2008 TRANSWORLD MOTOCROSS FMX RIDER OF THE YEAR
Words by Chris Kinman
Photos by Garth Milan and Chris Kinman
Beyond Murrieta Hot Springs, just west of the small French Valley Airport, resides one of the most quietly dominant athletes in freestyle motocross today. No, he doesn't live on a massive piece of acreage riddled with steel ramps and dirt mounds. Instead, he and his wife, Lauren, have made a home for themselves in a quiet suburb ruled more by kids walking to school than two-strokes and tractors. Do you know who he is? Most likely, but do you realize how good he really is? Maybe not.
In a sport that is frequently confused with a circus where the spotlight easily gravitates toward one-trick ponies and flamboyant personalities, it isn't surprising that a soft-spoken, hardworking guy can go relatively unnoticed, even with countless pounds of contest hardware hanging from his neck.
Jeremy Lusk has accrued more trophies, medals, plaques, and statuettes in one year than most any other FMXer will see in an entire career. At nearly every contest he competes in, he snatches up a trophy, a medal, a check; something that shows his true dominance and comfort in freestyle competition. Just a year ago, most of the mainstream X-Games viewers had no idea who Jeremy Lusk was, and most of the endemic industry knew him as Twitch's friend who could throw a gigantic whip.
But a lot can happen in a year and, in 2008, Lusk took over as the contest powerhouse of the Metal Mulisha, the star-studded freestyle crew known as much for their reputation and demeanor as their talent. With Jeremy "Twitch" Stenberg, Ronnie Faisst, and his General, Brian Deegan to guide him, Lusk has come into his own as a true star in freestyle motocross. He no longer lives in the shadow of his fellow teammates. He has carved his niche in history, and he plans on continuing his legacy beyond 2008. Meet Jeremy Lusk, the TransWorld Motocross FMX Rider of the Year.
So, you've won the coveted TransWorld Motocross FMX Rider of the Year. Tell us a little about how this year was so much different from previous.
This year has been an amazing year for me. I went into this year with a goal for myself—I wanted to get top three at every event. Last year my goal was to get top five, and I did, so I just wanted to continue to set and achieve a new goal. The first contest this year was the Mexico City X-Fighters and I ended up getting third, so it started some momentum for me. After that, I went to the Moto-X Championship and got the bronze, so from there it was kind of a snowball effect. It made me realize that Nate [Adams] and others could be beaten; it was just a matter of who was healthy and most prepared. I was kind of the healthiest guy and didn't really crash; I stepped up my game a little and tried to learn new tricks and tried to flip everything out on the courses. I realized that Nate and Twitch could flip every single thing out there, and they were the guys winning.
Many FMX riders are quite outgoing and celebratory at contests, but you have always been exuded a more reserved confidence. Have you always been more of a subdued guy, or is it the result of nerves?
I have always been the quiet guy. When I am around my friends, I am a bit more talkative and outgoing, but I have been pretty quiet since I was a little kid. But I have also always been confident; when I want something, I just always go after it 100 percent. I am a confident guy, I guess, but after winning a couple contests, it helped my confidence that much more. The more I ride, the better I feel. I practice five times a week most of the time. As far as practicing and training, most of us treat it like any Supercross rider would. We don't party or drink; we just stay on our game, in the gym, training, keeping the body healthy.
Does all that training and practice keep the nerves at bay?
Everyone gets butterflies. For instance, last year at my first X-Games, I almost wanted to throw up; I was so excited and nervous at the same time. But once I am sitting there waiting to drop in, something just clicks and I go into this aggressive mindset; like good, positive anger, especially when I see someone do a super good run. It pumps me up.
Since they don't teach motocross and freestyle in high school, you had to have gotten your start on a dirt bike somewhere else. How did Jeremy Lusk the San Diegan become Jeremy Lusk the freestyle motocross champion?
My dad had a big influence on me riding dirt bikes. I was always into two wheels. When I was two or three years old, I had a BMX bike, but I was too little to ride it, so I would push it around and push it off little jumps I would build. My dad raced when he was young, so we just have a history of two wheels. I used to ride around with my dad on his CR500, and I loved it. He got me a PW50 for Christmas when I was about four, and I have been hooked ever since, whether it was BMX, jumping, or riding my dirt bike. There was a period of time where I got really into BMX jumping and trails. But when I turned 14, I got a wild hair up my ass and I started going to the local track with my dirt bike. This was right around the time the first Crusty video came out, and it pumped me up. A lot of the spots where Crusty was filmed were spots I used to ride. I got a 125 and started jumping and doing tricks, and that's when I got really into it. The only real practice I had was at the track, though. There was a Supercross-style track in El Cajon where everyone would go. I would do laps, then at the end of the day when it was less crowded, my friends and I would just cut the course and hit the big double in the middle. When I got out of high school, I found myself sort of stuck. I had bought a ramp, I had it set up and was learning tricks, but I lived in San Diego and didn't know anyone. I had no way to get my foot in the door. I didn't want to give up, but I was asking myself, what the hell am I even doing?
Finally, I met Mark Burnett, he runs the Boost Mobile Freestyle Tour, and so I ended up going out on tour with him. It was there, riding the demos, that I met other riders that competed in contests. I started hanging out with some of those guys and coming up to Temecula to practice. I met Mike Metzger and I started riding for his team, and I competed in my first Dew Tour. I did pretty well, finishing fourth overall for the whole series. That's when I realized that I could actually do this.
How did you end up becoming a part of the Metal Mulisha?
I always thought the Mulisha was cool, every kid did. But I also knew that they kind of had their team set; I never really thought they would add anyone else. Besides, I was doing my own thing with Metzger. But, Metz had a bad year with a lot of crashes, and with it, the team sort of fell apart. The sponsors weren't really proactive about keeping the team going, so I took it upon myself to just do it on my own. I started hanging out with Twitch and Faisst a lot because they were always riding the Dew Tours, too. Twitch and I are actually from the same town, and we went to the same high school, so we ended up being good friends. He started inviting me to come ride with the Mulisha at Deegan's house. We all just hit it off really well, and Deegan and I became good friends, too. After a while, it just seemed like a natural fit. I didn't really have any sponsors anymore, so when he asked me, I was like, hell yeah! But it has always been a friendship thing; regardless of me being on the team or not, I would still ride with those guys.
How has being settled influenced your rise in freestyle?
I think I have always been pretty mature for my age. Growing up, my dad always had a big influence on me. He never outright told me not to do something, but I always knew I would let him down if I did, because we were so close. Instilled in me was the responsibility that I needed to work for money, and I've always had a job because of it. I knew early on what it was like to earn money and appreciate it. So really, being settled like this is awesome. If I wasn't married, I would probably be a mess. I know I wouldn't have a house, and who knows if I would be Rider of the Year. I have always taken riding seriously, but I also know that if I wasn't grounded, didn't have a house, someone to come home to, and bills to pay, I would probably be like every other asshole out there. In our sport, I've seen so many guys with talent just piss everything away because they win one contest and think they are the shit. Then they go out, party it up, and get stuck in that whole mode. I can understand how that happens. After I won X Games, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. You feel like, whew, now I can chill. But that's not the case. You can either be that one guy who wins a medal and is forgot about in a year, or you can be the guy who becomes an icon in the sport.
You, and the majority of the athletes in freestyle, train and practice long hours to be well-rounded riders. How do you view the one-trick ponies of the sport?
People like that just kind of make me laugh, but you can't really get mad at them. If they have balls, then they have balls. But, as far as longevity in the sport and talent, it's not really there. I give it to them for trying, but it can make our sport look more like a circus. The guys that do train and take it seriously, we are professionals, and this is our job. I guess I don't really care too much about the one-trick wonders, I mean; I have won a medal in Best Trick, so I understand it. But I like to do tricks that are possible in a normal freestyle run. Take [Kyle] Loza's trick; that's possible to do. But the reality of guys riding a normal freestyle course with a bike that has a special setup for a front flip or whatever is a bit questionable. But, everything is possible; we've proved that time and time again.
You train and practice with a lot of your normal competition. Is it possible to have a trick that no one knows about until competition, or is that a thing of the past? Is it not so much a question of what you have, but how well you do it now? Do you just say, sure, you know what I can do, but I am doing it better?
In our group, you can't really hide anything. We all just have our own style of tricks. I have some tricks that are bigger and different, and if someone else is going a to try a trick, then more power to them. Everyone knew I was going to do the double-grab flip, everyone had seen me practice it, but at the same time, it wasn't something they wanted to try themselves. Everyone has his own niche. Adam Jones does a lot of over the bar tricks; that's his style, that's what he is really good at. For me, I am not really good at bar tricks, so I pick other tricks that I think I can do bigger than others and that look explosive. Everyone has his own style and it kind of balances out.
Yeah, traveling isn't the greatest way to live your life. But, at the same time, I am getting paid to go to Spain, Ireland, all over the world. I just try not to let it bother me. I know I have to go; I can't call in sick. It gets old, especially around the holidays when I want relax with the family. But at the same time, it's my job, and overall, I love it. With the state of the economy, I feel blessed to even have work. I also know that this isn't a job that I can do until I'm 50, so I just have work at it as hard as I can while I can. The more I work, the better off I'll be down the road. Usually, my wife travels with me everywhere, so that helps a lot.
With the all of the travel, have you found a favorite city or country to visit/compete in?
I love competing in Europe. Ireland is one of my favorite spots there. I just like going to Europe in general because of the different vibe. The European riders are always trying to catch up to what the Americans are doing and some of them are getting pretty damn close. When I compete over there, I ride harder than I do here. Over here, riders do relatively routine tricks, but over there, even at demos, the Euros ride like it's the X-Games. They do all their big tricks, and just go for it. I think it's cool, because it pumps me up and makes me want to do my tricks bigger and better, too.
So, would you say that the Europeans are leading the charge of perpetuating the sport, if not progressing it?
I think they have a lot of energy because they are trying to catch up. Europe has always followed the lead of the Americans, whether it is motocross, Supercross, or freestyle. They want to just got for it, and I know how they feel. It's great; it keeps it alive and fresh.
Whip or flip?
Doing whips off of huge dirt hits are so fun. Flips are fun, too, but not like doing a fat whip. A lot of guys in our sport now can do flips, but a lot of them can't whip worth crap. It says a lot about the whip and how much bike control is involved, if someone can do a flip, but can't whip it all that well. Growing up, I loved watching McGrath get all whipped out. I thought he always has sick style, so a whip was the first trick I ever wanted to do. I practiced for hours and hours.
What was the highlight of 2008?
Winning the gold at X Games was awesome, but actually, I would have to say winning the silver in Best Trick was the biggest highlight. It was crazy going into the biggest contest, on the biggest stage in our sport, to do a trick knowing that there was only about an 80 percent chance I'm going to land it. I was super stressed out. I couldn't even think about the Freestyle event. I was thinking; if I don't land this double-grab flip, I won't even be riding the Freestyle event. Then that transformed into, what if I crash and I can't ride the rest of the year? But, I felt that I had it pretty much dialed enough to try it. And I knew I was going to do it regardless; I wasn't going to back out. So when I landed it, it was almost like I won the gold medal. I didn't care what score I got, I was just so pumped that I landed it and I did it bigger than I had even in the foam pit. That feeling was my biggest personal accomplishment. I was so pumped that I wanted to rip someone's head off [laughs].