Ride To The Hills

IN the world of freestyle motocross, every rider has his own little niche. Kenny Bartram is the cowboy, Brian Deegan is the rebel, and Ronnie Renner is the breakdancer. I don’t know exactly where I fit into the big picture, but if you asked most of the professional riders at the X Games or a random IFMA contest about me, you’d probably hear the same answer from all of them. The one thing that I’m best known for is being a natural terrain freeriding specialist. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m willing to bet there are very few riders who have spent even a fraction of the time that I have in the hills with a motorcycle. Sure I’m a professional FMX rider, but there are months that pass by in between the few times I even hit a ramp. Whether it is days spent shoveling, scouting, building, or riding, this is my thing and it’s what I love to do.

Now that you know a little bit more about me than you used to, you can more easily imagine the conversation taking place in the crew cab of my Chevy on the way to the Winter X Games in Aspen this year. With filmer/friend Jay Schweitzer riding shotgun, we began to talk (and laugh) about how lame the whole contest scene was becoming in freestyle motocross. I mean, come on… You’ve got guys out there breaking major bones on live television for 200 bucks—are you f^*#ing kidding me?!?

This sparked up another conversation as I told Jay about a contest that I had dreamt of throwing for years now but never had the support to make fly. My idea was to have a natural-terrain contest out in the real natural terrain, where our entire sport began in the first place. There would be no ramps, no crowds, and no whining; just a good time with the boys and an eventual winner declared by the riders themselves. Jay agreed that the contest would be insane and also provide great film footage, and by the time my Chevy rolled back into the driveway in sunny SoCal my little idea already seemed like reality. We were committed—we were going to throw our very own natural terrain freeride contest, one that was put on by the riders (or rider, in this case), for the riders!Jay and I wasted no time in achieving our goal, knowing that if we waited until summertime it would be hot, brown, and ugly outside. We immediately got home and picked up the phone, calling anybody who would listen to our proposal and possibly sponsor the event. Within days we lucked out and nabbed Red Bull as the first official sponsor. They eventually ended up coming in huge with money, drinks, huge Red Bull arches for the jump takeoffs, and even a Red Bull spider tent for us all to chill in between runs. The ball was now officially rolling.

Next up was securing the location. Jay was already on top of this one, as one of his buddies happenes to own 3,000 acres of gorgeous, hilly green terrain in a small town somewhere near the middle of California (we could tell you where it is, but then we’d have to kill you…). This was starting to get almost too easy!The next hurdle to clear was to get some play for the riders. This meant pitching the idea of selling video and film footage from the contest to a television network, who could then make a show out of the contents. A little bit of fishing led us to Fuel television network, and with some negotiations they agreed to pick up the show.

So now here I am, an event organizer/promoter/rider… I can do this! I had already dabbled in video production after recently releasing my new video, All-American Freeride, so I knew a little about filming and editing. Of course I love to ride in the hills, so now the last major problem to solve was lining up other big-name riders to show up for little or no purse money. The one saving grace I had with getting riders to show was the type of contest this would be. Because the event was being held out in the hills in a unique setting, it was going to be completely ironic—a fun contest! Besides, with a half-hour’s worth of television coverage and the promise of a big storyn this TransWorld mag you now hold in your hands, the boys were all down. In fact, before I knew it I was faced with the dilemma of having too many riders wanting to compete!

When it was all said and done, Jay and I narrowed down the list of invitees to Drake McElroy, Dustin Miller, Ronnie Renner, Nate Adams, Mad Mike Jones, Matt Buyten, Twitch, Dan Pastor, and finally me. This was a good group of riders with plenty of talent and name recognition between them, but most importantly of all, these guys understood that shit doesn’t always go down exactly as planned, and there might be a little bit of chaos going on from time to time. Each and every one of them has been around long enough to know that this sort of stuff is standard issue for freestyle motocross.

With just a few short weeks to go before day one of the two-day event, Jay and I were off to Jackpot Ranch to scout out the jumps and begin building. The plan was to look for natural terrain jumps that were already formed, but maybe just needed a lip to be added for them to be doable. I narrowed down our findings to eight jumps that I thought would make for some dope shots, be easily accessible for the filming crews, and, most importantly, looked like fun. Some of the hits would be more notable than others, but they were all big. The grandfather of them all was huge—a 160-foot-long tabletop—and there were some other hip-style bowl jumps leading down into a canyon. We made some of the judged sections consist of many different hits so that there were several line options and trick combinations possible.

Next, we called on our buddy Dane Herron. If you don’t already know, Dane’s the guy who builds all the X Games courses and is known to be one of the best freestyle builders around. Dane is always stoked to work with me because I push the envelope in freeriding, which makes him do the same in his tractor! We had him and another good friend, Jesse Olsen, digging up the most exclusive hills in sunny SoCal for a total of five days straight. With the help of the tractors and the drivers, we groomed Mother Nature’s own hills into the sickest FMX park in history.

Everything was now totally planned, and the reality of the fact that this contest was really going to happen had just begun to sink in. Last but not least was the dilemma of the judging. There were several potential problems here. Number one, it was my event and I was to be riding in it, which is inherently kind of a conflict of interest. Number two, if anyone knows how hard it is to go to a contest and ride your heart and soul out for an 11th when you knew you deserved a top-five or top-three placing, it’s me. Judging has to be one of the hardest jobs out there, because you are literally determining someone’s paycheck, not to mention their entire career… Not fun.

This is where the idea was born and bred of doing the “by the riders, for the riders” style of judging. The rules were that we would all vote on one another’s runs based on recollection from being at the event and with the additional aid of taped video footage that was shot from the exact same location for each rider. Style was the main criteria, plain and simple, and of course you can’t vote for yourself! The winner would be awarded an $8,000 spa from Beach & Backyard Spa Company, and Direct Fitness stepped up and donated a home gym fitness center for the second-place rider. Unfortunately these were our only two prizes because the money we were able to raise from the other sponsors was used for things like jump building, tractor fuel, and other stuff essential to putting the event on.

Natural-terrain jumps like the ones we would be hitting actually make judging the best rider off of each hit pretty easy. It becomes fairly obvious who is ruling a particular section when you’re there, so from that we would just vote and then tally up the scores. Each of the eight sections had their own scoring, with an eventual clear overall winner based on votes emerging.

There was great weather for the day of the contest, with some winds that eventually died down just in time for us to begin riding a few hours before sundown. Riding that night now seems like a blur to me, because in the span of one afternoon/evening we sessioned some of the best terrain I had ever ridden. It was just one guy after another, each of us trying to outdo the last guy until the jump lip was blown out. Then we’d move on to the next hit, going from location to location and just shredding the place apart! I had the time of my life, and so far the contest was going great. I guess I forgot to mention earlier that Twitch was unable to show because he had no suspension for his new KTM yet, and Pastor was in court in the LBC, but what was left of our crew was killing the place.

The next morning, day two, saw Drake start the day off with some of the sickest Dead Bodies I’ve ever seen off a 120-foot dirt hit with a sideways, downhill landing. Next, we moved on over to the big dog, the 160-footer. Everyone was hesitant to even hit it for a while, but once the session began some epic stuff went down. Dustin Miller ended up owning the thing after busting out a One-Handed Indian Air Seat Grab to a Rock Solid(!). Mad Mike was entertaining us all day long with his seat-stand whips, and throwing double Indians off of everything. Nate Adams also looked very impressive. Nate is pretty new to the sport of freeriding and was once known as only a ramp guy, but he held his own and was tossing huge Cliffhangers and Double-Grab Look-Backs off of even the most intimidating dirt lips: Very impressive.

With the cameras steadily rolling and photos being snapped off of each and every jump, the session lasted well into the afternoon on day two, until the wind eventually ended it all as quickly as it had started. By then we were so tired from riding all day that despite having some of the sickest jumps on the planet staring us in the face, the Red Bull tent with food and drinks was even more appealing.

After lunch Jay and the filming crew busted out the TV monitors and the judging began. Riders filled out sheets for each jumping section and voted for the best rider at every spot. This is where things started getting a little weird for me. At first the judging style seemed foolproof and perfect. That is, of course, until the riders ended up giving me the most votes and in the end picking me as the winner. I was suddenly torn between two emotions: on one hand it meant more to me than any contest win I had ever had before because it was my peers who judged me the winner. At the same time, though, winning made me feel a little bit bad because it was my event. It just sucked because everyone rode so great, but unfortunately there was only one spa to be given away. Don’t get me wrong; I’m stoked to have a new spa in the backyard to soak my sore-ass bones in, but I just hate that it came at the expense of someone else not getting it. Next time I think I’m going to hire some experienced judges so that it’s all on them!The cool thing is that in the end, all the riders present will end up winning because of the insane footage we walked away with. During those two short days of filming and shooting we were able to ride on quality terrain that hasn’t been seen since the early Terra Firma videos at Castillo Ranch and Reche, and we all had a blast doing it.

As for the future, the success and good times we had during our first contest attempt has already motivated us to start planning for the next one. We have since gone on to call our new company J&D Productions, and are now in negotiations with Red Bull to promote a three-part series in 2005 to be aired on a major network. For this year’s contest, a quick thanks are in order for all of the people that worked so hard in pulling this together. The Krauss family hooked us up the biggest by giving the okay for seven freeriders to tear up their beautiful Jackpot Ranch. Next up is Dave Carney of Quing.

There was great weather for the day of the contest, with some winds that eventually died down just in time for us to begin riding a few hours before sundown. Riding that night now seems like a blur to me, because in the span of one afternoon/evening we sessioned some of the best terrain I had ever ridden. It was just one guy after another, each of us trying to outdo the last guy until the jump lip was blown out. Then we’d move on to the next hit, going from location to location and just shredding the place apart! I had the time of my life, and so far the contest was going great. I guess I forgot to mention earlier that Twitch was unable to show because he had no suspension for his new KTM yet, and Pastor was in court in the LBC, but what was left of our crew was killing the place.

The next morning, day two, saw Drake start the day off with some of the sickest Dead Bodies I’ve ever seen off a 120-foot dirt hit with a sideways, downhill landing. Next, we moved on over to the big dog, the 160-footer. Everyone was hesitant to even hit it for a while, but once the session began some epic stuff went down. Dustin Miller ended up owning the thing after busting out a One-Handed Indian Air Seat Grab to a Rock Solid(!). Mad Mike was entertaining us all day long with his seat-stand whips, and throwing double Indians off of everything. Nate Adams also looked very impressive. Nate is pretty new to the sport of freeriding and was once known as only a ramp guy, but he held his own and was tossing huge Cliffhangers and Double-Grab Look-Backs off of even the most intimidating dirt lips: Very impressive.

With the cameras steadily rolling and photos being snapped off of each and every jump, the session lasted well into the afternoon on day two, until the wind eventually ended it all as quickly as it had started. By then we were so tired from riding all day that despite having some of the sickest jumps on the planet staring us in the face, the Red Bull tent with food and drinks was even more appealing.

After lunch Jay and the filming crew busted out the TV monitors and the judging began. Riders filled out sheets for each jumping section and voted for the best rider at every spot. This is where things started getting a little weird for me. At first the judging style seemed foolproof and perfect. That is, of course, until the riders ended up giving me the most votes and in the end picking me as the winner. I was suddenly torn between two emotions: on one hand it meant more to me than any contest win I had ever had before because it was my peers who judged me the winner. At the same time, though, winning made me feel a little bit bad because it was my event. It just sucked because everyone rode so great, but unfortunately there was only one spa to be given away. Don’t get me wrong; I’m stoked to have a new spa in the backyard to soak my sore-ass bones in, but I just hate that it came at the expense of someone else not getting it. Next time I think I’m going to hire some experienced judges so that it’s all on them!The cool thing is that in the end, all the riders present will end up winning because of the insane footage we walked away with. During those two short days of filming and shooting we were able to ride on quality terrain that hasn’t been seen since the early Terra Firma videos at Castillo Ranch and Reche, and we all had a blast doing it.

As for the future, the success and good times we had during our first contest attempt has already motivated us to start planning for the next one. We have since gone on to call our new company J&D Productions, and are now in negotiations with Red Bull to promote a three-part series in 2005 to be aired on a major network. For this year’s contest, a quick thanks are in order for all of the people that worked so hard in pulling this together. The Krauss family hooked us up the biggest by giving the okay for seven freeriders to tear up their beautiful Jackpot Ranch. Next up is Dave Carney of Quin Rentals, the company that lent us their equipment to build all of the hits. Moto XXX, Asterisk, and Wasp Clothing came in as event sponsors, and props also go out to the paramedics for keeping us safe. Last but not least, thanks to Mike Mammelli from All Service 911 health products, as he was instrumental in dialing us in with many of the above sponsors.

At the end of the day, when the dust settled on the first annual Ride to the Hills contest (and I sat unwinding in my new spa!), I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly everything ran. Considering the factors involved— a totally different style of judging in our first-ever contest, new terrain with virgin jumps, and a group of unsupervised FMX riders, I’m proud to report that nothing got burnt in our first barbecue! Quin Rentals, the company that lent us their equipment to build all of the hits. Moto XXX, Asterisk, and Wasp Clothing came in as event sponsors, and props also go out to the paramedics for keeping us safe. Last but not least, thanks to Mike Mammelli from All Service 911 health products, as he was instrumental in dialing us in with many of the above sponsors.

At the end of the day, when the dust settled on the first annual Ride to the Hills contest (and I sat unwinding in my new spa!), I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly everything ran. Considering the factors involved— a totally different style of judging in our first-ever contest, new terrain with virgin jumps, and a group of unsupervised FMX riders, I’m proud to report that nothing got burnt in our first barbecue!