Travelling is a blessing.
I embarked on my own journey in 2007 at the age of 20 when I was first invited to do BMX shows in an amusement park in the dense, dynamic and modern atmosphere of Shenzhen, China.
At the time, I was not quite sure how much my first big voyage was influenced by my father's tales of trips he took throughout the world. Since then, I have travelled mainland China extensively. It is a country I seem to know better than my own now. Ahead of my first departure, I remember my dad clearly stating that I should keep my eyes and ears open for business opportunities in the growing economic giant that the Middle Empire had already become.
Before my dad left this plain of existence, he travelled to 118 countries. By today's standard, that is a considerable amount, but in 1967, when he set off with my mom and another couple for two years, in a hippie-looking Volkswagen Westfalia on a round the world trip, that was an outstanding project. In hindsight, he inspired me greatly. His travel bug bit me quite fiercely. I have only visited 35 countries so far, but I feel the journey is just beginning!
One hot Beijing summer day back in 2010, I found myself ahead of the best Chinese Flatland BMX rider for the first time, on the highest step of the podium, on a stop of the ''CX-GAMES,'' a Chinese X Games series that used to take place every year. That same day, I received a phone call from the boss of a small bicycle manufacturer in Nanning, in Guangxi province. I listened carefully to Mr. Wei as we went back and forth, deciphering his Cantonese-flavored Mandarin as he asked me if I was interested in riding for their brand.
My Chinese Mandarin was still quite rudimentary at that point, but I could tell it was good news! Now, almost eight years later, having well-absorbed my dad's advice, I am still riding for and now distributing Far East Cycles around the globe. I am also producing my own brand, ''IGI'', which is short for I GOT IT (like when you land a new bike trick for the first time) but the idea actually came from the word OR-IGI-NAL.
With our sport still very focused and also judged on creativity, it is appropriate to use that word as a brand name. IGI, which is also made in China, has now sold over a thousand pairs of pegs.
China offered me my first work opportunity on my BMX. I was an entertainer for 11 months at a Chinese amusement park
I am now working on developing other components for Flatland bikes. The goal is to offer a new interface, and an improved connection with the bike, especially for high speed back-to-back style of tricks.
China offered me my first work opportunity on my BMX. I was an entertainer for 11 months at a Chinese amusement park. I have to admit, if I hadn't walked through that door when it opened I could easily have gotten stuck working a day job, getting comfortable in the material sense of that word.
Luckily, that first experience working with my passion rang the bell and woke me up to a ton of possibilities. I quickly realized that I didn't have the skill to impress the gallery and that I had no choice but to spend countless hours practising , improving and accelerating the pace of my tricks to be able to get a crowd reaction at will. My many failures during shows were my greatest motivations. I am so thankful for that part of my life: it tore me apart, then formed me into the person I have become.
Ensconced in China
The impact China has had on my life in the past 10 years is tremendous. I am infinitely grateful. In total, I have spent about six years on Chinese soil. I learned the language, in part speaking, reading and writing. I have been managing an extreme sports team in Beijing for the past eight years. I produce my bike components in Nanning, and I also distribute FEC (a Chinese BMX brand) to a growing list of distributors around the world. I hold dreams to one day visit Tibet, Yunnan, Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang provinces. I want to witness and experience the authentic, less exposed endearing parts of the country.
There's a tight connection between BMX and China in my life. BMX gave me the tools, and China gave me the opportunities to make a passionate life for myself. Nevertheless, the road had its bumps, and the sport still demands a lot of isolation, focus and practice to develop the skills to create tangible revenues.
BMX swept me off my feet and gave me wings. It flew me around the planet and made me countless friends. It brought me to places I could never have imagined experiencing. I am forever grateful that I found my passion at an age early enough to exploit it and be able to thrive from it. It was against the odds, but it also seemed to be written in the sky. My greatest wish is to see more people doing what they love and doing it well. It's so easy to get stuck in a rut, but it's even easier to follow your heart. The calling is clear within our minds, we just have to listen to it.
There are a half-dozen events on three continents left in 2017. Once the season is over I will be preparing to lock myself up for the winter, to redefine and reinvigorate my riding once again. I look forward to the challenges ahead of me.
(Large photos by WenHe and Armand Lenoir)