From January 2009 till March 2010 I did a series interviews of some of the best players, go-getters, organizers and all around important people of our sport at that point. I now bring all of the interviews, for the first time collected, chronologically here on the site. Some of the people are as relevant today as they were back then, others have faded a little, but all of the interviews contain strong opinions, an interesting look into a footbag life and/or great advice about our sport. This week’s interview is from February 8th 2009 and is with Ethan “Red” Husted.
Description of Red from the Sole Purpose website:
An 11 year veteran of the sport, Frederick Ethan Mason Husted began his freestyle career in the liberal college town of Columbia, MO. After quickly becoming obsessed with the sport, Ethan latched onto the top local freestylers of the time, Joe Marshall, Derrick Fogle, and Rally ??? In 1996, he moved to San Diego CA., and practiced regularly with the area’s freestyle representative, Richie Abshire. Ethan then relocated to what was at that time the freestyle capital of the world, San Francisco CA. During this “golden era”, the Bay Area was home to many of the sport’s top athletes, including Peter Irish, Carol Wedemeyer, Eric Wulff, Tuan Vu, and Tim Kelly. Along with practicing with the current professionals, Ethan played a great amount with other young up-and-comers such as Sunil Jani, Ryan Mulroney, and Tu Vu.
In 1997 here in Portland OR, he was inducted into the professional class group, the Big Add Posse. Since then Red has been associated with many freestyle groups, including the Boulder Blades group, which included fellow BAPers Ellis Piltz, Dave Holton, John Schneider, Rick Reese, Daryl Genz, and on occasion, Brian Mckenzie.
After graduating college Red relocated to the northwest, and currently resides in Portland OR, where he schools with a new and promising generation of up-and-coming talent. Now in his “fourth prime”, Red works full time promoting the Northwest footbag scene and it’s rich wealth of players.
Let’s start with a bit of history. First how did you start playing footbag?
I first started playing footbag sometime in 1994 I believe, in the town I was raised in, Columbia Missouri. It was kind of ironic, I actually got into playing footbag a bit later than my friends in my social group. In high school they would get up and play whether it was in lunch or study hall, I would simply hang out and really had no interest in it at all. I didn’t think ill of it, but again it simply did not capture my interest in any real way. After we all graduated my friends continued to play constantly, and I still did not really get into it. I remember what really kicked it off (pun intended) was one day near Christmas. We were all at my sister’s house hanging out, they got up in the living room and started playing. It was with a typical crochet Sipa footbag, the casual kicking bag of choice in the early and mid 1990’s. Anyway, they ended up losing control of the bag and sent it flying into the Christmas tree, where they essentially failed to retrieve it. We all forgot about the footbag pretty quick after that. My sister was bad about getting rid of her Christmas tree that year, so there it sat undisturbed. Finally some months later, Rachael decided to kick the tree to the curb, and of course it was at that point I rediscovered the dormant footbag. At that time, it was late winter, and I was really bored and looking for something new other than what I had been doing, which was mainly partying and getting into trouble with my old high school friends. I had already taken a step back from my old social circle, we were still contact but I knew that it wasn’t healthy to continue my previous party lifestyle. So when I found that forgotten footbag in the old Christmas tree, that is really when I discovered the game. I began to practice mildly, then with more frequency to the point I was playing everyday. Slowly I became obsessed with it. I proceeded to track down the best players in our town and started kicking with them. There were three players, each one’s kung fu was a little better than the last. The first player’s name was Raleigh Green, a local legend for known for being a master of the game. We kicked for some time. As I got better, I learned about Joe Marshall, a freestyler that had recently moved to town for college. He was the next step up in skill level, able to do more complex tricks and such. I learned a fair amount from Joe, including that fact that there was yet an even more powerful jedi in Columbia, one that no one knew about but was absolutely the best. Joe took me to meet future Hall of Fame member Derrick Fogle, and my head about exploded. Now I realize he was only doing 20 move contact runs or so, but I remember telling my mom “there was this guy that could do tricks for like 10 minutes straight!” Not quite, but that is how open my eyes were. Also around that time I was actively researching it online, and found a new website called footbag.org. That clued me into Kenny Shults, Peter Irish, and all the rest. I got a hold of the first Tricks of the Trade, and that was that. I went back to kick with my original buddies soon after, and they were floored by where I was with it. Since then, my life has certainly been altered by the sport. Footbag in many ways enlightened me, and continues to do so to this day.
You later moved to San Diego and played with Richard Abshire. What was that time like?
San Diego was my first venture into the larger world outside my town. One of the few things I knew in my teens was that I didn’t really know anything. I wanted to find out what was out there though, thus when an aunt offered to let me move in with her and her husband in SD, I jumped at the chance. By then I had advanced to the point I was ready to find more players, find a larger pond essentially. California seemed like the right place. I got to San Diego and immediately began searching for serious players, but apparently I was a few years too late, the scene had gone out and the players had moved on. I had to perform some detective work, and eventually tracked down one Richie Abshire, who at that point had gone into retirement. I had to actually go to his house in Oceanside (30 miles up from San Diego), to get him to play. We clicked as friends immediately, Richie is a really good guy. I could tell he was burnt out on the game though, luckily he got back into it the more we played. Abshire was very instrumental in cluing me in on a lot of the behind the scenes stuff in the footbag world, as much as he knew and saw at least. We shredded a great deal and both advanced strongly. I still have some of his older footbags around, they are much different then the Abshires people kick with today. Anyway, I remember a pretty pivotal story Richie and I both tell from time to time involving another player from southern California coming into our knowledge. I was actually at Richie’s house when the call came in. Some kid from L.A. phoned and was in town for the weekend, and wanted to kick with Richie and crew. The kid proceeded to tell Richie he looked forward to meeting up, and that “he didn’t just do around the worlds.” At that time Abshire and I were pretty confident of our skills in the southern California area, so after the call ended, we were both like “who’s this guy?” Well, we found out, it was Ryan Mulroney. At that time, he was still doing many two add moves, but it wasn’t the moves that he was doing, it was how he was doing them that was scary. Watching intermediate Ryan at 17 was like watching the future of footbag. Anyway, we all hit it off, and continued to meet up and progress. We later met Chad Devlahovich and Eric Windsor, and more or less formed the Socal freestyle crew. It was a fun time, I had a crappy car detail job, and very little responsibility. That meant a lot of time to practice.
Then you moved to San Francisco CA, when that city was the freestyle capital of the world? Who did you play with back then? How was the scene?
First of all I have to say the scene in San Francisco around that time was phenomenal. I would like to think a situation like that will exist again, I think it has come close a few times. In the mid 90’s, SF was the capital of footbag in general, with more top/ground breaking players than I can remember. To name a few, there was; Peter Irish, Tim Kelly, Dennis Jones and Demetri (co-founders of BAP more or less), Sam Conlon, Carol Wedemeyer, Eric Wulff, Tuan Vu, Ahren Gehrman (a little later), Tu Vu, Sunil Jani, Josh Casey (for a short time), Lisa McDaniel, Lisa Monte, Steve Goldberg and the Stanford crew, John Leys and the Berkeley crew, Ryan Mulroney, Mike Niday, Chris Ott, a small army of net players, a few other long time legends of the sport, and quite a few up and coming freestylers. There was even good amount of casual kickers, especially at ‘Hippy Hill’ in Golden Gate Park. These days I refer to that time as the Golden Age, it was a wealth of talent. Really I moved up to the Bay Area for one reason; to train with the professionals. The second tournament I even attended was in Santa Cruz, where I essentially met Peter, Tim, Dennis, Carol, and Steve. I was pretty wide eyed, Peter and Tim did not officially compete at that event, but the individual demos they performed dropped my jaw. To this day certain elements of my style I feel are derived from playing with Tim Kelly. Anyway, I packed my car from SD and drove up to San Fran on a Saturday, on Sunday I attended my first session with the group in Golden Gate Park. Routinely after I would contact Abshire trying to sell him on joining the BAFL scene, but Richie’s home truly is San Diego, he has done a fine job keeping that scene going. Back to point, though I mentioned all of the names in the SF group above, it was not exactly like everyone attended every session. That would have been nice, but it was more like within BAFL (Bay Area Footbag League), there were many regional groups like Stanford and Berkeley that had their own sessions throughout the week. Sunday was the big meet up time, but even then it was rare to see all of those people in one spot. But most were accessible, which was good enough for me. I would simply go where the session was. Many of my long running friendships in this sport generated from that time. Peter, Tim, and Wulffy were already giants in the game, and though they were my friends, that was the light I saw them in; footbag statesmen. I was part of the incoming generation, this fact allowed me to form some great friendships with my fellow newbies. Sunil and I shredded a great deal when he arrived, same with Ryan. I played footbag with Peter and Tim as much as I could, but schooled with SJ and Mulroney. We were all coming up together, pushing each other to get better. Having Steve running the great Western Regionals helped, there I met Daryl Genz, Dave Holton, Kenny Shults, and a bunch of other good individuals. In 1999 I moved to Colorado to finish out college at CU Boulder, but SF and those days never left me, those were some of the best days of footbag in my life for sure.
In 1997 you got into BAP. Why and how?
In 1997 I attended my first Worlds, here in Portland Oregon. Man, that was an event. We drove up from SF, and stayed with a friend’s cousin. I was pretty excited, but had made a rookie mistake; I over schooled for the event. By the time Worlds came around, I had done some damage to my legs with the amount of schooling I had put in. I needed a solid month off to rebuild, and that was before the tournament. I still played a great amount, pain be damned. It was almost an overload, there were so many players there. I met Brian McKenzie at that event, and met back up with my old mentors Joe Marshall and Derrick Fogle. I kicked my heart out, and had some fun sessions at the various locations we played around Portland, including at the Boys and Girls Club gym where Ryan hit his now classic dropless semis routine (also the same location I now teach footbag and chess at). By the end of the event I was a shell of a freestyler, I had kicked a lot that week in all the circles, and with fellow player Dave Holton (still the greatest Teva kicker of all time). Physically, I was toast. There were a lot of reasonably good new schoolers at that event, pretty much gunning for BAP as well. The new generation was coming up, and between these shredders we wanted to see who was going to first make the cut. From that week, I knew that I was more skilled than many of them, save a few. Those seven days I thought I played decent, but not as good as back in SF. Irish, Kelly, and the other BAPers from the Bay Area had watched my progression and seen a great deal of what I was capable of throughout our sessions, which helped in the end I think. At the end of the week, we were all on Portland’s waterfront where finals were happening, I remember clearly Dave and I were standing around chomping on pizza and chatting when Peter Irish walked up to us and said “you guys are going to want to stick around”. At that point Dave and I could only guess one thing. Sure enough, they ran the BAP inductions shortly thereafter in front of the crowds watching the net event, and we were inducted into the group, along with most of the guys I had thought kicked well. I believe some of the other inductees were Holton of course, also Tu Vu, Chad Devlahovich, Noah D., and Ryan. If I am not mistaken I do hold one record in the BAP continuum, I was the first freestyler to be inducted into the group at their first Worlds. Now days it happens all the time, but back then people usually paid some dues and attended a Worlds or two before being inducted. With the ’97 gents, most of those guys went on to have a good run in the sport, but BAP was different in those days than it is now. First, the numbers were a lot smaller then, before our gen there were under 15 players in the group, less than that were active in 1997. Also, there something that I called the ‘rookie status’. For the most part, a new good player coming in probably was not going to be at Peter or Wulff’s skill level, at that time everyone was still figuring out linking higher add moves. Not even Ryan was quite at that top level by the ’97 inductions. I believe some of the things the previous gen of BAPer’s were looking for was of course a strong skill level, but also the promise that the player was going to advance. That seemed to be the golden rule, if you got BAPed in, you were expected to come back even better the next year, to clarify that the right decision was made and their faith in you was upheld. I can say it sucks to see someone get really good, even to the point of getting into the group, then disappear right after. I always felt bummed when that happened, someone would achieve a high skill level but then just quit, what a loss to the sport! Anyway, I don’t think it is greatly different now on that point. Aside from skill level inflation, most BAP inductees are not expected to be just as good as Vasek, but still have to bring some real game. From the 1997 generation though, I feel most of us held to that golden rule and made a few contributions.
How did you get the nickname “Red”?
This is perhaps the number one question I am asked, I usually answer it’s a really uninteresting story. From a young age I was always interested in the idea of having different aliases. My full name is Frederick Ethan Mason Husted, and I have pretty much gone by all of those names at one point or another, especially when I was younger. When footbag came along I was pretty burnt out with my life as it was, you could say the typical angsty teen trying to figure it out. I wasn’t happy in my life and it’s direction, so when I found footbag, it was a new path and start. With that I decided on a new alias, one that was going to leave the things I didn’t like behind, and focus on the new. It wasn’t really until I went to San Diego that I started going by Red, I have to admit it was fun. As Red, I could be fully focused on freestyle, it was an adventure so to speak. I shaved my hair really short and was nothing but footbag for a couple of years, as much of a disciple to the game as I could be. That was as physically cut for the sport as I ever got. It wasn’t all healthy, again by Worlds ’97 I had run my body into the ground. It wasn’t until after 1997 Worlds that I stepped back, took six months off, and rested. After that Red was pretty much done, I started going by my original name again, which is Ethan. By then though it was too late, the name stuck. As either Richie and Ryan put it, “nope, you’re Red”. I don’t mind it though, whenever someone new addresses me as Red, I recognize exactly how they know me. These days I go by either name, it’s not really something I think about much in the present. As for why that particular name, ha, completely random!
How do you feel about BAP today?
Well, again it’s much different now. I mentioned early a few things that were similar in regards to the group now and then, but today it’s more like the world around BAP has changed. Back before and when I got in, the lines of skill level were more clearly divided; there were intermediate to just getting good shredders, and then there were really good players that had a good shot at getting into the group, or were already in. Also there were a lot less footbag players in general, mainly focused in North America. Now, there are countless really good shredders all over the world. More recently there has been a lot of gray area about where the line was to get into BAP. We had a meeting at Worlds 2007 about the process and how it should go. The general consensus was that the since the average level of good had gone way up, the standards for the group had to go up a bit as well. Again, the player doesn’t have to be quite Vaska level, but does have to rise above the pack in skill level and mastery (not an easy task with all the great players out there). That’s the main reason it was David only in 2007, there were a good deal of sick shredders at Worlds that year (I was impressed), but he was just on another level. That is where it is now for the most part. Honza Weber has kept us informed on the European side of BAP, he has been good about handling it. Another conclusion the group came to was the locations of BAP entry. Mostly it has been just Worlds, but the problem with that is accessibility for many players. They simply cannot afford to travel that great distance for a shot at the group. Thus as it stands, if Worlds is in North America, inductions can occur at the Euros, if there are enough BAPers to give a reasonable vote. Vis versa, if Worlds is in Europe, inductions can occur at the US Open with a good BAP representation. This actually has been active for the last year. That is pretty much the state of the group now.
Personally, I was honored that the guys in the group believed in me enough to bring me into the Posse, so I of course honor that by continuing to help with the organization of it when I can. I am big on respecting tradition, whether it is with BAP or with the footbag generations in general. There is always the long running debate whether the group is good for the sport or not, this goes waaaaay back. In fact, a heavy critic of if was one of the people I kicked with in the beginning, Derrick Fogle. I have to say there are some things that I did not dig from the old days, the idea of the ‘BAP circle’ never sat right with me. That hasn’t been seen in a while, thankfully. I want to kick with everyone, they don’t even have to be close to the same skill level. Truth is, these days, it is not as relevant an issue to debate the importance of BAP I don’t believe, the sport has grown too big (compared to the old days) for it to be a make or break issue regarding the scene. There are a lot of great players out there, some hardly know what the group is. Getting in should not be a player’s sole objective, it can be something to shoot for, but can’t be the everything. A good way to look at is; “great, got in, let’s go kick,” or “great, didn’t get in, let’s go kick.” It shouldn’t be a deal breaker for players though, and I don’t really think it is with this many good shredders out there. Again, I think the sport has grown beyond having to really debate the influence of the Big Add Posse. It’s there, but is also simply one of many things in our ever increasing sport.
Then you ended up playing with the Boulder Blades group with Ellis Piltz, John Schneider, Rick Reese and Daryl Genz. What was those years like?
Good times as well, looking back I am honored to have been a part of all these groups at one time or another. The Boulder Blades group was no exception, there was some serious schooling going on. Some really good things got accomplished during that time frame. There was some intense shred, I had the honor of watching Dave Holton hit the first seven add move, and also see him the first Alpine Blurry Torque. We had Brian McKenzie come and live with us for a summer time, that was really a sharp time at the shred house. Brian at that point was really second only to Ryan Mulroney in circle shred (this was before Lon and Sunil came up), and watching him play was pretty ill. Another highlight from that time was kicking with world champion Rick Reese. Rick had an endless amount of energy, and was a complete natural. The guy was the poster boy for footbag for a good deal of time really, and it was easy to see why. At that time in his mid thirties, he schooled pretty much all of us younger shredders and then some. Everyone seemed to be making their contributions in the group; Ellis started the Colorado Shred Symposium (which really put shred 30 into the forefront at the time), Daryl was just getting Freedom Footbags going, John Schneider was working on quite a few creative moves and such, Rick and Daryl were winning Worlds doubles events, and Brian and Dave were just tearing it up. A lot of good old school freestyle videos were produced in our basement as well, Ellis and Dave would work for hours upon hours putting them together. Those videos were hot back then, I still love Sultans of Shred (brings back memories!). For a couple of years or so we were riding high, but eventually one by one everyone began to move away, finally myself included. I think the group officially concluded when Daryl left for Idaho.
In 2001 you hit the first quad dex ever (shooting barfly) had you moved to Portland then?
Nope, I was still living in Boulder at the time. I wouldn’t move to Oregon for another three years.
Can you tell us a little about this first quad dex ever. When did you first realize you would be able to hit it? How did it feel when you did?
I was officially on hiatus when that move happened. After 1999 Worlds, I needed a break again, mentally this time more than anything. That was actually the longest break I ever took, I wasn’t sure I was coming back. Those guys were still shredding it up in our basement and garage, but I took to juggling and skateboarding. Previous to my hiatus, I had gotten pretty good with the Shooting set, and been able to do a variety of tricks with it. Interesting side note, many people thing it was Tuan Vu who invented that set. That would be incorrect, he only popularized it. Kenny Shults was actually the first to hit it, in the early ’90’s I believe. Watching Tuan though is where I picked it up, he was only one of a few people playing around with the set back then. Anyway, the night I actually hit that particular move was pretty random. I hadn’t kicked much in three or four months, but really was simply bored and wanted to get some exercise in. The weather was crap outside, so I decided to head down to the basement and play some long neglected footbag. None of the guys were home, so it was a solo session. I don’t think I was in proper form to do any long combos, so I ended up experimenting with different moves and sets individually. I got around to the Shooting set, and was getting some pretty high sets out of it. Pretty much when they were getting consistently waist level is when I really started feeling I could get a double down off of it. For about an hour or so I kept going for it, and had a few somewhat hit, but I wasn’t content with the cleanliness of either the double down or the set, so they were thrown out. Those attempts did tell me I was close, so I basically thought to myself, “f it, I am going to stay down here until I hit this move”. That was pretty much it, after countless tries, I nailed it to my satisfaction. I felt pretty good about the first one I hit, but needed an extra pair of eyes for input and/or confirmation. Luckily, John Schneider came home and trotted down to the basement to say hi. I asked him to tell me if the move I was doing was clean. Well, I guess when you first hit a move, every time after is at least a little bit easier. I was able to hit it for him pretty quick. John was known for being straight up with his opinion, so I was happy he was the one to witness. He confirmed the move, and that was it. As for the name, there was a meteor shower that night, and it was Schneider that came up with the title, Shooting Star. It sounded good to me, after that I got cleaned up and went down to the park to watch the shower. Apparently word got around pretty quick about the move, and I started receiving calls and emails congratulating, I remember a really good one from Sunil, which I won’t repeat here. As for how I felt about hitting the move, I was happy about it, but still on hiatus, thus I did not kick much after. In fact, after I hit it, it was something that almost kept me from coming back ironically. In my head, I thought that was a good move to go out on, best to hang it up on a high note. Luckily the kicking bug bit me again about a year later.
What happened from then and till you got to Portland?
Well, again I did not kick seriously for another year, but eventually got back into it. I ended up taking the reigns of the group after Ellis left, and ran my first tournament with Brad Kaplan, the third annual Colorado Shred Symposium. That event was a great success I felt, and really helped push me down the path of doing behind the scenes organization. I graduated college at the end of 2002, and in 2003 moved to Portland Oregon where my mom lived.
You then became part of or started the Sole Purpose club in Portland?
I definitely didn’t start Sole Purpose. The Portland group is one of the longest running footbag groups in the world, it pretty much started when Johnny began promoting the sport in the early to mid seventies. The name has changed a few times, but there has always been a footbag group in Portland. In the early ’90’s Kendall KIC somewhat reinvented it for the times and gave it the current name it has now, the Sole Purpose Footbag Group. When I came along, the net portion was still decent, but the freestyle scene was in flux, there were some willing players but not much organization. Kenny and Kendall had moved away to the east coast, and the two next generation players were traveling or away at college. I wanted someone to kick with though, and there was an abundance of casual kickers down at Pioneer Square, pretty much any day of the week. From there we reformed the group, people started buying Lavers and we officially began to meet up twice a week. Soon after Andrew McCargar and Noah Jay-Bonn returned, and Kenny and Kendall moved back. I got another shred house with a few local kickers, and things continued to build from there.
The scene in Portland seems to be super active. What is your advice on how to get an active scene up and running in some city?
I am very happy with our scene here at the moment, we have a wealth of talent. In fact, as I write this we are gearing up for a session with some old friends from out of town. Portland has been very good to us, this town really supports the footbag scene. I guess I should have expected no less, footbag has always been here since the day Johnny invented it. I have never lived in a place where people disliked footbag, but have lived in locations where people on the street simply had no interest in what we were doing. Luckily that is not the case in Portland. People really dig what we do, I think it is just the open nature of the city. We usually have an article written about us once a year, I am contacted fairly often about performing shows or demos, and a lot of people seem to come out of the woodwork to play. Again though, I have not always lived in such a responsive footbag environment. There were certainly times in the past we really had to put in our work to get people interested. I can offer a bit of advice for people seeking to get a scene active in their area.
-First, it really takes leg work (pun again intended). You have to examine what you want to accomplish, mainly get more people into it and get more exposure. For increasing your numbers, being aggressive helps. Find out what high schools or middle schools in the area have clubs, people kicking, or are simply willing to let you come in and perform demos and workshops. It helps to have some sort of short show or presentation put together. Call those schools up, find the proper contact person, send out emails, and follow up. If you know any students that attend those schools, see if they can help you set something up.
-If you are in high school or college, check in with admin about how to create an official club. Advertise on campus. The school might support your group in more ways than just allotting space.
-Kick in public places of course, and be as welcoming and approachable as possible. This means really considering what you think will be inviting about what you are doing. Unfortunately I have found that shirtless sweaty dudes are a tough sell when it comes to newcomers and onlookers. When we kick in public places, we always wear shirts or jerseys and try to look as professional as possible. That’s another thing, jerseys or team t-shirts are great for your group, even if it is just two players. It shows organization. This is something that I have a great interest; the marketing of footbag. I want to maximize the appeal factor of the sport to the masses (while keeping what we value in the sport). This is not just to increase numbers, but also to get our players more gigs and paying work. That is what a lot of my focus will be on in the next couple of years.
-Back to local promotion, another good avenue is to find outlets such as non profits like the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, or regular old community centers and offer up your skill set. I have found some of these places are really looking to bring in new things to offer the kids and people. You might even get paid for it!
-Check if there is a local juggling club or such, and try to join up and cross promote with them. If not, maybe start your own. People know and approach juggling more easily it seems, you can get some cross over players from that. Also it helps to increase your own skill set for future shows and performances.
-Online promotion is a huge plus. Numero uno is having a local website with contact information and meeting times. It helps a great deal. You can also put posts up on craigslist or any other local community boards. Heck, set up a facebook and/or myspace account for the group.
-Contact local media. See if the local newpapers have any interest. Footbag is a very colorful thing, you could get a story written out of it.
-Create and circulate online videos of your group kicking, be sure to note where you are playing in the video information. Some kid could see that online and realize you are in their area!
-Run and promote an event. Even if it is a small one, show something is happening. Be sure to get the word out, and again even if it is small and has no budget, keep it as organized as possible. Another thing, footbag works very well with a built in audience, so working to get some time in a larger local event can be good. Many a tournament I have run has been joined in a larger festival or event. It can also keep overhead costs down, and you might get some sponsorship out of it. The exposure will certainly be better.
Anyway, those are a few things I can think of off hand. I am happy to give advice when needed, we all have to work together to promote this thing!
Sole Purpose might not have the same line up of players as the Boulder Blades had but a list of you, Jake Wren, Nick Landes, Kenny Shults and more is still really sick. Could you tell us a bit about the different profiles in Sole Purpose and what role they take?
Good question. We do have a colorful cast of characters here, that’s for sure. There are many generations of player, dating back to Johnny through Kenny and up to Nick Landes and crew. It is really a family tree, and in certain ways a hierarchy. I call Johnny’s generation the Founders, all of the players from the early to mid 1970’s. And though I make certain decisions as the current president of the group, I respectfully run a certain amount of the larger decisions by the previous gen members that still take an active interest. These people I call ‘The Powers That Be’. It doesn’t come up much, but one good example of their influence is a couple of years ago I wanted to change the name of the US Open to the North American Footbag Championships, but got shot down by those higher up on the totem poll than myself. Who was I to come in and rename the event they started? He wasn’t involved in that decision, but when someone like Kenny has something to say, that is pretty much law. Not because he is enforcing it, but it is more out of respect on our end. I am honored to kick with Kenny, as I am proud to watch Nick Landes kick. Nick’s role is to play the star for the group, and he does a great job with that. When I arrived in Portland and for the next two and half years, I was the top skill player in the area. I won the Eugene Open, which pretty much was the Oregon state championships. I always joke with Nick that I am still the current Oregon champion, as they have not had another one. That’s the role I took in the area at that time, but there were some good younger players coming up, namely Noah Jay-Bonn. It looked like Noah was going to take the mantle of top shredder, he really put in his work and tore it up. In 2005 I took a break again, at the same time Noah stopped playing for a little while. But not Nick. Previous to that time, Nick was a promising up-and-comer, but Noah still had him in flat out skill level and experience. We didn’t see Nick a great deal that winter, but that spring we sure did, he had schooled his butt off and stepped it up. He and Noah were pretty much at the same level, but as Noah started losing interest, Landes just kept getting better. In early 2006 after a session I pulled him aside and told him how proud I was of him, and that he was now the best player in Oregon. That’s about the time I turned the camera away from myself and started filming Nick regularly. Not much later ‘Nick Landes vs. the Gorillaz’ was released. I have trained with many up-and-comers, but thus far Nick and this batch of players are the greatest of them I have seen, including among others Jake Wren, Brian Cooper, and Alex Bernstein. I was happy to pass the torch along as a player in the group, and now am happy to see the successes of our newest generation. That is really what it is all about in the Sole Purpose Group, respect for the generations.
German super shredder Stefan Siegert stayed with you for a year a while back? How was it to have him as part of the club?
Stefan Siegert is a great player and fun person in general. In 2005 I was contacted by a shredder in Germany saying he was thinking about coming out in less than a year’s time, I was happy to hear that, but wasn’t sure it was really going to happen. Well, in a little less than a year, Stefan was here. He had his choice of either going to Portland or Reno Nevada, I think he made the right decision. We joked that we had a footbag exchange program; one of our guys, Andrew McCargar, had gone over to Germany just before Stefan had come over here. Andrew sadly still has not returned, but the time Stefan spent here rocked. When he arrived, I was in Idaho doing some business with Daryl, but I got the report from Nick that he was just as good as we had hoped. We played a great deal when he was here, and traveled to a few events. Stefan was committed to the group, the only thing he did not get used to was what I call ‘footbag time’; players usually show up only in the area of the time they are supposed to be there, not on the dot. Stefan didn’t like that, he always got there on time, and if he wasn’t there, that meant he had already been there and decided to move on when no one else showed up on time. None the less, he was a great addition, his technical skill was high, and he could perform foot/hand juggling second only to Peter I believe. The kick juggling was really his thing, and I think that is now his main interested. We miss Stefan, he left right before the 2007 US Open but still got a Sole Purpose jersey, which he most certainly earned. Much love to Stefan!
You and the rest of the Sole Purpose club started and hosted the US Championship for the last few years. What was the experience like?
Well, the US Open had been around for some time, but just as a net event. I attended my first US Open in 2005, it was in a park 20 minutes down the road from Portland. It was fun, but did not have much exposure. In previous years they had gotten into some larger venues in the area, I liked the idea of that better. That year Stalberger and I had run the Northwest Fest/Founder’s Cup event, in which we flew a bunch of players out to compete at a larger event. There was also a well attended footbag jam attached. It was a great success, and we talked about possibly putting it on again the next year. Back at the 2005 Open, the net director of the group, Chris Siebert, had recently moved back to town, and also wanted to build the event to larger proportions. We chatted for a moment at that event about adding freestyle to the mix, and both agreed the combined effort would increase numbers and sponsorship. It took a lot of meetings and feet-to-the-street sponsorship work, but finally in 2006 we launched the newly revised US Open Footbag Championships, and it went off pretty darn well. Kenny won net, and David won freestyle. A personal highlight was watching Jim, David, and Jorden throw down throughout that tournament. It was a real battle, and everyone tore it up. That event was a lot of work, but the pay off was good.
How did you get that idea?
One thing I thought was lacking in the US (especially after Europe rose up) was a national/regional event that would crown an official champion. We simply needed that in freestyle, for promotional purposes if nothing else. We also really needed some kind of official US ranking. The US needed more pro tournaments, in the mid 2000’s it seemed there were fewer official competitions, and many more jams. I love jams for sure, but professional competitions are important for promotion, it shows organization and conveys the sport is serious. These days, I think regional events such as the US Open and Euros are very important, it is simply expensive for the average player to travel around the globe to attend Worlds every year. For that reason there needs to be these larger events that are accessible to the kickers in their region, big tournaments they can afford to travel to. If you can travel to Worlds, by all means go. It is quite an experience. But if a player cannot make Worlds (and even if they can) these large regional events are available for them. As of right now we plan to continue the US Open indefinitely. There may be a day when it is not always in Portland however, just as Euros moves around. Even in that case I will always be down to help out with it. I enjoy the experience!
What are the plans for the future tournament wise?
In the near future we are looking to increase sponsorship. I think the group has done a terrific job thus far in getting decent sponsorship, but there is always more that can be accomplished. Right now we are looking to attain a much higher level of sponsorship from a few big companies, hopefully that will go through for 2009. Getting companies and large sponsorship takes time though, sometimes the results aren’t seen until a year or so later as these companies budget far in advance. The crash in the economy certainly hasn’t helped with this (or with other projects slated), so we really have to put our work in. With events inside the US Open, we will probably switch some things up for 2009, we had our trilogy of tourneys (2006, 2007, 2008) that all were in the same vein and alike. We want to keep it fresh, thus some actual events in the tournament are going to get changed up, locations might also change a bit as we try out some new stuff. Keeping it official, current and most importantly fun is top priority for us.
You did the awesome Fourkast footbag DVD back in 2004. Do you have any future footbag video projects?
First, thanks for the kind words about Fourkast, it was a good but long process to make. Really when I was making Fourkast I was learning what video editing was. For some time I had wanted to make a freestyle video, when I got to Portland I made the jump and bought a camera and computer for the specific purpose of creating the Fourkast video. We shot footage for about a year, and it took close to a year of editing all of it together. You can actually see the progression of some players throughout that video a bit. In regards to the editing of the Fourkast, at the time I was working on it, the Kill Bill films had been released, and certain aspects of Fourkast were influenced by those movies. Making that video was really an experience to me, I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it once it was done. Truth be told, I have made very little money (if any at all) off of it. It really was a gift to Daryl, I told him he could do with it as he pleased. Luckily, he decided to distribute it. My interests in it were of course not monetary, if you really pay attention the whole movie pays homage to Peter Irish. Everything in it really builds up to his finale. Daryl did a fine job getting it out there, I received a good amount of feedback from people who really liked the video. It was a nice response. 2004 was a good year for footbag DVD’s really, Sick 03 (my personal favorite), The Champions League, and Fourkast all were release close to the same time. All were long videos as well, close to the same running time of close to an hour and a half or so. With new projects, I do have plans for Fourkast, it is already the name we operate under in footbag financial matters (we don’t use the name Sole Purpose in profit matters, as it is pretty much a non profit thing, and I will not always be running it). There is a fair amount of stuff cooking right now, since footbag in it’s modern form originated from here, we are looking to have more things promoting the sport come out of Portland Oregon. As for future DVD projects, people in the group have tossed around a few ideas. I may commission someone to produce the next Fourkast film. If I do it myself, I have what I want to accomplish pretty well mapped out. I guess I can say it is on the list of to do’s, but there are a few more pressing thing that we are working on right now. Good times!
That sounds interesting. Could you talk a bit more on these “more pressing things”?
Well, there’s a bit going on. I try not to talk about every detail as things truly can be subject to change. Luckily there are a few points I can openly chat about. Right now there are quite a few footbag related projects in the works, not all based out of Portland, but some very promising things. Some I am directly involved in, some I am providing aid, and a few I am simply watching evolve. I have always had a passion for marketing and promotion, thus it is very exciting to see this new push in promoting the sport. At the moment a few things are being trademarked, pertaining to both profit and non profit endeavors, from a variety of parties. In the near future, one project Stalberger and I have been gearing up for is a more developed footbag tour. Things have been pretty successful with our recent ventures, we increasingly have been contacted by schools and random entities further and further out from our local area. Johnny still goes under the name Mr. Hacky Sack when it is beneficial, he really knows how to promote that. We basically will be expanding the range of the shows/workshops we offer, and will be marketing to a large range of schools and corporate gigs. It won’t be an on the road tour, we will still be based out of Portland and simply fly down the coast if necessary. There is actually an on the road tour planned for the next couple of years, but that is a project I will only be assisting with. A bit has to be done with that before it launches, but I certainly look forward to seeing it come to fruition. We have also created a relationship with the athletic company Nautilus, and at the moment are gearing up to run the 2009 US Open out of their HQ sports facility. We also will be marketing and promoting footbag under their banner, 2009 is really a foot-in-the-door year with them. Another thing not many people in the community know is that we sell product/footbags at this very moment. It is mainly wholesale to various companies and schools, medium to larger order transactions depending. Half of our income from the shows is derived from footbag sales. Anyway, there is certainly room to grow, we will be expanding our market base in the coming year, coinciding with the increase in our footbag activity. This includes stronger online representation (a few new sites) to support what we are doing. The content of these sites will be a mix of informational, commercial, and media related subjects. The backing/support from the Portland footbag community as well as Stalberger’s influence have been great assets, one of the things I value most in footbag right now is my interaction with Johnny. I have learned some great things watching him work, he really knows how to create opportunities. The guy’s name alone opens some good avenues. Not all of my footbag business is with Johnny, but with the projects we have worked on together, we have done very well by one another. Our ideas and ambitions are similar I think, it’s an honor working with him. Anyway, there are also some good connections we have developed with local media companies in the area. Specifically, about six months ago we shot a short experimental footbag video using spherical filming technology. The camera itself was created by the company, at the cost of about 100,000$ from what I am told. Well, the results were a trip, so much so that we are still figuring out how to utilize the camera/filming method completely. To wrap up with what is happening here, it’s one of those things where it’s a situation of ‘right place right time’ for us. Having the resources, personnel, and location, combined with the support we have received have created some great opportunities. I didn’t really move to Portland with the intent of making footbag a major business interest, but it has been going that way more recently. This may not always be the case (I have a few other interests, and firmly believe in not putting all your eggs in one basket), but in the present it has been a very rewarding experience. I love getting out there and promoting the sport, getting people interested and creating greater awareness. My personal motivation is simple; footbag is something I believe in, thus I am easily inspired to promote it. Anyway, those are a few things happening. There are a couple of other things I am truly excited about, but can’t really remark as I would like to, mainly due to obligations. I can say I feel honored with the run I’ve had in the sport thus far. Footbag has certainly changed my life on a whole, and I am always thrilled to give something back.
Anssi’s question: “What was the last thing you ate?”
Smoothie and a bowl of cereal!
What is your question to the next one that will be interviewed on this site?
What simple footbag move gives/gave you the most problems? (what is your secret shame move?)
Thanks for the great interview Ethan. Do you have any shout-outs? Any final comments?
-My secret shame: It took ten years to learn flip whirling swirl.
-I have scoliosis.
-We were on the set of the Zohan project for two weeks, I wish more had made the final cut! (it was fun anyway)
-I still play two to three times a week.
-Have retired three times, but keep coming back!
Thanks, for a final comment, I would like to give a big shout out to all of the new school players, they are keeping this sport going for us. Much love to our own Sole Purpose team, and to Stalberger and his enthusiasm for starting this whole thing. Also respect to all the organizers of the sport, Steve Goldberg, Chris Ott, the European guys, as well as the new school thinkers/promoters working to make the game better. And much love to our icons such as Kenny, Peter, and Rick, who have done an inspiring job representing the face of our sport. In the last 14 years I have been lucky enough to watch footbag grow quite a bit. I believe it continues to do so today thanks to the work put in by the people in the community. If we all keep pushing this thing along, I whole heartedly believe we can see this sport continue to new heights. I am excited to see what the future holds!