“What would you think if someone came out in our industry?” - I Recently Met Corey Walsh
Releasing the pressure of a lifelong secret
The final evening descended on the heaviest road trip I had ever been a part of. It was August of 2020 and I found myself sitting in a chair next to my tent pitched on the belly of one of those iconic California hills. They were those same hills you can see off the 101 soaked in gold and peppered with lonely oak trees. They rolled and flowed like the swell in the sea. Corey Walsh was to my left in a chair near the bumper of his van. We sat in silence as the sun began to go into hiding on the other side of the earth. The stars and planets began to ignite as glinting flecks in an ocean of crimson being stained black while the moon popped like a spotlight reminding me of the scale of it all. We were out there in the palm of the foothills. There were no moans of automobiles or groans of strange conversations. Beyond the swooping flocks was a silence dwelling in the darkness. Within that silence was the space to let our own thoughts scream in our skulls. It was the space where nothing else existed aside from whatever was inside of us individually. The space where one could unbolt the defensive walls disguised with patched-up denim, all black clothing, and metal then sit with the vulnerabilities that haunt momentary happiness. It was the space to dig into our guts, make sure we actually had some. We were going to need whatever amount was in there, Corey in particular.
The clips came easy on that trip to San Francisco. Neither of us took a slam and the van didn’t break down. None of that type of shit was the issue. The issue dug much deeper than a video part or a bone break. As I sat there admiring the night sky whirling to life above the looming summit of Figueroa Mountain I pondered why Corey didn’t tell me in this type of setting. I reflected back to the previous month of July when he did tell me. I was driving through the deserted streets of Los Angeles with a nine-pound bean, cheese, and veggie sledgehammer sludging through my lower intestine courtesy of the authentic Mexican burrito spot on the corner. It was a scorching day. The windows were down and the silence of the new stay-at-home normal sat heavy on everyone’s shoulders.
“Brooke Crain is a fucking badass.” He said suddenly.
“One of the toughest humans I’ve ever met.” I agreed.
“She’s helping more people than she probably even realizes by coming out, man. I think it’s amazing! That’s the definition of being a good human!”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
Then he fell silent again. Since I had picked him up from the airport a couple weeks prior he seemed quieter than usual. More pensive, which was slightly unusual to see in him. He was usually chewing my ear off about pools, clips to film, destinations to drive to, or flicking his teeth around and shrieking a scream at the top of his lungs as a simple way to randomly vent some excess energy. And I won’t go into the pint smashing he would enjoy when he was on the beers. In fact, in the Pull Back or Die novel I described his antics as: “When you get a good look down the eyes of the Canadian you get a sense that there’s some controlled chaos going on in that skull. I can’t shake the feeling that if you were to plug a set of headphones into his brain all you would hear would be thrash metal.” However that day he had his chin in his hand peering out the passenger window, torso curled in, mind imploding.
Then he spoke back up for a moment, “What would you think if someone came out in our industry?”
I slugged some water from the jug trying to wash the sledgehammer down. “I think it would be incredible.” I replied, “Every human deserves the freedom to be exactly who they want to be all the time. Plus, the more people that stand up the more it will hopefully give those who are fighting themselves in silence some confidence to let it rip.”
He didn’t reply in that moment and I started overthinking that I said something offensive. Then I came up behind someone driving the speed limit, flicked my blinker, checked over my shoulder, and darted into the next lane right as he said, “Well maybe that could be me?”
“Maybe what could be you?”
His nervous chuckles continued to sway into the universe, “Uhh… yeah, uhh…”
“What?” I replied, “We’ve been through hell together. You can tell me whatever you want. Spit that shit out.”
“Uh… I think I’m gay.”
I looked over at him. He sat staring straight ahead and grinning, but it wasn’t a childlike grin of innocence. It was a stoic grin, the grin a human would give after they just summited the mountain in front of them that was crawling with starving grizzlies.
“You think? Or you know?” I asked.
“No, I’m gay.”
“Dude, that’s fucking awesome.”
He fell back into silence. I knew he was imploding into his own mind again so I let him process knowing he had no reason to stress by letting me in on his secret that he had been cementing closed from the public for almost a lifetime. In all honesty on my end I felt great relief for him.
- Kris Fox
He fell back into silence. I knew he was imploding into his own mind again so I let him process knowing he had no reason to stress by letting me in on his secret that he had been cementing closed from the public for almost a lifetime. In all honesty on my end I felt great relief for him. The one thing us as humans deserve more than anything else in this brief life we have the opportunity to enjoy is being exactly who we want to be, and once that is achieved, giving love and being loved back in the same way. The overall mosaic of life is so complex. Hell, if our planet wasn’t on a 23.5 degree tilt that means there wouldn’t be seasons and with no seasons means no humanity. A trivial 23.5 degrees is one of the billions of intricate moving parts toward how we’re even here. Really, nothing in the realm of fame, fortune, occupation, popularity, or possession is even barely important. Then with the addition of illness, brutality, manipulation, and all the dark areas that hide in the shadows of this life it becomes more important to enjoy the fragments of time you have right now in the ways that make you feel good. Once that is realized it becomes obvious the only thing that makes all of it worth it is love. Love for your family, for your friends, for your craft, for your dream, and for your partner. Cliché or not it’s really the only thing that makes 23.5 degrees not so trivial and makes the dark areas of life worth overcoming, but if you never allow yourself to be who you truly are you’ll never get your chance with that feeling wholeheartedly which is a tragic robbery. Love is normal. It has no rules, no face, and no structure.
“Does anyone else know?” I asked after some time.
“Just Spencer. I told him back in January and that’s what really kicked all this off. Fuck, this feels crazy! I feel like I’m floating above my own body!”
“Well hey, man, just so you know I’m fucking honored you chose me to tell too and no matter what I’ll be here to support whatever you have to do. I know the boys will do the same when you’re ready to fill them in as well.”
“Yeah, I know.” He replied confused and timid, “I don’t want to make this a big deal ya know? Lets just stop talking about it.”
“I’ve locked it in the vault. No worries.”
Then more silence for a moment until: “WAH, DUDE! This house all boarded up right here has an empty pool!”
He showed me his phone. I saw the pool. The stairs were in my way. “Looks fun.” I replied.
A few weeks later I unmasked walking out of my appointment with the surgeon. I sauntered through the parking lot and there was Tiffany, Corey’s white Dodge ProMaster. It was the same van we had all sniffed around so many of the country’s mountains and coasts while on the hunt for the best bowls poured. Those simple days of coffee, pines, beers, and screaming pockets. It wasn’t at the base of a majestic mountain anymore. Now it was waiting for me off in the back corner of the medical center. I saw two-by-fours and jugs of gasoline being heaved off to the side. That gave a little normality. Then his head popped up, he pinched an earbud out and inquired eagerly, “What did they say?”
“It hasn’t sunk deep enough to get into my lymph nodes.” I replied.
“Yeah I’m stoked. I have surgery in two weeks.”
“Lets hit the road then! Down for the bay area?”
“Down for anything that keeps my mind off everything.”
“Feel ya on that!”
And we made it to San Francisco days after both in hidden psychological pain for different reasons. Now I only typed my experience with melanoma for one reason. The reason I typed it was because it was just another example of how Corey had my back even though he was in a continual mental hurricane. All those times in the past when I was hammered at the bar selfishly groaning to him about my own issues: death of a family member, girls breaking my heart, depression, anxiety, and all the other sentimentalities. All those times I knocked my own flimsy defensive walls down, became vulnerable, became my real self for whatever reason trusting he would understand and not judge. Then he would sit there and talk me off the mental ledge, help me hack through the demons crawling around the mind, and I would walk away from those interactions feeling better. However for him it was different. He was hiding his true self the entire time, trudging through the swamps of his own depressions and anxieties that sunk far deeper than any of us could’ve even imagined at the time. While the rest of us got to walk off and attempt to fix what we had just vented, he had to sit there and keep it all trapped in. The mental pressure would increase to levels where his eyeballs wanted to explode out of the sockets while the demons leered over his shoulder, put a claw across his chest, and pulled him back into dark silence.
Reflecting on that really smacks me with guilt, there was a lot I needed to learn, so those road conversations were real, inquisitive, and honest. They were someone finally being there for him like he always was for everyone else and the emotional roller coaster went from euphoric highs with the dream of finally having internal peace to the black anxiety depths of being ridiculed and discarded by those who once had his back. Again, the clips came easy, neither of us took a slam, and the van didn’t break down, but those road conversations were some of the heaviest of my life. And if they were that heavy for me I couldn’t even fathom what they were like for him, but that’s the beauty of pain. It’s an equalizer. It’s the bond.
We lived a week on the road like that: him venting twenty years of hidden identity to me until the van stopped and we met a familiar face. Then I would watch him morph back into the image everyone had of him. His dialogue would mutate and his demeanor would shapeshift back into what everyone wanted to see and not who he wanted to be. It was difficult to watch and the hardest part was now understanding how long he had been doing that while at the same time being there for us so we didn’t go insane. That thought lodged itself in my brain as I sat in my chair next to my tent on the belly of that golden rolling California hill overlooking Solvang on that final evening.
“See ya tomorrow.” He said climbing into his van for the night.
“Yeah, dude.” I replied staying fixed on the stars next to my tent. Those lonely stars in the vastness of it all. Those lonely constellations that have guided us lonely humans through the dark open waters for centuries. Then a few lines from a Bukowski piece popped into my head: “There is a loneliness in this world so great that you can see it in the slow movements of the hands of a clock. There is a loneliness in this world so great that you can see it blinking in neon signs in Vegas, in Baltimore, in Munich.” Those lines hold true. I can see it too. Who we are in private is not who we are in public, which I already understood, but what I didn’t understand and recently learned is that there are people out there hiding more than I could have ever fathomed. That hits my liver like a body shot from Iron Mike. Even if we have people crowding around us in public, hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, we are still hiding to some degree. And to hide from them means we have to hide from ourselves. Then as time chews away, if you hide from yourself long enough you’ll lose yourself completely. You’ll lose yourself to the point of not knowing where you came from and how you got to now. You’ll lose yourself to the point of not even realizing you’ve lost yourself until it’s too late, which is the most dangerous. Then the bottle sounds good, so does the powder, and the loneliness that is birthed from that will kill like cancer: slow and silent.
In the months that followed I got surgery and recovered. Corey was there the entire time. Although we were living our own journeys with our own circumstances it continued to bond us. Life was sitting heavy on our shoulders but once I was healthy and mentally free it was my duty to keep my strength up for him, which I welcomed with diligence. August turned to September and September turned to October, and as the months unrolled the weight on him turned to deadweight. The next mountain on his journey was on the horizon. The novelty of him coming out to someone familiar had worn off. It wasn’t a shiny little dream anymore. Now it was a rhinoceros stampede of reality. It was talk becoming action. I watched him try to distract himself with work by absolutely sending it on whatever he was riding, still filming some of the gnarliest shit in current BMX, but that soon went belly up for him. One day in particular, and in the perfect timing the universe conducts itself, he took a slam. He popped his shoulder out and had to get surgery on his hand, and just like that, no more distraction. Now he not only had sit with his demons, he had to entertain them. Eat dinner with them, stand in lines at the grocery store with them, shower with them, engage in small skate park interactions with them, while all they do is ridicule delusional horrors into reality. Those were dark times for him and it was hard to observe. His eyes that were usually beaming full of stoke were now clogged like shower drains. I could see the gunk of the mind jammed in his head. I could hear him fabricating his own stories toward his future. They were stories fueled by fear and mortification so the outcomes were always grim and a continual grim outcome rips the soul from momentary happiness.
But with all that being typed the dude is fucking tough and he elbowed his way through those demons. I watched the process of him come out to his family, then to Matt Cordova, and before I continue I must add something incredibly important: the fact that I knew before any of them didn’t mean anything in the slightest. He wasn’t playing favorites. Telling his childhood friend Spencer MacFarlane back in January really cracked the floodgates. On that scorching July day in L.A. I saw a human who was now starving for answers, starving for some internal peace, desperate for survival. There was no time to be pretentious. No time for bullshit. It needed to come out, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. No more, no less. And those loved ones above supported him too and have their own stories, their own bonds, which are not my place to type out on their behalf.
Then one day around the end of October he randomly hit me up. “You need to film or anything?”
“Definitely.” I replied.
“Want to head to Idaho and Montana? I know I can’t ride but I need to get the fuck out of here.”
“Sounds sick. I’m down.”
And just like that we were on the road again knifing through the small remote towns of eastern Nevada. Corey was jabbing at the accelerator of Tiffany, hand cast clasping the wheel and all. We hit the town of Ely at around 1:00 in the morning and stopped to admire an old boarded up brick building that looked like an abandoned mental asylum and for whatever reason in that moment I felt a little normality. The times were indeed changing, not only in our internal lives but also our external lives with the pandemic in process, but admiring that old abandoned building felt good even if it didn’t actually play the roll of a mental asylum. It was simply tangible history, which was a brief reminder that the history of our personal journeys dwell in all of us and we need to revere our pasts even if they had more dark than light. Even if past moments look confusing to us like a supposed abandoned mental asylum. If we find a way to accept our pasts we can accept ourselves, and once we fully accept ourselves the opinions others have on us will be more their problem than ours. Of course, this isn’t new information but the road is filled with constant omens to keep one on the right path.
We arrived in Boise the next afternoon and met up with a few of the boys who were on a job up there. Again I watched Corey shapeshift back into his public caricature. We hit a few of the good bowls in the surrounding areas but soon had plans of getting out of the city, which I was more than stoked on. A few mornings later I woke up with a nice body-quivering stretch. My tent was submerged in the frigid thin air of the Sawtooth National Forest. I popped my eyes out of my bag and saw the layer of frost then stayed wrapped up for a while enjoying the familiar simplicities of a good ole Fast and Loose trip. After some breakfast burritos we all hiked down to the river where I got eyes on the hot spring jacuzzi I made out of rocks the night prior as the skies dusted a light snow. The morning scene was as perfect as the night was, in its own way of course. The valley was socked-in by a dense cloud and I could hear rain patter above my head in the pines. The air was crisp and sharp. My lungs worked and ate it up. I reflected on our early film trips during those three golden years like I found myself doing regularly. Life was good back then, I thought. Then I grounded myself in this new moment suddenly realizing things weren’t much different at all. We were still on the road, sharpening the craft, feeding the soul like we had always done. Life is good, I thought again.
Soon enough we were back in the van snaking south along the river. The windshield was fogged from the inside and the heater was cutting through the ear-throbbing decibel of metal and punk. Then Corey gave me a fragment of his mind without turning anything down, “I hate that I feel like a victim when I’m not.”
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Why has it gotten to the point where I have to come out? Why can’t I just be? Why don’t people have to come out as being straight? How ridiculous would that be? This process is making me feel like some sort of victim.”
I sat pensive for a moment. “Well, man, I don’t have the wisdom to answer those questions, but what I do believe is that the more humans such as yourself that drop in will just make it more and more normal for the rest that follow.”
“I already believe all that too, but it just sucks ya know? All this unneeded stress and pressure. All these fucking labels everyone puts on everyone. I just want to live a quiet life as me. I just want to do my thing without having to explain myself to everyone.”
I really didn’t know how to respond.
“Fuck it!” He continued, “I’ll do it! I will! Now that my family knows I really don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks anymore.”
Then he rolled his widow down, let his arm dangle in the near freezing mountain air and chirped, “Fuck I needed this!”
In that moment I actually watched him mature, and in a similar manner, I think he felt what I had felt earlier: things weren’t much different at all. We were still doing what we had always done. He just wasn’t a little BMXer anymore. Now he was now a grown ass human with a purpose. The larger-than-life myth he had on a bike grew triple the size. I think deep down he knew by him taking the hit it would only help those who’ve been trapped all their lives too. All that eager stoke I used to see in his eyes over pools and clips I now saw fixed on pulling others from the hell he knew all too well. That’s being a good human. That’s wisdom. Screw a gold medal, screw a video part with a million views, his new approach was using the craft and platform he had built for himself correctly, and I saw it surge through his veins like the river below. I became incredibly inspired.
“You’re a tough motherfucker.” I replied enthusiastically, “You’re built for this, man. Look at all the hits you’ve come back from already. Fuck, dude, you’re entire face is rebuilt with titanium and you came back from that while lugging the weight of this in secret the entire time! That type of struggle has molded you. Geez you’re fucking tough, man. And, also, …”
Then he cut my rant off. “I get it. Let’s just stop talking about it.”
“Too easy. It’s back in the vault.” I wasn’t offended. He had never been fond of compliments and once I get on a rant I usually don’t stop until I annoy someone anyways. In that moment I learned another valuable lesson toward the process: he just needed to hear himself sometimes. He would say things out loud to help him process information. He was asking himself the questions, not me. He was drowning out the hum of anxiety smothering the brain like a cloud of locusts. He was hacking through the overgrowth of the mind like a warrior. He was submitting the brain, which is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Lounging in the passenger seat ripping along the river I got a hunch that the world would know soon enough. It was becoming blatant that he was fighting back. He was summiting the second mountain. The metamorphosis was almost complete, he was on the cusp of becoming the best version of himself, and he didn’t need my support or two cents anymore. The talk was turning into action and I began to get out of his way. The biggest open pocket of his life was coming up and I couldn’t wait for him to hit it. He was ready.
After that trip the holidays kicked in. On top of that Matt, Corey, and myself decided to relocate to San Diego and after some irritations we got a spot in Ocean Beach. Then Corey flew back to Toronto while Matt and I packed our lives up. We kept in subtle contact but for the most part things went pretty quiet. I knew he was refilling the gas tank and family gives the right fuel for the soul to burn.
In a flash it was January 2021. I think the earth is whipping around the sun faster these days. All of a sudden we were in a new home in a new town. I picked Corey up from Los Angeles International and something hit me: he looked the healthiest I had seen him in years. The deadweight I saw him lugging around a few months prior, the same weight he had been lugging silently for almost his entire life, seemed to have disintegrated. His eyes had life again and his sentences were vibrant. As the days came and went I saw flashes of his true self in public. The morphing, the shapeshifting, and the mutating were withering away. That got me more stoked than he even realized and it was kind of fun being let in on the public encounters he would endure on a regular basis by those who still had no idea. The interactions weren’t hell for him anymore. Now he would just glance at Matt and I and we would have a laugh over it. After seeing his family he had turned the corner. His Everest had been summited. He was toughened up and more than ready.
Then one night he told Jason and Cody over FaceTime. I knew that killed him inside because that was something he wanted to do in person and I know both the boys wanted it that way as well, but of course with the lockdowns and them stuck in Australia that couldn’t happen. I remember seeing Cody’s gigantic smile stretching his mustache and a few days later I got a call from Jason. “YEEEWWW!” He said, “That’s bloody sick! Can’t wait to get back to the states with yous!”
“Fuck it!” He continued, “I’ll do it! I will! Now that my family knows I really don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks anymore.”- Corey Walsh
I really am honored I got to be a part of this process from the beginning. I have a lot to thank him for. I hope this doesn’t come off as selfish but him coming out to me has helped me more than he even realizes. For years he had built me up, convinced me to hit shit I was horrified of, helped me hack through my mental issues, but this tops it all. The world doesn’t even know yet and he’s already made another human’s life better. He’s already inspired and gifted another human with new perspectives. He’s already illuminated the world in these times of doom. His real, true self is already undefeated. He already has a perfect record.
Now the words that are stitched together to make this particular story aren’t his story. His story isn’t my story to tell. This is his journey, his process, and I respect that deeply. If he didn’t approach me to write this I never would have typed a single word. It isn’t my place. But again, I’m honored to do so and I was hoping he would ask me. How many times in my life will I get to write on such a bad motherfucker who’s inspiring others to live their lives authentically? Plus, a part of me believes this perspective toward the process is important too. It shows that all those years he sat in silence, all those years those demons poked at him, all those years that pressure built, all those years that weight stacked, it was all incinerated by two words in January as well as a scorching Los Angeles day. Really, he was never alone and now he knows he will never be alone again. We got him to the end, and perhaps if any eyes are reading this piece now trapped in themselves please know the Fast and Loose boys got you too. You don’t need to suffer anymore.
For a moment there, back in San Francisco when things were dark, I thought back to the years of riding the Vans Pro Cups and filming for Pull Back or Die. I wanted to be back there so bad. I thought about flights, borders, customs, hospitals, bars, doing laundry in sinks, doing math before swiping the card, riding finals with a hangover, roadside ditches crawling by, truck stop crappers, broken down vans, dripping Oregon pines, morning mud that would pack into the cracks of your teeth, and on and on. They were such simpler times, such beautiful innocence. However, right now as I sit at the end of Del Monte in Ocean Beach I’m hit with relief. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is this: everything is the same now with an added bonus. We’re still traveling and riding in the same ways with the same goals, but now we have the real Corey Walsh with us. His shoulders aren’t tightened to his ears anymore, he’s not smashing pint glasses on the bar floor anymore, and if you were to plug a set of headphones into his brain you wouldn’t hear thrash metal anymore.
It was a scorching summer day in Los Angeles year 2020 when I finally got to meet one of my closest friends I had traveled the world with time and time again. I had heard a lot of incredible things about him from the guy I met years ago, and now after finally meeting him the incredible has far exceeded my expectations.
I recently met Corey Walsh and I’m excited for you to meet him too, and now he can tell you the real story on his own terms in his own way. - Kris Fox
Here at DIG we want to express our love, support and solidarity with Corey and all LGBTQ+ riders worldwide. Corey's openness and honesty will hopefully be a catalyst in not only encouraging other riders to come out to friends and family, but also be something that encourages positivity towards those riders from the wider BMX community. We've got your back.
And the winners are...
Ruben Alcantara, Joe Rich, Edwin De Larosa, Garrett Byrnes & Sandy Carson