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Getting To Know // Cooper Brownlee

About These Interviews:

Finding out what makes inspired individuals tick is really important to us and is going to be a regular series on our blog here. We believe we’re all so fortunate to have our Instagram, Facebook, YouTube feeds and in reality, our lives filled with so much great visuals that it’s important to know what makes these individuals get up in the morning and do what they do as it’s always going to be so much more than what a simple Instagram profile will ever let us know, these interviews aim to do just that!

 Lets Get To It!

I think I always knew Cooper would have an interview on this blog, as long as he said yes of course, simply because his outlook and work ethic very much embodies someone who has found purpose in their life and I believe anyone will benefit from hearing about the journey that got him here.

For those not familiar with the name Cooper Brownlee, especially those who ride BMX, you’re honestly living under a giant rock. Coops would have to hands down be the most productive and motivated dude I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across in my life and I’m extremely fortunate to call him a good friend.

The first time I met Coops was at Riverslide Skate Park, I was 16 years old and riding the city for the very first time on a Wednesday night (shout out to Sam Wood for making that happen), something that felt like the biggest deal in the world at the time and Coops was simply a nice dude from the start that made me feel like I was apart of BMX and not just an annoying kid. I just think it’s funny how these type of memories stick with you but the point I’m trying to make is that on-top of all hard work Cooper puts in for Academy BMX, Division Brand, Colony BMX and of course his pride and joy, Focalpoint; he’s a simply a great dude living out his purpose of hoping to grow and keep BMX alive in this world, something I truly respect and have massive amounts of admiration for.

Cooper Brownlee Division

Alright Coops, let’s start with the basics, how old are you and where are you from?

36 and a Melbourne lifer.

We all have our the story of how we got our first real BMX, what’s yours?

I remember having second hand hard rubbish built bikes for a long time until I saved up enough money to buy a Mongoose Menace, things just escalated from there.

How long have you been apart of BMX and what’s kept you so passionate about something as simple as a BMX bike for all these years?

A long, long time. I’m not sure where all the years went, I honestly trip out that I am 36 and have been dedicated to BMX for 20 years. I think being stoked on it for so long is a combination of things… I think it all starts from jumping things, it could be the smallest jump in the world but the feeling it gives you is amazing, I think that’s how you get hooked on it. From there you make friends who also like riding bikes and it just grows, I have some very fond memories of riding to my local bowl (Lilydale) at 6am with my friends so we could get the place to ourselves, having it all to yourself was such a rad feeling. As time goes on you discover more and more cool things through BMX, my main thing was road trips and I think it was spawned from those early morning missions. It could simply be a day trip with some friends to a new park, spot, trails etc. or a 3 month world trip it was all fuel for the fire that drove my passion for BMX.

"I can’t stress how dedicated you have to be to make things work and it’s probably only going to get harder but the lifestyle is well worth the sacrifices."

 

You’re definitely well known in Australia, even globally to some for all of your work behind the camera with Focalpoint BMX, When and how did FP get started? 

 It started in 2003 with a group of friends Allan Briotti (R.I.P) along with Andrei and Leon Sablinskis. We were already making videos under the BHP name that Andrei and Leon created but we were all into photography as well and I guess we needed some sort of outlet for that side of things. It was also a case that we felt at the time not enough riders in this country were getting much love.

What some might not know is that you used to be a fully qualified cabinet maker before the full-time opportunity with Academy/Division and Colony came along, how did that come about and do you have any pieces of advice to offer to those coming up who may want to try turn their passion into their job?

Yeah I was a cabinet maker for 7 years, I always liked woodwork and I knew cabinet making had good hours to be able to have time to ride after work so it made sense. I had started FP a few years into being a cabinet maker and my dedication to it all was growing. It’s not like I was making money from it, I had just had enough of dealing with arseholes not paying your super for 6 years so I bailed on it all with no real work plans. I just had some money saved and wanted to just do whatever I wanted for 6 months. My timeline of events here could be a little off but from memory not long after I left the woodworking industry Marc from Strictly BMX hit me up about running a small store in Ringwood which was close to my house and made sense to me as a job in BMX sounded awesome!

The store lasted a year to 18 months from memory? It was a cool experience but it just didn’t quite work out for the area we were in. From that Triple Six distro hit me up to do some freelance stuff which again sounded great because I could do it from home and work on all the FP stuff at the same time. I did that for a few months and it was cool and then Clint (from Colony BMX) hit me up about doing some freelance stuff for Colony such as artwork, photography etc.. Again this sounded perfect so I was doing that and the Triple Six gig at the same time but things changed up when Clint and Colony stepped away from Triple Six and he took on the brand himself and a few months into that he asked me to work full time for him and I just couldn’t say no. That was the best decision I’ve made in my life as it’s been around 9 years with Clint now and I couldn’t be happier. He gives me a lot of freedom when it comes to the brands and I work from home so all the FP stuff ties in well. 

My advice to people would be that if you have a passion you really want to make your life then you have to really dedicate your life to it. Making some proper sacrifices to accomplish it is where I think it makes the difference and it’s not going to be for everyone, I get so fucking sick of hearing people cry about how thing’s aren’t going so good but in the same sentence talk about how they did this and that over the weekend and in my head I am thinking “Well if you didn’t do that shit then maybe you could get some traction with your project” . I can’t stress how dedicated you have to be to make things work and it’s probably only going to get harder but the lifestyle is well worth the sacrifices.


By being apart of BMX for so long you’ve definitely seen trends come and go, company shake-ups and the like, what’s the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with within all these changes?

Right now is the craziest time for marketing in BMX in my opinion. If you’re looking from a coverage side of things then Instagram is on top of the game right now, web video views are down a lot (besides vlogs) so it’s a case of making the most of the content you have, recycling it across different platforms and going the extra mile with the new technology. It definitely keeps you on your toes compared to just planning the next print advert every couple of months.

You may have no comment on this and I don’t want to get too negative on here but what’s your current thoughts on BMX media, do you think curators like TCU have their place or do you think a dominant media shift is needed to help keep growing BMX?

Media sites definitely have there place but I think a few will thin out if they don’t adapt to the current state of marketing. The days of web banners on a site being the main source of promotion are long gone. They need to be giving the advertisers updated options for promoting their brands and riders. The next year or two is going to be very interesting regarding this stuff.

For anyone who has seen you ride, it’s obvious you’re a tech wizard who can also table out of anything; who are your favourite riders who have influenced you down this path?

Growing up riders like Chris Stauffer and Chris Doyle along with Lino Gonzales and Van Homan all had me stoked. Currently It’s not really watching a particular rider that gets me stoked, it’s more about the spot I am riding, I could care less about riding a park, they are only fun when there is a solid crew vibing off each other, I have no interest in them otherwise but going to a unique spot that you can get creative on or just do something simple on but get a cool photo is what gets me stoked these days. Trails also play a part in my BMX stoke.


Steering away from BMX for a moment, you’re straight edge and have been for nearly 15 years, what drew you to this lifestyle so early on in your life?

Growing up I couldn’t care less about drinking or partying, all I cared about was BMX so I never got into it and also in my high school years there was a period I saw my sister treat my parents like shit and it was due to alcohol so I told myself I would never be like that. Just before I was 21 I tried it once or twice but never got drunk and really didn’t like it, I think I just sir-come to peer pressure for a minute and never tried it again. Around that same time I was getting heavily into the Hardcore music scene which exposed me to the fact that it was ok not to drink. 

On the topic of the straight edge lifestyle, very recently yourself and some other rather talented individuals have just launched a new project surrounding the SxE lifestyle, explain the project to us a bit more?

Deathless Avenue spawned from frustration I guess because I was seeing so much drug and alcohol use within the BMX scene that it was becoming the normality and before I go further I don’t really have anything against people drinking or doing rec drugs, I just don’t see why people need to glorify it. That shit really has influence on younger kids and that’s what I have a problem with.

Matt Coplon is a huge help with the site, he is really good with interviews and has a tonne of music and bmx knowledge, we are still grinding the gears on the project but we’ve got a few interviews out so far with some pretty awesome ones in the works.

 

"I’ve been in this game for 20 years and it’s changed so many times and it will change many more so there’s no reason to get salty about it, just do it the way you want and let others do it how they want, there’s no right or wrong."

 

A couple of months ago you just wrapped up filming and editing “Alive & Well” the latest Focalpoint DVD which was the first one in many years, how was it working on this project with almost a whole new line-up of dudes when you compare it to an earlier dvd like “The Waiting List” or “What?”

I did that DVD mainly to give those dudes the experience of being apart of a crew dvd. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in quite a few dvd’s over the years and all of them have given me some great memories and stronger friendships. A good chunk of the guys in A&W have never had that so I hope they enjoyed the project, I know I sure did.

Back on the topic of Focalpoint and the journey FP has gone through from 2003 to current, what big goals do you still have in mind for the brand?

I am pretty content on it to be honest, I still get so stoked seeing someone rep a sticker on their bike or a tee on their back. I don’t sell that much product and 50% of it is to close friends but I really enjoy the process of making a design, getting a screen made and printing them myself. That for me is enough, I mean I wouldn’t be mad about selling a few more things but like I said I am happy with how it’s all going. The website ticks along and I still like posting other peoples videos that they’ve worked hard on and shooting features for it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the print mag but man it was a bit of a money pit and I have to draw the line somewhere.

I really want to do more jams, the last few years I’ve tried to do 1 or 2 more than the previous year so hopefully we can keep that happening.

What’s your thoughts on the current state of BMX globally, as well as in Australia?

It’s a little weird just because I think some people are confused about how things are going with all the vlogging, Instagram etc.. But I think it’s going pretty solid people just have to adjust to it, I’ve been in this game for 20 years and it’s changed so many times and it will change many more so there’s no reason to get salty about it, just do it the way you want and let others do it how they want, there’s no right or wrong.

Let's talk about motorbikes for a second, in recent times you've been getting into vintage motorbikes and doing regular Rally rides, how did this all come about?

My dad is a pretty big deal in the chopper/vintage motorcycle world so all my life I have been around motorcycles, I got my first bike when I was 4 and was going on rally's with my parents most likely from around the same age. Around the time BMX took over my life which was about the age of 15 everything else in my life took a back seat. It's pretty crazy to think about now and I regret a little bit of it but I never took any interest from that point on up until I was 33 in regards to wanting to ride motorcycles. Then all of a sudden that changed, I had been thinking of going on a few rallys with my dad to shoot photos and also to be with him more and around the same time my friend Jack Kelly wanted to get his license so it seemed right to just get it so I had it.
 
Once I got it and dad started teaching my how to ride I was literally hooked. about 6 months later I went on my first rally and it was really enjoyable, now I do around 6 per year and I honestly wish I could do more. I don't have any interest in new bikes or going super fast, the bike I ride is from 1942 so it's not going anywhere that fast, it's more about whole experience, travelling, shooting photos and riding with my dad.


"hone your craft and go in on it 110% because the majority of people are probably going at 80% and expecting it all to fall in their lap."

As you've gotten older, no doubt BMX has become harsher on the body, thankfully it hasn't slowed down your riding but how do you personally feel riding at 36 and any advice for others out there to keep their bodies in a state to handle what we do?

I feel like I don't go in as hard as I use to, mainly because of the filming to riding ratio now but I guess I am fairly healthy with my diet and not drinking/doing drugs helps I am sure but what trumps it all I feel is just the motivation to do it.

I couldn't possibly finish this interview without talking photography, you've been behind the lens longer than I've even been riding a bike, how did it all start and why have you continued to keep shooting with such enthusiasm?

I've been shooting photos for around 17 years now, it never really gets old either. I still get super excited to get home from the day out and look at and edit the photos. These days I will basically shoot anything so I think that's what also keeps the motivation high because I go through stages of things I am hyped to shoot which keeps things fresh.

Any advice for the younger dudes or dudettes who want to shoot professionally and get paid for their work?

In this day and age I think it can be really hard to stand out with social media how it is so I would just recommend shooting non stop, hone your craft and go in on it 110% because the majority of people are probably going at 80% and expecting it all to fall in their lap.



 


I want to put you on the spot here Coops, tell us a story BMX related or not, that even people close to you may be shocked to know/hear?

Well I know you know this story but not many do and it changed my life quite a bit so let's run with it... Boxing Day 2016 I went out on the motorcycles with my dad, it was pretty hot out and about 20 minutes into the ride he pulled over in front of me. He was complaining of being very hot so I raced up the road and got him some water, by the time I got back to him he was looking worse and a friend on the way to the same destination had pulled over. I could tell shit wasn't right and what confirmed that for me was that my dad can be quite stubborn but he told me to ring an ambulance. He was feeling chest pains and it was getting worse. As I was on the phone to the operator I was losing my fucking mind, if you knew my dad you would know he is as tough as nails and never complains so to see him in such pain was tearing me up inside and out. I was a mess and the 10 minutes that it took for an ambulance to come  felt like a fucking eternity. 

What made it all worse was not being able to get in contact with my mum as she doesn't own a mobile phone and was out shopping so I had my girlfriend driving over to their house as I was dealing with dad. I was stuck their with 2 bikes but thankfully another friend came and was able to take one of the bikes for me as I raced back to find my mum, by the time I got home she was there and obviously not in a good way so we drove to the hospital not knowing that much at all. Long story short by the time we had spoken to a doctor they had already operated on my dad and he made a full recovery from a heart attack.

The reason I chose this story and as cliche as it sounds, it really did change my life. I feel like I was already living a pretty good life but this shifted my priorities a bit in the sense that I told myself I would stop spending 16 hours on a computer everyday and not feel guilty for going out for a ride, shoot photos or whatever else i felt like doing. Everyday I really do try make the most of it and at the end of the day I want to be able to look back on it and know it was a fun and productive day. That also motivates me to do the same the next day. So basically cherish your fucking life because it really could end at any moment.

One last personal one, what do you need to achieve in the next 5 years so that when you're sitting down at your Layor Woodworks desk in 2022, you'll sit there feeling successful?

Haha, honestly hopefully just doing what I do now, I feel like I have a real good balance of things I enjoy going on in my life, just enough that all of them feel exciting every time I do something related to them.

Stay connected with Cooper at @xcooperbrownleex and of course @focalpointbmx


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