Ever watch an ESPN X-Games BMX competition or Dew Tour stop? Have some Saturday morning action sports show on ABC on in the background. Ever notice the guys out in the middle of the street park or vert ramp carrying video cameras or film cameras with some big ass lenses? Last weekend I got to be one of those guys, and it was TERRIFYING.
But it was also awesome. Clash at Clairmont IX is an annual fundraiser at the Mission Valley YMCA for pro-skater Mike Roger’s charity Grind for Life. Their motto is “Skate and Destroy Cancer.” They raise monies to help families of cancer patients afford the travel, lodging and other necessities that come along with just surviving cancer. In addition to a skate demo featuring Tony Hawk, Mongoose & Monster Army made the event a stop on their Summer Recon Tour. The team at Mongoose invited me to tag along as media. I showed up early with a camera ready to work.
The Pro competition was kicking off around Noon so I had an hour or so to get myself acclimated to the park. Wandering around without many riders was essential for building up some confidence. There were already established BMX photographers there and I was invading there turf. Plus, some of the ramps were pretty high, and getting around wasn’t as easy as I hoped. I paid attention to where the other photographers were going, and tried to mimic them as best as possible. There seemed to be one primary spot in the middle of the course where you could see just about everything, but space was tight. Then there were some photographers right in the middle of a ramp or transition. I wondered how often someone got hit. It didn’t take long to find out that might be a real concern.
Riders like recent X-Games gold medalist Daniel Sandoval, Ben Wallace and Kevin Peraza came out to for some practice runs. Mostly, the guys just cruised the course taking airs and getting a feel for things. Then Logan Martin dropped in and just started throwing big tricks right off the back. One of the other photographers mentioned that he always went that hard. Apparently, he can’t help himself. Practice was my first chance to see these guys up close and personal. And it WAS up close. There was a drop-in ramp & transition area right where most of us were standing and some riders where whipping tires pretty close. The riders were also interacting with some of the photographers they knew. Letting them know where they could stand or where they were get rocked if they were in the way. Kyle Baldock seemed a little peeved there were so many of us. I made a mental note to make sure I wasn’t in the way when he rode.
Then the Comp started. Shit got real, real fast. During the Comp riders only have so much time to put together a run and throw as many tricks as possible. If you think what they do, flipping and spinning around, looks wild on TV go to an event to see it live. Mind blowing. Most riders dropped in on a big ramp on the west side of the park pulled a few tricks and then flew up a ramp near where I stood and launched themselves into the backside of the park. During the front part of a run there would be random shutters clicking all the time. Then when the riders went over the ramp near us every photographer went into burst mode.
CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK!
The key was to get a shot of the trick at the right moment so that someone seeing the picture later in a mag or on-line would know what kind of trick it was. A wise man said to me that shooting BMX comps means getting a lot of photos of butts in the air. Every time you think you’re positioned just right for the shot the rider would throw a hip or twist around and you’d just end up with a bike in the air and a butt facing the camera. Looking at you Ben Wallace. The lesson being take a lot of pictures.
Then during Kyle Baldock’s run my camera’s memory card filled up. NO! I dropped to a knee to switch it out failing to notice the other photographers shuffling a bit to the left. I started to stand up when the hairs on my neck stood at attention and some sixth sense told me not to move. Actually, it screamed at me. Then Baldock’s back tire whipped out inches from my head before landing artfully on a mini-ramp in the middle of the course. Crisis averted!
During practice the riders dropped in one after another so there was never a good time to move around the course. During the comp there was about a minute between riders where you had a chance to move. I wanted else was out there so about halfway thru I took advantage of the break to find some spots it didn’t seem like anyone else was using. I moved into a far corner and got a couple close ups but couldn’t see the rest of the course. I moved back to set up for a shot up in the air but couldn’t get the right lens working at the right time. Apparently, it helps to have a little experience shooting action sports. Those guys not only need to know how to work a camera, they have to be constantly aware of the action, ready to move and always be prepared.
At the end of the comp I climbed up the back steps of the biggest drop-in ramp. I made my way to the edge, held on to a post and looked down. Nope. All those times I watched a comp on TV and thought “I could do that” came flooding back. No effing way. To be a BMX rider you’ve got to have some brass ones. At this point all the attention was on the nearby MegaRamp where Tony Hawk, Mike McGill and Pierre Luc Gagnon were ripping it up on skateboards. All the cameras and photographers were working over there. That’s when Mongoose BMX rider Kevin Peraza appeared at the back steps and asked someone nearby, “Think it’s okay to keep riding?”
(More photos below!)