Whatever Happened to Josh Heino?
A story of Unfinished Business
8 Jan 2017
By Paul Robinson | First published in DIG issue 99.5 - Summer 2016
It’s somewhere between lunch and early afternoon and I am staring at a text message from Jeff Z. The text includes a cell phone number for Josh Heino with a note saying “not even sure if it’s still his number”. I was tasked with tracking down the elusive Heino for a one-on-one interview, with a view to getting his honest opinion on his contribution to BMX. I am conscious of the way I write my introductory text to Josh, trying to sound as human as humanly possible inside the amount of characters allowed. One thing text messaging and emailing have done to us over the years is made us less human, they’ve caused unnecessary hurt, confusion and arguments because there is no way to read emotion in words. Sometimes you just have to pick up the phone
An hour or so later, Heino replies. He’s thankful that I reached out to him and he’s down to talk on the phone. I felt like a Heino-sized weight had lifted from my shoulders and I was excited to talk and find out more about this era defining street rider who, in my eyes, was one of the most exciting things to happen to BMX in the 1990s and 2000s. Heino personified the rock star image of a BMX pro, he was arrogant, he was temperamental and he was the type of rider that only needed to do one big thing because that big thing would stand out over everything else. He was the big hitter basically, the air strike or the assassin, but he was troubled.
I told Josh I would call him that weekend. I really wanted to be able to sit down with a beer and just have a good, natural conversation that covered everything. That weekend, I called him up as promised and the first thing Josh said was that he had forgotten about our arranged call and that it was weird, since he doesn’t usually forgot about things as big as this. This made me think that there was going to be more to this conversation than just a chat about BMX. It felt like he wanted to explain everything the way it should be told. Within minutes we were discussing the end of his BMX career and I could sense bitterness about how it all went down. It’s public knowledge that BMX gave up on Josh at a time when Josh was not ready to give up on BMX. Over the course of our phone call I began to understand the struggle and regret that Heino has endured over a 10-year hiatus from the pro spotlight.
Josh currently lives in New Hampshire with his family, who he has provided for since the BMX paychecks stopped coming. He has followed in his father’s footsteps and now specializes in antique restoration and re-purposing of old English barns, a totally different way of life to the one he had on the west coast many years ago.
When I ask Josh if he has regrets about the way his career ended, he is pretty open and honest, blunt in his answers but extensive enough to give an insight into a man who didn’t quite do everything he had planned on doing. “I have no fairy tale ending,” he says. Josh had a lot more to give, and that energy is still inside him today, he still rides but not in the same way he used to because he can’t risk any harm to himself. “I have to work, so I can’t hurt myself, its not like it was 10 years ago”. I ask him if he still feels like going out on his bike and scaring himself and he tells me that he has turned around and walked away on seeing a big set up, or thrown his bike in the back of his van at a skate park because he knew that urge was in him but he couldn’t act upon it. I’ve heard this before from Jay Miron, times when he would just have to leave a riding session for fear of hurting himself. That goes to show the type of rider Josh Heino was, a do-or-die rider, one who, in my opinion, fits the mold of a pro in every way.
Josh confesses he has grown up a lot; he has a family now and has matured over the last ten years. He says that he used to have some kind of swagger power about him, but that it was the pro lifestyle that gave him that. “I wish I could stop now and look at myself back then, I was just a kid who didn’t care, and I would land in a different country and just ride and not care about anything”. Josh has never been a social type of guy, and he is quite frank about that. “This phone call is out of the blue for me, I don’t talk to people, I don’t care for human beings, I’m not a dick but there’s so many assholes out there.” You can’t fault a man for telling it how it is.
One thing he took for granted back then was time. “Back then I took things for granted for sure. I just want more time, I want the days to be longer, there’s not enough time, I have ideas and I want to pursue them but there’s just not enough time”. Josh was involved in BMX product design many years ago but he feels he missed that boat; time passed and before he knew it, it was gone. “For me to be 100% content, I need to be in the BMX industry, as a designer, or an owner… I don’t have what it takes to make those dreams happen anymore, when I get home it’s family time, I have to give everything to my family and my kids, that’s what I do”. I don’t think Josh feels that his family or working life are getting in the way of what he wants to do, I just get the feeling he would make a deal with the devil to stretch time in order to satisfy his craving for BMX. He is a BMX rider to the very core, he still follows BMX, he still rides and that’s where his heart is.
“I never got burnt out on BMX, I got burnt out on dealing with injuries and burnt out on the BMX industry, its pretty cutthroat and there’s not a lot of money to go around. There’s always drama in BMX, it’s just the way it is. I dealt with a lot of it, it’s one of those things where I think back about how I got burnt, I saw shoe companies who dropped their BMX team, then to re-build a BMX team later, people being screwed out of contracts etc. In the long run its not going to matter, a lot of people don’t see it or think about it, but its hard not to pay attention.” His words are based on his experiences and he ends by stating “It’s a cruel world, but it’s the real world”. He’s been there, he can see it clearly now.
I ask him if he finally felt free after removing the shackles of riding for brands and the pressures of producing content to make a living. “Not at all”, he explains, “It was a complete struggle, if I am honest, the years after were some of the hardest in my life. I had no Plan B, I had no wealthy family that could support me.” He expands on how he really felt at that time. “I was proud, I was pissed off and I regret that, but that’s how I was.” At around that time, Heino’s girlfriend became pregnant with their first child and that brought a host of new responsibilities. So he made the decision to move to the east coast and leave everything behind.
“I was scared to death, it didn’t get any easier for a long time, starting a new life was hard, moving back to the east, life changes, your friends change, its just complicated”. I admire how open Josh is about everything, most riders are too afraid to talk candidly about such key moments in their life, especially as BMX is seen by most as a constructive sport and essentially a hobby. People don’t always see how hard it is to make a living from BMX. I ask him more about how it feels now, expecting things to have settled down somewhat. “Honestly, its still kind of hard and it never got any easier. I always think about BMX, even now. It’s pretty depressing actually, I don’t have any candy coated pretty ending, shit happens”. All respect to Josh, this is someone who had a successful career in BMX and is not at all afraid to tell it how it is. Heino’s life was BMX, and when that was cut short it was only ever going to have adverse effects. “I don’t have BMX in my life anymore and I need to fill that void, I rebuild antique farms from the 18th century but its work, its my living, it just doesn’t quite do what BMX did. I am always looking for that replacement to BMX, but its not out there. It’s a constant battle to find that replacement.”
The line goes dead and I freeze. We’re just getting into a very deep explanation of events and the fucking phone goes dead! But now it’s back on and Josh starts to talk about his buddy Dave Mirra (R.I.P.). He says he can identify with the emotional struggles that Dave went through. “It’s not like you put up a wall,” he says, “but you are, like, this figure and its hard to lose it, its harder to get back to that point where you are content.”
I don’t think many riders will ever be able to fill the void that BMX leaves. It’s such an engrossing, captivating sport and its confines stretch so far, the possibilities to travel, create content, be adored and have a following. It’s all too much to give up with no emotional change. The conversation swings to family. As a family man myself I am interested in how having a family has helped with this mourning for a different life. “There is so much meaning in being a father” he explains, “everything I do now is for my kids, any time I have after work I just invest it into them and for me that is just natural, it’s what we as humans do”.
Josh is a straight talking, authentic guy. He tells it how it is and doesn’t wrap it up in glitter. That’s why I didn’t wrap this interview up in glitter, I told it straight from the horse’s mouth. Josh isn’t alone either, many riders have struggled to cope with life on the other side and many haven’t had the fortune to end up on top or even close to it. For what’s it worth though, Josh has a respectable and creative job, he works hard for his family and even when the doors seemed to be closing he managed to open new ones. He seems to have come to terms with the ending of his BMX pro career, but coming to terms with the past and feeling content are two entirely different things. It’s clear Josh may never be content and that’s something he will have to live with. Somehow though I feel he has the character of a person who can do just that. - PR
“I never got burnt out on BMX, I got burnt out on dealing with injuries and burnt out on the BMX industry, its pretty cutthroat and there’s not a lot of money to go around. “ - Josh Heino
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