally understand what you’re saying, you can’t always equate success with financial gain. So when people hear “a farmer in Ohio” they may picture a cartoon character with overalls, a straw hat, and a piece of grass sticking out of his mouth… But a modern day farmer is probably a lot different than that, so can you paint a better picture for us of what you’ll actually be doing in your day-to-day activities?
Yeah, farmers come in all shapes and sizes. My uncle is a picture perfect farmer: he’s big, tall, wears bibs, stern, and only talks when he has to. He’s skilled in damn near everything-he can fix damn near anything with some wire and a hammer. My dad on the other hand, is friendly, talkative, races motorcycles, wears race shirts and jeans, but can also fix damn near anything. They are pretty opposite in how they go about things, but they’re both real farmers through and through that have dedicated their lives to it for the past 50 years or more. A lot of younger people have been coming back to the farms recently, and with them they are bringing their experiences and ideas. I think it’s going to be hard to pick your local farmer out of a crowd now. As for the day-to-day activities, no day will be the same. I want to have my hands in a little bit of a lot of things. That spreads out the risk, the consumption, and the boredom.
Wall clearence-to-rock entry.
Don’t farmers work long hours-like sunrise to sunset? How often do you think you’ll be able to ride?
Yeah, it’s true. I’m putting in long days already. But, there’s always time if you want it. We have a local park in town. I hope to keep riding as long as my body can handle it.
Have you been riding much lately?
I haven’t been riding much, mainly because of the weather here in Ohio. I’m looking forward to spring, though. I’ll definitely get out a fair amount then.
When I think of a farm I think a mini ramp or trails; are either of those likely?
[Laughs] It’s always possible. I could see the mini ramp in one of the barns.
I remember the last time I rode with you in Los Angeles, almost a year ago, you told me that you moved back to Ohio, you were getting back into farming, and you were learning about new techniques and you sounded really excited about it. Do you think you get the same satisfaction farming now as you do when you pull a new trick?
Yeah, it’s the same kind of stuff. BMX was satisfying to me when I found my own way. It’s the same with the farming stuff. I’m learning from so many others and then applying that to my own questions and theories in my specific situation. My friends and family know that it’s my nature to become a bit obsessive about something I’m interested in. BMX has been my life. In the past couple years that has shifted toward farming. That’s basically my new BMX [laughs]. It’s in my head 24/7 and I love everything about it and the possibilities.
180 front tire jam.
You said that you had plans to implement your “ideas for responsible, respectful and productive food growing.” Are you referring to organic food and sustainable agriculture?
Yeah, that’s basically it. I hesitate with those descriptions sometimes because they get written off as “hippy-crap” by a lot of people. Plus, I believe that although they are rooted in noble ideas, even organic/sustainable agriculture is headed in some harmful directions. I think we are making the same mistakes all over again, just under new names. What I’m hoping is to find ways to farm less intensively and let our natural world do a lot of the work. We as humans have a tendency to meddle too much. We want to control everything. We are still stuck in a “highest yield possible,” “have to feed the world,” “quantity over quality” mentality. None of these ideas are sustainable or necessary.
“I rode the best I could and was honest about my views, and I’m proud of that.”
Forward peddle feeble up, up, and away.
Looking back on your sponsored days, are you happy with the experience, travel, filming, etc.
Yeah, I’m definitely happy. I don’t want to give the impression that I was unhappy or ungrateful for what I was able to experience. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I can’t imagine my life without those times. I rode the best I could and was honest about my views, and I’m proud of that. I’m thankful to Jim C., Rich Hirsch, and everyone else that helped me out and gave me a chance to do something I love.