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You only have to be the best until the best show up


a tabletop

 I still make dirt jumping part of my life.  There’s really nothing like it. I've been doing it for twenty years now and I kind of feel like I've earned my place. I love pushing my bike into the line-up. I always greet the other riders just to check the attitude. A dirt  jump session should be an inclusive and positive scene. It’s one of the few times in life that you are really putting yourself out there. It’s not like a party or work or any situation where people can talk about how good they are. Nobody fakes their way through a dirt jump line.

    I have a mantra I use at the park. You only have to be the best until the best show up. 
And I love it when the best show up! Kickass riders are awesome to watch. I can usually spot one in the drop-in line as I roll up. They won’t wear any gear except a helmet. 
    It’s great when the best riders are fun and friendly. Sometimes they’re not. That’s fine. If a guy is throwing down sick tricks he  can be withdrawn and elitist. I don’t know what it feels like to throw a backflip. Maybe you don’t want to make chit chat before you drop in and backflip. Regardless of their personality, the good riders only need to be good. I want to see some legit skill. Anyone just doing tables and whips doesn’t really count. They need to be doing tricks I can't do. I want to see a no-footed can-can or a bar spin.  It’s even more impressive when someone is dropping 3’s, flips or tailwhips. My favorite trick to see in real life is a cannonball.

 a cannonball

But sometimes none of the best show up. Sometimes I get there and all I see are whips and dead sailors.

a whip
a dead sailor

If none of the best are there it means I need to step up and do my part. I need to show the others what tricks look like. I've got a handful of low level tricks, the same tricks I've been doing for 20 years.   There's my no-hander, and last year I got my no-footer back...I'm pretty proud of that. 

a no-hander
a no-footer

    So I'll make a bunch of laps throwing these tricks plus my other quirky, novelty stuff. And I'll look pretty good. When no one else is throwing tricks mine look pretty impressive. 

    And that right there is the problem... the 47 year-old guy throwing old school tricks should not be the best dirt jumper at the session. This happened more times than not last summer. It's possible I just keep missing the good riders. Maybe all the top level riders now work from home so they all ride at noon. But I'm afraid it's more than that. I worry that dirt jumping could be one of the silent victims of the pandemic.

    On the one hand it makes perfect sense that thrill sports like this will hit a slump. No one wants to break a collarbone when the hospital is full of covid patients. Or maybe dirt jump spots cycle through talent like professional sports teams. Say, 2012-2018 were winning seasons for Valmont bike park. Then the talent moved on or quit because of injuries. Maybe we are in a rebuilding year.  Maybe next year the park will be dominated by a crop of hot, young allstars.

    I really hope so. If mountain biking as a whole is exploding in popularity, it seems a shame that dirt jumping isn't also thriving. Now, it is fun being the best for a little while. It's great for an ego boost, but I felt like it happened too many times last year. I'm just not that good.

    Epilogue: I wrapped up the bike season pondering this gloomy scenario. Was covid going to kill local level thrill sports?...Then I went skiing and all my fears and worry were put aside. In the terrain park, skiers and boarders were lined up at each feature throwing great tricks. Every rider was taking a stab at big rails or spinning tricks off the kickers. People were crashing trying challenging stunts, other riders were nailing it clean. It was exactly what a healthy thrill sport culture looks like. So, I can rest easy at night knowing the fire still burns...


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