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Richie Schley: Life is about taking chances and having adventures

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Inductee of the Hall of Fame and a pioneer of freeride mountain biking and free skiing, Richie Schley said mountain biking in the 1980s was, “all racing, racing, racing, we were just kind of radical crazy guys.”

Schley is one of the originators of the whole free ride concept.

“I started biking during the early 1980s, but I was bouncing back and forth between BMX racing and mountain biking, so I didn’t really sink my teeth into mountain biking until about 1985,” he said. Schley was Canadian BMX Champion in 1993.

richie schley on bike

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Richie Schley on one of his bikes

From passion to career

According to Schley, The Red Bull rampage is one of the most radical contests in the world. “Eventually the brands who sponsor you want to see who’s the best rider, so they want you to do contests. It supported the scene, so it goes in that direction. Because of my BMX experience, I was asked to go do a promotional video for Specialized by a ski filmmaker and he asked me if I could do a 360 on a bike and I said, ‘yes.’ So, they took us to my hometown of Kamloops, British Columbia, and I did the 360. When that was done, we went to these crazy steep hills – like we have here in Laguna – and the guy shooting the video said, ‘this is crazy’ and they sent the film to California magazine.

Schley explained that the whole thing blew up because there was nothing like it in mountain biking at the time. “That’s where they also built the trails with wood at North Shore for riding – it was a few hours from where I lived. That was another little scene that was working, and we all were kind of crossing over. Where I grew up was higher desert and the North Shore is on the coast of Vancouver, however, it’s all part of the same explosion of a movement.

“I first started mountain biking with no suspension, but when this movement started, we had front suspension. It changed everything.”

richie schley with crystal

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Richie with his wife Crystal

Riding down the unthinkable

The film The Moment (on Red Bull TV), directed by former pro mountain biker-turned-filmmaker Darcy Hennessey Turenne, explains the impetus of this entire movement. “It’s quite a good little documentary,” Schley said. As described, “In the backwoods of British Columbia, Canada, three small but dedicated crews of adventure seekers were quietly changing the course of a sport and carving their paths in history. And it was all happening unbeknownst to each other, the cycling world, and ultimately themselves. This film is the origin story of a small movement of mountain bikers and filmmakers who rose up, challenged the status quo, and turned the sport of cycling on its head. All they wanted was to feel free. No rules, no sponsors, no claim. Just the raw freedom of riding their bicycles down the unthinkable. This is a story that has never been told, told by the people who lived it firsthand. A moment, this moment, can only ever happen once.”

Another acclaimed film Nothing’s for Free, by Derek Westerlund and featuring Schley, will screen at the Coast Film Festival on the closing day of the Festival on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 9 a.m. Nothing’s for Free is the real story of the birth and legacy of freeride mountain biking. It chronicles the blue-collar story and rise of a cult sport to a global phenomenon that put the race-driven sport of mountain biking on the map in the world of action sports and the mainstream. Schley will also be on a panel that evening.

richie schley downhill

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Courtesy of Richie Schley

Heart-stopping trail riding

Why Laguna?

An injury was the catalyst for Schley’s move to Laguna.

“I was coming here in the winters to ride, and then I tore my Achilles tendon at the beginning of the winter, and I wasn’t going to be on crutches in the snow.

I came directly here from Whistler, BC. I was a former professional free skier and then I became a mountain biker and the skiing part of my career kind of ended,” Schley said. “I felt that to be a proper professional mountain biker and keep the business going, I needed to be somewhere I could ride my bike year-round. Because Brian Lopes and Hans Rey lived here, and I knew them, there was a place to stay. When I came here, all the arrows seemed to be pointing me to the beach, so I decided to make it home.”

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In response to the question, “What’s your favorite trail in Laguna?” Schley said, “Anything steep. Riding here is like a sister to the riding in BC, because it’s so steep and technical and that makes it what ‘free mountain biking’ is.

“Mountain biking in the ‘80s, we were just kind of radical crazy guys like the Laguna Rads, and we got attention (and discovered) for doing this cool lifestyle stuff without being at a contest or whatever. So, it created a small rivalry of who started this discipline of the sport, the Laguna Rads or the guys in BC. It’s a constant back and forth.”

richie schley in shed

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Storage for gear

Although they share the love of many sports, Schley’s wife Crystal isn’t an avid mountain biker. “I’ve only been mountain biking about five times,” she said. She prefers a calmer trail.

“We got married this past May, but we’ve been together eight years,” Schley said.

Originally from Chicago, Crystal has thoroughly acclimated to the beach lifestyle. “I love paddleboarding and surfing with Richie. We go longboarding at San Onofre.”

Overcoming the fear

What readers might be surprised to learn about Schley is that he’s still fearful before every ride.

“I think I’ve been lucky compared to some of my friends, but I’ve broken many bones,” he said. “I just try to manage it. I’ve been doing band workouts lately, but I’ve never been a gym guy, so it’s hard to stay consistent. I don’t stretch enough but I should, and Crystal is always encouraging me to go to yoga.”

richie schley sunset

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Courtesy of Richey Schley

Sun setting on a spectacular ride

Beyond the physical challenges, there are other obstacles to overcome. “I think the biggest challenge in the beginning was convincing the companies to support you and pay you because it was something new,” Schley said. “We really did create a segment of the sport that didn’t exist, so there are substantial sales generated from our movement, that’s true. Continuing forward, it’s a big challenge to convince the companies that there’s value in paying you for either your knowledge or your exposure.

“And probably the biggest challenge is staying relevant because it (the sport) moves pretty fast. When you pioneer something, it’s very complicated because you’re going jump off a cliff and no one’s ever done it. But then moving forward, people see you can jump off the cliff so then they’re trying a back flip off that cliff. So, staying relevant when you’ve already laid the path is quite a challenge. When you get older, you just don’t want to take those chances because you have experienced concussions, and don’t bounce as well. I always wanted to try new things, and I think I was a bit of a leader, so I would probably be one of the idiots to go first.”

Schley recently returned from a trip to Germany. “My big sponsors are in Germany – my bike sponsor, helmet sponsor and clothing sponsor. So, I’m required to go there quite a bit, on average four times a year. I was riding and making some video clips for social media and then attending an athlete summit for my helmet sponsor.”

During this visit to Germany, Crystal joined him. “It was an extended honeymoon and then we continued to other destinations. It was awesome because I know everyone in the industry, and it’s fun because it feels like a big party,” she said.

The couple loves living in Laguna. Schley has lived in the same residence for 12 years, and he and Crystal host other riders and friends during visits to Laguna.

“Since COVID, we got to know the community a little better. It seemed like a really critical time that people came together, so we have a lot of friends now that were born and raised here, and we go to dinners with them and do stuff around town,” Schley said. “It’s been a pretty social couple of years.”

Follow Schley on Instagram @richieschley and for more information, go to www.richieschley.com.

For information on Coast Film Festival, go to www.coastfilmfestival.com.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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