Photos: Effraim + Dub + Marcin Biegunajtys – Manmade Media Studio.
Sometimes in riding you need an extra spark to spur yourself to the next level, I feel like the Battle in the Rockies event was just the tonic I needed with winter amongst us and perhaps you if you attended the event. When you see a flatlander put his heart into what he loves, it speaks volumes. From the very moment I got to Denver with Thomas Noyer who was on the same flight as me, the flatland community vibe that set the tone for the week was in embudance as myself and Thomas met James, Dub, Jason Plourde in the airport before we embarked on an hour journey that took four hours due to the heavy snow to get to Colorado Springs. When you have 5-6 flatlanders altogether once again even four hours goes quickly, plus as was Thomas Noyer’s first time to the US, we took him to as American a restaurant as we could find on the road, “Five Guys”.
Sessions in the warehouse during the week went on all day every day leading up to the event, so of the best sessions went down with the crew, Dub, Benjamin Hudson, Jason Plourde, Dez Maarsen and many more going off! Photo: Dub.
Did I mention the snow? The best decision I made all week was literally as I left my house, let’s check the weather one more time. -20 was predicted time for the winter coat to make its first appearance.
Throughout the week tempertures fluctuated between just above freezing to as low as -23c, luckily the warehouse had heating that was regularly set around the 80 degree mark so it was perfect riding conditions inside. The flatland community was building everyday, as we arrived at the McGraw residence it wasn’t long until Benjamin Hudson arrived in a taxi from the airport. We all looked forward to sessioning the warehouse spot, everyone was curious how the altitude would effect their riding. We played a few games of pool in James’ basement and sank a few beers, it was already a good time.
On the first full day in Colorado, which was the Tuesday. McGraw was already taking round 50 phone calls before everyone got up on his surfboard iPhone which became a running joke throughout the week. We headed down to the warehouse to check out the venue, if you read the interview I did with James leading up to the event you will know he lost the intended venue for the event and had to try a whole bunch of warehouse before he had any luck no thanks to all the weed dealers now smoking weed is legal in the state of Colorado.
Throughout the week everyone jammed at the warehouse all day, the contrast between freezing temperatures outside and 80 degrees inside couldn’t have been more apparent. This I feel helped add to the vibe, the place was busy almost all the time. A real community feel with riders supporting each other during sessions, lil’ pockets of sessions. McGraw being McGraw wanted to throw a lil’ spanner in the mix during one of the sessions, “Hey let’s have a contest, lets throw $200 at it”, he talked about it one of the days but due to picking up some riders at the airport it didn’t happen. On the Thursday it did happen, and the level of riding as soon as the contest was announced sky rocketed, it was amazing to feel that energy inside of the building. Riders had two 1 minute runs, we dubbed it “Fight Club”, myself and Todd Carter judged, Dez Maarsen was in the the USA a matter of hours before he took home an extra $200 for an awesome 50 second combo in his first run. Also amazing riding as you would expect by Dub, Jason Plourde, young buck Benjamin Hudson, Tyler Gilliard, and James McGraw. This was a fun event to hold to help build the hype, kudos to Mr McGraw and Fred Gates for this idea.
Nathan Penonzek was a name on everyones lips, would he ride? What’s the deal? It was great once again to meet up with the old boy, who now lives in Tijuana, Mexico, and still rides daily as well as just having a lil boy with his lady. He came to help out judging for the event, and just to see everyone once again. I was lucky enough to see Nathan ride a lil’ bit after the contest and it was amazing to see how he can ride even with big boots and someones else’s bike.
One of the best things about the whole week in Colorado Springs, was as I mentioned the community vibe, seemed like half the contest was staying at McGraws house, cooking, playing pool, and especially the in-depth conversations between the riders all staying at the McGraw residence is something I won’t forget. It made the vibe when we all rode, so good, 8 hour days riding were not uncommon during the warm up to the contest!
Naoya Wada killing the back wheel during AM prelims, photo by Marcin Biegunajtys – Manmade Media Studio.
Friday was soon upon us and the first day of the contest. As I arrived, the scene felt tense with the Am Flat Circuit title hanging in the balance. Bobby Carter set up the livestream for you all at home, judges in place and we ran through qualifiers in Novice, Am, Vet and Pro. James McGraw through in his “Twist” brought in a live alligator greeting everyone as they entered the building, and punk cheerleader chick who displayed everyones name around on a board as they were setting up to ride. And Kent George and James McGraw shared Mic duties to mix things up a lil’, Omari Cato progressed a lot since the last time I saw him ride, real smooth scuffless gerator body varials, and xft pedal mega spins got him 6th spot heading into the finals! All the way from Japan, Naoya Wada had the moves to win the class, but struggled to hold it together and keep his hat on, real nice carved ride into switch foot gerator shove it regular foot into upside down undertaker out ala’ Chad Degroot who was sat on the judges table.
In 8th place, always great to see Mannie Nogueira ride, great control on the back wheel, especially the Dane Beardsley esque double handed crank-a-roni across the contest floor, hell yeah Mannie! The remaining qualifying slots were taking up by Ron Monis, Chris Anderson, Ed Jolie and Shaun Lapsley. Congratulations to everyone that made the finals!
There is always that spot between making the final and not where positions are close, Andrew Sheltraw just missed the cut in 13th place stomping boomerangs with so much power I can see him getting enough pop to manual or decade out, so good! Colorado locals Brian Gavagan and Jason Rideout took the 14th and 15th place spots respectively, Brian holds his no foot cliffs with so much power it could equally be considered a superman cliff, crazy balance point! Jason Rideout not only has the best surname ever, but put in a ton of work to make Battle in the Rockies happen, I’m sure riding was the last thing on his mind this weekend. The Am Flat Cicuit would not happen without Steven Lapsley, the Lapsley brothers both ride with a super smooth style, really nice x hand backwards hitch jugglers from Steven, much respect to both Shaun and Steven!
17th through to 20th place went to Matthew Hartier, Kevin Washington (Rocket bar bunny hops), Hector Garcia (Pedal 5’s), and Julio Lotto! Much respect to everyone that entered the Am Class prelims, that was a pleasure to judge.
Friday was “almost” done, practise for the pros, and time for another episode of “Fight Club” and damn this was way more intense this time round! This time the contest was 15 or so riders deep, and this time Dominik Nekolny and Dub both threw down flawless runs, so we shared the cash out between them. The vibe was incredible, I would love to see an edit from just the fight club, plenty of community support rider to rider, great to see!
Saturday was soon upon us and Am flat semis were first up, 12 riders with one change as John Yull got injured the day before. For all of you waiting on John’s Same Thing Daily part, let me say you are in for an absolute treat! He put his heart and soul into the project and it shows! Andrew Sheltraw took John’s place as he was the next down on the rider list, and stomped his boomerang ride outs all over the contest floor, hell yeah Andrew! Shaun Lapsley finished up in eleventh spot, killing it with his super smooth style, really liked his opposite xft whiplash to karl. 9th place saw a tie with Mannie Nogueira and Ron Monis, who both touched a bit too much to place any higher, Mannies ride into xft ice cream had the crowd on their feet, this kid has a great future! Ron Monis rides in super smooth style, lacing smooth front wheel combos like fire hydrant to 180 bar flip hitch to steam across the contest floor.
Fred Gates and James McGraw bust their asses to make BITR work, and fully but their name on the contest map. I had a good time interviewing them plus everyone else throughout the broadcasts. Photo: York Uno.
We also had a tie for 7th place with the high riding standard, Chris Anderson and Ed Jolie, Texas represent! EZ Chris nailed a nice caboose body varial on his dialled AJ St Martin set up, Ed Jolie has a smooth rolling style, hitch juggling across the floor linking with crackpackers, and half packer jugglers also for the shared spot with EZ.
All the way from japan, style cat Naoya Wada busted out, but a few crashes hurt his score. His ride in to gliding switch foot gerator shove regular gerator to Degroot undertaker out was my personal favourite, and got a wry smile from Chad D sat next to me.
As we got into the top 5 there was only a matter of points separating the top guns, in fifth place was Todd Carter, lacing together a nice carved guillotine to gliding gerator to two footed backyard pivot out. In 4th place, much like Todd, Bryan Huffman has been on the contest scene as long as I can remember. Bryan’s trick bag reflects that, love this steam jump to gliding gerator, and it was crazy to hear that Bryan has had 10 knee operations and is still riding, let alone progressing and competing at a high level! That is some serious dedication right there!! And his bike, oil slick and purple and even clothes is a sight to see face to face!
In third place, Omari Cato brought the warehouse down with scuffless body varial gerators, xft pedal mega spins executed with power and precision. Omari earned himself a spot in the nightclub for a chance to battle the pros. In second place, Austin Luberda is dialled and rides with so much style, clean two footed turbine mega spins to pedal and peg time machines, and front wheel flow for days. I can’t see it being long before he takes the jump to pro! Joe Cicman was noticeable bummed on his first round performance, but really stepped his game up in this semi final round nailing the run of the morning to take the top spot and the AM Flat year end title, carved two footed bar flip death truck jump out to pegs, steam no handed crack jump to two footed backyard turbine ride out, steam to half packer double jaffa whip rebate nailed, the atmosphere was electric! It was nice to see that cheeky smile back on Joe’s face, and a chance for Joe to step up and battle the pros later that day!
Pro Class was next up, and the class as you’d expect was stacked with quality and plenty of international talent on show. I had deju vu of judging Flatground 2006 with the snow outside and vibes inside the warehouse. The place was electric as we kicked off the first group of 5 riders. And what a start from Thomas Noyer who had one of the best runs of his life, with his signature turbine front yard pivots nailed clean, as well as a tasty plastic man combo that ended with one kick steam straight into backwards spinning half packer! Thomas brought the house down and it was a great start to the Pro prelims, the tone was set. Will Redd had one of the most unique styles in the class, his forward side glide pivots switching both sides of the bike was a joy to watch, a few too many touches kept him out of the finals, great to see him ride in person once again! All eyes were on young prodigy Benjamin Hudson, and he lived up to all the expectation, this kid floats trick to trick at the blink of the eye, nailing his signature xft pumping crackpacker line to perfection. Benjamin’s riding reminded of watching a young Nathan Penonzek, who ironically was sat next to me losing his mind at Benjamin’s riding! One thing is for sure, after this weekend in Colorado Springs, Benjamin Hudson is at the forefront of people’s minds, the kid has got it!
One of my personal highlights of the Battle in the Rockies weekend was seeing Pete Brandt once again, uncharacteristically Pete messed up his first run but came back swinging second run, with an amazing one minute run that switched fire hydrant turbines to hitch turbines steam no handed one foot crack in circles to the back wheel and into no handed blender, no one does Blenders quite like Pete! 44 years old and doesn’t look like he’s ever aged, amazing testament to his dedication to flatland!
Masashi Itani was the last rider in the group, the crowd was so loud when Masashi Itani hit a long back wheel around the world combo, goosebumps after group one! And another three groups to go!
Jason Plourde, Dominik Nekolny, Jean William Prevost, Bo Wade, Tyler Gilliard, and York Uno was Group Two. You could feel the expectation with the crowd of riders and spectators for this next heat, after the amazing first group.
And as if you didn’t know, this group did not disappoint. Great runs back to back from Jason Plourde, Jean William Prevost, Dominik Nekolny, and Tyler Gilliard saw all these cats throughout to the final round. Watching Dom and Dub ride to back to back like that was an amazing experience, so different in styles but yet equally just off the chart in terms of pushing the sport, much respect to them all!
The last two groups, consisted of Art Thomason, Dax Wolford, Joel Schallhorn, Alexis Desolneux, Takuji Kasahara. Dane Beardsley, Alex Worden, James McGraw, and Dez Maarsen. Once again, great variety in styles between all competitors, and the size of the floor probably had something to do with that with riders such as Alexis Desolneux and Dane Beardsley using the space to its maximum potential, whether its Alexis controlled double backwards facing whiplash or Dane’s Switch foot dump ice cream backwards backyard pivot out, it was great to see that diversity! Art Thomason, Dax Wolford, and Takuji Kasahara all turned in decent runs, the cut off point for the finals with 11 riders and one AM going through, was making it cut throat time with the judging. Organiser James McGraw turned in the best riding he had done all week for his qualifying run, a flawless run! What else do you need, it looked like the Rockies had been lifted off his shoulders, and after all his hardwork it was great to see that moment! Dez Maarsen came out busting in prelims, massive combos full of Dez’s signature pivots gave Dez the top spot in qualifying! It was turning out to be quite a week for him, having already won the Fight Club round a few nights before! And last but not least, Alex Jumelin put together solid runs somehow with a fractured rib, if you have ever even bruised your rub you will know how hard it is too ride let alone fractured, Alex hit almost all his signature front and back wheel switches to earn a place in the finals that evening. After four hours of judging pro prelims it was time for a break before the finals in three hours downtown Colorado!
The finalists were:
Jean William Prevost
I came out of the warehouse buzzing on what I had just witnessed in pro qualifying, so much so that I forgot about the cold, 80 degree temp inside the Fight club warehouse, it was cold as shit outside but it seemed like the snow was clearing. We all met up an hour or so later in the Nightclub downtown Colorado to start arranging the finals and grab some much needed food, the opening battle order looked like this: Jason Plourde vs Pete Brandt, Joe Cicman vs Alex Jumelin, Dane Beardsley vs Tyler Gilliard, James McGraw vs Thomas Noyer, with the top 4 getting an automatic pass through to the next round. It felt like anyone could take this, who’s got the bag of tricks to change it up if need be, opponent to opponent. Who meets who, is always interesting!
The scene was set, I judged alongside Chad Degroot to my right and Nathan to my left. Battle format is always exciting to judge, not much time to make a decision so I treat it somewhat like a boxing match. The first battle up was tight with both Jason Plourde and Pete Brandt making mistakes in the tight nightclub spot, I had Pete down 3 links to Jason’s two, as we gave our votes. Nathan paused, and it was tight, this was a new experience for Nathan. And although it took him a while, it’s sometimes gripping from a spectator point of view that decisions aren’t given right away, the crowd erupted with the decision Jason went through, and it felt like the contest really kicked off from that point on, you could see the game faces stiffen up on the competitors faces down below us.
Next up Joe Cicman vs Alex Jumelin, and it was announced as the contest began Joe would no longer be competing as an AM rider and wanted to challenge himself in the pro class! Alex threw the punches at Joe like the seasoned veteran Alex is, you could see Alex’s experience in battle competitions shine through. I’m almost certain this will have been a huge learning curve for Joe!
A real contrast of styles up next, Dane Beardsley vs Tyler Gilliard, the tight area set up wasn’t suitable for Dane’s long carved rolling lines, and Tyler was on fire nailing half cab whoppers and kick flip half packers to go though to the next round against Dominik Nekolny!
James McGraw met Thomas Noyer in the next battle, and much like Dane, Thomas struggled to replicate his amazing qualifying runs in the tight area set up and James continued to find his form, nailing everything he tried, to set up a dream battle for him with Jean William Prevost! The battles were hotting up nicely inside the club!
Second round battles were upon us, Dez Maarsen the first place qualifier vs Jason Plourde, it was on and it was tense, with both riders making few mistakes but Dez narrowly taking the win nailing his boomerang round bars to half packer combo and a long front wheel karl pivot steam combo to half cab whopper out! Dez has been amazing for a long time, but has really stepped up a gear in the last few months!
Next up was the young buck everyone was talking about, Benjamin Hudson all the way from Santiago, Chile vs Alex Jumelin who was battling the pain of a fractured rib. Looking back this might have been the best battle of the contest, with both riders going off! Benjamin threw down his pumping xft crack to hang five pivot to steam like it was nothing, Alex returned with his xft inside steam with foot under chainring into multiple boomerangs, Benjamin threw a backwards spinning death truck in the mix, Alex returned with his forward spinning death scuff jump to front pegs, in the end, one crash from Alex gave the win to Benjamin, it was that tight! And you could see the remaining opponents game faces tighten once again, was Benjamin going to go all the way? We all wondered that I am sure! Big props to Alex who put up one hell of a battle despite the fractured rib, awesome!!
Next up it was Dominik Nekolny’s turn into the ring vs Tyler Gilliard, this battle went back and forth until the last two massive combos that Dom nailed clean helped him take his route through to the semis. Tyler had trouble with his kick flip turbine half packer and Dom nailing his last few combos sealed the deal for him, Tyler out and Dom through to the next round.
Dub’s turn into the mix, I always wondered what it’s like for riders that are warmed up in battles to ride against someone coming in cold, James McGraw put up a good fight nailing his hardest combo, inside switch b pivot g-roll to spinning gerator to two footed backyard pivot -g-roll to gliding gerator body varial out, the relief off the man was motivating to say the least! He didn’t care if he went out or not, he wanted that combo, he got it! Dub was absolutely on fire at this point, coming in cold, and threw down some of his hardest switches to go through to the semis! Game time was well and truly on!
Two young gun heavy hitters battled it out in semis, Dez Maarsen vs Benjamin Hudson. Two front wheel tech machines going head to head was real treat, Benjmain came out hot nailing the first two combos, Dez countered nailing his last two combos whilst Benjamin missed his. Lot of love shown between these two cats who I feel like will be dominating the contest circuit for years to come, Dez advances, Benjamin to the third place battle.
The next semi final battle was a repeat of the Red Bull Circle of Balance battle in Kyoto, Japan, Dominik Nekolny vs Jean William Prevost, this battle was one of the toughest battles to call for sure. In the end Dub advanced to the finals by the skin of his teeth, and Dominik to the third place battle with Benjamin.
The pace was quick and right away, recover quick and third place battle was up! Dom vs Benjamin, and Dom produced his best performance of the night, nailing his xft nose jump to crackpacker line that troubled him vs Dub, and this battle looked a battle too much for Benjamin. Dom took the third place spot, with Benjamin taking 4th and earning a heap load of respect! We are all excited about this kids future…
The final battle, Dez Maarsen vs Jean William Prevost! Two riders who qualified via the online contest! McGraw took the mic and pumped the crowd up, both riders looked tired. And it was again, one of those battles that could have gone to either rider, in the end a two to one judging decision went towards Dub! Dub the first Battle in the Rockies Champion, and pocketed $4000 for his efforts, as he took the podium he arrived with a huge bottle of champagne and soaked us all, it was a great end to one of the best contests I’ve been to! We partied into the early hours as the snow returned in a big way!
Massive thanks to James McGraw who really put his heart into making this event the best he could, the vibe of the warehouse was amazing, and the community spirit that set the tone for the whole week. His wife, Laura who actually moved out to Marriott with the kids to accommodate us all. Fred Gates from Reklamation Bikes for the financial support and believing in the event, Bobby Carter holding down the lifestream, MC Kent George on the mic, Steven Lapsley and the AM Flat crew, all the locals that helped, all the sponsors that kicked in, Touch of Shade Window Tints, Quest BMX, Flatland Fuel, Terradome and so many more! And last but not least, thanks to all the riders that helped make this one of the best weeks of my life, nothing but good vibes and thoughts as I flew back to London Heathrow with Thomas. James is already planning to improve the event for next year, based on what he learnt this year, so look out! Battle in the Rockies is well and truly on the contest calendar, and pretty sure it will be crazier next year if thats possible!
Can we do this again?