Defining the Ras Cat

Cult's Shawn Garrett, bench hop. Launch gallery » Keith Romanowski

In the summer of 2007, Shawn Garrett and riding cohort Russ Barone embarked on a riding trip throughout Northern California to film for the Fit Bike Company video "Summer of Fit." Accompanied by fellow Fit team riders, the trip was loosely planned around gathering footage at skateparks and street spots. For Shawn Garrett, known throughout the BMX community as one half of the "Ras Cats" (Barone being the other half), the trip illustrated and strengthened his growing belief in the lifestyle and philosophy known as Rastafari.

"Other team riders were getting tickets for drinking on the street, but we weren't drinking. [They were] sick from eating bad beef at Mexican restaurants, which we weren't eating, or hurt from riding," says Garrett. "By the last couple of days on the trip, we were chill 'cause we were learning to conserve our energy through Rasta."

Despite jokes from their fellow team riders, the Ras Cats returned home healthy from the trip, gaining the respect of their fellow team riders on Fit, with a stacked number of clips that would go on to be featured in "Summer of Fit." In the three years since, Shawn Garrett has been featured in multiple videos from Fit Bike Co., Fox Clothing and more recently, his new bike sponsor Cult. In BMX, the Ras Cats have arrived.

Shawn Garrett was born in Jamaica, Queens in 1988. When he was six years old, he moved to Long Island to live with his grandmother, aunt and uncle, and his formative years were spent between the two locations. Through his uncle, Garrett was introduced to the concept of Rastafari. "My uncle wasn't Rasta, but he was heavily influenced by it," says Garrett. Attracted to the cover art of CDs such as Bob Marley's "Confrontation" at a young age, Garrett would question his uncle often about the subject of Rasta. "My uncle seemed to know what we wanted to know, but he wouldn't tell us all at the same time. He would make me want to find out for myself," says Garrett.

The Rastafari (or "Rasta") movement is based on an ideology that arose in Jamaica in the 1930s. Its adherents, who worship Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, former Emperor of Ethiopia, are known as Rastas. Most Rastas do not claim any sect or denomination, and thus encourage one another to find faith and inspiration within themselves. The Rastafari movement encompasses themes such as the spiritual use of cannabis, vegetarianism, reggae music and the rejection of western society. It proclaims Africa as the original birthplace of mankind, and embraces Afrocentrism. Today, over one million people worldwide Rastas exist throughout the world.

During Garrett's time in Long Island, he was introduced to BMX through fellow rider James Horan. Garrett procured a Dyno on a visit to Queens and began racing, experiencing some success at the national level. After meeting fellow Long Islander Barone, Garrett began riding trails and street more, eventually dropping racing altogether in favor of street riding. As their skills progressed on the bike, Garrett turned Barone onto Rasta. The duo continued to ride and progress as their interests in Rasta grew. Eventually, Garrett and Barone were picked up as ams on the Fit Bike Co. team, producing multiple Web edits and receiving product flow from brands such as Mosh and Fox.

For Garrett, the logical next step was to fully adopt a Rasta 'livity.' He goes on to explain the concept: "Livity is the way you live day to day. I researched a lot about Rasta, and I discovered that negative vibes do not let life progress. When you really start to break down negativity in all aspects, that's what I wanted to stay away from. It's far different from a religion, where a God is telling you what you can and can't do and how you'll get rewarded for it. You are in charge of seeking out positivity in life."

As a BMXer, the natural extension of finding positivity is to have and encourage fun on a BMX bike. But there's more to being a Rasta-influienced BMXer than smiling or wearing a Rasta-colored T-shirt. There is a certain brand of independence that comes with the merging of Rasta and BMX, reflected in Garrett's riding. Far from looking to keep up with the trends of the day, Garrett is more content with making a manual look good. And his unique brand of flow in the streets is never forced.

"My riding is for me. It keeps me grounded. For example, popular tricks and styles around now, I can understand them, but I don't come from them. Rasta has helped me not to change who I am. I can continue to perfect what I do, but I can't change who I am or how I ride. Rasta has really made me know myself, know what I'm doing and to be confident with myself," says Garrett. "You can see it too. If someone isn't comfortable with themselves, they'll OD real quick. And that's really just their own insecurities with themselves coming out through their bicycles. I don't have that, and I feel that it's good to have in BMX; the ability to just be in your own shoes," he adds.

After leaving Fit in November of 2009, Garrett signed up with Cult Bike Company, joining former Fit boss Robbie Morales and select former members of the Fit team, including Barone. The move has allowed Garrett to work more closely with the new company on Rasta-infused elements, such as designing biodegradable component packaging, producing T-shirts made of organic cotton and working on a new line dubbed "Cultivation."

But Shawn Garrett isn't about to head down the BMX industry route anytime soon. This past winter, he purchased a banana farm on the island of Jamaica, living off the land before his house was built. He also has plans to construct a bike park on his land. Commuting between New York and Jamaica, Garrett is cultivating a young group of Jamaican riders, procuring natural food from his own land, and combining his 'livity' with BMX in a way that's never been done before.

And as a student of life, Garrett sees his life in both New York and Jamaica as a constant learning experience, one without an end. "Rastas come from asking questions. And if I haven't lived it, I'll ask it," says Garrett.

Currently, Shawn Garrett continues to live, and question, and ride.