I was lucky enough to attend the back to back years that "X" ran in San Francisco on Pier 32. I can still smell the salt-air. This was just an exciting time to be young and alive altogether. The turn of the century was upon us and there was this new movement called "Freestyle Motocross" sweeping across the country. At the time, Jeremy McGrath was the most incredible rider the world has ever seen. His "nac-nac" rocked supercross stadiums around the world and everyone waited for his sections in the insanely popular VHS jump videos. VHS...can you even believe those things ever existed? I suppose the comparison of a VHS tape to the DVD's of today is akin to what FMX was those years on pier 32, and the bat-shit crazy Best Trick contest we saw last week.
Let me take you back.
Riders like Kris Rourke, Mike Jones, and Larry Linkogle joined the stars like Brian Deegan (who was peaking in his asshole/tough guy image), Clifford Adoptante, and teen phenom Travis Pastrana. The course was a sort of X-shaped/figure-eight contraption that had uneven landings and marbles on the take-offs. Plus, the wind was blowing so hard the guys could barley stay on their bikes. The event was still a success. Mike Jones jumped a gap wearing a black helmet bag over his head, unheard of Jeremy Stenberg pulled a "candy-bar" (both feet through the bars), and Pastrana unleashed the first "Indian Air" in competition. Everyone - the skaters, BMXers, wake boarders - EVERYONE was completely shocked by the FMX comp.
To cap all of it off, Travis made mainstream media by launching off the pier and into the blue water of The Bay. He was fined $10,000 from the E.P.A. for "contaminating the ocean" with his 1999 RM125 that was found sitting on the bay floor... on top of a sunken oil tanker.
I drove to the port authority and picked up his bike. That bike is now in a Fox Racing museum in Japan.
Over the years we have grown numb. The progression from nac-nac, to Indian Air, to back flip, to double back... has somehow numbed folks into saying "big deal" when they see a guy try a front flip over a 75 foot ramp-to-dirt (concrete) gap. Dude, Hemingway would struggle to find the words to describe the balls it takes to even THINK about trying those tricks the boys hucked. It was gnarly. When I saw Blake Williams throw that 360 Indian Air the first thought I had was how loudly the crowd gasped back on pier 32 when TP threw the first Indian Air. 10 years later guys are throwing that trick in the middle of a three-dog.
The FMX course last week was amazing. I was astonished to see how far along the design has come, but damn do the boys know what to do with it. Hey, I can ride a dirtbike good. Really good, actually. But, if I rolled out on that course I couldn't do anything AT ALL with it. Nothing. I'd freaking DIE. Those guys are out of their minds. Hey, Tiger Woods isn't earning his money. Tony Stewart isn't earning his money. The guy that got last place at X earned his damn pay check.
But the kicker with all of this is the involvement of guys like Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, and Josh Hansen last week. The medals they put around their necks began a journey 10 years ago on pier 32. The industry hated FMX in 1999. The athletes were rebels, losers, and slackers, right? Well, those punks may have stepped off the path a few times over the past decade (haven't we all), but when I watched the X Games last week Brian Deegan was announcing and competing. He is a homeowner, business owner, and devoted husband and father. Oh yeah, he's a millionaire too.
You know how much money Ricky Carmichael received for his involvement? How much do you think it means for a little company like Red Bull to have James Stewart there? What kind of "marketing" reward do folks like Monster Energy and Mitch Payton get out of the Josh Hansen story? Its huge. HUGE I tell you.
As much as it has twisted, changed colors, strokes, and hairstyles - the core vibe and life blood of the X Games is untainted. And dirtbikes rule all.
I loved watching all of the events. The skate and BMX big air events are so beyond the scope of normal human thinking. It's straight video game action. I stopped my Tivo on pause when Kevin Robinson was 20 feet out doing a no-handed flair. I had to walk around my living room with my hands on my hips and scoff for a few minutes. And the skaters are all simply ridiculous. That said, my favorite event was Super X. Josh Hansen. Wow.
I met Josh at Ponca City in the early 90's. I was jumping this huge double in the infield during my moto and he came running up to me after the race waving his arms over his head and giving me thumbs up. Later in the day I was standing along the fence watching the track and I glanced over and he was right there. Just watching. As I walked off he squeaked, "Good luck! Use that double to pull away." Years went by and I noticed him winning quite a bit at Ponca and Loretta's and the next thing I knew he was racing supercross. And winning. Then he changed. That stoked little dude I met at Ponca was now a tattoo'd "doing big thangs" punk that was throwing his career away. Along came the Joe Gibbs Racing opportunity, which I wrote the RX feature about. I just knew it was what he needed and I just knew he was going to impress everyone. It didn't happen, he let me down.
Not even a "made in Vegas heaven" match up with Carey Hart could get him back on track. It sounded like he was just gone. Too gone.
Ya'll remember Eric Johnson's interview three weeks ago? I'll admit I didn't give it a fair chance. "Too gone."
Congratulations, Josh. I had both arms up for you when I saw the massive, one-legged pan over the finishline table. Riding dirt bikes is pretty fun, huh?
As time goes by we get to see some amazing and beautiful things. We also see tragedy and turmoil. Nobody knows what makes things go good or bad. I just think that as long as the core ingredients are positive, things will always grow and there will always be something good out there past the sunset.
The good things back on pier 32 sure did turn into something wonderful.