An Interview with Lino Gonzalez

door air

This is an fairly extensive, in-depth interview with modern-day grind-master and 90East main-man Lino Gonzalez – so I’ll spare any intro-spiel.

Read on for his thoughts on eyewear, street riding and the optimum conditions for editing a video…

Photos by Seth Ethier, Jake Frost and Joe Zuidema. Interview by Sam.

First question… something I’ve always wondered about. How do you keep your glasses on whilst riding?

I have no idea, I just wear them. I’ve never had a problem with them staying on and they’ve have only come off a couple times I can think of. They’re nothing special — just normal glasses.

On a similar note, you always wear two t-shirts. Does this extend into summer too?

I am wearing two tees as we speak haha. It’s normal to wear an undershirt so your top shirt doesn’t get all sweaty and get ‘bacon neck’ — that’s not a good look. I’ve always done it so at this point I don’t notice it when it’s hot out.

I’m always trying to find good blank tees, you got any pointers on good quality t-shirts?

I’m really specific about the way everything fits, especially tee shirts. When I order blanks to print 90East tees, I’ll always order some extras for myself. Those tees fit the best.

Going back a bit now… how did you start riding? Am I right in saying you were into flatland first?

There used to be a group of kids on bikes from the neighborhood that would meet up in the parking lot of an auto parts store by my house. That was pretty much the beginning; I was like 10 or 11 and I had a Dyno VFR complete I bought off a friend.

We would hit this one good curb jump that went over a small sidewalk gap. Many kids got bodied on that thing and never touched a bike again, they all resorted to football or whatever else is the path of least resistance. I was one of the fortunate that made it through.

Once I got a bit older I started riding with a few guys that did shows locally and rode flatland at night in the parking lot of my neighborhood school. Naturally from hanging out there I learned a lot of flatland. We would hit street spots on the way there, ride some flatland, and then hit some street spots after that. Everyone kinda rode everything back then.

Bobby Fisher was one of my favorite riders at that point because he rode both flat and street, plus his bike was set up like mine with four-piece bars, four pegs, both brakes and a coaster.

Yeah his bit in Domination is sick. What videos were you into back then? 

Oh man there’s so many. Domination was a major one for me, especially Rick Moliterno’s part. Nothing else at the time looked like that. People could do sick tricks but they were all done on sort of bland looking Cali skate spots. He did a ton of lines, and touched all sorts of East Coast street architecture like standpipes, a pay phone, jersey barriers and random banked surfaces on walls. That’s all the stuff that appeals to me visually.

Back to videos though, I can name a bunch that were influential for me early on… Hoffman’s Madd Matt was my first video. Plywood Hood’s Wheelie’s — Mark Eaton’s part in that is incredible. Jinx – Velvet Taxi — Trevor Meyer’s flat stuff in that is ground breaking. Graveyard – Static — Day Smith and Sean McKinney’s clips in there always stood out to me. Ride On is obviously a classic from that era too. All the early Props issues, especially the Gonz and Moliterno interviews. Baco 7 – Pride was heavy in the rotation.

The Infection video series from the Northwest was heavy too, especially #3, The Good Old Boys. There’s a clip in there of someone doing a feeble to smith around a ledge that turns 90 degrees — it’s incredible.

2001_overgrind_Joe Zuidema

What else were you into as a kid? What do people get up to in Southbridge?

I was really into hip hop music — still am. I used to steal my brother’s tapes and dub them while he was out of the house. Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Nas, Fugees, Gang Starr, Wu Tang… all that stuff was new then.

If you want to see what my era of growing up in Southbridge was like, check out the Greater Southbridge documentary.

At that time there was a lot of drugs and petty crime. At one point Southbridge was a thriving mill town that manufactured glass lenses — it was very American dream-esque. Then all the factories moved out in the 1970s, 80s and 90s which put a huge part of the population out of work.

At that same time a lot of people from Puerto Rico were coming into the town also. There was a lot of animosity toward the PR community because all the long-time residents (who were mostly French-Canadian and Irish in origin) unfairly blamed the people from PR for ruining their town, but it was just a case of bad timing. The Puerto Ricans weren’t taking their jobs, those jobs disappeared because they moved to China.

That was a weird time in the town for sure, especially for me being half Puerto Rican. A lot of the kids in town were weird to me because I was part Puerto Rican and a lot of the Puerto Ricans wouldn’t want to hang out because I couldn’t speak good enough Spanish and didn’t dress a certain way. So naturally I gravitated toward BMX where none of that mattered. At that time the BMX and skate community was way more of an outcast type of thing than it is now. It’s sort of seen as cool now — back then it was not at all, but it had a community of people that were very dedicated to it and the scene. That was very attractive to me.

People nowadays like to look back on that time with rose tinted spectacles. What sucked about riding back then?

The first thing that comes to mind is the bikes. They were the worst. Heavy, low quality steel, with awkward angles. A lot of times, especially with riding street, your progression was limited by the bike parts. Like when I first started doing handrails I would always break my headset cups. I went through so many. There weren’t any real good hub guards and the rear dropouts were huge, so if you were sessioning a rail it was only a matter of time before your spokes and dropout got jammed up causing a nose dive and broken headset cups. That, along with bent and stripped axles.

Obviously I had some good times back then but I’m not the type that looks back on it like it was the best era ever or hate on new shit for no reason. I’m still riding and the timeline is still continuing, so I’m not really sitting around trying to be overly nostalgic, I’m trying to think of where I want to ride next.

If I’m critical of something it’s for a reason, not just because it’s new or different. There’s a lot of dope stuff happening in BMX right now and there’s also a bunch of trash, most of which is industry associated, which has nothing to do with riding.

BMX is not the industry, it’s bike riding… friends… travelling… getting yourself into weird situations. Also, maybe learning something about the culture of your country.

Did you get much hassle for riding back then?

Not as many people understood BMX or were exposed to it. It also wasn’t cool in school or anything like that. Getting hassled was much more common back then for sure, especially in Boston. Not just security but the police would get involved.

Since 9/11 though there was almost an overnight change. Since then I don’t think I have even once been talked to by a real police officer in the city of Boston for riding. Building security will always be an issue but the real police don’t give a shit. We have been like ten deep in the street, late at night, drinking some beers, posted up at a spot riding and the police will just cruise by and not even look.

2002_Photo_Joe Zuidema

Do you remember the first handrail you did? What was the story there? What were you wearing?

My first rail was at the Town Hall in Webster, Massachusetts. That was a common first rail for a lot of people in that area. I had broken up with a girlfriend the day before so I was trying to get out some frustration. My friend Josh and I went to the rail and he did it first. It took me a minute but I ended up jumping on it. I’ll never forget that feeling. At that time handrails were the holy grail of street riding.

We both kept the streak going and did all the good rails in the area, which starts a new chapter in your riding. I was on a Hoffman Sugar Baby and wearing a T1 long sleeve shirt and UGP cargo pants. The rail was an ornamental iron style, AKA house rail. I believe it’s still there.

A lot of people drop off from riding when they get to around 17 or 18. What made you stick with it?

From day one of riding a bike it was no question that I was going to live the life. As a really young kid I was very introverted — I would stay in my room and draw or paint all day when I wasn’t at school. But as soon as I started riding I never wanted to be indoors again. It was freedom for me, I could go anywhere and explore anything — especially the neighborhoods I was told to stay out of.

It wasn’t very long till I outgrew my own town and was sneaking out to other towns and making BMX friends all over. It felt like a community of misfits. Each town had a scene, each state has a scene, and I just wanted to see it all. There was a crossroads at 18 where I got a car for a couple of weeks and was looking for a regular job and I pretty much accepted the fact that I was gonna be stuck in my hometown. I looked at the situation and realized that’s not what I wanted; the traditional life is not for me. I got rid of the car, didn’t show up for the job and left on a road trip with some guys from Jersey who I had recently met.

I suppose that brings us nicely onto my next question… what was it like on those Animal trips around the Can I Eat/All Day era?

Those were sort of two different periods in my mind. I was like 18 or 19 for the filming of Can I Eat. I had no idea I was going to end up with a part or even be on Animal at that time. I was riding and hanging out with Scerbo and George D a lot, and just excited to be riding NYC a lot. I had no idea about how the industry worked or anything like that. Bob would film people, but I never expected him to film me, I was happy just watching all this sick stuff happen.

I ended up staying at Bob’s for almost a month at one point. We took a trip to Ohio and a few other short trips around the NJ/PA area. That’s pretty much when almost all the footage from Can I Eat was filmed. It wasn’t till the end of that trip that Bob told me I was on the team.

All Day was a lot different. Bob took a bunch of trips up my way to film for that. I also came by ‘the shack’ in Brooklyn to film some stuff around there. That was probably the funniest era, any trip that I was on with Ed, Vinnie, and Tom was non-stop laughter. The jokes were incredible.

Why do you think people hold that era and those videos in such high regard?

I think the videos that Bob made just put out a genuine good vibe. None of it was contrived or over thought, we were just having a good time riding and making jokes.

Also it was a turning point in riding, shifting to the all-street videos and street riding in general being the biggest genre of BMX. The style changed, a lot people became brakeless, hip hop sort of emerged as the dominant music in videos, and a lot of new tricks happened in a short period of time.

It still seems like we’re in that era, it hasn’t progressed that far if you think about it. Edwin is definitely responsible for a lot of that — people are still essentially trying to mimic an old Edwin part. Like it’s still notable if someone is doing grind to hard 360, or backward grind to half cab Indian bar, or hard 180 to grind… these are all things that Ed did first back then but are still the basis for a lot of today’s stuff.

Without getting too much into ‘industry chat’, I noticed you’re not on Animal anymore. What are your thoughts on being sponsored and stuff?

No, I do not ride for them anymore. I’m not one to act like they didn’t show me a lot of support, I appreciate what was done in the past. But also it sucks putting in work for a brand that repeatedly shoots them self in the foot management wise. As the financial problems mounted the brand just kept running in circles and at this point the tail is wagging the dog so to speak. Making decisions solely based on sales is not something I want to be part of.

Plus I don’t want to be the old dude on a pro team milking it and looking pitiful, there’s plenty of that around already. I always said from the beginning I’m not gonna be a sponsor chaser or the type of dude that switches sponsors all the time. I started out riding for 2Hip and Animal, and I saw both of them out all the way to the end. I had other offers but I didn’t have another proper frame sponsor after 2Hip.

I had a good regular job and didn’t want the hassle of having to produce stuff to keep anyone happy so I quit and just continued to ride for Animal till they effectively went out of business at one point. I didn’t get into BMX for a paycheck — if that’s what you got into it for; you’re going to find yourself doing some funny shit. Just look at Instagram for evidence of that.

All I care about is the riding, I don’t care about being ‘relevant with the kids’ or ‘popular’ or anything like that. I got into BMX to ride, travel, and make friends. I happened to be presented with some opportunities along the way, but I believe that’s a given if you’re truly into it for the right reasons.

As for sponsorships they are very different than they were back then. Social media skewed people’s perception of the real world and there are people that understand that and are skilled at social media, but that doesn’t have anything to do with riding. That’s media and industry shit, BMX is much more than that. Sponsors need you much more than you need them.

2001_Photo_Joe Zuidema

Good answer. Changing subject a little, you’ve done some gnarly stuff over the years, but it never looks out of control or anything. What’s the scariest thing you’ve done? And how do you keep your mind at ease when running up to something like an X-up 60/40 grind down a big ledge?

First, thanks for the compliment, that’s definitely good to hear. It matters to me how stuff looks and feels. Over the years I have learned to be patient and not force stuff if I’m not feeling it. Most importantly, I want it to feel good and in control. I won’t go out and try something that’s scary until I feel I’m ready — I’m in no rush.

At this point I like to wait until I’m confident enough that there is no bitch runs. I usually run up to something twice and then go on the third try. If that doesn’t work, I’m not doing it, and I’m not coming back to it either. It’s over.

One of the scariest I can think of is a rollercoaster handrail grind from the last 90East video. I had looked at it for years but never even brought my bike to the top of the stairs because security sits at a desk behind a window looking directly at the run up. Plus there’s always cars parked in the spaces that are in the way.

We happened to roll by there one day an there was no car in the spot so the roll out was clear. Everyone set up the cameras and I brought my bike to the top of the stairs to give it a look but as soon as I stood over my bike the security guard jumped out of his chair and came running over. I had no time to do a test run up so I just quickly turned around and jumped on it. It seems like recently I’m always running into those types of situations where it’s not the trick I’m scared of, but the stressful scenario with something having tight security and limited attempts.

Sounds like a nightmare. You’ve been fairly vocal in your thoughts on street riding. What is ‘street riding’ to you? And what are your thoughts about how it’s sometimes portrayed?

I’ve been asked this question and had this conversation plenty of times over the years. It usually ends with someone getting in their feelings. It has to be kept in mind that this is all speculation and opinion, and I definitely have an opinion. In terms of real street riding, there are just certain riders that have it and certain riders that don’t. It also has to do with things off the bike. It’s something that’s hard to quantify to someone that doesn’t understand all aspects of it.

I can definitely explain what street riding isn’t… It isn’t tied to any format (VX or HD), any type of music, any place, and it’s not a contest on TV. As far as it being portrayed — at a mainstream level it isn’t being portrayed at all.

A lot of times what is being seen at that level is overrated filmers carting around guys who train at skateparks or plazas and going to spots that are perfect for upping their stats, like the token rail or set. I have no problem with that either, it’s just not something I have an interest in watching for anything other than the shock value — plus it has no relation to street riding. Of course there are exceptions among that crowd, But that’s generally what’s being portrayed in the mainstream as top level ‘street riding’.

If I remember right – you came to England once on a 2hip trip. What were your thoughts on it? I’m always intrigued to hear what Americans think of this place.

I love it there. I was there for almost a month on that trip. We started in London and did a loop around the island hitting Nottingham, Stoke-on-Tent, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and back to London. We rode a lot of dope spots and everyone we rode with was awesome. There’s a lot of similarities between the Boston area and there — especially architecture wise — so it felt welcoming to me.

I have some pretty funny stories from there too… the highlight would probably be getting jumped at South Bank by a group of football jocks. These dudes just ran up on us out of nowhere — there were four of them and three of us. It was probably the longest lasting fight I’ve ever been in — that shit seems like it lasted 20 minutes.

We were just throwing wild punches at anyone we could and they were doing the same until our arms were tired. No one on either side was knocked out or injured or even bruised for that matter which made it kind of funny. Someone came around the corner and yelled, “Police,” which spooked them and they ran off.

I’m still pissed I’ve never seen any of the footage from that trip; It was in a road trip video that I never got a copy of.

DIYspotbar

Haha – I wonder if anyone’s seen that thing? What was the story with your 2hip frame? Didn’t it originally come with one of those coke-can head-tubes?

That frame came about right when the switch to the current headsets started. I could be mistaken, but I believe FBM and Solid were the only ones that were ahead of the curve with the integrated headset so I was trying to get my frame to come out with one also. Ron W wasn’t really in tune with that change so when I got the sample it had an ‘internal’ headset and not an ‘integrated’ headset — big difference haha. The entire regular headset, cups included, would actually go inside the head tube. It was actually kind of funny that mistake was made.

We got that figured out right away though and I had a new sample pretty quick. The USA made production version had the proper integrated head tube but it wasn’t tapered on the outside the way they are now so it did look slightly bigger, just like the FBM one.

A lot of people clowned me about riding for 2Hip over the years and it sometimes was tough to deal with Ron, but looking back it was an awesome time. Pretty much right when Can I Eat dropped, everyone on Animal was offered a frame sponsor by multiple companies. I chose to stick with 2Hip because to me it was more important to learn from a legend like Ron than to go on trips with some clown ‘team manager’. Sure some of the other brands offered more money but I knew it wouldn’t last and they wouldn’t have the same sort of investment. I would rather be on the road and learn from Ron who has seen everything in the game. Despite his quirky antics he is a solid dude that has a lot of knowledge and I was hyped to get a signature frame and complete bike for his brand. I never had to do anything I didn’t want to with them, I made that clear from the beginning and he understood that.

Even though we have different personalities we definitely share the same sort of ‘anti’ attitude and I think he appreciated that.

90East has been going a few years now – and before that you did Mass Transit and Symmetric. What made you want to get into making clothes?

I’ve always been interested in design and production. I used to do odd jobs back in the day for a print shop so I got familiar with Photoshop, Illustrator and various printing processes pretty early on. I always like the idea of a clothing brand because you’re pretty unrestricted in your ideas. You can come up with an idea and put it on a shirt quickly and easily. It has sort a DIY root to it which I really enjoy.

I also really like a bunch of old skate brands like the original Zoo York. Even though they made decks too, their clothing was always sick and they had such a good crew vibe going which was very inspiring to me.

You make handlebars at the moment. Now you’re not tied with Animal are you going to make more bicycle componentry? It’s pretty hard to buy from companies you’re actually into these days. My Federal seat-post is a prime example of that haha.

Yeah, we currently make the bars and are in the process of getting the sprocket made. We’re also working on some more parts. As always everything will continue to be small runs of product, we’re not trying to become some huge brand or anything like that.

At that point you have to do a bunch of wack bullshit, chase customers, and play the industry game, I’m not into doing that. Thats pointless to me, theres plenty of companies doing that which are slaves to their consumers and don’t really exist for a reason.

I’m aware that what we do is a small niche and I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m a grown man, I’m not going to spend my time chasing what kids want or any of that — if you like what we do, then cool, if not then there’s plenty of shit out there to choose from. I’m not trying to live some lavish lifestyle or something, I have a regular job outside of BMX which allows the brand to stay on the path I want it to.

Also that allows for total freedom. If my friend makes a cool zine or DVD, I can sell it, or I can interview someone I find interesting as well as continuing to make clothing or parts. That’s what’s cool about the internet now, the lines between crews, brands and media are now blurred, which is awesome.

What do you do for work?

I have been a courier and bike mechanic the last few years as well as doing various non BMX related design and printing work.

Going back to 90East, you lot have got a new video on the way fairly soon. How’s that coming along? You had any tech-based nightmares with it so far?

Right now I’m just getting started on seriously finishing up the editing. Should be ready to go in the next two months depending on how long the DVD and zine production take.

As far as tech problems go I would say my biggest issue is the video card on my iMac. It’s showing the common signs of dying and I just keep ignoring it. I fried my last iMac video card by making Wormscape and the first two 90East videos.

This current one made Public Property as well as a bunch of other HD projects, so I think this video will be the last straw. I can say though it is much better than dealing with the VX glitching and using capture cameras back in the SD days. I like being able to just insert the memory card into the computer and drag all the files in.

This might be a strange question… but how does an evening of editing usually pan out? Are you hidden away in a back room or kicking it on the sofa? Do you like to drink whilst editing or is focus required?

The actual location of my desk with the computer isn’t hidden away in a room, it’s in the living room, but I won’t edit until midnight or so. It helps if it’s cold and snowing also. I need everything to be still and quiet. I definitely like to have a drink or two during the process to help relax.

I don’t really spend that much time editing until the very end. As the footage starts taking shape I might compile a premature timeline that just might sit unchanged for a year or more, even though additional clips have been filmed. But that entire time I’m sort of editing the video in my head as we go and thinking of music and all that. I’ll wait until I have a clear vision and direction already finished in my head so when I sit down to do the final edit all I have to do is the busy work of dropping the clips where they need to be and the sound and color correction.

To me it doesn’t make sense to just stare at timelines everyday with no direction trying to force shit to work. I would rather come in super motivated with a clear idea and get it done. I think that gets your idea across while it’s still fresh because you’re excited to edit as opposed to just going through the motions of pointlessly messing with a timeline to keep yourself busy.

photo_Jake Frost

What do you think makes a good video?

That’s a hard question to answer. It’s similar to music in the sense that a song could be out of time and mixed terribly but still feel amazing. See early Wu Tang, J Dilla, and Madlib for concrete examples of that. I guess it’s just getting a genuine vibe across. It’s also a personal opinion; I’m just not into overly polished shiny stuff. It lacks realism and is unrelateable.

I would rather watch some DVD, edit, or even IG video from a crew riding their hometown than a video from the highest paid filmers/editors, and riders from all over the world that wins ‘video of the year’.

What’s Jesse Williams up to these days? His section in the first 90East video was mint.

Last I talked to him was a couple months ago. He has been a construction contractor with his own company for years and is still doing that. Just like BMX, he is killing it in that area. He still has a bike and rides from time to time when he feels like it. That’s how Jesse was from the beginning and that what makes him a highly respectable person and rider.

That’s a brother to me, we went through a lot of shit together, so I could not talk to him for years but pick right back up where we left off at any time.

What do you get up to outside of riding / making videos / doing stuff for 90East? 

If I’m not riding or doing the associated activities then I’m spending time with my wife Lauren. That’s all I really care to do other than riding and chilling with the crew. We spend a lot of time with our dog Stella and like to take day trips to various town and cities around New England. It can be hard to switch BMX off but when I’m with them it makes it pretty easy.

You seen any good films lately?

I’m not really a movie person but there are series that I’ll watch over again. To name a few, The Wire, Soprano’s, Treme, Atlanta, Generation Kill, True Detective season 1. If were talking straight movies I’m gonna say Ghostdog: Legend of the Samurai is my favorite. Also Coffee and Cigarettes is up there.

I think I’m all out of questions now. Any words of wisdom you’d like to add?

“If you don’t belong, you won’t be long.”

See the new 90East gear here.

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