David Grant - All Who Wander Are Not Lost
How a few choice words from a High school teacher in Muncie, Indiana, lead to him picking up a bike and traveling the world
Interview, intro and photos Devin Feil
David Grant has been living the life of a BMX nomad. I'd label him a couch surfer, but he's too tall to sleep on most, and would rather opt for his yoga mat on the floor for the sake of his back anyways. We shot this interview quite a while ago, from February 2013 to January 2014 and at three separate spots around my residence in California. When David wasn't soaking in the Golden State's sun, he could be found at a summer camp in Oregon or trekking across the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, with a European adventure thrown in for good measure.
When I first met David he was so sarcastic that it was almost impossible to decipher any kind of serious remark. I'm not sure if I've just grown used to his sarcastic nature as our friendship has developed over the years or if he's simply less cryptic nowadays. Either way, you won't need an enigma machine or decoder ring to get through this interview and find out where David's been, where he's headed, and how a few choice words for his high school teacher in Muncie, Indiana, lead to picking up a bike and traveling the world.
You've been all over the place lately. Want to give a quick rundown of where you've traveled to in the past year or so?
Mmm… Puerto Rico, Greece, Spain a couple of times, up and down the UK, Mexico, Cali, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.
Best place to ride out of those?
Barcelona, no doubt.
What sets Barcelona so clearly apart?
The spots; they just build set-ups I don't think you'll find anywhere else. And it's such a diverse city. You could ride Barcelona forever and always be finding something new.
Out of those, which destination was least like you expected?
Puerto Rico. Island life is something you have to experience first-hand to appreciate. All the locals in Puerto Rico are incredible as well, very welcoming people.
How so? Did you expect it to be more or less like mainland US?
I expected it to differ a lot more in some aspects. The empire has raped and pillaged that entire island.
Do your travels tend to dispel preconceived notions of other places or reinforce them?
Yeah they definitely crush the expectations you have 99% of the time, except in Texas. It was pretty much what I expected (laughs).
Were you not a fan of Texas?
I liked the people. Austin is a sick city; just everything around that place seems to be a bit backwards. Cops out there are a bit too DX.
Visiting so many places you must've gotten into at least a wild situation or two. What's the craziest you can remember?
That's hard. Maybe when my homie in Puerto Rico almost drowned under the waterfall; I've definitely never felt like that ever in my life.
Yeah I was there with you for that one. It felt hopeless watching and knowing we couldn't help at all huh?
Absolutely. I so vividly remember just freezing like ice, couldn't move, just standing there and watching it happen.
What was the BMX scene like in Greece?
Awesome. Those guys are super passionate about riding and having a good time. You can do anything you want there; we set off a pipe bomb one night. I love Greece. Baf crew!
One place you'd like to travel to?
Japan. It was my New Year's resolution to get there this year.
I just want the culture shock of seeing people do things so differently than we do on this side of the globe. I only hear good things about traveling there.
You seem to take things as they come. How far ahead do you tend to plan?
Just a month or two usually. It's best that way, I think.
How do you manage to travel so much? Is BMX your sole source of income?
Yeah, pretty much, and I buy one-way tickets and feel hungry most of the time. I've gotten good at sleeping on the ground so it doesn't really matter as far as housing goes.
If you could bring any five riders along for a trip, who would it be and where would you go?
Haha dream team aye? That's hard man. I'd probably have to assemble the T1 team from You Get What You Get and just go on those trips. That video was amazing. It helped ingrain the travel life into my brain. We used to watch that shit like every day. "Live, Learn, Expand Your Mind."
What was it like working as a camp counselor in Oregon with Shawn McIntosh this past summer?
Crazy. He's a nut and the camp is an insane place. It's awesome just mobbing around Oregon with little rider kids . They're all so down to do whatever, kick it at the skate park, pedal around Portland street, chug milk until they vomit just for stickers or old parts. Getting to hang out with those kids is a blessing.
In his recent Ride interview, Shawn was given the chance to discuss your friendship. Why do you think it is that you two clicked right off the bat?
I don't know to be honest. He was just my homie. He looked out for me in a lot of ways right from the start. Not a lot of people put their neck out for you.
How do you cope with being away from home and the lack of personal space on the road?
You still need days on which you go off on your own. It helps keep it fresh if you get away from the crew even just for a little while.
You have some food allergies, correct? Is it hard to accommodate them while you are away?
Yessum, celiac disease, it's pretty tough in most places. In Europe all they eat is bread. Shops here in the States suck as well, 99% of food out there is garbage.
For those who aren't familiar, could you explain what celiac disease is? And what you can and can't eat?
Basically my intestines can't absorb anything with gluten in it: cake, cookies, pizza, bread, basically I can't have anything with crumbs or crust. I get the worst fatigue imaginable and it just rips up my stomach.
Are there foods you could eat, but choose not to for other reasons?
Milk. Milk is awful.
When was it that you first identified the allergies and was it a long process to figure out?
It was four or five years ago I think. My sister found out first and it's a hereditary thing, so we all knew then.
How badly was celiac disease affecting you and how much better do you feel now?
It was pretty bad but you just think it's other things, since the symptoms can be so different for so many people. I feel loads better now.
What is your life like when you are back home in Indiana between trips?
Really, really mellow. My homies all work a lot and have moved to the city so I don't get to see them much. I hang out with my family a lot. I don't like going out at home, too many cops, too many narrow-minded people. I'll literally drive from my house to my mom's for lunch, and then ride the plaza all day. Or I'll ride campus alone to avoid the cops. That's it.
What's your hometown like?
A college town with a lot of closed down factories.
Do a lot of kids go to college right in town? Did you pursue college at all?
Yeah a lot of them do. I went to two class sessions at the local community college and then jibbed it off.
What do you think you'll get into once you are done being a pro rider?
Hopefully living a self-sustaining lifestyle, growing my own food and herbs. As long as I'm focusing on things that truly matter I know it'll all work out.
Do you still get out with anyone you started out riding with?
Absolutely. Jross, Coleman and Summerlot all still meet up to ride. Schedules though man.
When was the last time you really filmed in your hometown area?
I tried to ice this aluminum rail that was right by my old high school when Tony was in town to finish his beverage promo. I almost snapped my ankle off.
Any set-ups back home that you've had on the backburner?
Dude, so many. If you came to Muncie we could film a section, but no one that knows how to film is around there so everything just waits.
Do you still search for new stuff?
Yeah, I always try to drive and ride down different roads. Lots of nooks and jibs to stay busy on.
What does your family think of BMX and the fact you are always on the go?
They are into it; my dad finally looked me up on Google after all this time and tripped out. My mom has always been on top of it though. She knew how much I cared about riding from the jump.
What exactly did your dad have to say after googling you?
Just that he was psyched and had no idea. But how do you have no idea I'm on the Internet when I bring you magazines I'm in?
"...my dad finally looked me up on Google after all this time and tripped out"- David Grant
With the entirety of this interview being shot in California I have to ask your opinion on the Golden State?
It's bomb, people come here to make movies and magazines, right?
Since you tend to split your time between the two: Long Beach vs. Santa Barbara?
Probably DTLA over both of them. Both of those are good for relaxing but LA is sick, there's just so much crazy shit going on at all times it seems.
Ever considered moving out here?
Probably never fully to California. Too many people with too little resources. When shit hits the fan this is the last place I want to be, but I do love it here for riding and shit.
You've left your mark on a couple of legendary SoCal spots during your visits, including a Derek duster down Hollywood High and now a new trick at Staples Center. How does filming at spots like that compare to a random rail or hubba without any history?
It just puts you in a different mindset. When you find it yourself it's all yours. Virgin territory. Anything you want to do on the set-up will be great, it doesn't know any better. When it's a status spot you try and up the ante and add to the legacy, you know? Add your personal touch to it.
Months after we shot the feeble hard 180 at Staples Center you went back to grind it just for the hell of it. Did it feel different riding it when you didn't plan on filming?
Yeah totes, it was way less stressful and looked smaller. Almost everything will look smaller the second or third time back.
You tried to icepick a 26 stair hubba for this interview and it was the only thing that didn't work out. Any chance you'll go back?
Buuh, you always want to talk about that shit (laughs). Fucking ledge. I hated that day. I might go back, might say fuck it and never go back. If it's meant to be I'm sure I'll wind up back at the top of that thing.
Do people ever try to bring you to spots that are just too nuts?
Yeah sometimes, mostly just rails that are long but don't have stairs. The stairs are crucial and a lot of kids don't get that.
All but one of the photos we shot was at a spot you checked out prior and then decided you wanted to go get it done. Is that how you prefer to operate?
I used to be into it way more. Lately I've liked pedaling around and just finding things and trying it on right then and there.
Does it take a lot for you to fire something out then and there?
If I'm not hungry I can usually find it in me. Headphones help too.
Are you a morning person?
Banger spot to start the day?
Preferably. If we can pedal a bit too, that's the best case scenario. Few curb jibs to loosen up.
"When it's a status spot you try and up the ante and add to the legacy, you know? Add your personal touch to it"
- David Grant
It's been over two years since you left Sputnic and joined BSD. What makes BSD what it is?
The fact that all the riders stand behind everything Grant Smith makes, and it seems like everything within the company has happened so organically over time and the team all just vibes so well when we're together. It makes everyone on the team hold on a little tighter than most people do to a bike sponsor.
Do you feel like it's a rarity for a BMX team to be close-knit like that?
Yeah, at least from stories I've heard and personal experience.
What's with the BSD crew's love for Bones and how did you guys get into him?
He's the best rapper, ever. I found his shit a while ago when he was Th@ Kid and just couldn't stop listening to it. It's literally still all I listen to these days. He comes out with an album nearly every month so his stuff is always progressing. I played it on a trip and Tony started banging it too, all the time. I know so many riders who listen to Bones now. It's so good.
I think it's hilarious that after playing his music non-stop during the recent BSD trip, you guys were able to meet him in LA. Was he anything like you anticipated?
Haha he portrays his image well in his music, so yeah, a little. Deadboy was the anthem to our whole Pacific Coast Highway trip.
What's the longest you've spent filming on a single video project?
A little over a year for the Raider frame promo. It wasn't non-stop filming though, just getting a clip here and a clip there. I want to work on something diligently for a time.
How much does it mean to you to work with filmers like Donnachie Malouf and Sowerby, who you trust to film things well?
It means the world, honestly. You know it's going to look the way it should.
When did you first meet Tony Malouf?
At a DK dirt circuit years ago.
Does it motivate you to have a team manager in Malouf who is riding as hard as the rest of the crew?
No doubt. It makes it a really natural thing when the filmer is a rider too. They can relate and appreciate everything you're going through at any given spot. I couldn't imagine having to film with a nerd.
You are often the one Malouf trusts to film him. Do you feel a lot of pressure then?
Yeah, definitely. I think it's pressure I put on myself though. I look up to him as a filmer a lot, so it's like an immediate critique of my work… It's fun though. I love when Tony hands me the camera.
I remember you had a GL2 on a trip a while back. How long have you owned your own video camera?
I've always had a video camera ever since I first started riding. A shitty one chip, but that teaches you framing and zoom at such a basic level.
Have you been shooting much lately with your photo camera?
Yeah, I've been trying to shoot a lot lately. Just felt the need again, you know?
If you had a time machine and could be part of one past BMX video, which one would you film for?
Can I Eat.
The Mount Rushmore of NBA has been a frequent topic in basketball lately. Which four riders make up your Mount Rushmore of BMX?
There's four on that thing right? Let's go with Jason Levy, Vic Ayala, Ratboy and Hoffman.
Speaking of basketball, didn't you play in high school and then quit and started riding?
I played up until freshman year. I got suspended for cursing at a teacher and couldn't try out that year so I started to ride.
Were you playing ball and riding for a bit? Or was BMX something completely new you took up at that time?
I rode around town for like a month on a Next but after the basketball shit I was like, 'Fuck, this is all I have now, I need to commit' (laughs).
What was your first bike like?
My first real whip was a DK General Lee. I took the brakes off it the first day.
Being tall is advantageous in basketball. How do you feel about it for riding? How tall are you for the record?
I think it helps in riding as well; I can see down set-ups sooner as I'm rolling up to them and shit. Last time I went to the doctor she said I was 6'6.
What year was that? How quickly did you find The Come Up message board?
Not sure what year it was but I was 15. So like 16 or 17 when I found TCU.
You were pretty active on the message board for a while. What drew you to it?
It was just an outlet for what I was making, I guess. There was no real scene in Indiana at that time, just my little clique of friends. It was a way to show other riders my shit and see what they thought of it and vice versa. I felt like I had more of a community of riders.
Since we've talked so much about your recent travels: where were some of the first places you visited to ride?
Indianapolis, Louisville, Dayton.
Did you know other riders in these cities or did you just go and see what you could find?
We'd just go and park, pedal around. We didn't know anyone really. Anthony Barton is the first out of town dude I met though. He was from Louisville. I started riding with him a little; he was older and pushed us to try shit. After that I rode around with Ryan Howard a bit in his Ohio area.
Do you get the same feeling riding a new city as you did back then?
Yeah, a little I think. I don't remember a lot from that time period.
What keeps you driven to see new places now?
I can't sit around and be content. I just get depressed and insane telling myself I'm wasting my life. I know I only have so much time to see the world and to learn from it. You only have one go at this shit. I can't be sitting around when I'm old with all kinds of regrets and pent up aggression from the shit I should have been doing and accomplishing but just didn't because I was putting shit off.
Where are you off to next?
Back home for a minute, then Barcelona.
Who would you like to thank?
My mom, my family, Grant, Rachel, Dave, and all the homies with BSD Forever. Dane and Flip at Albe's, Paul at Almond, Dub Jack, Josh at Operativ, the Motta's for the Rawr Superfood, and Malouf along with the rest of The Gully Factory representatives. You for driving me around so we could get these photos, Cody Bowers, Shitty Mac, Jeff Z, Fred Murray, 22, and everyone else who's looked out for me while I've been in their neck of the woods. You know who you are.
"You only have one go at this shit. I can't be sitting around when I'm old with all kinds of regrets and pent up aggression from the shit I should have been doing..."- David Grant
The New Jersey Connection
Home grown in the Garden State
SCRATCH THE SURFACE
Chester Blacksmith designs his dream trip