Freestyle motocross veteran Kris Garwasiuk, 31, was the first Canadian to turn pro at 15. His career highlights include being the first Canadian to compete at the X Games, placing seventh in the freestyle motocross competition in 1999 and being named Canadian champion in 2002.
Just over a decade later, Garwasiuk is married with a baby on the way, and while he still rides competitively he now focuses on promoting and performing shows. He has joined forces with his protégé-cum-business-partner, Bruce Cook, to establish Global FMX, “Canada’s premier freestyle motocross outfit.”
In a recent interview, RidersWest asked Garwasiuk about the development of his professional career in both competitive and performance freestyle motocross, as well as about Global FMX’s upcoming Freestyle Madness tour finale in the hotbed for freestyle motocross that he and Cook both call their hometown: Kelowna, B.C.
How did you manage to turn pro at freestyle motocross at such a young age?
I grew up in one of those families where my dad raced, my brother raced and Mom made us lunch while we were racing, so I grew up around that scene. I had a pretty lengthy racing career to start, and I just always loved doing the jumps on the track. When there was a new triple built or a new tabletop, that was the funnest part of the track for me. I don’t know if you want to call it being a show-off or not, but I’ve always enjoyed doing that big jump. Back in the beginning it was taking the feet off the bike, or back in the '80s if I won a race, I would always be that guy that did a heel click off the finish-line jump.
Then, I actually got sponsored by a company, SMP Clothing, which was kind of one of the founders of freestyle motocross, coming out with some of the first videos. Some of the biggest names in freestyle motocross used to ride for them back in the day, like Jeremy Stenberg and Brian Deegan. They brought me out to the very first contest, which was in Idaho Falls. I went down there and did really well. I placed fifth place at the very first race and I actually ended up going home with a pocket full of money. With racing I worked all week and then spent my money on the weekend to go racing, so it was kind of a cool thing to go ride my dirt bike and make some money.
After that, I was hooked. It was so cool just to be that young, being 15 years old. The only other young guys that were there were Travis Patrana and Jeremy Stenberg and Colin Morrison. We were basically the young kids at the shows that couldn’t go out to the bars after the event, so we all hung out and did our own thing, went cruising around and found our own things to do.
I kept competing and went down and did events all throughout the U.S. The sport was so new that there just wasn’t a client base for it in Canada, so all the events to start in the sport were pretty much in the States. So I pretty much moved down there. After I graduated high school, I spent two years down there building a name for myself. I’m to the point now where I have so many contacts and hookups that people call me to come perform at different events.
Does that mean there is a lot of room for Canadian freestyle motocross riders to come up and make a bigger name for Canadians in the sport?
Yes and no. It’s not to say that any of those (American) guys are any better than Canadians. I think Canadians have a hard time breaking into the sport because of where we live. It’s tough because you can’t ride year round here. In the winter we still do shows, but we’re doing indoor performances. That’s not when you’re practising and learning new tricks. When you’re performing you’re already doing what you know. It’s not to rip on any of the Canadian guys, because honestly there are some amazing Canadian riders coming out these days that ride so well. We just have it tough because we have the winter to deal with, and nowadays there are just so many kids in our sport. If you go down to California where it’s a real hotbed for our sport, there’s more kids in that area doing freestyle motocross than all of Canada.
Is there any advice you would give a young rider who wants to try to break into the sport?
It’s not necessarily about who’s the best rider, it’s about who’s had the doors opened at the right time, who’s made the right connections, who’s invested time and money into marketing themselves, who’s easy to work with at events, and who’s the guy that people are going to call when they need a rider. I’m by far not the best rider around, and there are guys out there that are way better than I am, but they’re not being employed, they’re not getting out and doing the shows, because they don’t have a background like I do.
It’s like music artists out there. There are a million people out there that can sing, but it’s all about being marketable. If you want to be a freestyle motocross rider, of course riding is a huge part of it, probably about 60 per cent of it. But there are so many other tools that you can use to better yourself. Especially now with Facebook and all that, it’s easier to make connections. That is one advantage over when I came up in the sport.
Global FMX must be the other 40 per cent that you were talking about. You’re marketing yourselves.
People don’t see the stuff that Bruce and I do behind the scenes. We go to fair conventions and we’re constantly making promo packages and mailing them out to different events. We built up our clientele and our show is so polished that word keeps getting around. Now we’re at the point where last weekend we were in Montreal, this weekend we’re in Regina and then we have a couple of weekends off where we’ll be promoting our big show coming to Kelowna.
Will the Freestyle Madness event that’s coming to Kelowna be different from other events that you’ve done?
We jump at fairs, exhibitions and sideshows, but this is a turn-key arena show, so we come into a big stadium and bring all the ramps and the pyro. People see the Nuclear Cowboyz shows in the States, and we’ve done a similar twist as them. It’s a huge production. We’ve got over $20,000 in pyro alone. It’s pretty exciting.