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EAST PROVIDENCE â€“ BMX freestyle is now an amazing entity all its own, with multi-million dollar sponsors, worldwide events, an abundance of television exposure and â€“ for the best â€“ lucrative contracts with corporations trying to sell their products.
It didn't always used to be that way, especially here in New England.
The best way to describe it: Primitive.
That's precisely the reason BMX freestyle legend Kevin Robinson has become so involved with the creation of a 90-minute documentary entitled â€śA Wicked Rideâ€ť â€“ a riveting story that details how, over the course of three-plus decades, a small contingent of bike trick lovers grew and catapulted the region into eventual fame and fortune.
It's not done yet, but nearing completion, and Robinson is planning for its' premiere at the third annual K-ROB Family Fun Festival, slated for Rosa Larisa Park on Saturday, June 8.
On Tuesday morning, Robinson, 41, and longtime pal Scott Moroney, a 42-year-old businessman and freestyle guru who grew up in Shrewsbury, got together at a coffee shop not far from the former's new home to discuss how this film â€“ which already has drawn attention from ESPN.com â€“ came to be.
â€śOne of my best friends and a teammate with the Mountain Dew/GT Trick Team, Dennis Langlais, called me; he lives in San Diego, and he told me he had this idea rolling around in his head,â€ť Moroney grinned over a cup of java. â€śHe wanted to tell the story of how it all got started in New England.
â€śKevin knows all to well how all the odds were stacked against us because the sport was based in California, that the media that covered it were in California, how we couldn't do it year-round because of the weather, and all the bike companies were located there. He also knows how all of the leagues and events were out there.
â€śThe kings of the sport were located there, too,â€ť he added. â€śWe were a small group of guys back here who idolized those premier freestylers, like Ron Wilkerson, Eddie Fiola, Mike Dominguez, Brian Blyther, R.L. Osborn. They were all winning competitions and were plastered all over the magazines we used to get back here.â€ť
That call came back after suppertime on a weeknight in October 2011, and Moroney asked Langlais if he understood exactly what a huge task making such a documentary would be.
â€śI told him I didn't know how to do that; I said, 'I'm not a filmmaker, and neither are you,'â€ť Moroney laughed. â€śHe just said, 'It's never stopped us before,' then told me, ''Scotty, no more games! Let's just do this!'
â€śDennis is more of a 'go-for-it' kind of guy, and I'm more of a rational thinker,â€ť he continued. â€śHe's the yin to my yang. He knew my background was in corporate communications, and that I had done a lot of videos on corporate-type promotions and training films. He said I'd be the video guy, and he had the story in his head. I just said we had one thing missing, and he immediately told me, 'Let's get Jeff Winston!' (a freestyler they both knew from New Haven).
â€śJeff's a storyteller â€“ boy, is he a storyteller! â€“ so we had to get him involved; we called him and had a conversation, all three of us at once. It was like a conference call.
â€śThat all happened in 30 minutes. When Jeff said, 'Great! Let's do it!' we were off and running. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but Dennis is one of the people on the planet I trust most. If he says we can do it, we're gonna do it!â€ť
As he munched on a breakfast sandwich, Robinson's mind drifted back to when he was a kid enamored by riding a bike.
He admitted he had tried different sports in elementary school and junior high, among them Little League baseball, cross-country, even wrestling (for one day), but his mind always drifted back to getting his butt back on his bicycle.
He and a couple of friends would build small ramps in backyards where parents back in the late 1970s and 1980s didn't mind and try to do a semblance of the tricks they had seen in the magazines they revered.
He recalls how plenty of peers and elders scoffed at the idea of taking it all so seriously, but that pushed him further. He was hell-bent on proving them wrong.
Now he proudly owns numerous X Games' BMX vert (meaning vertical) medals, not to mention the world record for the greatest height ever achieved on a 20-inch cycle.
â€śI took everybody who told me I shouldn't or couldn't and used that as motivation,â€ť Robinson stated. â€śFrom the very beginning, I had friends tell me I couldn't be on the Centrifugal Force Trick Team, and I had kids pick on me for riding BMX. I had a guidance counselor tell me in high school that riding a bike was a waste of time, and an old girlfriend of mine said, 'What kind of future do you have if all you want to do is ride a bike?'
â€śEven my brother told me, and I remember exactly what he said, 'Riding will never be more than just a hobby.' Believe it or not, he's a big reason I've achieved what I have. Even two years ago, when I was having all those shoulder separation issues, friends would say I was all done, but then I went back to the X Games and won a bronze medal in Los Angeles.
â€śThe thing is, I always took it seriously, and I always will.â€ť
Robinson remembers, when not trying to achieve more sophisticated moves in the air, his favorite thing was perusing those magazines.
â€śThose brought my heroes to life,â€ť he noted. â€śI got 'BMX Plus,' 'Freestylin'' and 'BMX Action.' Anyone who loved it identified with one rider, and mine was Ron Wilkerson. It brought BMX freestyle closer to us. That's where we'd learn about new tricks, how to build ramps, how to fix your bike, how to organize a team, how to find or develop a league. We learned a lot.â€ť
Moroney, who had gone through the same tribulations in northern Massachusetts, indicated he knew he had to enlist Robinson for insight, and also provide him with old photos, film clips of backyard happenings and recollections of his initial competitions.
â€śI was at the Aspen X Games last January, and Scott called me out of the blue,â€ť Robinson mentioned. â€śWe hadn't seen each other in years, but we started talking with each other like we had spoken the day before. When he asked me to get involved, I said, 'Anything you need, buddy, just let me know.'â€ť
Moroney also asked others for their input â€“ among them Joe Johnson of Stoughton, T.J. Fallon of Canton, Keith McElhinney of Beverley. They were like â€śBatmanâ€ť or â€śSupermanâ€ť to Robinson in those days.
â€śWe all knew we had to pick it up with our trick creativity because we knew a kid nicknamed K-Rob was coming up fast, that he was breathing down our necks,â€ť Moroney claimed. â€śWith the film, we were looking for the people who had made the biggest contributions to our sport, and â€“ in Rhode Island â€“ it was obviously Kevin.
â€śIn this film, what we wanted to accomplish is telling the story of what Kevin already had done,â€ť he added. â€śKevin sustained that love for BMX freestyle from the beginning, through the late '70s, the '80s, the '90s to today. He took it up as a kid and stuck with it. At different points in his life, he tried other sports, tried to do other things. He went to school, got a job, but something burned deep inside.
â€śHe told himself, 'I don't want to do this, I want to ride.' At the time, there wasn't any career for riders available per se, but â€“ to his credit â€“ he told himself, 'I'm going to make this work,' and he has.â€ť
From the beginning, Moroney knew he only had a few photos and an old VHS tape, so he turned to the Internet for more memorabilia. Those pickings were mighty slim, so he decided to launch what he called a â€śGrass rootsâ€ť group on Facebook to reconnect with his older friends.
He wanted them to shuffle through old films and the like, then get back to him.
â€śI've got over 100 videotapes of competitions, stories, people riding in their backyards, TV news appearances, interviews, articles, etc.,â€ť Moroney stated. â€śThey all came from the people we contacted; they came in droves. This is all about telling the story of how it got started here, and how we as youngsters became interested it.
â€śIt's about a group of kids across the six New England states who knew they didn't fit the mold of traditional sports, how they found BMX freestyle and why they ran with it; it's because of this feeling they had inside them that it was something fun, something challenging, something different. We didn't want to do the same thing the others were. We wanted to stand out.â€ť
Offered Robinson: â€śI hated playing the traditional sports, though I did like basketball. I didn't like having a coach yelling at me, telling me what to do, especially when he was out of shape and couldn't do half the things we were doing. I was, like, 'I can ride my bike whenever I want, and if I fall, I don't care. I'll just pick myself up, dust myself off and try it again.'
â€śI also that inner drive, and the ability to think outside the box. We all were doing something that wasn't accepted socially, and there were times we felt like we were in the land of misfit toys.â€ť
Moroney admitted he's already done 75 interviews with some of the region's best, those who the most-renowned Californians eventually looked up to because they themselves had it so much easier. He also mentioned he had no money at first for production, and poured some of his own into the project.
â€śA month ago, through Kickstarter.com, we raised about $9,000, but that's not the point,â€ť he insisted. â€śMy goal, our goal, is to tell the story for the New England guys who were involved, guys like Kevin, and those from Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts. I want them to sit down and watch it, then say, 'Cool! That's my story.
â€śIf 100 of my good, core friends watch it and are happy, I'll be more than satisfied,â€ť he continued. â€śFrom a practical standpoint, I'm not sure if one of the big TV stations will air it, but we will sell copies. And, once we pay all the expenses associated with the film, most of the proceeds will go directly to Kevin's K-ROB Foundation (which helps EP youngsters with financial issues become or remain involved with youth sports).
â€śWe love the kind of work he's doing; he provides opportunities for the kids who love the traditional sports, but also those associated with BMX freestyle.â€ť
Both also indicated if anyone wants to watch it, they will attempt to get cable TV powers involved.
â€śIf they do, that would be great,â€ť Moroney said. â€śI can't wait to watch it with my daughters, say, 'Look at Daddy! Here's why Daddy still rides a bike at 42!' I just love it, and that could be any one of us.â€ť
Noted Robinson: â€śI think with anything â€“ football, golf â€“ it's nice to know the origins, how it started, who the gladiators were who pioneered it. Will this have an impact on the future of the sport around here? I don't know, but it'd be nice.
â€śOur goal, Scott's goal, is more to help people get an understanding of what BMX freestyle does for us deep down inside,â€ť he added. â€śThis is a part of me, and us. It's who I am inside. That moment when you do something that you couldn't before, you finally pull it off, that's what keeps bringing you back.â€ť
Moroney explained a friend of his, Bill Curtin of Weymouth, once told him their sport is like an orbit.
â€śAt different parts of your life, if you did something you don't anymore, and it's suddenly not there, it will come back to you,â€ť he said. â€śIt's a part of you, and it will return.â€ť
And so it will with this film.
For more information, visit www.krobfoundation.org.