I was fortunate learning to play footbag in Portland. At the time I started there were plenty of players of all levels right up to the man himself Kenny Schultz to play with and learn from. I got started in the wee days of the internet, just after Steve Goldberg posted the very first video on Footbag.org of Rick Reese at World's 93'. If you want an idea of what the internet looked like back then (for footbag) take a look here. Between footbag.org and the Portland scene I had it pretty good, many were not so lucky.
The first time I ever saw Brian McKenzie was from a distance at world's 1997. Watching him play as I walked up on that first day of my first World's I was straining my memory, trying to place who he was. This was back in the days when I could name all members of BAP without effort in a single breath. He was hitting blurry whirl, blurry blender and some other big moves and I just couldn't imagine I'd never seen him play before.
I shredded with him and Sean Wingert for a while. We talked about new moves, they introduced me to whirr (neither of them could hit it) and I told them Ahren had just hit blurriest > paradox baroque, which no one seemed to believe. I was just blown away by Brian's game. He was hitting huge moves with ease and even doing a few things I'd never seen before, like paradox blender > spinning osis. I was amazed someone could get this good without anyone seemingly having ever heard of him. I later found out that I had heard of him before, just not by name.
Sometime in 1997 I heard second hand that Kenny was complaining the whole BAP thing was getting out of hand and "now they're sending me videos". Some kid from the middle of nowhere had sent him a video of himself playing to "audition" for BAP. I later found out it was Brian. He had litterally learned to play just from watching videos and schooling alone in his basement with no one to play with. I tried unsucessfully to find the post where Brian talks about this so you'll just have to trust my memory. He had shown up at 1997 world's having tought himself to play and was, to quote Red "better than all of us [the new crop of BAP]." Inexplicably Brian was not "Baptized" that year which made little difference. By the next world's he was basically tripless and in the eyes of many neck and neck with Ryan as the best shreder in the world.
Also at world's 1997 were Adrian Dick, Stuart Macferson and Damian Coventry from New Zealand. Way back when they had somehow found out about footbag and become deeply involved in the, then new, on-line scene, eventually maintaining the original freestyle move list. They did it before Brian, but at least they had each other. Also, although nobody knew it at the time, far away in Australia Lynton Stephens was getting serious about footbag, again playing mostly in isolation and with only a few online videos and written trick descriptions to learn from.
I would argue that no sport has benefited from the internet as much as footbag. Conversely I could really see shred having died out without it. Footbag freestlye is largely unique in that you only need a small bag, a pair of shoes and a flat surface to play. It's entirely posible now for someone to pick up the sport without ever meeting another shredder. They can learn tricks on-line, meet people on forums and post video of their progress for comments or just props. I've met people from all over the world because of this sport, some of you I've met in person, but a lot of you live in places I'll probably never see.
At the time of course I had no idea how important this all was, but in retrospect it was the start of something new, something amazing. Thanks for reading.