We live in a time where everyone is so divided. Categorized by our political affiliation, race, religion, gender, education, and socioeconomic position. Within BMX, it's no different. We are niched off into groups: street riders, park riders, plastic or steel, etc. Our society and our community continue to separate us. Psychology explains how individuals within a group start to develop a mindset that separates common differences into dividing characteristics. Namely, placing particular traits into a superior vs. inferior construct, and hence shaping a mindset and thinking pattern that sees the world as us vs. them.
This video started as a division from that mindset. A step back, as it were. For all of us in this video had undertaken a serious refocus on not only ourselves, but also what we were doing with our lives. Some of us, we had to change our lives entirely. For others, a reexamination of what we were riding for. While others even realized what riding meant to them and started again. We became a group of friends brought together under corresponding circumstances, searching for meaning and drive in a hobby that we have been doing for some twenty years. Working to set aside differences and struggles to create a project to be proud of—one with no agenda, no payout or contracts, but rather one of feeling. The feeling of accomplishment with the memories of time well spent. Not something over the top, nor the next big thing, no gimmicks, but rather something real. Something we could all obtain. After all, we're only ordinary men. This is Us/Them. —Zack Gerber
Photos by Devon Denham & Jeff Zielinski
Interview with Ryan Howard, cutty grind setup aficionado and filmer/editor of the Us/Them video.
Us/Them… is that just the title of the video, or something more? And what is the meaning or story behind the name?
Towards the end of filming Hard Times I knew I was going to be upgrading to an HD camera, and getting a VHS camera to start work on another video. Style wise I already had an idea in my head as far as the look and feeling. I was listening to a lot of Pink Floyd and the song Us And Them just felt perfect. Some people can interpret the name Us/Them as a divide between people or styles—like I'm separating ourselves from everyone else, but I like the ambiguousness of it. It means a lot of things and means nothing at the same time.
Ohio isn't that big and there are a number of street crews/brands/companies based there, safe to say the streets have been explored, ridden, and documented for years. Were ABDs, one-upping, or just finding fresh terrain much of an issue?
It's not easy trying to come up with new stuff in the Ohio area. I've been filming video parts for about 14 years, so I'm constantly trying to one up myself on things and we all stay searching for fresh spots. Over the years, spots get taken out and new ones are made—plus our outlook changes on what a spot is—so that helps a little bit. I get tired of looking at the same spots over and over so I would guess maybe 50% of the video wasn't filmed in Ohio.
How long have you been filming for this video? And can you describe the filming process a little, where there multiple people filming or just you? And how often did you guys get together as a crew and roll out together?
I've been working on this video just under three years. It's been a lot of weekend trips to new cities and trying to ride stuff locally during the week around my work schedule. Thankfully, my rent is cheap and I make decent money so I'm able to afford to travel quite a bit. Zack Gerber and a few others have helped me film my part, but otherwise I've handled about 99% of the filming for everyone else. In the beginning we rode all together as a crew a lot, but as time went on some people stopped riding as often and other people started to be around more. We're all adults with responsibilities and vices so we weren't all together as often as I would have liked, but it is what it is and it worked out in the end.
You've got a full time job, and I'm assuming most of the other guys in the video do as well. Can you describe the dynamic of the weekend warrior and after work filming missions?
Working full time can really put a damper on trying to ride and film a video, but we're all at the age where we know our skill level and what we're capable of. With only a limited amount of time we really have to make it count. I have a ton of lights so it's not uncommon to be out riding for 14 hours and be filming in some shitty area at 2am when no one is around. We all kinda pick and choose our battles, too—if something isn't worth the risk of getting hurt or isn't quite right we tend to not waste time on it.
Speaking about missions, where did you guys film for this beyond Ohio?
We've traveled quite a bit for this project—about half the video is filmed outside of Ohio. I've been to California a few times. Tons of trips to the east coast—New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, DC, and all through Pennsylvania multiple times. We've taken a few trips south through Kentucky and into Tennessee. And a lot of trips into Michigan, Indiana, and St. Louis.
Devon Denham is a good friend of yours and a big part of Us/Them. He's been living out of a van and traveling around the country during much of the filming of this video, right? How has that influenced the project?
At this point I consider Devon a brother. He's been there when I've needed help with anything and I'll always be there for him when he needs help. Him doing the van life for the last few years has helped keep him sane. He's had more experiences in the last three years than most people will have in their lifetime and I'm so proud of him. As far as influencing the video, living in the van has allowed him to meet up on trips on the west coast and in Brooklyn. He's been able to bounce around pretty easily and film a full section in about eight months. Him not being tied down to rent or a job has allowed me to always have someone who is down to be on the road with me. He can pack up and hit the road at any time.
Zack Gerber's riding has always been on another level—both super burly and hyper progressive. What's it like riding and filming with him in general? And do you have any good stories from filming with him for Us/Them?
Unless someone knows Zack personally and has been around when he's trying to film something they wouldn't fully understand how his brain works. When he gets something in his head he won't stop until he lands it or can't physically ride. His riding is 100% mind over matter. He knows what he is capable of and will block out any pain or emotion until it's done. He's pushing the limits of his bike. He's broken so many wheels on extremely large things that I've had to start bringing a spare wheel when we go out. The Jaws gap barspin in Louisville being a good example. He landed perfectly first go only to destroy both of his wheels and casually walk out of it. After not liking how he landed on the next try with my wheels, on the third go he blew up my front wheel and made an oval out of my rear wheel. He's getting very near the limits of what a bike can withstand and it's wild.
Of all the video projects you've worked on over the years, how does this one compare?
For me every video part is a steady progression of my riding. I'm more confident on how I want to ride and what I want ride than I've ever been. This video has a lot more effort put into what we are riding as opposed to what we are doing. We're all a few years older and more mature so the tone of this video is a lot different than Hard Times. We're not partying every night anymore. We're more motivated to just ride and put out something good.
Being a rider with a heavy focus on setup dictated grind combos such as yourself—one of the best, in my opinion. I would assume there are some one-of-a-kind setups that you uncovered for this video…
Thanks, that means a lot to me to hear that. I rode a lot of really good setups, but I'm still salty about one in particular that got away. We located a spot in DC that is perfect for a trick I've dreamed about doing on a real rail for about 15 years. Zack and I made the seven hour drive after work one night. The thinking being that I'd have no issue cutting the bottom out of a rail at an office building at 2am and doing the trick. I quickly realized DC is unlike any other city I've ever been to. After a few hours of playing cat and mouse with police and security the building was finally clear. We were able to use a pipe cutter and remove the bottom of the rail at 4am. I l slept in front of the senate and came back at 6am hoping to get 10 minutes uninterrupted to do the trick. I was able to get three tries before being told I would be arrested if I stepped onto the property again. Driving 14 hours total to cut a rail five blocks from the White House and almost get arrested at 6am sucks, but it makes an interesting story.
You mentioned that you going sober was a big motivational factor for this video. How long have you been sober and how has that decision affected the video, your riding, and just your life in general?
A week after the video premieres will be three years sober for me. I had a bad break up with a girl and was in a weird place in my life. I was dealing with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I would drive home at night imaging driving into oncoming traffic. I was really burnt out on life and unhappy. I knew I needed to do something so one night I decided to quit drinking and doing drugs. Then I disappeared for about a month to get help dealing with depression. Once my mental health started to improve I felt like I was a kid again with riding. I stopped caring about negative shit and just focused on riding. I became super motivated to ride and explore places to ride. Being sober helped me feel more energized and focus in on things I enjoy. It helped put my mind in the right place to be positive and create something cool with my friends. Drugs and alcohol are awesome, but not for me anymore.
Us/Them Rider Bios by Zack Gerber…
Jake is the youngest individual in our video project. Oddly, I've known him just about as long as I've known Howard. When I'd travel down to The Flow skatepark, this wirily, little shit would always be there. He looked like couldn't even bunnyhop, but I'd always see him flowing around the entire park. Years later when I moved to Columbus, Jake was always around. We'd often meet up at Campus Rampus and end up riding street late into the night. He'd tag along to places all over OH, PA, NY, and this one time we mistakenly went to FL. Pretty rad considering he wasn't even 18 yet—shout out to his parents. Over the years I've watched Jake grow—not only as an extremely talented rider, but as a man. Shit, I wrote Jake's first job resume, now he's out doing his own thing. Living and riding in Columbus. Holding it down. Like Kid Rock said, "JC is pimping."
The first time I met Devon was at Gary Faulkner's house. We were doing a photo shoot for Mislead Clothing. If that doesn't date me, I don't know what will. He had just gotten ACL surgery and was on crutches. I remember being an ass to him. We were shooting a trick, and he was like, "You don't have to do this if you don't want to." I snapped back with some asinine remark. I don't remember what I said. I'm pretty sure he was bummed on me until we met again years later. Devon is quiet and soft spoken, but his tricks are not. He casually does gap to grinds that most people talk about doing. Fearless is a word. I mean, I've seen the look on his face in photos, and he's not stressing at all. Speaking of photos, he's one of the most talented photographers I've met over the years. We've also both shared battle clips together. I've been the cheerleader when he was doing something crazy, and vice versa for me. That shit bounds you. I'm super pleased to call Devon my friend.
Anyone remember The Cellar skatepark? I do. It's the first place I saw Howard. I believe it was 2006. I was doing 3 tap to whip over a spine, and he did a crook to hard 180. Needless to say, Howard has been in the street game for many years. We became friends during the filming of Hard Times. It was our first time working together. I can safely say I've never met someone as motivated or dedicated to BMX as Howard. Any place we planned a trip, he'll spend hours searching skate websites and street view on Google finding spots for all of us. Not only would he do that, but he'd also create maps that were the most efficient for us to hit every spot along the way. If you didn't like the setup then it was on the next—talk about productivity. We'd sometimes walk away with the entire vehicle getting hat tricks. Management aside, his riding speaks for itself. Some of the most difficult and hard to ride setups he seemingly makes magic happen. Seriously, I've filmed him do shit that still has my head shaking. Can't forget his work ethic either. I'm not just talking about the hundreds of hours he put into this video… Ever find something amazing, but there's a rail in the way or concrete run up that sucks? Well, that doesn't stop Howard. I've spent many an hour in hi-vision vests cutting, asphalting, concreting and repairing setups to make them ride-able. If the trail riders say, "No dig, no ride." Than our motto is "No cut, no grind."
He may be a man that needs no introduction. I'd say I knew or rather heard more about Jeff before I met him. Shit, the first time I met him I was in Coulson's backyard with his home made flamethrower, Jeff had just gotten out of jail and was trying to party. I can't make that up. There are a lot of stories circulating about this man, but one thing that is not talked about enough is his loyalty. He really does love his friends, and would do anything for them—for real, anything. Personally, he helped me get back on my feet when I got into a financial bind when he asked me to come work with him—and I learned so much in the process, too. Random trivial fact about Jeff, he's one of the most talented trim carpenters I've ever seen.
Matt is the dude that I've known the shortest amount of time. However, I've known about him and his riding for what seems like forever. He was doing tricks 10+ years ago that I'm just seeing other people do today. Matt's riding and overall enthusiasm has me the most hyped, though. He took a hiatus from BMX and now he's back—it's refreshing to see someone reignite the flame and to be so motivated. He's also one of the most laidback and easiest people to get along with. I feel like a cheerleader saying this shit, but I'm always hyped when I see him get a clip. Originality and effortless style, I'm trying to not sound like such a fan boy.
Us/Them will be premiering in Columbus, Ohio on July 21st, info below…