Chris Polack has been involved in the Australian BMX scene for as long as anyone can remember. He’s seen all aspects of riding from flatland to street in his time, not to mention all the involvement in the BMX media side of it both as a professional photographer, contributor & no as the owner, editor and main driving force behind Rebelyell.
With the recent world wide release of The Rebelyell Book, a coffee table styled BMX mag/book, we Newcircle caught up with Chris to a little deeper on where he’s at. Read on for the down low….
Please introduce yourself & who you are
Chris Polack, Photographer, Publisher and Editor of Rebelyell bmx magazine.
I’ve also been riding for over 20 years and still ride today even though I’m getting worse instead of developing…. ha.
Tell us a little about your riding history – I understand you rode flatland a lot back in the day?
When I first got into riding I was dabbling with all styles of BMX riding. That’s how it was back then. You rode flat, street, parks and dirt. It was just riding. I loved looking up to Hoffman for riding ramps, Dirt Brothers for dirt and Chase Gouin for flatland. But as time moved on and less people rode you could always find me in a car park for long hours at a time on my own.
It wasn’t until the early nineties that I really fell in love with the complexity of flatland. It was always a buzz to be defying what was ‘normal’ on a bmx. By then as some may know, Paul Osicka made his presence on the scene and he just blew me away. Here was a guy pushing for originality and style and I wanted to be right on that same wave length.
What draws you to BMX & more importantly what is it about BMX that keeps you involved in the scene?
For me BMX is a way of life. The riding or tricks itself don’t play as an important role as it did when I was younger. For sure its fun to be hoping and spinning while trying to get your mind off a perhaps stressful day. Its a great way to block out a lot of the workload that comes about my day.
I’ve been riding for so long now that its just mapped into my genes to be associated to BMX in someway or another.
The way of life as a BMX’er is by far one of the most rewarding ways to live. And I’m not talking about the sweaty pads stinking your home out but more about the mentality a rider gains after years of dedication.
We tend to think outside the box. Wether its the mentality you gain during your riding years or something your born with, its a quality that’s beneficial in todays era. Creative sports like BMX have no guidelines to tell you what to do. You make what you want of it. Your encouraged to think for yourself. What you do on your bike almost determines the kind of person you are. I’d like to think that BMX has helped me take on the same mentality and etiquette with other aspects in my life.
But as far as involving myself in BMX today. A big part of it is meeting motivating people with a passion for what they do and in this case a passion for BMX. Good people with good ideas always motivate me to push on and working with some amazing crew is rewarding enough. I’m a big fan of the collaboration process that is involved in making Rebelyell. And of coarse I love photographing BMX. I still thrive on finding new spots and meeting good riders willing to create in order to get a good shot.
Having travelled a lot in Australia & overseas, what are some of the standout memories for you?
There are so many fond memories from travelling with BMX. Its very hard to pin point them but what remains to be a pleasant memory is my life in Europe. The travel was frequent, the parties were wild and the riding, chilled and friendly like the riders.
In Australia my fondest memories are from my teenage years of starting to ride BMX. The exploring, the friendships, the road trips and laughs.
Of most recent years it would have to be starting Rebelyell and the continuing travel I do for every issue. That probably has the biggest impact in my life and ever since day one it has opened up endless amounts of opportunities…
I’m constantly on the road, whether its for collaborating on shoots with conglomerate corporate companies in major cities or trekking down dangerous drains in remote towns lugging 60kg bags of photo gear on search for the potential ‘next’ spot, they all carry their own special place in my memory bank and I wouldn’t trade them for anything else.
Do you see much difference in the BMX culture between Australia & overseas?
Well thats definitely a tricky one to answer and I could honestly go on for hours about this topic but I wont.
One way I and others see it: that Australia has a reputation for being a competitive nation within the global BMX industry.
And its mainly due to the riders we export that are primarily comp riders.
As a result some of these riders give out a certain message to the world that we are just as good as anyone else and we’ll prove it by means of competing and making a name for ourselves in a comp series, which is all good and credible. But what we lack, is exporting the other type of rider to balance it out. The rider that you only read about in mags and watch in DVD parts and doesn’t necessarily compete in comps, the soul rider.
A great example would be riders like Kym Grosser and Russell Brindley who have represented Aus for sometime overseas and made their presence known by getting exposure in US and UK magazines and videos. They don’t target the comp series but make their presence known by hanging with other respected riders of that nation they are in. They are accepted and praised due to their skills and as a result featured in their visiting countries videos, magazines etc. I’m not talking about web edits or zines either. It takes a lot of effort and gamble and can sometimes be more rewarding due to the fact that the rider has made a lasting impression on those riders considered to be the roots of BMX and are sometimes themselves some of the most respected people in BMX worldwide.
To me that’s a perfect example of a rider thinking outside the box. Representing the other kind of rider that we have plenty of here in Australia.
I guess my answer doesn’t really answer your Europe Vs Australia question but what I see different is the mentality of Aus riders compared to that of the European rider. I get the feeling european riders are primarily made up of soul riders. You just have to look at the bike brands each country produces and see the difference in message and appeal.
Not to mention the amount of lifestyle labels coming from Europe compared to Aus. And before you go thinking its due to the fact that we don’t have enough of a population that we can’t make brands work. I would have to disagree. You can always start a brand because you believe in it and want like minded people to relate to it, you don’t just need to look at numbers. The numbers will come should you be doing something good. And with todays economy being influenced by a lot of international trade, your numbers no longer have to be isolated to one nation.
As the headman behind Rebelyell, please tell us why you got involved & what were your motivations to start it?
My motivation to start Rebelyell came from a need for choice. Even to this day I think what we put out there is to satisfy the other rider.
Before issue one launched there were only 3 main titles: 2020, BMXpress and Focalpoint. By that point I had helped out every one of them by contributions and had been the primary shooter for 2020 for over 6 years. Things were good but not great. 2020 had its formula and what they did worked for them. Personally I didn’t like where it was headed. I’m speaking more about the creative direction more than anything else.
The style of the mag was feeling a little stagnant and predictable. I’d tried on numerous occasions to encourage change either with a new look or ideas.
Things were not moving quick enough so as a result Rebelyell was launched with a direction I felt was more contemporary and with the times. I wanted a clean, mature looking publication that oozed core rider dedication and integrity. My attempt was to push the quality of the photography and editorial to a different standard.
I’d always dreamt of doing a BMX mag and I seriously didn’t think it would happen until about 4 months before we officially announced it.
To be honest I was shit scared. Was I doing the wrong thing? I mean, here I was…. a BMX photographer that enjoyed shooting BMX and had a thirst for shooting more, never held a role as an editor before and I was about to get in balls deep. My business skills were very limited and I was about to get myself into serious debt.
On top of that I constantly thought about the people I was going to piss off as a result and the wall that was going to be built as a result of companies, riders needing to choose one mag over the other.
But the more I spoke to people about the ideas and concepts, the more encouragement I would receive so I just said ‘fuck it’ and went for it.
We were at a time when BMX in Australia needed a kick in the arse. The riders in Aus were progressing so quickly and the sport overall was growing at a rapid rate. My idea was to have Rebelyell reflect those changes and be the new voice for riders that wanted to talk more about BMX than just about the tricks but voice their views on the lifestyle and the truth about BMX.
And what better way to do that, then to create a magazine crafted by creative riders to inspire other creative riders and challenge them a little along the way. Encourage the rider to think for themselves, rather than simply feed nonsense to sell a product.
With the goals that you had in the beginning for the magazine have you now achieved those? If so, do you know have different/new goals that you are working towards?
My goal from the start was to publish a magazine that spoke the voice of the core BMX rider. One of my main objectives was to publish a mag that made you feel proud to be a BMX’er. It would show great photography and insightful articles but also at the same time educate you because you wanted more and you could learn more from our in depth articles, topics we would often dissect and layout for all to read.
A magazine that a rider would hang for because it spoke their language and thought just like they did. It needed to be raw and sometimes feel like a slap in the face.
It’s still what I want Rebelyell to be and I hope thats what we continue to do.
How has the magazine & yourself evolved over time?
As a magazine, Rebelyell has definitely seen some changes. The amount of effort has increased with every issue. Our dedication to stepping it up still drives us as a team and we push ourselves to wanting to make every issue better than the last.
There are so many parts in putting together a mag and there have been many areas that I have learnt from along the way.
But some of the stand outs would be…..
As a creative, my photography and general art direction has improved due to the amount of practice I’ve had since starting RY.
As a business. My mistakes along the way have taught me lessons and from them I have changed ways in which I work. Just like any business you make mistakes, you learn from them, fix them and you move on.
As a director and editor, expressing the voice for what we stand for has been the most educating part of all.
At times it has been a gamble and risk with some of the topics we’ve covered.
No matter what you do in this world you’ll always find ‘haters’. If its no other reason than to hate on you because you do things differently or perhaps they want to be a part of what you do but simply cannot be for what ever reason, they’ll think it their right to hate.
But to be honest without the ‘haters’ I wouldn’t feel like we were doing anything worthwhile.
When you try new things and go against the grain, you’ll always have your skeptics. And thats exactly what I want Rebelyell to be known as. The mag that tried new things and challenged the reader every issue. If it makes you mad then man up, if it makes you happy then say it out loud. The last thing I want Rebelyell to be known as is ‘just another bmx mag’. Thats would be too mediocre and a waste of energy. I want Rebelyell to have it’s own personality, its strong convictions and it’s ethos. You either like it or you don’t. Much like people you meet in every day life. You either do or don’t get along. Simple.
What are some of the challenges you face working with the magazine?
There are plenty of challenges we’ve had to face while doing RY. Like any business, money plays a big part of it and without the support from great Advertisers and sales, your nothing. We’ve learnt how to maintain a high production quality and still remain within budget. The important contacts and key players are vital to making a project like this stay alive.
Another aspect that plays on any publications agenda are Deadlines. We love em and hate em and often they can lean towards a stressful outcome when it all piles up at once but we manage to get through it and get each issue out.
One thing that most people don’t realise about putting an issue of Rebelyell together is the amount of time and preparation that goes into each issue.
We don’t just wait on our arses hoping the next perfect article will land on our laps. We map out exactly what we want to feature in each issue and how we go about getting it done. From scheduling shoots, flights, back and forth phone calls/emails organising meetings, tests and more shoots and interviews, we manage to somehow get it all together into one fat book.
Becoming involved in the business side of the sport can have its ups & downs – how has your experience been over time with Rebelyell?
Again like I mentioned earlier the business side of things has been a big learning curve. On one side I can work (if you want to call it work?) side by side with some amazing friends and have a great time but on the other side when you involve money and friends sometimes it can test the friendship and put a lot of strain on the relationship.
I dont know anyone who has not started a business and not had their ups and downs and I am no different. Turning my passion into a business really does test you.
Do you log off your computer and go ride or do you continue working cause its the only way the mag is gong to get out?
But at the end of the day I’m doing what I love and regardless of what kind of day I might be having there’s always the proof copies coming back from the printers to look forward to and usually that washes all those prior concerns away.
What does the future hold for both yourself & Rebelyell?
We have taken on the new format of a book and it has been well received worldwide so we’re going to stick with that.
Other than that work on another website again. We had some issue with the current version that was out of our control but just as stressful so we hope to implement the new site soon.
What I hope to do is continue to push our international exposure. So far the book has had its generous amount of positive feedback and as a result we’ve signed some interesting deals overseas.
Any final words & thanks?
I’d like to firstly thank all our readers. Without you guys there would be no Rebelyell. Especially all those people that have ordered copies of the book in other parts of the world. Thats amazing, that riders are paying the expensive freight charges to get a copy of Rebelyell.
Secondly to all our Advertisers a big ‘THANK YOU’. Likewise without you guys our baby wouldn’t see the light of day.
I’d also like to thank the whole team associated to Rebelyell, past and present. Each one of you (too many to name) contributed your talent to make Rebelyell what it is today and I can honestly say I’m like a proud dad when I put my name on each issue I send off to print.
Thank you to Newcircle for this interview. You guys are doing great things for the Australian Flatland community. Keep up the good work and look forward to seeing the flat scene grow due to your dedication.
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