For the past three years, BMX riders from across the country and beyond have been making the trek to central Florida in early Spring for the Florideah Swampfest. In the same DIY vein as the Meet the Street, Ghetto Street, and Texas Toast style events of the past, the ethos of Swampfest remain the same, only the setting and theme are uniquely different. The brainchild of Trey Jones, Swampfest is a warm embrace between Florida and BMX. It’s a mix of reckless redneck fun in a swamp and a celebration of freestyle BMX—offering something fun for everyone to ride—regardless of their riding style. Just as long as you don’t mind an abundance of sketchiness and unpredictability with ramps built from pallets, strewn with loose nails and jagged edges, strategically placed water pits along the sides of the trails, or the 80-foot rail across a pit of water with black mud. As if the plentiful hazards of the ramps aren’t enough, there was no shortage of fire, beer, and mayhem abound, as well.
GT has been supporting Swampfest for the last two years and I’ve been fortunate enough to tag along with the team to ride and party in the swamp. Last year we took the pilgrimage route and loaded up two vans and took 95 from Maryland hitting spots along the way in what was dubbed the Vantastic Voyage. This year we heading straight to Swampfest, arriving a day early to enjoy the ramps before all the chaos ensued. Our entourage included GT’s pro squad Brian Kachinsky, Dan Conway, Albert Mercado, and Leandro Moreira, along with GT trip newbies, East Coast street lunatic Mad Mike, Utah all-around BMX bad-ass Tristen Cooper, and the 16 year-old with style you could only be born with, Brazil’s Gustavo Balaloka. Swampfest has come to be one of the definitive can’t be missed events of the year, and here’s a little insight from the crew as to why…
Mike Guth’s maiden voyage with the GT team brought him out of the cold east coast weather to a scrappy ramp paradise. And Mike couldn’t have been more stoked.
Coming from a guy who has his own DIY setup at home and who has undoubtedly ridden some super sketchy street spots, what were your thoughts on the Swampfest obstacles?
First glance was pretty amazing, they had a nice sketchy look and feeling to them, which if you ask me, is way more entertaining than just a normal setup. I think it opens up for more creativity on what you can do. It was nice to get there a few days early and ride them before it got crazy.
Did you have a favorite obstacle?
Yeah, I think my favorite obstacle had to be the van with the roof cut off and the steep transition on one side. I like riding steep quarters and to throw a vehicle in the mix just made it even better. I feel that setups like that are meant more for what you can think of how to ride them, than the actual trick content on it. And personally, I just like riding challenging setups that are crusty and loose.
You rode the Subrosa swamp rail challenge and you made it pretty far. What was it like trying to grind that thing?
Just the site of it was intense. You knew you were gonna have to work for it. I was surprised how far I got on the first go, but it was the easiest try due to I was still somewhat clean. I took my grips off because after my bike hit the mud they were full throttle grip. It got tiring, too, because you had to pedal through sandy dirt. Once I got to the rail I was already half shot, but overall it was a wild experience.
You also rode in the Shadow coffin event and tried to backward grind it…
Well, first go at the 180 pegs was the closest I got. I landed pegs pretty straight, but didn’t have the momentum to make it to the landing. After that… I don’t know, I just couldn’t make it work. It was such a narrow take off to get on it the way I wanted and I just got sent to the ground every time on my back, head, and chest. The last attempt did me in, though, I ripped two of my fingers open—which sucked because the flesh was literally pushing out of my finger. But I gave it what I could and it was for sure a scary setup.
Wasn’t this your first time in Florida and your first trip with the GT team?
This was my first time riding in Florida. I’ve only been to Florida for vacations in the past, so it was nice to finally ride there. Yeah, the first trip with most of the whole team. There was such a great vibe with all of us together it was definitely the best trip I’ve been on yet.
Albert always brings good vibes and his deep bag of tricks wherever he goes, and he may have gotten charged for oversize on his way to Florida.
You’ve spent a fair bit of time in Florida over the years with the Shadow team so you’ve assumingly seen your fair share of Florida weirdness, but how does Swampfest compare?
Swampfest is on a whole other level. I’ve always appreciated all the weirdness Florida has to offer and the event is like Florida times a thousand. Metal music, car fires, darkest mud I’ve ever seen, and tons of freestyle humans getting loose! Definitely a spectacle and I couldn’t even compare it to my past trips to Florida.
Mad Mike, Tristen Cooper, and Gustavo… What was it like meeting and riding with all of these guys for the first time?
I’ve known about Mike for a while and it was awesome to finally meet him. He is a beast on the bike and stands out as a true genuine human. I’ve met Tristen briefly before at the Headlights premiere. We didn’t get much time to chat, but he was sending it on the ramps and it was rad to watch. It was nice to jump in the van with Tristen for the Swampfest trip and get to know him a little better—it’s definitely a blast to be around him and he always has the best trick suggestions. Gustavo is nuts! He goes so high and has a ton of stylish tricks. There is a little bit of a language barrier, but it’s pretty obvious that he is a good dude. He is still so young—the kid has a bright future ahead of him.
The street/ramp area was insane on Saturday… which was more-sketchy, the shoddy ramps or having riders getting loose in every direction?
Both! You had to be really alert while riding out there. You could be cruising at something, get snaked and accidentally ride off a broken ramp into a totaled car [laughs].
There was supposed to be a Boxpalm long jump contest at Swampfest, but it ended up not happening. Why?
It was just a small misunderstanding. The riders started jumping the big chasm jump and the session got super-heated. It was sick to watch everyone sending it. That kind of took up the Boxpalm time slot, but I didn’t mind at all.
How important do you think Swampfest is in the current state of BMX? Or what role does it play?
I can’t speak for the whole current state of BMX. But everyone I’ve had conversations with about Swampfest love it. It’s seriously a good time. I think it plays a good role for the dudes who want to get out there and shred then light some stuff on fire. That’s badass.
Gustavo is a local at Leandro’s trails in São Paulo, which partially explains why this 16-year old has the style and bike control of a rider twice his age. The most recent addition to the GT team made a lasting impression at Swampfest.
You built up a fresh GT Globetrotter frame in Florida and it seemed like it didn’t take you any time at all to get used to it. What was it like to literally build up a new bike on a trip and start riding it?
Incredible, I had never done that. I was very excited and eager to ride my new GT.
What was it like meeting the rest of the GT team for the first time and getting to ride with them?
It was very cool and was a dream come true because I always wanted to ride with an international brand and with an awesome team.
Being only 16, what do your parents think about you traveling to the US to ride your bike?
They support me a lot and they want me to ride a bike for the rest of my life. They have faith in me and in my future as a BMX rider.
You’re a local at Leandro’s trails in Sao
Paulo. Did you grow up riding with him? And what’s it like getting to travel
with him, now and be on the same team?
Yes, I grew up riding with Leandro to this day. It’s very cool traveling with him, always joking and wanting to ride a bike. And it’s really cool being on the same team.
Your first time in the United States was for a BMX Triple Challenge in California, right? How did being in Florida for Swampfest compare?
The BMX Triple Challenge is a very nice championship, but the Swampfest is something you like, it’s crazy to be in that event. I really liked Swampfest!
Who were some other pro riders you were excited to meet/see for the first time at Swampfest?
I was very excited to see and meet Chris Doyle, Mat Hoffman and Trey Jones—that was awesome.
What was your favorite thing you rode while in Florida?
The dirt of Swampfest.
Dan flew in a few days later than the rest of the squad and it didn’t feel like the trip officially started until he got there. Once Dan and his enthusiasm were in Florida it was on. And you already know he fit right in an Swampfest and he brought the Coors to prove it.
You’re quite the BMX historian, who were you the most excited to see at the event?
Man, it’s so tough to just give one answer. It’s seems like the amount of people attending grows significantly every year. I wouldn’t say that there is one person I get stoked to see rather that I know that I will see so many people! So many friends from all over go and I get super hyped when I see on everyone’s Instagram that they’re in route to the fest! You honestly can spend hours just walking around and having the same conversation with people all day. I do get low-key really excited when I see older BMX dudes like Fids, Stew Johnson, and some of the OG FBM dudes, though. It’s so rad seeing them just kick it and getting loose. I have definitely learned over the years to not be shy when you see the people you’ve looked up to over the years in person. Just go up to them and say what’s up! Hell, fan out a little—there ain’t nothing wrong with it, most likely whoever you’re reaching out to is gonna be stoked! This year I did get to meet Peter Adam, and he fucking rules! Such a sick filmer and funny ass dude, too, I’d love to do some kind of riding with him in the future!
You were really hyped on Gustavo, want to talk about the new recruit a bit?
[Laughs] Goooooooose! What a savage, that kid is rad! Just one of those little shits who goes fucking big! I love that he didn’t speak any English and I would just throw some shit Spanglish at him and he would laugh it off and would answer back. I had the dude throwing jokes and pulling pranks in the van within 20 minutes of meeting him. Also, those one-footed table airs he was doing are some next level Chase Hawk shit! Watch out for this fucker! Cheers Goooose!
Was this your first time meeting and riding with Tristen Cooper, as well? I know you were hyped to see him sending it when we rode street the day after Swampfest…
Hell yeah! T- coop came highly recommended by Rob Wise and Matt Beringer. I mean if you have those two guys backing you, you gotta be rad. I like the fact that the dude rides everything. That just makes for a good time no matter where you end up riding. He almost got a chance to do a gnarly gap-to-fire cracker the day after Swampfest when we rode street, but security shut us down. Seriously, imagine if he got that chance to send that! People would have lost it! Fuck yeah, T-coop!
The premiere of the Jimmy Levan documentary Go Fast Pull Up happened during Swampfest weekend, and you could literally hear your excitement while to video was playing. What is your favorite Jimmy memory?
That video was awesome! So sick to see what that dude has done all together in one video. And to hear his story and outlook on riding street. I’ve been a Levan fan since I started riding. I definitely went through a Metal period in my riding. Rocking super tight pants, animal print clothing, and jumping shit to flat! He is such an influence to so many riders in BMX it’s insane. One of my favorite moments has to be that church gap. I once filmed a clip jumping out a window gap with a leopard shirt on. Thanks Jimmy!
You clocked more time on the trails than anything else at Swampfest this year, not a big fan of pallets and loose nails?
Laughs] Not like that at all, last year we showed up to the fest two days earlier so we had the ramps to ourselves for a little while. But this time around I showed up the day of the event and it was hectic! There were so many people riding at once and it gets loose. I’m just not about getting broke because of a collision with another rider. I have a solid crew of dudes from my area that ride trails and they are all rad dudes so I join in on some sessions with them from time to time and I’ve been having fun just jumping the jumps and making it through the different lines. So seeing the jumps at Swampfest that were built to have fun made me want to spend most my time on those. And I got to do an over/under run with Chris Doyle. Completely not planned, but it went down!
What was the craziest thing you witnessed?
I would have to say the floating coffin session. Seeing dudes going for it on that thing was fucked up! Mad Mike just sending that 180 to backward grind with no grips and eating shit multiple time was definitely insane [laughs].
Of all the styles and types of BMX events, what do you think of Swampfest?
I love it! It’s just a good time. It’s not all about riding serious. Even though there are people there who are trying hard—which is whatever—but I enjoy the good times seeing all those great people and watching the madness. Plus, it’s a good time to bring the fam out. You don’t have to be a BMX rider to have a great time there. BMX, good people, cold sodas, and heavy metal! Can’t really go wrong with all that!
With the Portuguese to English language barrier, Leandro lets his riding do most of the talking. And with a snappy style and perfectly executed tricks, it’s an an absolute pleasure to watch him ride.
Although the Swampfest trails are small compared to what you ride back home, what is your opinion on them? It seemed like both this year and last, you were riding them almost non-stop all day…
I really like to ride trails or dirt jumps and the Swampfest vibe is always amazing and the course was so fun. I love to ride trails especially with hips and lines that go different ways. Also, it’s good when I see old friends and ride together.
Most of the time when you travel over to the US, it’s for bigger events like X Games or a Monster contest, how does something like Swampfest compare to those style events?
I love to travel to ride BMX, it doesn’t matter where. So, I like contests, but when I travel just to film or ride it’s more fun. This year and last was amazing being with GT Team at Swampfest—it’s always the best way to start the year.
Beyond riding at the contest, you also got in the van and hit some street spots with the crew. Is that a new thing for you, driving from spot to spot and riding street on a BMX trip?
At my home I am used to driving for street spots, but in a BMX trip, it is new for me. When I travel for riding I am used to riding at trails or bowls (Catty and Posh are my preferences when I stay near to Pennsylvania).
Your little shredding buddy Gustavo made the trek from Brazil with you, too. What was it like for you to basically be BMX dad on the trip?Good question [laughs]. I already traveled with him before and it’s always hard work because I’ve never been responsible for anyone before, but he is a good guy and also now I am training to take care of my son Bruno.
After recommending Gustavo to GT, how’d it feel to see him on the trip, shredding on the new bike, and making friends with the team and so on?
I am very proud that it was done right, also he deserved it, he is a great talent for BMX. It’s good to see him enjoying the trip and having fun. Can’t wait for the next adventure.
Like the many incredible Utah riders who have come before him, Tristen is equally adept at flowing trails, blasting a quarter, or sending it on street. And it showed at Swampfest, with Tristen pulling the double loop, sessioning the trails, and opening up new lines on the street course.
This was your maiden voyage with the GT team?
How was it getting to ride with all the dudes for the first time?
Yes, this was my first official team trip. It was awesome. I had met most of the dudes prior to this trip and had a little intro, but being thrown into the mix of something like that is pretty incredible. I’m stoked on some of the time we spent outside of Swampfest, too. All of the guys were really good to me. I’m excited for what’s to come and can’t wait to do it again.
Tell us about that huge hematoma you got
on your thigh before Saturday.
The hematoma… [laughs]. I believe it was Friday, the first day we were able to ride. I told myself I needed to take it chill, there was so many obstacles that it was almost overwhelming. Anyway, it was about mid to late afternoon, and I had seen a couple of people crowded at the bottom of the loop to open loop. After watching a few guys give it a go, my “chill” was right out the window. My first attempt I nearly made it, just blowing my feet off. The second attempt I transferred too far and ran straight into the lip on the opposite side. My handler bar smashed into my thigh pretty good. I don’t think I realized how serious it was until a day or two later. Luckily, after crashing I was still able to get back up and give it another go, making it happen.
How did you manage to ride with it?
Pushing through the pain and being able to ride was pretty hard—it took a lot of Ibuprofen and ice. Being in a situation like that is tough, all of my new and old friends around, I would have tried to ride even if I had to duct tape myself back together.
What was your favorite
thing to ride?
My favorite thing to ride would have to be the trails—hands down. I love a good trail session, but this was high-energy and loose. The amount of talent around was insane, from Leandro Moreira to Justin Spriet.
What was the sketchiest thing you saw?
The sketchiest thing I saw had to have been the swamp rail. The run-in was total trash, and the way they had the pallets stacked up, you could seriously do some damage! I watched a few guys get melted on it! There was no way my thigh and I were going in the mud.
Brian had to experience Swampfest from the sidelines last year, so he was extra stoked to partake in the sketchy ramp fest and leave his peg marks all over the course.
You were on the sidelines last year at Swampfest with what you described as a broken back, care to elaborate?
Last year’s Swampfest was wild, but I’d have to say I felt a little “held back” (pun intended) because I was just coming off of a broken vertebra in my mid back. I had to be really careful while riding and as you can imagine “careful” and Swampfest don’t really mix. I always like to be a team player so last year I just helped set things up for GT at the booth and made sure I filmed a ton of random stuff with my phone in between catching up with friends and trying to comprehend all the insanity going on around me. So last year I got to cruise the course a tiny bit, but this year was so much better since I was 100% healthy. Riding the rickety ramps was fun and brought me back to when I was young and we’d build ramps with hammer, nails and whatever wood we could find behind dumpsters or at construction sites. Being fully healthy helped me enjoy the experience much more, but I’d have to say, Swampfest is worth going to whether you’re riding or not. It’s just a straight up BMX festival mixed with other various redneck recreation.
How’d it feel to be able to get into the mix this year and actually ride?
It was great and it really took me back to the core of when I started riding BMX. It’s both fun and a bit scary since the ramps might feel slightly different every single time you hit them. This sketchiness is not something I’d want to experience every single time I rode, but in this setting and for this weekend, it was absolutely perfect. After all, I can have just as much fun on a sketchy ramp as I can at a perfect glass-smooth park. A day on your bike is always great, no matter what you’re riding. Plus, mixing in great people, teammates, and friends from around the country/globe is always a recipe for a great time.
Being from what is arguably the birthplace of the sub-rail—the Midwest—what are your thoughts on the sub-rail from Swampfest?
The subrail was definitely a nice throwback. It brought back memories of early 2000s sessions in the Midwest when just about every skatepark had one. This one at Swampfest, however, was unlike any other I’d seen or ridden. It felt like it was ready to topple over at any moment. The first time I rode up the transition I immediately said out loud “Holy shit, that’s sketchy.” I’m pretty sure whomever built that would have thought “mission accomplished.” I didn’t bring back my old subrail moves on that beast, but I was definitely flooded with memories. Thanks Trey!
And speaking about sub-rails, there was almost an impromptu BACO reunion with Dave Freimuth, Chad Degroot, Mike Andrews, and more at the event. When was the last time you saw all of those guys together at a BMX event?
It’s been years! Definitely a decade or more in the making. I’d say that last time I saw all of those legends in one place must have been an old Baco Jam during Halloween at Degroot’s former park, Mesh. It was so amazing to see them all together in one place, celebrating our love for BMX together.
You’ve ridden in countless events, judged contests, and you even put on your own AM contest series, so where do you see something like Swampfest fitting into the big BMX picture. And aside from the sketchiness of it all, what do you think makes it unique?
My mud soaked bike, filthy clothes and dusty nostrils are going to make this statement very ironic but…. Swampfest is a breath of fresh air! Currently in BMX there are some great jams, local contests, huge invite-only televised contests, Olympic qualifying events and more. All of that is great, BMX has grown and evolved into something bigger and crazier than we ever imagined. The current state of BMX is amazing, however, when people talk about BMX being a community/family/culture, it’s events like this that bring us all back to why we started riding BMX in the first place. We didn’t start riding to be on TV, be an Olympian, be famous, gain followers, etc. We started riding BMX because we wanted to let loose on our bikes, have fun with our friends and raise a bit of hell. Swampfest is all of that and more. It’s a real BMX party. As long as events like this exist, the spirit of BMX will never die.
Incase you missed it, or you just want to catch all the action again, check out GT’s video from Swampfest…