Name: Gabe Brooks
Location: South Central, Los Angeles, California
Sponsors: Kink Bikes, Demolition Parts, Quintin, OSS
Interview and photos: Jeff Zielinski
Gabe Brooks grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where, as he put it, "I started gang banging when I was 11 years old and I fired my first pistol that same year." And although he always rode BMX, after some hard life lessons, Gabe ditched the gang life altogether and today he fires out gaps and rails instead. His energy and enthusiasm is invigorating, his personality is hilarious, and I think his story is inspiring.
Would you mind describing where you're from for me?
I'm from 53rd and Normandie—the land of the gang bang.
Tell me a little about how you got started riding.
Well, it started off in '95 watching X Games and just kind of jerking around on my bike after gymnastic practice. A good friend of mine named Ronald taught me a lot after riding with him over some time, also Ron McCoy, who is an old school flatlander—he taught a lot of us in the crew a lot of stuff.
I heard that you used to be a gymnast. It's pretty crazy watching you use that stuff to help get out of falls.
Yeah man, it's real helpful staying flexible and light on my toes for those no win situations.
Being in good shape seems to be pretty important to you and it obviously helps with your riding, as well.
Yeah man, I'm more of a calisthenics person. I believe that you are your own gym and also calisthenics sticks with you!
Do you want to talk about gang banging while you were growing up?
Well, as I caught the end of the '80s and early '90s I became accustomed to crip'n in it's finest. Even in the mid '90s it was booming! I started gang banging when I was 11 years old and I fired my first pistol that same year. I witnessed so much sh-t happen; murders, stabbing, gang beatings, drugs, and what sticks with me until this day—which is hustling. Nowadays it's not the same because the new generation don't have anything to stand for, opposed to back then, when race was a big difference. I hear Mexicans say, "my nigguh" and it's like, "Ok, do this mother f-cker see me standing here?" I know you don't mean it that way, but hey, watch your f-cking mouth around a real nigguh.
Where did gang banging end up getting you?
Gang banging messed my scholarship up and I can't get a job due to gang activities that got me in jail—it got me nowhere! There was nothing positive that I remember about gang life!
Were you still riding at all while you were getting in trouble?
I juggled it in between, but I did manage days to ride our local trail spot (The Flats) when the police were too hot in the hood that's where I would go.
How did going to prison affect your attitude towards riding?
The feeling of landing a trick is the sensation of accomplishment. It's like an ice-cold glass of water when I'm thirsty. I had 2 1/2 years [in prison] to reminisce on the good days when I rode with Andrew Jackson and Pat Wang and all my thoughts went to riding (as opposed to other times when I walked the yard). Although I was around gangs everyday in prison as I walked the track on the yard, all I thought about was bettering myself as a person and BMX was something I loved so much. But I had little time to ride—every time I went to jail I was active in gang activities in there, so it never changed me until this last time when I said, "I don't belong here—I belong with good people on bikes."
It seems like once you started to focus on riding you picked up a few sponsors and things kinda took off for you pretty quickly, how was the last year for you?
Man, last year was awesome. People accepted me for who I was and loved the fact that I channeled my energy towards grinding and the sincerity that I have for BMX. It's crazy because Pat Wang told me to hit up Jay Roe [Kink TM] and now it's like I never asked and I was always a part of Kink.
You started traveling too, where did you go?
I took an east coast tour to Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and New York. I went to Colorado with the OSS crew—which was nuts. And Quintin sent me to Austin, Texas, for Texas Toast and it was awesome, man.
Seeing how you turned your life around, have you ever thought that you could be role model for other kids who ride, but who also get into trouble?
Yeah, I actually think I'm the perfect display for transition from negativity to positivity.
Which riders are you psyched on? Who motivates you?
Sean Ricany, Mike Mastroni, Ty Morrow, Erik Elstran—I'm into creativity, man.
What are some of your favorite things to do on a bike?
I like to jump high, I like to go up rails, I like to float trails—everything and anything that causes high speed.
What are a few tricks you just can't seem to figure out?
Barspins. I just can't get them consistently.
Do you have a philosophy or just a mental trick that helps get you prepared to go for some of the scary and gnarly stuff you do?
What I do when I approach something big I always talk and curse to myself. Like on big kink rails I always say what can happen, like it's either a soft fall, and if it's a hard one the pain is temporary.
You're not just a street shredder, either, I've seen hit some tranny and the trails too. Growing up in South Central, I'm sure there was wasn't much of a dirt scene…
No, there wasn't a big dirt scene, but we had some in the hood, though—better believe that. And they were good—ask around. So many good times…
I hear you go roller-skating, too, what's up that?
Oh yeah, skate fanatics until I die [laughs]! I gets it in like three times a week. I might post a video for that soon [laughs].
I'm sure we can be expecting even bigger things from Gabe in 2012…Do you have any goals or plans?
My plans is to double the gnarly sh-t from last year and make it happen.
That sounds awesome. So do you want to thank anyone?
I'd like to thank Jay Roe, Kink bikes, Chris Long, Brian Castillo, everyone at Demolition, Adam 22 and the whole OSS team, John Hicks, Mike Mastroni, Darryl Tocco, all my favorite filmers, Rob Paik, Sam Lam for being there and believing in me—2012 is going to be a blast.