A Decade of Flatland

Chase Gouin -- one of the best flatlanders of all time -- tells us how his favorite pasttime has become his career and his love; a love for the art and sport, not the contest.

Back to Main Article

This interview previously appeared in The Flatlander.


Tell us about the Gouin Bicycle Co. that you and Rob "Tex" Thayer have formed.
Chase Gouin (CG): Well, it all sort of just fell into place when Rob "Tex" Thayer started fiddling things around a bit. This somehow chainreacted in such a way that the seeds of a frame making project were planted. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, "no-one" appeared and presented me with "nothing." I was in a state of non-existent bliss. Things are moving steady and smoothly with the company. The first batch of "Nothing" frames are due for release in November.

At first, I felt weird about using my name for the company. But Tex and I concluded my name would be identifiable to flatlanders all over the world. I'm not trying to glamorize myself or say that people should buy the frame just because of the name. Although I am putting my years of riding and recognition to work for me as a fair and honest marketing tool. Besides that, the quality and feel of this frame speaks for itself -- so I'm not worried.

Who do you have the most respect for in the flatland scene and why?
CG: Many flatlanders have earned respect and admiration, but none more than Kevin Jones. Some riders don't realize or acknowledge what he has done for flatland. All the trick positions he invented are stapling factors in the combinations of every flatlander. His incredible creative abilities have made flatland what it is today. No matter what -- Kevin Jones was, is, and will always be the greatest flatlander that ever existed -- period.

Do you consider BMX freestyle a sport -- yes or no. If no, why?
CG: Sports such as baseball and basketball have become traditional because they are fairly simple for anyone to get the hang of and even excel at. The spectators can familiarize and understand how it's done. The formats of these games have been specifically laid out, just minor adjustments in the rules and advancement in equipment and technology. But they're basically the same as when they started. These traditional sports were actually designed for competition. On the other hand, all forms of BMX freestyle are so vast and limitless. With so many trick styles and variations, it is more subjective to watch and therefore really can't be condensed into a set contest structure.

Competitive sporting events draw audiences and depend on them for financial support. With freestyle bike riding being more publicly recognized lately, riders have earned some well-deserved money -- that's fine. But it is proving that people want to watch the "dare-devil" risk taking of ramp riding. This clearly shows that people can't begin to grasp what goes into flatland. I think that's probably the main reason why flatland might be taken out of the X Games. If someone is flicking through the channels, they are more likely to stop and watch a guy go 12 feet off a half-pipe rather than some guy doing some neat looking spins with his wheels still on the floor. It's sad to say, but I guess it does all boil down to money. And in this case, what just so happens to be more pleasing to the eye is what is gaining the most exposure and will get more endorsements.

Here is how the media pushes a competitive jock-level mentality: The Gatorade commercial where Michael Jordan is facing off against a girl in a variety of sports. The words go like this: "Anything you can do, I can do better -- no you can't, yes I can. Sooner or later I'm greater than you." A lot of people need to walk away thinking that they got the upper hand so they feel superior. This mentality has no place in freestyle. I believe freestyle as a whole is not intended to be a sport, and flatland is off in a league of its own.

It is understood that you consider Flatland more of an art of self-expression, rather than a competitive event that can be judged. What pointed you in that direction?What stopped you from competing?
CG: It's not like I'm purposely trying to be a mysterious, hardcore, undergrounder or that I'm totally anti-contest. But I can explain why competition doesn't feel right for me.

The first contest I entered was at Albe's in '85. I was expecting to be a bit nervous but it was much worse. I was so affected by the contest atmosphere I was shaking, got cramps, and diarrhea. I could barely compose myself enough to sketchily pull a few tricks. I figured it would get easier the more I competed, but it never did. Ever since I tried to put together a routine, the tricks actually became harder once I labeled them as contest combos. I knew there had to be some repetitive preparation but it felt so unnatural. Any time I tried to put myself in the mindset for a contest, all my natural flow and style was completely lost -- it just felt really wrong! One time, I practiced specific routine combos for three weeks straight for a comp in Toronto. When they announced my name, I went out and messed up four tricks in a row then walked of in shame and disgust. It was such a feeling of wasted time and effort. It's like over-exaggerated stage fright that happens every time; therefore, I don't see why I would unnecessarily put myself through that ordeal. I guess I gave myself the benefit of the doubt each time I reluctantly decided to enter a contest. But I knew in the back of my mind I was volunteering to embarrass myself.

Here is how I see it -- if a person truly wants to be at a contest and has a sincere desire to enter and do well, it seems like they wouldn't be as nervous. But I never really wanted to be there so how could I possibly ride well and have fun? My inability to keep my cool and relax at that crucial moment is just a part of me that I can't control so I must accept it. People say, "face your fears," but I have no incentive to compete. Even the money doesn't motivate me or change my attitude. I feel my time would be better spent riding however I feel like riding that day, just as if the contest never existed. Many people are competitive in nature and feel the need to compare themselves to others as a measure or way of determining how much better or worse they are. This may help them get a perspective on where they stand or how they are ranked. I don't condemn that, but it's not my way of thinking. I feel that one can get a true sense of being in touch with their own skill level without having to out do or beat anyone else in a witnessed head-to-head battle. Especially in flatland because it's more of a personal artistic expression.

In competition it is obvious that some riders are much better than others but also a big part of it is who can maintain their cool under pressure. I can see some practical purposes for a contest. It gives new riders and fresh talent a chance to get recognized, and also such a gathering can keep riding alive and growing. But there are also magazines, videos, and jams to serve those same purposes. For myself, entering contests has always been a pointless, stressful mind game.

What characteristics do you think make someone a great flatlander?
CG: Most exceptional riders have very high expectations of themselves. This gives them that extra drive to progress. I have my own standard of riding and level of acceptable achievement which I try to live up to. Greatness can be defined in many ways besides just how hard a rider's tricks are. So I'll put it this way -- to be at a so-called professional level, I feel a flatlander should have at least five or six years hard riding experience and be able to excel in variety, difficulty, and originality. It's also good to do so some opposite tricks even if they are basic because this forces your body parts to adapt to awkward movements and increases trick linking possibility. Spinning, rolling, scuffing, whipping, turbining, flipping, bike and body varials, etc. are all important and useful. A certain level of consistency is good to maintain if you compete or do shows, but I don't feel that it should be priority one.

How do you perceive the future of flatland?
CG: I rarely pick up a magazine or watch a video, but I am aware that there some extremely talented flatlanders out there. From what I've seen and heard, they all have unique trick ideas and styles of their own. Since there are usually a few people who influence trends, there will be the guys who stand out and lead the way for the next generation. Although the basic trick concepts will always be used, I'm sure combos will evolve and tricks will continue to be strung together in different ways. At one point it was considered great to do a cherrypicker, now it may be a 360 barflip to spinning x-footed hitchhiker. So we see how far it's come. It's hard to imagine that there could ever again be such a margin of difference, even 25 years from now. But there are still plenty of trick ideas to be explored -- and that's the beauty of flatland

What advice can you give to kids just starting out in Flatland?
CG: When I was younger I rode because it just felt like that's what I should be doing. I didn't put much thought into where it would all lead to. Eventually, I realized that it was more than a hobby to me. I just kept doing what came naturally, rode hard, and tried to progress and that got me noticed. From that came a couple of sponsors, free bike parts, some traveling, and life experience.

My advice would be to search within yourself to discover the real reasons you ride. The feeling you achieve after pulling tricks will inform you if that's what you should be doing. That certain rush or sense of accomplishment will let you know. Hard practice can also be fun and rewarding if you are being true to yourself. If you ride only in the hopes of that big break or money deal, you are missing the point. And if that financial breakthrough doesn't happen -- would you still keep riding?

Just keep in mind that flatland isn't a sure road to a comfortable living. But if you love to ride and plan on doing it for a long time, then it is wise to send out resumes when you feel ready. And keep your options open for turning it into a paying career.

© Copyright 2001 frictionmagazine.com and/or respective authors and artists. All rights reserved.