etnies 'Forward' - Where are they now? Part 1
Ruben Alcantara, Joe Rich, Edwin De Larosa, Garrett Byrnes & Sandy Carson
Intro and text by Scott Towne | Additional text by Rob Dolecki | Illustration by Taj Mihelich | Special thanks to Mike OBryan
Article originally printed in DIG MAGAZINE issue #2020 - Dec 2020
In the late ‘90s, the skate shoe business was becoming a monster. With the once dominant Airwalk circling the drain, and the ever-present Vans largely unchallenged, companies like Sole Technology, the parent company of etnies, were staking their claim in this growing market. Going back a couple of years to the first Props Road Fools video, we saw a glimmer of things to come in the footwear space. “I got my Kostons wet,” uttered Dave Friemuth, referencing his fresh ‘Es Koston shoes he sported in the video. He was also seen wearing an Emerica hat through much of the video—both pieces that hinted at the future connection between Dave and etnies. ‘Es and Emerica are Sole Tech brands, and without getting into too much back story, Sole Tech was juggling brand names around for a couple years before settling on etnies as their “action sports” brand that would exist beyond the pure skateboarding realm. Mike “Rooftop” Escamilla was etnies BMX team rider number one, followed closely by the addition of East Coast raw dog, Mike Griffin. Taj Mihelich, Joe Rich, Nate Hanson, and Dave Freimuth were also among the first wave of riders to be added to the team. The etnies BMX program quickly gained momentum, signature shoes from Rooftop, Taj, and Joe were rushed to market and an instant hit with riders. There was plenty of marketing hype to back them up, with ads in every magazine and video, a booth at the Interbike trade show, and event sponsorships worldwide. BMX was on the front burner at Sole Tech HQ, and it was time to put their money where their feet were.
Nothing lends core credibility, at least the way it did in the year 2000, like a full-length video. Renowned BMX cinematographer Dave Parrick was hired for the immense task of wrangling this project. Two years in the making, filming at spots and skateparks around the globe, on some of the craziest terrain BMX had ever seen, the etnies crew went all-in for Forward. When asked about the meaning of the name 'Forward', Taj recalled that it was simply meant to imply progression, as in “We are moving this shit FORWARD.” The term “progression” doesn’t even skim the surface of describing this video. The riding in Forward is incredible even by today’s standards. For 2002, it was absolutely mind-blowing. BMX changed the day this video premiered, and there hasn’t been anything like it since. If you’ve never seen Forward, now is the time to watch and learn; and if you haven’t watched it in a while, watch it again. As we approach twenty years since its release, we thought it would be a good time to take a look back at this exceptional video, ask the majority of those involved to reflect on their parts, and check to see what they are up to today. - Scott Towne
What more can be said about such a real-deal legend like Ruben Alcantara? His riding and Forward section helped re-define what was possible on a BMX bike.
"It was so fun filming for this 'Forward'. I bought my Sony TRV900 and I’d go with my friends Sandy, Joe, Taj, and we’d film each other. We’d go out almost every day to search and do things; it was incredible. It was one of my first major video parts and I’d say Parrick filmed a bit more than half my section.
It was an honor to be riding with Joe and Taj- it was so motivating to be a part of etnies and be in a video with them- that was insane. Joe, Taj and Dave Freimuth were big influences; and to ride/ film /travel with them was amazing; also get to know Garret better. Quite a dream. After we finished filming for the video, I didn’t think about what was going to happen. I never thought I was going to have the last part, or it was going to be what it was. Then I saw it after, and I was like, “Holy shit.” One thing is I wish Joe Rich was able to ride more, because he was hurt a lot. His vision of riding, style and how high he does everything would have made an amazing part, especially in those times.
These days I'm working a bit with Soulparks on project designs,working with Fly Bikes and Terrible One on some products. Garrett and I started Fingers Crossed suspension BMX bikes, it’s been super fun. These days there are bike parks being built everywhere. Each year they are better and better. I see how a lot of people don’t really like the mountain bikes because they feel too big. You can ride these bikes at those parks with no problem at all. It’s also really easy on your body. You can be sore or hurt on your BMX bike, and you can ride these for three hours. I’ve been judging; it’s cool going to the contests and see all the riders, and friends- it’s amazing. I’m still doing things around BMX; I feel lucky about that."
"I bought my Sony TRV900 and I’d go with my friends Sandy, Joe, Taj, and we’d film each other. We’d go out almost every day to search and do things; it was incredible."- Ruben Alcantara
Being plagued with non-stop knee injuries for almost two years straight isn’t very conducive for compiling clips for a video project. While Joe Rich unfortunately never had a window of opportunity to make his vision of riding and style a reality for a proper section in “Forward”, he sure had a damn good outlook on being a spectator for some of the epic riding that did go down by his friends.
"My thoughts on filming for 'Forward' almost don’t exist, ha ha. Because I never really felt like I did film for the video. So there are no great tales of trading blood for triumph, which is often the case when one sets out to give their best for a part. The footage that I do have in there, all seems like it was part of my everyday riding. Due to my injuries at the time, I never really arrived at the place where I was ready to film. During those days, I was usually just healing, or finished healing, and happy to be riding in some capacity again. That was a time period where I had spent 21 of 24 months on the sidelines due to something injury related. It was pretty rough.
Oddly enough, this may sound weird, but I often forget that I was ever a part of it. When I think of that video and those times, it’s a reflection of my friends and how great they are. The times we shared off the bikes, and what they were making possible riding. It was really great to be around them, and that energy, during those days. Due to what I was going through personally though, I can’t help but feel like I was a spectator to it all.
These days, as of right now at least, I feel like I’m in the same boat as I was in 'Forward', ha ha. Healing from a knee surgery that didn’t quite go as easily as I thought it would. But when does it ever go just how you think it would? I was really working hard at getting my knees as strong and healthy as I could, and then the exact opposite happened. It’s no secret that my knees have plagued me on and off for some time now. Apart from that, I was riding a lot of concrete, and working on T-1. Those two things were/are a part of my every day, and are two things I hold very close to my heart."
"These days I feel like I’m in the same boat as I was in 'Forward'... healing from a knee surgery that didn’t quite go as easily as I thought it would."- Joe Rich
Edwin De Larosa
After being added to the team close the completion of the video production, and scoring some California trip clips in the VHS video split section with Garrett Byrnes and Brian Terada, Edwin De La Rosa, Dave Parrick and Mike Manzoori went to work and created a piece that resulted in way more than just some predictable B-side fluff. What started out as a last-minute DVD bonus section addition, turned into one of the more memorable sections of the entire video. Beyond his visionary style and progression on a bike, he's also transferred some of that energy from behind handlebars to behind the viewfinder of a Yashica T4, and has since become recognized as an uber-talented documentary street-style photographer.
"An etnies rep in New York started hooking me up with shoes. I eventually got on the team, and the video was already almost done. My full part became a bonus section when the DVD came out. (Ed note: “Forward” came out in the time period when video releases were transitioning from VHS to DVD format) Right away I went to California, and linked up with Mike Manzoori. He took me to some ill shit that I wanted to go to, and spots that I seen in magazines. After that trip, Dave Parrick came to New York with Josh Stricker, and he was there for like five days or so. I loved “Nowhere Fast”- it was the first video where I saw a jump-over grind. That video was ill, the soundtrack was ill, the parts were ill. I had no choice but to turn it up (for Parrick and “Forward”). I was also filming for “Can I Eat?” at the same time. We just got it in. We rode like two days straight. We rode the whole day, and then at night it turned into a session on the bench on Water Street- we were there for a minute. It was late when we actually left. I just went home back to Brooklyn- I don’t remember what time it was, maybe 3 or 4AM- took a shower. I don’t think I slept, I just chilled. Then I met up with Parrick again later and we took the train down to New Brunswick, New Jersey.
I remember when it came out and brought the DVD to Bob Scerbo’s crib. I showed him my part and he said it was tight, and I wasn’t really agreeing with him. (Laughter) Looking back now, I like it; it’s cool. It’s in my top two personal video parts.
It was crazy. I couldn’t believe that I was in the video. I’m on this crazy team with all the dudes I looked up to. Joe Rich and Taj were gods. I tried not to think about it too much back then. I was just going with the flow, but it made no sense. I was from Brooklyn, riding the city, now I’m with these guys getting paid to wear shoes with the best dudes ever. It felt like I did it. I still can’t believe it.
These days I'm chilin', working on a few things and riding a little bit more also."
"Looking back now, I like it. It’s in my top two personal video parts."- Edwin De Larosa
That signature Garrett Byrnes style is just overflowing at classic Northeastern U.S. spots in his “Forward” section; all of the East Coast Terminal skatepark footage is gold. We caught up with Garrett to get his thoughts on filming for 'Forward'.
"Man, it was such an interesting time. I was riding for etnies, but I almost felt like I wasn’t part of the main team. Ruben and those guys were so many levels above me. It was such an awesome vibe. The team was crazy. I got on after Duffs, and I was kind of like, “Where do I fit in?” I’m not the guys who I look up to, so I just needed to ride, shoot photos, and travel. It wasn’t like I was going to try and film a monumental video part. Back then, I didn’t care about making video parts. It was a struggle for me to even film, because I just wanted to ride and have fun. You can talk to anyone- for me to go out and film something was like pulling teeth. If I went out with my friends, and someone had a camera, they would film a few things. That’s generally what happened for Forward. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I have to go jump off a roof.” It just kind of happened organically while riding with friends.
It was humbling, for sure. Just to see every part of it, and the way it was put together. It was really motivational during the up and coming years for seeing what was possible, and everybody was pushing it so far. It made me realize that we were part of something special, not only at that point in time, but moving forward with etnies, where it was always like a family atmosphere. When you went somewhere, they really took care of you, and they would always take an extra step, whether it was a hotel room or dinner- just being there for you. If you talked to Povah or anyone else that was affiliated with etnies, and said, “Hey, it’s 2AM and I have a flat tire”, he would drop everything and pick you up. On the opposite end of it, we would fuck with him and make his life hell, but he would still be there for us. He was the ultimate BMX parent. There were just so much positive vibes from everyone on the team.
These days, I’m just trying to ride my bike as much as possible, whether it’s my regular BMX bike, suspension BMX bike, mountain bike, dirt bike, or any kind of bike. As long as I’m on some sort of wheels I’m happy. I’ve been feeling as good on my BMX bike as I felt 20 years ago. No complaints. I dealt with some injuries last year, and I came through ‘em. I think I’m stronger because of them; I have a lot more knowledge of taking care of yourself, and wearing a helmet a lot more. BMX riders get past a lot of injuries. You see someone like Julian Molina-there’s no injury I have that compares. I watch him ride, and it’s life-changing. I can never complain; he’s positive, makes everything work, and he kills it. It was an awesome year, I feel great, and I look forward to riding as much as possible in the future."
"These days, I’m just trying to ride my bike as much as possible, whether it’s my regular BMX bike, suspension BMX bike, mountain bike, dirt bike, or any kind of bike. As long as I’m on some sort of wheels I’m happy."- Garrett Byrnes
One of the BMX renaissance men at the turn of the century, Sandy Carson’s section encapsulates his love for terrain of all types around the U.S., and with a proper demonstration of diverse riding skills with style. Since his DIG and etnies days he's become a well renowned photographer throughout the bike and music worlds, and beyond.
"I just watched it again for the first time in years! That was an amazing trip down memory lane of good times, baggy jeans, wee bars and big sprockets!
Those were priceless times filming for that video, traveling about with your mates filming a video part with not a care in the world it seemed like, aside from delivering a video part. Kind of a dream come true to get paid to do what you love and have a shoe company get behind it! Seems surreal now, come to think of it. It was fun ticking off a bunch of those iconic spots that you only saw in videos as a wee lad filmed by a guy who made some of the most iconic BMX videos (Dave Parrick/Homeless Trash). Pretty mind-blowing to think it was that long ago now and a lot of the content still stands strong. Hats off to Nate Hanson and Povah for dealing with all us weirdos on the team back then, and sorry about the grey hairs!
It was hugely inspiring being part of it for sure and a wild chapter in bike riding progression that broke after the mid-school era, I suppose. 'Forward' did take a few years to come out mind you, because Parrick was moving like treacle, which was good because people were chomping to see it when it finally came out.
It felt lucky and privileged to be part of that crew and put out a video and be proud of it. It was also fun to be part of the music curation that went in the video and hook the bands up with etnies gear, which led to lifelong friendships with folks like The Redneck Manifesto, Mogwai, etc.
I'm not hucking myself on a BMX bike anymore! I still dust the BMX cobwebs off once in a blue moon, but mostly riding mountain bikes and bike touring/bike packing these days. Work-wise I’ve been publishing books of my photo projects and shooting and producing short films / commercial work with my wife."
"Forward did take a few years to come out mind you, because Parrick was moving like treacle"- Sandy Carson
The term “progression” doesn’t even skim the surface of describing this video. The riding in Forward is incredible even by today’s standards.
- Scott Towne
Ruben Alcantara - Etnies Forward - DIG BMX Memory Stick
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etnies 'Forward' - Where are they now? Part 2
Brian Terada, Jason Enns, Rooftop, John Heaton, Mike Griffin, Nate Wessell