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13 Dec 2016

IGNITION 06: Devon Smillie

“I was basically brainwashed in the best way possible.”

fly eclat etnies danscomp

Words and photos by Jeremy Pavia

We live in a society today where having a cell phone in our pocket that’s ready to use at all times and making sure it isn’t further than arms reach first thing in the morning has become normal. A society where repeatedly looking at the same few apps on that very cell phone in an almost obsessive nature throughout the day has become normal. A society where we feel more comfortable texting words and tiny graphics of smiley faces that laugh, cry and happen to wear sunglasses as opposed to actually communicating verbally has become normal. A society where you know more about your friends, family and complete strangers than you ever have without even interacting with them but by just simply checking their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or whatever the hell else people are using out there has become normal. A society where everyone seems to have the attention span akin to goldfish and people mention they can’t sit through videos longer than a few minutes has become normal. How you take in and consume media is an individual choice these days. You have the complete freedom to choose what to watch, what to listen to and what to read on a regular basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With that said, the people that choose to seek out and read this feature, are the ones it was written for. 

Next up is Devon Smillie. The most enjoyable aspect of having the chance to do a feature like this is being able to work with the best riders out there and really have the chance to help them speak their mind and let the world know what they are all about. If you don’t know why Devon was on the short list of potential riders to interview from the beginning, then you really need to sit back and show some respect to one of the riders out there pushing for a better tomorrow on a regular basis. Devon is a rare breed, and lets the energy of the universe help direct his course in this crazy thing called life. He understands that putting positivity forward will yield the best results and he seems to have a solid grasp on the importance of being an individual. His outlook on the future of BMX as a whole is downright inspirational and his love for this thing we call riding is undeniable. Take some time, and enjoy getting a small glimpse into the mind of Devon Smillie. 

Let’s get this thing started. From what you have told me you basically grew up on a bike and have always had a passion for BMX from a really young age. Can you explain how your roots have shaped you into the person you are today?

Well I was raised in a little town called Suwanee, Georgia. My parents have always had a passion for two wheels, mostly motocross and street bikes. By the time that I was old enough to walk, they had me on a bicycle immediately. I grew up watching all these motocross videos and I would try to mimic what I saw on the screen. I was basically brainwashed in the best way possible.

You are originally from Georgia (US) and if anyone knows you they would realize that even though you no longer live there and your family has since moved away, you still put on for Georgia. What was it like growing up out there and what about it stands out to you?

I would have to say some of the Southern hospitality. There’s a charm to the South East that I haven’t really experienced anywhere else, but I’m starting to find beauty in every place. Oh, and space. I grew up on five acres of land, and having the chance to be able to do whatever you please, that’s a really hard thing to come by in Southern California near the beach.

What was the scene like out there back when you were just a kid doing your thing?

I grew up in the best indoor park ever created (in my opinion), which was Rampage. We had like 20,000 square feet of perfectly made wooden ramps covered in Skatelite. I met so many people through that place. We had the Dave Mirra Super Tour come through, Tony Hawks Gigantic Skatepark Tour, and even got to catch a late night sesh with the dudes on Road Fools 7. Rest in piece Mirra and Winkleman. Because of that skatepark I formed a love for BMX and so did many others. But skateparks just started dying out, so we were forced into the streets, at least until they built five concrete skateparks in about two years. It was beautiful. Shout out to the homies back home that still got love for it, I see you.

Typically when someone is raised away from Southern California they have a different idea of what things might be like compared to reality. That’s not really the case with you since you have actually been coming out west from a young age to visit family. Did that opportunity give you a different perspective on things? And when do you feel like you became an official part of BMX?

I was so young when I would go west to visit my grandparents. I don’t think that I got the full experience until I actually moved out here. I first moved with my girlfriend. We broke up; I got hurt and couldn’t ride for a month. I’ve never felt so lonely in my life. Until one day John Povah called me and asked me to ride for Fly. That was the moment that it clicked and I was like Mama, I made it! I always loved the company growing up. It’s one of the most innovative brands out! After everything I went through no matter how good or bad, I would never take anything back. Everything happens for a reason and it made me a stronger individual to this day.

You are proof that if you have talent, and put yourself in the right position you will get noticed. Although I’m sure you have love for Georgia, it is obvious that making the permanent move to California helped push you and your riding. How much more motivating is it to be in the mix out here compared to being in Georgia?

I don’t think there is any way that I would be where I’m at today if I didn’t leave Georgia. I wish there was a way, but for how small our industry is it seemed like the only option. Once I turned pro with Felt I decided that I’m in this completely. The only way to progress with it is to move to where all the action is, get in peoples faces, and be that cool genuine person that people want to meet. Attitude is everything. I’ve always thought that if you are too negative, things may not always work out how you want. 

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As someone who has done it, what advice do you have to young talented riders out there from all across the globe that aren’t in the spotlight but would eventually want to make similar moves as you?

I hope that you’re riding BMX because you have a passion for it, not to go pro. If you really love it, progression just comes easy and you have fun. People like that. People don’t like when you’re constantly asking to be hooked up. It looks too hungry. There is nothing wrong with being hungry, but show it through your riding, not by expecting everything. You have to put in the work.

At what point did it seem like a reality that you had something with BMX talent wise and who were your early influences?

I think it would be when I started making videos with friends. That really pushed me to stop doing the same shit over and over again, and to start thinking outside of the box. Linking some stuff together that I wouldn’t normally do. I definitely had a lot of influences from the Tennessee homies, Nathan Williams and Shane Weston. I looked up to them so much. Not only because of how they ride, but I had met them when I was super young and thought they were the coolest, nicest dudes out there. Shane let my friend Russell and I stay at his house for a few days, barely knowing us as fifteen and sixteen year old kids. Now that’s some homie shit. 

Who was it that first put you on as a rider, who were some of your early sponsors?

It was Josh Betley. I remember chillin’ with a friend one night, and I had just turned eighteen. We had a nice vibin’ night where we were just thinking so positive, and I mean strongly believing the most positive things we could imagine. I told myself I was going to go pro in my head. I didn’t tell anyone but my close homie Beau. I don’t know what it was, or why I had this feeling, but I knew it was possible. A week later I’m chillin’ with Beau again and Betley hits me up on Facebook giving me his number. He also said hey give me a call; I want to ask you something. Sure enough, he gave me the position to ride pro for Felt Bikes. I was on a team alongside with Zak Earley, Josh Betley and Scotty Cranmer. I couldn’t believe it.

When did you officially get the 'Pro' title and how have things changed from then to now?

Damn, I want to say 2011 is when it happened. Everything kind of seemed the same until I moved out to California. That’s where I feel I was starting to be taken seriously.

Current day you have since been established as one of the top riders in the world but that just didn’t happen overnight. Is there any moment you can point out when you really felt that you’ve reached that point?

I never really think like that, and still have a hard time believe it myself sometimes. But I would have to say that being invited to X Games and placing top five really hit home for me. That’s something I could’ve never imagined happening just being a kid watchin’ the shit on TV. 

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Sponsor wise, you have a list of companies that support you that all just seem to make sense. Who exactly do you ride for these days?

Flybikes, Éclat parts, Etnies shoes, Dan’s Comp, and Further Brand apparel. Shout out to all the dudes that run the brands. I ride for them not only because I believe in their products, but also because I like the involvement they have in BMX.

Who you rep really speaks about you as a rider and if anyone knows you they would know it’s obvious that you wouldn’t just ride for a random company just to catch a check. What are some factors that go into choosing the right sponsors?

You can ride for whoever you want but in the back of your head if something just feels to whack, that’s probably because it is. My head works like, if I think its whack, other people will think it too, which is selling out to me. I had to turn down a fatty check from an underwear sponsor at eighteen because I wasn’t into the brand. That grand a month could’ve done a lot for me, but at least I didn’t ruin my image right out of the gate.

Is being sponsored what you thought it would be after all of these years?

Oh man it just keeps getting better. Getting to meet so many people that I’ve looked up to over the years, going on trips to numerous places overseas, all for doing what I love. It’s the best.

Speaking of sponsors, you just set up a brand new bike and I remember you saying that it is your perfect version of a bike. How crazy does it feel to have a full signature line of parts and a bike that you helped design from the ground up?

It is pretty surreal I’ve never been so happy with how a bike feels. It is awesome really knowing that the geometry and seeing what areas can benefit from changing it just the slightest bit.

What is it like working with companies that put every ounce of effort into making the best products possible?

See! That’s exactly why I work with them, because they’re the best in the business! It is a dream though man, when you have products that can handle your abuse and feel exactly how you want, riding just becomes more fun!

Having your name on a frame is a dream most will never realize. How much does it mean to you to be able to call it your own?

It means enough for me to have had it tattooed on me! But for real, I just hope that anyone who has any of my products is as happy with them as I am. I know for a fact that I love every ounce of my whip

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“That grand a month could’ve done a lot for me, but at least I didn’t ruin my image right out of the gate.”

– Devon Smillie

Why should fellow riders out there back your signature products?

I have specific reasons behind the design with every aspect of each part and I feel like I know what a bike should feel like for my style of riding, at least.

Things have come a long way since you first started riding. How would you go about describing your current set-up and what about it makes it unique?

Brakeless, four plastic pegs, a freecoaster, loose chain, and smooth tires. What makes it most unique is probably the investment cast design from Flybikes. Other than that, the soft 25psi tires.

How important is having the right bike to you? Is it a look-good, feel-good type deal or are you really specific about the exact way you set things up?

Oh yeah, a bike definitely has to look good but geometry is way more important than looks to me. I’m pretty set on how I set up every bike. They all almost feel exactly the same, which is how I want it. Oh, and they all look great of course, nice and simple.

If anyone out there has been paying attention they would know that you are among the short list of riders currently pushing the limits with the freecoaster. How conscious of that are you and what motivates you to get creative forwards and backwards?

Oh I’ve seen some random clips of freecoaster magic all over, the future is finally here. I think the freecoaster saved my riding because I got to a point with the cassette where riding got boring. The freecoaster gave me a challenge and has opened so many doors that I’m still discovering more!

You have to have some influences when it comes to the coaster. Where do you draw inspiration from and what is it that keeps you coming up with new lines and tricks?

Initially I would say Ian Schwartz, Patrick King and Shane Weston. I watched them for years then took it into my own hands. Now I’m just trying to pick my own brain for new ideas.

It is pretty obvious at this point that a lot of the top street riders in the game right now have no plans of going back to a cassette. Do you ever see yours coming off?

Maybe someday if I get bored of a coaster, which will probably not happen. Coasters are too fluent and real, I can’t stand pedal pressure anymore. 

One Insta’ clip that stands out to me in relation to you riding a coaster is the fakie to backwards manny to fakie on a quarter at the Vans skatepark in Huntington Beach. I’m sure you would consider that just messing around but it’s insane. Where do you see the future of freecoaster riding going?

That was just a random idea that sparked, like most of my riding. Its hard to tell, hopefully I just keep progressing. It’s starting to come to needing certain setups to be able to try new shit.

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“Coasters are too fluent and real, I can’t stand pedal pressure anymore.”
- Devon Smillie
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You seem to be pretty conscious of the fact that you really need to keep up on the social media aspect of things these days. With 170K followers on Instagram you have one of the bigger followings in BMX. What is it that motivates you to keep the content coming?

I want kids to have dope role models to look up too. Plus I love the feedback and being able to connect personally with kids around the world. That’s what keeps kids into BMX and gets them more involved. This day and age is crazy but you have to go along with it to stay relevant.

It is pretty crazy to have seen things evolve over the years and watch pro riders responsibilities change along with it. How important is it to you personally to keep up on all things social media?

Eh, some days I could care less. I’ll go weeks with a post sometimes, but if I get something that I’m way stoked to post then it’s going up for the rest of the world to see. If you keep yourself busy and do dope shit, and you will always have good content.

If you have been to your Instagram at all you would know right away that you genuinely love skateboarding. Have you been skating just as long as you have been riding?

Kind of, I actually skated way more when I was younger. At the time it was just easier to control rather than a 20-inch BMX bike. But once I grew into the bike, I kind of put the board down and kept with the riding. I still love to skate, but riding is my true love.

How do the two fit together for you and what is it about skateboarding that has influenced your riding?

I think that it’s easier to do both and be in one environment, that’s what I liked. One thing about skateboarders that has always been ahead of BMX is style. Not only on the board, but the way you dress, and the way you carry yourself. I think people in BMX are finally starting to realize how important is it to have personality and be your own individual.

There are a lot of pro riders that can skate, but as someone who follows skateboarding closely I can say in confidence that you are the one pro rider that can handle his own on a board like no other. How do you decide when to put the bike down and pick the board up?

Ha, I pretty much only skate now if there’s no one down to ride.

Let’s be real here, when can people expect a split BMX/skate part from you?

I actually started on one but haven’t put too much work into it. But I need to get the ball rolling again.

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Riding for a company like Etnies and being talented on both the bike and board make it a perfect fit. What do you look for in a shoe and what are some of the models you choose to ride in these days?

It’s so nice having shoes that are comfy and look good. I love the Jameson vulcs. It’s a slimmer shoe with loads of board feel and the best diamond cut sole for pedal grip. Oh yeah, suede only.

Etnies has been known to put out videos that stand the test of time and have always had teams built up of some of the best riders in the world. How does it feel to not only be on Etnies among some legends, but also having the chance to film a full-length part in the new Etnies video “Chapters?”

It’s overwhelming, in all ways. Just having the chance to have a section is crazy, but being thrown in during the last year and trying to put together a section that is better than your last is way harder than I imagined.

They haven’t put out a video since they released “Grounded” in 2008. That’s quite the span of time and allows for some serious pressure to build. How has the process of filming been going?

It has been awesome. I got to be a part of some amazing trips with good people. Working with Will and Manzoori is easy too, they both kill it and I trust them fully.

You mentioned wrapping filming by the end of this year. If you had to stop now, would you be happy with your part or are there some last minute bangers and final clips you are searching for?

I would always love extra clips, but I’m pretty happy with everything that I ended up getting.

It is still really early to talk sections before the filming even officially wraps but if you had to name a few standouts you are excited to watch, who would they be?

I’ll just say that Nathan has been working.

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“Being thrown in during the last year and trying to put together a section that is better than your last is way harder than I imagined."

- Devon Smillie

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Etnies filmer Mike Manzoori completely understands angles and lighting but can also follow-film in a way most will just never be able to duplicate due to the fact that he is so comfortable on a skateboard. What is it about filming with a skateboarder compared to a BMX rider like Will Stroud who also kills it behind the lens?

Mike has a lot of experience with filming BMX so he knows the angles and how to film it. The only thing that’s hard sometimes is just trying to explain what’s happening in the trick.

This will become part of BMX history and be included in the permanent Etnies BMX video collection. No pressure right?

Ha, mad pressure. Just kidding, everything has been happening so naturally and has just been working out so I’m sure that everyone will be pleased with the outcome.

In 2016 it is no secret that everyone is in control of your own destiny. How do you deal with the pressures these days of getting near-daily clips for Instagram, filming for legit web sections, and filming for full-length video parts at the same time?

I try not to ever go out riding with intentions for filming Insta’ clips, those just come as they do. Filming for web video stuff is fun, more like going out with homies riding and if we come across something cool we will try to get a clip. Same goes for video parts, but I’m more picky with what tricks that I want to do so there’s more of a push to get myself to do something that I’ll be happy with.

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On the topic of legit web sections you had the rare opportunity to film a part for the first ever X Games “Real BMX” contest. In my opinion your part was one of the most solid, original, creative and technically difficult sections out of everyone. Can you speak on your part and what it was like to make decisions on trick and spot selection?

Well it was pretty hard to come up with ideas. I had Manzoori take me to a handful of spots that I’d never been to and things just happened. The hardest part was working around his busy schedule and my injuries at the same time. We probably only had around six legit sessions together but for the time we had to work I’m super hyped on what we came up with.

With a shorter time frame to film and the pressure of the X Games global reach; how did you feel about the whole process and would you do it again?

It was pretty fun and of course I’d do it again, but the time restraints really make it hard to come out with something that you’re 110% happy with.

X Games is something I wanted to mention because not only did you finally get a legit invite after spending three times as an alternate, you were also one spot off of a podium position and a medal to call your own. Did it motivate you to push yourself after getting the official nod?

Surprisingly not really, I feel like I had a good work ethic before and nothing has really changed. I just want to keep coming up with new stuff and I’m happy that people appreciate what I do.

What is different about having to ride your best on command when the live cameras say so and being out in the streets filming for one of the most anticipated DVD’s BMX has seen in a while?

For me, contests actually keep me in my comfort zone. You do tricks that you’re confident that you’re going to land and sometimes it doesn’t work out. But for trying new things or pushing yourself, I’d rather save that for a video.

Now that you’ve had a taste, are you trying to come up on a medal in 2017 or what?

I mean it would be beyond cool if it happened, but that’s not my goal in BMX.

Riding wise, it isn’t easy to stand out from the crowd these days in BMX but you seem to have figured out a way. Has it always been important to you to do your own thing?

In the past couple of years it has really made an impact on me to be your own person. I think the freecoaster really helped me develop into my own kind of style.

Can you put the argument to rest with the crankflip/kickflip? As someone that does it often and does it well, what do you call it?

It’s a kickflip to me. The kick is the most important part of the trick to me, so it makes more sense to remind myself that I’m kickin’. 

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Everyone knows you kill it on a bike, everyone knows you kill it on a board. What is something that the world doesn’t know about you?

I love fingerboarding. I’m not the best but I’m not too bad either. Down times between injuries give you time to learn things you wouldn’t normally have time to. I always feel like I have to be challenged, and if learning a new trick on a fingerboard gives me that hyped, satisfaction feeling, it works for me.

Minus the checks that come on the regular, what motivates you on a daily basis to keep doing what you’re doing?

Seeing how hyped kids are on riding. I swear that I see more kids on bikes every day, and seeing them learn new tricks at such a fast rate is mind blowing. I’m happy we live in a time where we can see everything that’s possible around the world. 

Music wise, what do you find yourself currently playing on repeat?

Oh man, that slappin’ rap music. Lately it has been a bit of Migos, 21 Savage, always Xavier Wulf. 

You are the type of rider that pays attention to what they wear and how they look when they ride and I can appreciate that. Do you consciously switch up your look to keep your clips looking diverse?

I go through phases. Sometimes I feel like I wear the same outfit so much, that I need to switch it up. It gives you a fresh feeling having a new kit to be hyped on.

You’ve spent years living in California full-time now and at this point should have no problem answering this question. Do you see yourself ever moving and living anywhere else in the country?

I don’t think I could settle down and start a family here, so if it came down to that I’d probably move up to Oregon. I would want to be somewhere close to a big population but far away enough so my kids have space to explore and do whatever they want.

“There is nothing wrong with being hungry, but show it through your riding, not by expecting everything. You have to put in the work.”
- Devon Smillie

What’s your day-to-day life like in So Cal?

Driving, a lot. Hanging with the homies. Chilling with my girlfriend. Riding plaza parks and just cruising around the beach, it’s ideal.

For someone that has made the pro life a reality, what would you say to any younger riders with similar aspirations looking to do the same?

Don’t doubt yourself, but don’t expect too much. Things happen when you least expect it. Just keep having fun and loving what you do and people will see that and appreciate you for more than just talent on a bike.

What can everyone expect from you in 2017 and what plans do you have for yourself?
It’s hard to say, I’m just riding it out. I just wanna’ stay healthy, keep having fun on my bike, keep making new edits and going new places. 

As with every other interview, you need some space to do your thing and thank the people that allow you to do just that so go for it.

Thank you Mom and Dad for fully supporting everything that I’ve ever been into. My grandparents, John Povah for having faith in a young guy like myself, Paul at Éclat, Scott and Dans Comp. All of the Common Crew homies, that’s my family out here. Also thanks to anyone who’s ever supported my riding, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. Thank you law of attraction.

Any last words?
Get there while you can. 

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