I’m starting this week off with an apology – I haven’t kept to my weekly target recently for various reasons. For anyone who reads my blog regularly and enjoys my posts, and also directed at myself, I apologise.
As is typical to my working style, I have quite a lot of blog posts around 70% finished. I’ll be making a conscious effort to get a bunch finished this week (for personal development and so I’m more prepared for future posts) so expect regular updates again
Lastly, I struggled writing this post at first; I naturally went into a blow by blow account of the trip but I’ve decided to try to write it in a different way. I’m not sure how it will come out, but I like the idea of trying to write a little differently from time to time.
Mountainboarders have been involved with Breakthrough Festival, and many other shows in Russia, for many years. The Russian boarders have done a fantastic job of getting mountainboarding into the shows and getting the sport out there to a wider audience in and around Moscow specifically.
Breakthrough has been through fazes of bringing in one or two boarders and bringing in many for the Winter/Spring show. At it’s peak in 2013, there were mirrored ramps and a very strong contingent of mountainboarders, arguably the strongest collection of freestyle mountainboarders ever brought together, for a show featuring about 20 riders from across the globe.
In recent years, the show appears to have been moving away from action sports to make more of a spectacle of drifting and stunt riding/driving motorbikes and cars.
As the show has moved more towards drifting etc., it has also moved away from mountainboarding and has been creating larger ramp setups for a much more heavily bike and blading oriented action sports segment. Of course, the FMX section has stayed as a stalwart for the show and rightly so – FMX is insane and a huge crowd pleaser.
From what I understand, the organisers had become a little bored and unimpressed with mountainboarding over the last few shows and I was made aware that we (the mountainboarders) were going into this show as a last chance saloon.
The job, as such, was this: put in a solid and impressive performance to put mountainboarding back in favour with the organisers so that we could take part in future iterations of the show.
I was sent the early renders for the design of the setup a couple of months ahead of the show; it was going to be a big construction and, after calculating the take off and landing angles, it was all going to be pretty steep. Conversely, the roll-in and transition looked really smooth and mellow and the quarterpipe, although it would be the biggest I’ve ridden, looked like a nice mellow shape as well. That may sound weird seeing as QPs are circle segments, so a little explanation is that it was a long transition with minimal vert at the top. The last point of note was that the roll-in and take-off would be on a platform 3m off the floor.
Upon arriving at the venue, I saw that even though my calculations warned me that it would be a steep take-off and landing, I wasn’t prepared for just how steep it would look in real life. The sheer size of the landing dwarfed the 5m QP. The roll-in looked as inviting and mellow as expected from the image, but the 2.5-3m tall take-off and gigantic and steep landing were the real worry. Fortunately there was quite a lot of space from the landing to the QP so that didn’t seem so bad – it was going to be very fast into the QP but there was space to slow down.
I was confident we could clear the gap, even with the kicker being as steep as it was, but I was worried about the steepness of the landing.
The Mental Side/First Run
The hardest part about riding the setup was the mental side. It had been years since I rode anything of this side and I really was daunted by how steep the landing was. I was nervous of overshooting and how far I would drop as a result (the steeper the landing, the further you fall per metre of overshoot). Mix into this that I was riding the new Matrix 2 trucks with custom 95 shore blocks for only the second time as well as this being my second freestyle session since breaking my ankle (and it still isn’t back to 100%); I was really starting to struggle mentally.
I looked back on my Nitro Circus Live experiences to help with ‘the fear’. This was a good idea seeing as the smallest jump on Nitro was slightly larger than this setup, although it wasn’t as useful as it could have been. With Nitro Circus, the landing looked great for the jump and I really felt like I had to prove myself there (and, actually, I did – the first two shows were my trial run, after which the athlete manager would decide whether to keep me on or not) which really drove me to perform. I didn’t hesitate or wait before hitting the Nitro ramp; as soon as practice started I went to the top, strapped in and did it. The other factor here was I knew there wasn’t much practice before the first show, and my second show was only two hours after the end of the first. Case and point, I had 5 runs before my first two shows! Breakthrough, on the other hand, had four or five practice sessions each of at least one hour spread out over a couple of days.
Back to Breakthrough. I rode the landing into the QP and was reassured – the speed seemed OK and there was lots of space to scrub speed if you could put in a speed check on grippy wood (I was glad to be riding slicks). This calmed ‘the fear’ a bit, but still the major issue was the landing.
More time passed and I made my way to the top after my first wave of ‘screw it, just do it’. At the top, I took some more time. I was watching how the bikers and scooters rode the jump. This gave me some confidence, at least in the speed – the bikes were braking down half the roll-in so I knew there was ample speed for us to clear the jump.
After more mental struggles, I finally hit the second ‘screw it’ and strapped in. I knew that once I had rolled over the edge, my focus would kick in and I would be in the moment instead of in the hypotheticals but it was a challenge to get to the point where I could roll over the edge. The second ‘screw it’ wave carried me down the roll-in and over the jump.
Overcoming ‘the fear’ is such a rush in itself and is a really good skill to have generally. I was reminded that the skill is like a muscle – use it and it grows stronger, don’t use it and it withers and weakens. Mine had weakened but I feel stronger having worked the muscle. All in, I think 2netz said it took me 90 minutes from padding up and stretching to hitting the jump for the first time. If I wasn’t the first boarder to hit the setup that time would have been much much shorter but, regardless of how long it took, being the first boarder on such a large and intimidating ramp was a growth experience.
I had a great nosedive on my second run and it was a good experience to have – there is extra confidence to be gained in falling on a big ramp. If you have an awkward or ‘bad’ fall but get up and walk away relatively unscathed, you know you should be safe for most crashes you will have. This was one of the experience that really made me overcome my fear of the steepness of the landing – I went deep on the landing, went over my nose so went even deeper and I still landed on the downslope and was relatively unscathed.
As always, each run made it easier to drop in. There were still delays between runs but they weren’t always caused by ‘the fear’. Coming back from an injury and with knowledge from Nitro Circus, I knew how much the 70+ steps back to the top of the roll-in would take out of me if I didn’t hydrate, stretch and pace myself properly. I made sure to have a drink and a good stretch at the top of the roll-in every time and I lasted a lot longer because of it. I was also very glad I had been exercising a lot and that my general level of fitness was up a lot from previous years!
It was quite funny, every day that passed, every practice session that was completed, it felt like I was hitting the ramp slower and slower but getting more air. This, for me, was the manifestation of my big ramp experience waking up and quickly getting back up to speed. Initially I was riding the ramp in ‘defense’ mode, but each practice session that passed I moved further and further into ‘attack’ mode. It may sound silly but I was very proud of how quickly I felt confident on the setup.
A run or two after my nosedive, I had my tyre pressures dialled in (around 30-40psi) and I opted for tricks – once again an experience led decision. In the past, I have found it much easier to trick a big ramp than to straight air it for various reasons; there’s more to do in the air so your focus switches, my trajectory changes and better matches the take-off landing combination and I get a ‘truer’ read of the speed I need to hit the ramp at.
I opted for the 360. It was a bit sketchy (and I caught an edge scrubbing into the quarter and ended up with the worst scab I’ve had in a long time!) so I continued the trick route and opted for the 720 next (again, from experience, 360ing is harder than 540s and 720s on big jumps – my warm up run on Nitro would be a 540; I must have 360ed that jump less than 5 times). The 7 went really well and I closed out first practice with it.
I began to think out and implement a plan of action. I would start practice with a grab then a 360, followed by a 720. Any bails would warrant a re-run. After the 720 I would move on to tricks (or gateway tricks) that I needed to start dialling in for the show – backflip then double, 900, frontflip then double.
It may seem a little strange to opt for the double backflip before the 900, and usually I would agree with you and do the 900 first, but landing in switch on such a tall and steep landing wasn’t particularly appealing to say the least!
For the most part, riding went really well and I was extremely happy with how I was riding. I spent more time building up to my first backflip than I did my first double, and I landed my first double where I fell on my first backflip. I was super happy with landing the double first time and with how little build up I needed considering I haven’t attempted a double to a landing for at least two and a half years! One of the most reassuring things about my first double was that it wasn’t a clean rotation – I got tucked up, spotted the landing coming around on the first flip and opened out to slow the rotation down, landing 4 down and very cleanly. For me, this was better than landing a super smooth double as it showed me that, mid-trick, I could adjust and react and that I knew where I was during the rotation.
After the double I attempted the 900. I came in a little under-rotated and went for a safety slide to try to avoid catching an edge on the transition back to flat. Unfortunately, even with forced fall I snapped a top hanger. I got it fixed and went back up to attempt a frontflip. I hadn’t thrown an ollie frontflip at all in 2016 so it made it an interesting experience to say the least! I got away with it though and was happy to have thrown all of my gateway tricks, a few of my showtime stunts and I had started throwing some mctwists and disasters in the QP instead of rock fakies and 180s.
With all the practice sessions been and gone, I felt good for the show. My body was pretty beat up from the slams, and my ankle was certainly a lot worse for wear, but mentally I was strong and ready.
I’ll leave it there for this week – it’s already a very long article! Part 2 to follow soon.