In his 16 years as a professional freestyle motocross rider, Kris Garwasiuk has seen the impossible become normal.
Even so, the tricks on display at the Canadian Championship Invitational of FMX Saturday at Mosaic Place certainly looked impossible.
Eight freestyle motocross competitors wowed a big crowd with an array of stunts while their bikes flew above the crowd.
The sport of freestyle motocross riding is fairly new and the 31-year-old Garwasiuk has been there from the start. He had raced pro but always enjoyed the big jumps and getting big air. So when freestyle began to emerge he wanted to be a part of it.
“I was lucky to get in on the very first shows in freestyle motocross. It all opened up doors back then,” said Garwasiuk. “I was one of the original 11 guys to turn pro in the sport — and I was the only Canadian — so it was pretty cool.”
Garwasiuk said that 12 years ago the idea of doing a backflip on a 250-pound dirt bike was viewed as being impossible. Saturday night Bruce Cook and Kris Foster both did multiple backflips.
“It’s a relatively young sport and the progression has been insane,” said Cook, 25, who has been a pro for six years. “2000 was the first year of the backflip and no one thought you would ever see a dirt bike go upside down. Now a backflip is just a stock trick in the X-Games. If you went to the X-Games and (just) did a backflip you’d get laughed at.
“It’s come a long way pretty quickly.”
The evolution of those tricks was visible Saturday.
Several riders pulled off a Superman seat grab — where a rider grabbed the seat of the bike while in mid-air, extended their body full out and remounted the bike to land. That evolved into a ‘rock solid’ which is the same trick, except you let go of the seat — and therefore are completely removed from the bike — before grabbing back onto the seat and remounting to land.
The trick Cook attempted in the X-Games was a rock solid backflip meaning he let go his bike fully extended while doing a backflip.
“You do a backflip and when you’re upside down you grab onto your seat and then completely let go of your bike. Then you grab back on and hopefully come around,” explained Cook. “You’re thinking grab on to the bike and then get the tires down. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get the tires down.”
Cook made his debut at the X-Games last year and is the only Canadian to ever take part in the best freestyle motocross ‘best trick’ competition at the X-Games.
The biggest difference in the sport’s evolution is that the jumps are a lot shorter — they were jumping around 75 feet Saturday compared to a minimum of 100 feet in the early days — but the jumps are a lot steeper and the riders are getting a lot more air.
“It gives us the hang time we need to do the tricks. The zero gravity in the air is the point where you want to be doing your trick,” said Garwasiuk.
While the competitors Saturday made some incredible feats look easy, they quickly admit that the sport is a dangerous one. Before the competition a moment of silence was observed for Jeremy Lusk who died in a crash four years ago to the day of the event.
“It’s not the safest sport around. There’s really a steep learning curve to get to our level,” said Garwasiuk. “Basically between Bruce and I we’ve broken every bone in our body.
“Usually the first question we’re asking when we’re laying in the hospital bed is: ‘How’s my bike?’ and ‘When can I get back riding again?’ We just love the sport.”
Cook was a teenager when he began to learn the ropes on Garwasiuk’s backyard in Kelowna. As he began to learn more tricks and build up his chops, Garwasiuk started hiring him for shows.
“I was 12 years old when I first saw freestyle and saw Kris doing it and I knew it was something that I wanted to do,” said Cook who began riding dirt bikes at the age of five.
Garwasiuk is beginning to wind down his pioneering career. He has become a Canadian champion, he is still the only Canadian to compete in the X-Games in the freestyle competition and he’s been featured in video games.
“I won’t be able to jump my bike forever,” said Garwasiuk. “I would like to get five, six, seven more years out of it and then move in more towards promoting shows. I love the sport and I want to stay in it.”
Love of the sport is what has kept the Craz-E-Crew stunt team on their BMX bikes for more than 20 years. The Ottawa-based team has travelled across the globe and were happy to be in Moose Jaw.
“We’ve been doing shows everywhere and anywhere we can — whether it’s a grocery store parking lot, which is where we started, all the way to Saudi Arabia to do an Eid and Ramadan festival,” said Ben Kaufmann from the Craz-E-Crew who has been to Nigeria, Oman and China as well as across North America performing.
“It’s been a pretty great run.”
Kaufmann has been riding with the Craz-E-Crew for 11 years. They came through his hometown of Kenora, Ont.
“I said ‘can I ride your ramp?’ and they said: ‘Sure, just make sure you wear a helmet and if you crash you’re done.’ I did a couple of tricks and they thought I was pretty good and they asked me to ride in their show,” said Kaufmann. “The rest is history.”
The 28-year-old travels and performs about half of the year and spends the other half of the working in a bicycle shop. He wants to stay involved in the sport. He rides for Norco Bikes and he has been working with them on BMX design.
“We’re really working towards making the best bikes possible,” said Kaufmann. “It’s been a passion of mine to design bikes. I love the engineering. I think at some stage I will stop jumping and start to get into product development.”
Cook won the competition Saturday night, while Foster edged him in a game of H-O-R-S-E where there riders had to match each other trick for trick.