etnies 'Forward' - Where are they now? Part 3
Taj Mihelich, Josh Stricker, Ian Morris, Nate Hanson, Dave Freimuth & Dave Parrick
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
See PART 1 of this article HERE & Part 2 HERE
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
The one and only Taj Mihelich was the poster child for Etnies BMX at the time Forward was filmed. With a signature shoe, and an already hugely influential impact on BMX in the previous decade, this was his chance to showcase it all. With his faithful (and famous) dog Roscoe by his side, Taj’s part is equal parts creativity and brevity.
“When I look back on my Forward part, I see lots of new ideas and directions for my riding coming to fruition. Interestingly, it seems like a lot of the team was riding a similar creative wave. Mostly we weren’t riding together, just off on our own trying to open new doors. It was a really progressive time for BMX, and it was cool to be a part of that. Etnies had helped me build the Thunderdome indoor skatepark that unfortunately never opened. An earthquake damaged the building and it was condemned. If you look closely at of my Forward part you can see the upper balcony’s ceiling is collapsed. Technically no one was allowed inside but I rode there alone most days. It ended up being a very creative time for me and I came up with a lot of bike things I had never heard of anyone else doing. When the crew came up for a few days to film it was a rush letting all these new things out all at once.”
The speed, the style, and that Shellac song. It’s all perfect. Taj lives in relative isolation in Houghton, Michigan, producing endless amounts of his signature art, creating books, and lending a creative hand to Fairdale Bikes. Back issues and subsequent surgeries have slowed down his BMX riding, but he rips the epic Northern Michigan trails on a full-suspension MTB.
Etnies had helped me build the Thunderdome indoor skatepark that unfortunately never opened. An earthquake damaged the building and it was condemned. If you look closely at of my Forward part you can see the upper balcony’s ceiling is collapsed.- Taj Mihelich
From L.A. ditches to the Brooklyn Banks, and everything in between, Josh Stricker’s hellbent section in Forward goes hard from start to finish. Tables out of everything, cranking full speed at huge gaps, wall rides, rails, his part has got it all. Naked Raygun’s cover of the ‘70s punk anthem “Suspect Device” is the perfect soundtrack for all of this mayhem. These days, Josh lives in Texas producing incredible paintings and refurbishing furniture. “Everything is for sale” is his slogan, but you can’t buy the kind of style that Josh brought to BMX.
"Tables out of everything, cranking full speed at huge gaps, wall rides, rails, his part has got it all."- Scott Towne
In a section full of fire and brimstone, Ian Morris takes some of the heartiest slams and comes back for more. The ominous soundtrack sets the pace and it is nerve-racking from start to finish. Rails, gaps, that crazy curved wall to pegs, and some of the heaviest feeble grinds ever put on tape, he went in for Forward. One of the oldest riders on the team at the time of Forward, he still kills it on the bike at age 51. Ian runs United Bike Co and 4Down Distribution in the UK.
"Rails, gaps, that crazy curved wall to pegs, and some of the heaviest feeble grinds ever put on tape, he went in for Forward."- Scott Towne
"Nothing lends core credibility, at least the way it did in the year 2000, like a full-length video."
- Scott Towne
The “Biking Viking” is a gentle giant who ripped on a BMX bike. Nate Hanson could do it all, from flatland to vert, with the sickest inverts and the most twisted X-ups he could muster with those tiny bars. His part is filled with all of the above, as well as plenty of period-proper peg tinks, and footage from some of the favorite SoCal spots of the time, including the Vans 'Black Bowl.'
“I am definitely grateful for having the opportunity to help get that video done. The riding that went down on some of the trips was insane and it was just a ton of fun. Etnies definitely stepped up to support the BMX program, and we had probably the best and coolest group of dudes on the team, which made my job as the TM easy. The hard part was getting Parrick to finish it!”
Nate now has a family, and owns and operates Blitzkrieg Motorsports in Huntington Beach, CA, specializing in high-end off road vehicle suspension.
"Etnies definitely stepped up to support the BMX program, and we had probably the best and coolest group of dudes on the team, which made my job as the TM easy. The hard part was getting Parrick to finish it!”- Nate Hanson
The techest of the tech. Front brakes, four pegs, and a freecoaster (the only rider in Forward to not ride a cassette). Dave Freimuth’s section stands the test of time with a litany of untouchable tricks. No sub-box, hitching post, or back rail were safe from his attack. Grinds, nose-picks, fufanus, and ice picks in every direction, from fakie, to fakie, left, right, and otherwise. Add a token savage gap-to-feeble on the street and multiple, brutal nose-cases for a truly unforgettable 3.5 minutes of BMX. Trademark baseball hat under the helmet and wry smile, this is the part that will keep him on our collective minds for decades. Dave’s still in Wisconsin, being a dad, a bad ass and a BMX lifer.
"Dave Freimuth’s section stands the test of time with a litany of untouchable tricks. No sub-box, hitching post, or back rail were safe from his attack."- Scott Towne
Dave Parrick's BMX video pedigree is like no one else of his time. Titles like Clowns Full of Hate, Homeless Trash, Dirty Deeds, S&M's BMX Inferno, Primo's Made in Taiwan, and the legendary Nowhere Fast, were all in this Texan's portfolio and considered to be crucial viewing for riders in the dawn of modern BMX riding. Nowhere Fast, in particular, set the bar for the new breed of BMX, and BMX videos, when it debuted in the year 2000. With Etnies Footwear investing heavily in the BMX market at the time, with signature shoes for Taj Mihelich, Joe Rich, and Mike "Rooftop" Escamilla, as well as a full-court marketing press, it was time to showcase the whole program with a full-length video. With his credentials and established relationships with many of the riders on the Etnies squad, Dave was the easy choice as the man for the job. However, Dave's reputation for producing epic videos was eclipsed by his reputation of being, let's say, "late to the party" in regards to meeting deadlines.
No doubt, creating Forward was a monumental task. With a roster of the era's most influential riders to pull from, the makings of an epic video were there for the picking. Assembling it all to fit within the parameters of a VHS tape was another story. Two years in, with countless hours of tape logged, deadlines having already been blown, and worldwide premieres scheduled, it had to be finished. For the final weeks of editing, Dave moved all of his editing equipment into a hotel room, and fueled by Dr Pepper and many sleepless nights, got the final cut finished. The end result is epic. Etnies Forward is a timeless testament to the creativity and raw power of BMX. The intros, the soundtrack, the cadence, the transitions, and the riding - the riding - is everything. Each part is the perfect blend of beauty and ugliness, chaos and control. A little slow motion movie magic, a failed attempt for dramatic build-up, and the makes, all precisely choreographed to the perfect songs. The second angles, the bangers after the music, the real audio mix, no one does it like Dave, and he came through with a classic that stands the test of time. We contacted the enigmatic genius to write a few words about his experience with creating Forward, but alas, he missed the deadline...
"Dave's reputation for producing epic videos was eclipsed by his reputation of being, let's say, 'late to the party' in regards to meeting deadlines."- Scott. Towne
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