Photos/Trick descriptions: Manthos Ekteman & Giannis Caternellis.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since the last in-depth Flatmattersonline interview, but that sadly is a true story!
Many of you in the comments section of the site have requested an interview with Giannis, around that same time period people were asking, I was already putting wheels in motion to make that happen. Who better to bring back the interviews than Giannis Caternellis!
Who is he, where is he from, what is he all about, what’s his background? During the last 3-4 months that it took to put this together I have tried to dig as deep as possible into questions that I felt would get into Giannis personality and find out more about Giannis that I came to realise whilst making this interview, is a purist. He lives and breathes flatland, as a rider and as a fan, it’s no secret that putting these interviews is my favourite part of publishing FM. Grab a cuppa and enjoy this. Let’s get into this part 1 interview!
Hi Giannis, this FM interview has been long overdue. As much as we see you almost every week with a new edit. I feel not many know much about you, myself included. To begin with, how old are you, where are you from?
Hello everyone! First of all I would like to thank Flatmatters and personally Effraim for giving me this opportunity to let people know more about me. My name is Giannis Caternellis, Giannis is the Greek meaning of John in English, Jean in French and so on. Last August I turned 33 years old. I live in Athens, which is the capital of Greece. I am married, so I have a wife, 2 kids, a 5 year old daughter and a 3 year old son. I own a business of refrigeration and air conditioning installation. Oh, and I have an American Pitbull.
What got you into flatland riding?
When I was 6 years old I had troubles learning to ride my bicycle that my parents bought me. My two brothers had already learned to ride without any help, but I was still crashing all over the place. I was so frustrated about the situation and I was like “I’m going to ride my bicycle as good as I can and I’m going to do tricks on it”. Ever since I had proper balance and made it started riding no handed, backwards faced, doing wheelies etc. Pretty much this is how I got into flatland, I haven’t seen anyone doing it, it just came from inside me.
How long have you been riding for now?
In 1991, I started the journey into flatland. Back then, it was freestyle bmx, jumping off curbs, small ramps made from wood and bricks. My first flatland frame was a Skyway with plastic star x wheels, 2 piece bars, tiny pegs and that hammer seat with the grab behind. It was such a beauty! On that bike I learned boomerangs, hops, peg wheelies and stuff, and here I am 25 years later still loving it as I did on the first day.
You travelled to Level Vibes in London six years ago, but I don’t recall any travels since then. Did you travel before LV?
Yes that’s true. Level Vibes 2009 was the last contest I attended abroad, before that I was at the Worlds 2008 Cologne, Germany and the same year at Circle Cow in France. In France, also I went for Ninja Spin in 2004, but the best contests I ever attended was the Flatground in 2004 and 2005 in Netherlands. Flatground 2004 which was my first contest I had a lot of fun. Paul Osicka judging, Martti and Viki KGB in full force with Kimmo Haakana and Jeff D, Simon O’Brien, you Effraim with Phil Dolan. So many big guns, it was just a dream for me. So many good memories from back then, Penonzek and Puente trying to speak Greek, so hilarious! I even forced Paul Osicka to come and stay at my house every time visits Greece in the future and he gave me that huge hug that I couldn’t breathe. Oh man, Paul Osicka, what a character!
One of the funniest moments of that contest was that last day that we all were giving goodbyes to each other and I yelled to Alex Jumelin: “Hey Alex, goodbye and keep creating” and he was like with his thin voice, “Hey Giannis, that’s my job!”. I always have a good laugh every time I remember that phrase.
Let’s discuss your web edits, I know a lot of people are interested. 65 episodes of your Freestyler series already the past 2 years which is an incredible amount, all with at least 6 minutes of footage. What motivated you to start producing a series like that?
It’s a long story, but I will make it short. Since the early 90’s when I started, I had a notebook and writing down every new trick I was pulling. Basically that was the way of capturing my progress, thinking on myself more like a trick collector. I ended up having a dozen notebooks full of tricks and combos within a couple of years and at the same time I was a video lover and still am. I enjoy watching flatland, it’s the same for me as riding flatland. It was 1995 when I first saw a TV programme footage from Chase Gouin DED, it just blew my mind!
I was raised watching so many videos such as Dorkin’, Bacos, Flatland Fugitives, Graveyard Static, Adam Guild’s Doses, Chad Johnston’s Intrikat, Eclips, Shane Neville’s Manifestos. So anyway after Level Vibes 2009 I got really psyched about organising a flatland contest in Greece as James White did in the UK. Within a month, I organised the first ever flatland only contest that was held in Athens, January 2010. There were two classes, pro and expert. I entered Pro and I won, the first place prize was money and with the winnings I bought a new videocamera, because my old one broke and I was like “Alright this it, I will film every single trick variation and combos I ever pulled in my life! No more notebooks, every new trick I pull in the future I will film it!
I have a hard disk drive and the first idea was when this HDD was filmed with footage I will send it directly to Kevin Jones in Pennyslvania explaining why I do that, what flatland means to me and what impact Kevin had on my life. Pretty soon I had a second thought that Kevin was going to think of me as a weirdo, stalker or anything and I just forgot the idea. Nevertheless, from the beginning of 2010 until late 2014 I managed to film over 5,000 combos and I thought that even if I don’t send it to the K I will make edits with that footage and share it with the flatland world. I have been following Flatmatters from scratch and always believed it’s the best platform to share those edits. So here I am two years later from October 2014 and I have uploaded 83 edits which consists of 1435 combos, it’s 7 hours of footage! Most of them from the HDD of the last five years. If only you knew how pure all that project was you would be surprised! To document, share and progress. Thank you Flatmatters for that!
Giannis sent in trick descriptions for every photo, this one he calls “The Joker”.
That is so awesome to hear Giannis. I wondered, with so many videos this past year or so, I was curious how much you ride? And do you film every time you ride?
Believe it to not I rarely ride! I used to ride 4-6 hours a day when I was younger, but not anymore. I have a tight schedule with family, kids and work, but I still manage to give one hour session daily and as Joel Schallhorn would say this is “a power hour”. I do my stretch exercises for 5 minutes and then giving it my all for the rest of the hour. Mostly I ride in the weekends, for 1, 2, 5 hours, but that’s it. Of course I’m not consistent anymore, because every session I try totally different combos, even those super kids from Japan Minato Sato and Yu Katagiri can beat me in a contest easily! I am a part time flatlander, I never looked at it serious, always had it as a hobby and doing parallel things.
From the day I started I was going to school I had english lessons after school, then around 15 years old I started work and also studying to get my license, had girlfriends, hanging out with my friends, joined the army in Cyprus for a year. I was never a riding only guy, thats why my heart still beats fast for flatland. I have always the camera with me every time I session and every time I say “No, I’m not gonna film today”, but the temptation is vast and I eventually film. Always have something new to try, classic tricks from the past, tricks already been done but I never pulled and original tricks I have in my back burner. I’m so addicted right now with the camera, it reaches almost the narcissism. But don’t get me wrong, I was always hating on myself.
Before 2010, I couldn’t watch myself ride in videos, I enjoyed riding flatland but hated watching myself. Imagine from 1991 to 2010, almost two decades hating yourself, it’s not good for your soul. Finally after all these years I solved that problem with myself, enjoyed watching my videos from the past and learning from my mistakes. My family, parents, brothers, wife, kids helped me with that situation and that is another reason why I don’t ride so much and so often. I want to spend more time with my people, I feel so blessed!
What’s your philosophy in flatland? I notice you like to mix a lot of styles, can you elaborate perhaps on that? Use of brakes etc, what is flatland for you?
Really I don’t know if I love to or hate it. I mean… When I wake up in the morning I think about flatland, at work I think about flatland, when I’m with my wife and play with kids I think about flatland. Even in my sleep I think about it, I have a problem with flatland, I am a slave of it.
Flatland has no boundaries, there are so many styles like scuffing, rolling, spinning, g-turns, turbines, barflips, decades, hopping, forwards, backwards, frame stand, on the pedal, pedalling tricks, cranking, cross footed, no handed, on the stem, grip rides, undertakers, whoppers, bike flips. There is no end!
Everything belongs to flatland so why not try everything? I want to learn everything flatland has to teach me. It’s only about opening doors and the use of brakes only opens doors. You see, the most influential riders in the history of BMX had brakes and defined their originality through brakes. You don’t have to take off your brakes, pegs or whatever to be original. I can get rid of my brakes, pegs, seat, cranks anytime I want and do only 5-10 tricks and think I am original? Come on, this is not originality and definitely this is not flatland for me. Flatland is already hard enough, if you want to make it any harder why don’t you ride blindfold like Paul Osicka 20 years ago? Just think about it, you prefer to do 10 original tricks barkeless or 100 original tricks with brakes?
Flatland is all about having your own identity, with the use of brakes in a “brakeless world” and trying to learn every single trick on the flat ground I feel like a freestyler, this is my identity. I have free mind, free spirit, free soul, free from any rules. Flatland means hard work, stamina, faith, imagination, creation, originality, progression, values that stands the test of time and are beyond any trends or anything else.
In 1994, Chase Gouin says in the Chase DED video right in the middle: “Be in search of anything, basically on a progression mission. I wanted to hook up with Kevin Jones. I knew he was the best rider in the world and I knew that if I rode with, someday possibly I could come close to his level. I don’t want to be better than him, I don’t want to better than anyone, the goal is to keep riding and progressing, that’s it.” This is my philosophy in flatland Effraim.
Do you ride on your own in Athens?
I always believed flatland is a lonely sport. Riding alone is the only way. There is more concentration, no distractions, just me and my bike and I can express myself better when I am riding alone, I feel free.
Tell me about your bike? Looks like a Classic KGB kind of set up, what are you rolling with?
10 years ago in 2006 I had a KHE bike which was stolen. It was that time when this KGB Psyconnexion Frame I have was in production and I ordered it. I have exactly the same bike since then, only parts have changed are tyres, seat and grips. It’s a nice bike, 10KG, not too heavy not so light, of course I have welded the frame more than 12 times, but that’s another story. Best part of my bike, is my back wheel which I bought from James White at Level Vibes 2009! So bloody light! Greetings to James!
As you mix a lot of eras of flatland in your riding, we already talked about your own personal riding philosophy, what is your opinion about modern day flatland?
Modern day flatland is great! I mean, everything is advanced right now, bikes are better from the early 90’s when I started, lighter with geometry. Riders are killing it all over the globe, the level of tricks is out of space and contests are everywhere. But to be honest I prefer 90’s flatland era, bikes were stronger and as people we were stringer, our bikes back then weighed 17-18 Kilos, but the fire was burning. We didn’t care what was trendy to wear or what parts were lighter. We were going out and giving it all i don’t know. I am stuck in the 90’s, but I love it. It still remains the best period of flatland so far.
Trick names are always fun and interesting, this one is called “The Wrecking Ball”.
What is the best thing about flatland for you?
The best thing about flatland is that there are so many tricks that haven’t been explored. There is always something to try, you never get bored, its like trying to count the stars in the sky. Infact, trying to count the tricks there are in flatland is like trying to sell pegs to George Manos, its impossible!
Who did you look up to when you started riding, and who do you look up to nowadays?
It’s obvious that I follow the path of Kevin Jones and Chase Gouin. They are the pioneers of modern day flatland and it’s not a secret that todays top pro riders have built their careers on the backs of Kevin and Chase. Besides that, first ever flatland footage I saw was Chase Gouin DED video. Imagien what impact this had on my later years on a bike. Then the Dorkin’ in York series, (Thanks Jesus, I got the DVD box series this last february) had me always motivated to go ride, Mark Eaton, Leif Valin, Geoff Martin, all the Plywood Hoods, Chad Degroot, Paul Osicka, Jesse Puente and the rest of the Flatland Fugitives, Andrew Faris, Dylan Worsley, Martti Kuoppa, Simon O’Brien, Ross Smith, Richard Zabzdyr (RIP), these are the guys I looked up to when I started. Of course don’t forget the father of BMX, Bob Haro, Ron Wilkerson, Eddie Fiola, Dennis McCoy, Martin Aparijo, respect your roots!
At this moment there are so many guys out there pushing hard. Mateus Beckmann, Owen Bohn, Mates Tucek, Pedro Melo, Denes Katona, Gonzallo Bellanti, Michelle Maiolini, Brandon Derbowka, George Manos, Matthieu Bonnecuelle, Benjamin Hudson, Dub, Moto, Viki, Ucchie, Martti the boss. They are the future.
Giannis and the Saturn Spin.
What music are you into Giannis?
As you have noticed from my edits I listen to different types of music such as rock, hip hop, rn’b, deep house, ambient, disco,pop, greek, mainstream. Music inspires me so much lately. I’m more into Frank Siniatra when I session, his magic voice really fits perfectly with bicycle tricks. My way, best song ever!
What’s the flatland scene like in Greece? We know George Manos, George Kikos, Alex Alexandridis, are there many riders? And anything to tie you guys together, contests, jams?
I have no idea for any scene. I am such a ghost right now in Greece!
Do you have any sponsorships, hook ups at all?
No, at the moment I have no sponsors. I used to be sponsored by KHE bikes, no contract just getting free parts, frame and gear. I was also sponsored by vans, also no contract only getting free shoes and clothes! I never got any money from sponsors, the only money I made from BMX was doing shows all over Greece. I also did more TV appearances than any other riders here in greece, more than 20 magazine photoshoots, for ten years I was the Terry Adams of Greece!
Talk about your riding spots? I imagine lot of marble spots in Greece, is that accurate?
Yes a lot of Marble spots and all near my home. The schoolyard with the blue doors you see in the freestyler edits is opposite my house and the place with the large glasses is the old airport of Athens, 5 minutes from home. I love marble ground, it makes me faster, rolling is better than any other ground I used to ride, asphalt or tennis courts. It also keeps my tyres lasting longer, since 2013 I haven’t changed tyres! I am blessed with lots of amazing spots open and covered. It’s sunshine all year long in Greece, but anytime it rains (it doesn’t happen so often though) I have lots of covered, underground spots to go ride. I can ride anytime I want, I feel so lucky!
At this point in the interview, myself and Giannis discussed putting a few questions out to other riders. And he had a few people he thought would be cool to ask, so stay tuned for Part 2 in a few weeks, with reader questions for Giannis’ FM interview!
Thank you Giannis for taking the time, and patience to do this, what are peoples thoughts reading this? Let’s hear it in the comments: