Flatland BMX remains an elusive discipline often falsely perceived as a dead sport. It is actually a thriving art form, globally practiced and cherished by tens of thousands. Riders are usually found gliding away at rough parking lots in Canada and America, as well as Europe and Asia’s perfectly leveled granite surfaces and under the scorching heat of South America and Equatorial countries. You can even find flatland scenes in exotic places such as Ghana, Indonesia, or even remote places such as New Caledonia.
This past September, in order to bring riders together in a friendly context, I was mandated to organize a contest at the Octobiker Fest in Trois-Rivières, Québec. This festival brings together families and riders who come to ride the trails and dirt jumps of Energy CMB in a woodsy area and park run by some dedicated and passionate riders half an hour from the city. The event takes place in a small, yet bustling bike event within a music/beer festival setting. Needless to say, it had been a long time since I took part in a local event like this one. The flatland spot was a small skating rink surrounded by forest—which created a relaxed and unique family reunion vibe.
The riders really went at it during the Friday pre-jam, exchanging and pushing each other. The best South American riders from Chile, Brazil and Colombia kept everyone in suspense at what tricks might be pulled out of their sleeves during LAND GAME. LAND GAME is game that consists of landing tricks of any type, if you touch you get a letter, and once a trick is pulled it can’t be repeated by anyone. So the tricks get harder as you go since the easy tricks get done first and cancelled. You gather letters as you touch, you get two tries on your last letter. We were quite a lot of riders so we played the L version with no touches allowed. Bruno Zebu won this one, Jeff Desroche won Best Trick, Benjamin Hudson won the contest in PRO and local rider Étienne Bergeron won the AM contest.
This year, PRO Flatland finals was the last and main event of the festival before the closing artist jumped on stage and sang some heart-warming French-Canadian (Québécois) songs. We were blessed with riders coming from 10 countries, mostly from South America, North America, and Europe. The trip lasted about two weeks for most of these riders. We navigated in a rented, and in part, sponsored 15 passenger turbo charged van, from Canadian nature to downtown Montreal, then Trois-Rivières for the event, but also Quebec City, a cabin in Stoneham half an hour from Quebec City, and also the Flatland Temple of Steve Bergeron in Drummondville. I did my best to provide an authentic experience that the guys would never forget.
Immersed in the contest vibe, I recently started putting some thought into the importance of grassroots events such as Octobiker Fest in the onset of the up and coming/current FISE World Cup & UCI World Championships era. Both grassroots and spotlight types of events are truly necessary for the complete blossom of our sport. Both fulfill indispensable needs of the flatlander that seeks to live from BMX and/or emancipate him/herself as a competitive, artistic or even simply just as a social type of rider within the sport. Both give us things to talk about and things to look forward to. Both create favorites, idols and champions. Both create a bottleneck in and out of which riders flow from to find inspiration and purpose in being part of something greater than themselves.
Enough though about my opinion of the current duality that is blessing our sport. I took the time with riders from eight different countries and backgrounds that took part in my event and I asked them what their perspective is on this matter. I will introduce each one and have them let us know how they feel about the importance of each type of events in the current era of BMX flatland.
I asked all eight riders the same question below…
Flatland is the root of BMX freestyle, yet flatland has been out of the light for two decades since the X Games dropped the discipline. Recently, flatland has once again gained traction in the BMX world by entering the FISE World Series and now the UCI World Championships. How excited are you about that? Also, what role do you feel grassroots events such as this past Octobiker Fest in Trois-Rivières, QC, play in such a polarized game between local rider-run events and big corporate UCI sanctioned contests?
Austin Luberda – USA
Austin has been making noise on the American flatland scene for the past few years, refining his flow and in the process pushing some of his own signature tricks and creating an identity and place for himself at the top of the new school scene in the US. He works as a civil engineer and software developer out of St. Louis, where he also rides year round, sometimes in his church’s gym when the weather gets really bad. With the support of his wife, work and church for his riding, Austin is looking forward to many more years of the practice, competing and putting out some edits for us to enjoy.
I think major contests hosted by organizations such as FISE and UCI give flatland a huge opportunity to introduce the sport to outsiders on a worldwide scale. This is the first time flatland has been given a global audience since the X Games, and this is our opportunity to show the world what this sport is about and how it has evolved over the last few decades. However, this opportunity requires responsibility. Flatland at its core is not based on competition, but was built on community, creativity, determination, and heart. Ultimately, we need to show our audience why we love what we do and present the sport as something others want to be a part of.
I think it’s easy to judge the current state of flatland by looking at the number of currently active riders. Flatland requires an incredibly high level of commitment in order to succeed, and this sport differs from many others in that it’s very easy for beginners to lose motivation. The strength of the sport cannot be measured by number of riders, but on the investment we put back into the sport.
Large events with the help of FISE and UCI will expose the sport to many that otherwise may never have been exposed to, but in order to truly grow the sport, localized flatland communities must be involved. Grassroots style events, like Octobiker Fest, are one of the most important aspects to the health of the global flatland community because this is where inspiration happens. It’s so difficult to stay disciplined without the support of a flatland community behind you, and attending grassroots contests and events is the best way to get involved. Major contests may spark interest in new riders, but it’s up to the community to step up and encourage them to push themselves to their limit. Personally, my local riding community is what kept me motivated to keep pushing myself through the years, and I have them to thank for the riding I have achieved thus far.
Flatland is in our blood. With or without major contests, the sport will go on by those that are currently invested in it. But with these contests and support from grassroots events, we can show the world the depth of this sport and what is capable when an individual is fully committed to their riding.
Bruno Zebu – Brazil
You will rarely find someone who has refined front wheel riding to the cutting edge of modern frontwheel flatland like Bruno Zebu. He has pushed certain frontwheel back to back combos (for example, making five tricks blend into one with no dead moment) further than anyone I have seen on the frontwheel to this point. Not only has Bruno beaten cancer, but he crushed it gloriously. He is on a winning streak in his region of the world and we all look forward to what he has in store for us. He lives in a region where the heat is so intense he wakes up to ride early before the heat kicks in and then goes to work.
Ahh, first of all I have to thank you for everything I witnessed on this trip to Canada! It was my first time visiting the country and getting 2nd place at the event was sensational for me! The vibe of the event, the organisation and having a large audience throughout the weekend were all things that I will always remember because I had a lot of fun. Jean William Prevost took care and put a lot of effort into the Flatland part of the event. I have to say thanks for making that for us, bro. I’m sure all the riders loved it!
To be honest, I was very excited when I saw our discipline gaining a prominent position again with the UCI. I believe this will greatly benefit the sport, that it will open doors for potential sponsor—especially by increasing the number of people interested in it through what TV and what the media can provide. I can say this from personal experience since I was one of those boys, who 20 years ago, at the swimming club while changing in the locker room, I first saw the B3 TV transmission on ESPN channel where you could see an incredible run from Day Smith. That paralyzed me and that’s when flatland got me. A few years later I started riding and I never stopped since.
I also see the importance of events that are not necessarily world stages like those at UCI. They take the sport to different places and audiences who may not have otherwise had contact with the sport. I have never been to any UCI events, particularly, so I don’t have a bigger picture of what it’s like to be there, (it’s in my plans) but I think it comes as a benefit to the sport, and this is something any sport would benefit from. My country, Brazil, is known as the country of football, so I see here, how a sport with open doors in many segments, holds up spectacularly and I hope one day to see something similar with BMX flatland. We can already see something like it in Japan, I think, with flatland schools and many young kids riding so good. If this can happen there, then it can happen in other countries, too.
Jean-François Boulianne – Canada
JF has been riding for some 20 years, he has traveled extensively, including doing shows in China as well as competing around the globe. He’s also worked on and off as a manager at Marseille bike shop. He now runs a bmx show company based out of Montréal, Québec. You can find him at our local Chinatown spot or at diverse local and regional festivals doing shows during summer. In winter you’d better head south of the border to find him in a warm country putting in some practice.
I would like to say that I am beyond happy that BMX flatland is getting exposed in more important and official events. Flatland riders, to my eyes, truly are top athletes. The amount of training, discipline and sacrifice needed to become a pro rider is beyond imaginable and should be compared to that of top tennis professionals.
The sport deserves to be presented at the UCI World Championships and in future Olympics, not because it’s gaining popularity among the youth (these days people/kids/teens seem to be more interested in instant gratification) but because it’s such a beautiful combination of physical, emotional and artistic expression of a human being on a bike. What I mean by this is that BMX flatland should be respected and taken really seriously in these big events—and all the time. If I get more into the details, I’m also talking about the judging, the performing área, and time schedule as things that should be respected, equal and on point for all the people involved inside and outside of the flatland community and upmost by everyone (judges, athletes, sponsors, organizers) in the community.If we want respect from the global sport community and officials, we need to respect ourselves.
Local events such as Octobiker Fest are to me what flatland is at the core, a family gathering. Smaller events are in place to strengthen the bond between every rider from all parts of the world. In my opinion riders should not only ride and compete together, but they should also travel, eat and participate into other activities and be challenged as a team. This is how you learn about someone’s personality, style and how they reflect it through their bike skills. As a hardcore athlete in training and riding as myself, I find this is how I come back home with new love for riding and for the sport itself. Grassroots events unite riders from all over the globe and keep the spark alive. Thanks for reading and for the chance to express myself.
Benjamin Hudson – Chile
Chilean, Santiago, bred Benjamin Hudson left home at 18 years old to do shows in Beijing in an amusement park for six months. He then pursued a trip through South America from Chile to Colombia by car with our friend Taku and I, he then returned to China for a second contract at Happy Valley. At his return he was picked up by Chile Redbull and has since been travelling to contests worldwide, he placed 3rd overall at the Fise World Series in 2017 and is now working on various personal flatland related projects in Chile. You may remember him from his breakthrough video Against The Current or more recently from a collaboration with Sevisual titled Done Deal.
First of all, since we are on the topic of contests, I would like to give my general opinion. Flatland is not an “extreme” sport, so whether it’s a UCI or a grassroot contest, they both should showcase flatland in a way the crowd can understand it and see the beauty and technique of it creating a context for the sport that in my opinion is similar to dancing or freestyle futbol setups. Real City Spin, Flat Ark, Redbull Circle of Balance are good contest examples for what I mean. As you mentioned with the X Games dropping flatland, I think this was one of the reasons… Flat was out of context, so I hope organizers won’t make the same mistakes in the future.
About the UCI taking flatland into the World Championships, I got to admit I’m very curious to see how it is going to be and since it’s such a new thing I just hope for the best outcome, that meaning, have official recognition from the bicycle federation or the sports department in the riders county and being able to actually work together and have a dialogue to make the sport grow. Now it has been a bit hard for me since the bicycle federation in Chile has been going through some trouble for a few years, so the paperwork to register wasn’t easy to get. We will see how it goes after this first World Championships.
Grassroots events like the Octobiker Fest represent an essential part of the sport, where you can get together with riders from all over the world and have fun riding. Even though it’s a contest, there’s a different vibe, almost no stress. This kind of event keeps the flatland spirit alive, it’s where riders enjoy themselves the most, they take place in the smallest cities and in many countries, so it gives the chance to riders that can’t travel too far, and especially for the ones in novice and expert class. It’s great to talk about this subject, I think both kinds of contests are needed and compliment each other as long as the general vision of the sport is aligned.
Dan Hennig – Germany
Dan Hennig was born in Germany on the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall before its fall. He had a tough childhood that lacked guidance during which he took a path that may have led to self-destruction. In the car coming back from FISE AL-HASA in Saudi Arabia as we were heading to the airport, he told me BMX saved him from his wrong-doings as he discovered the sport and slowly pushed the barriers holding him back to fulfill a dream of traveling the World on his bike. He is currently based in Switzerland and making a living from doing shows for corporate events and diverse venues and festivals. Find him at home killing the spot in front of the Zurich opera or at his private spot during winter.
My BMX story began with the Barcelona X Games in 1999 when I first saw BMX flatland on Eurosport, a European TV channel. I was 16 years old at the time and on the lookout for something special. A sport where I’m my own boss and have the freedom to do what I want.
The intricate tricks and way of moving on a bike left me more than just a little impressed, and from that moment on, I felt I had found the sport I’d been looking for. My dream of becoming a BMX pro and competing at the X Games started that very day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a possibility for me because X Games dropped BMX flatland shortly thereafter.
When I heard that BMX flatland might become an Olympic sport, I thought it was a good thing for the sport we all love so much because I think it’s every athlete’s dream to take part in the Olympics at least once. Joining the Olympics would naturally give BMX flatland a great opportunity to grow, which I personally think is a very good thing. It’s fantastic that people are recognizing the potential of BMX flatland and acknowledging how much work, love, and passion goes into it. Of course, we can only achieve this together, because together we are strong, and that unified strength propels the sport. Maximum respect and kudos go out to all riders, organizers, sponsors, the UCI Bicycle Federation and all others who work in close collaboration to make this great sporting event possible.
I have been riding BMX for 20 years now and love all the smaller jams and tournaments. You can clearly feel the difference between a big, officially sanctioned tournament and a smaller, rider-led one, but that doesn’t mean the small tournaments are worse, not at all, just that the pressure at big events is a lot higher. I like the variety both events bring. The vibe of the small tournaments, where it’s more about having a good time on the BMX bike, allows me to enjoy the time with my friends just a little more. These jams have created a close-knit community where everyone looks out for each other. A big shout out to my BMX friend Jean William Prevost for the great organization, hard work and love he invested in the Octobiker Fest in Quebec, Canada.
Barre Neyrinck – Belgium
Barre resides in a partially self-renovated centennial house surrounded by golden fields in a beautiful rural town bordering the city of Kortrijk in Belgium called Geluwe. He skillfully juggles between doing flatland shows, working in construction and taking care of his beautiful wife and kids. I told him about my plan to organize this event and he basically booked the ticket instantly in support of my endeavor! Thanks homie!
In 1997, I started riding BMX freestyle. I’m from the generation that grew up with The X Games. I had no teacher, so in the beginning the pause button on the VHS player was very useful in analysing the rider’s tricks and techniques. The X Games showed me and many others a type of freedom that you could only achieve on a BMX. That gave me the boost to ride. Seeing flatland for the first time was mind-blowing. Although flatland was out of the X Games, the love remained strong between the riders. It was just another obstacle we had to overcome, I guess we took it as an opportunity to explore other venues. If you look at the last two decades, a lot of flatland contests have been organized by riders all over the world. We’ve stayed true to our roots; having fun connecting people from all over the world, sharing knowledge and new techniques. Most off all, we kept riding, chasing our dream tricks, progressing and evolving as a lifestyle and sport/art form. We’ve come to a point where the sport had gone full circle as we our heading back towards being involved in big events like FISE World Series and the UCI World Championships giving us once again the opportunity to evolve and show the world what we are made of on the big stage.
We already have an interesting history and lifestyle, plus the underground is still alive and kicking. Now as a rider you can find support from the government as a professional athlete. I see but a positive side to all of this; new faces appearing on the contest scene, people getting opportunity to compete around the globe without necessarily spending all their savings. Coaches are starting to get involved helping the riders physically and emotionally. We are gaining more knowledge on how the body works, so we can maintain a healthy and balanced training program. Riders become coaches, leading the way for the new generation. Behind the scene passionate individuals are pushing hard to bring that new part of BMX to the game and try to keep it as authentic as possible. We all know the more players get involved in the business, the more complex things will get. So I hope the riders and the conditions they need—such as a flat and grippy floor—will always come first for the organization, instead of the big sponsors, so this new part of BMX can continue to grow strong.
In the end we have a choice, to choose to see it as a positive or a negative evolution. Everything has its pros and cons, it’s the way we interpret things that gets us lost in our own reality. There is always more to the story than our own mind. I strongly believe the roots and knowledge for BMX will always be available in the streets, where it all started. Events such as Octobiker Fest in Trois-Rivières are a perfect example of the embodied essence of a BMX flatland event. Jam vibes with all the riders, meeting legends in the game, seeing friends, meeting new riders, session together and express our way on our bikes. Getting advice from riders so you can progress faster and better. Finding your own flow or tricks. Being inspired and hyped up by new links going down on the spot even before the contest has even started. The vibe between riders, spectators and Dub on the mic was purely electric.
We all felt included in the movement and shared our common love for flatland. These types of event are still needed, even more than ever as it keeps the underground scene alive and us closer to our roots so we can maintain the know-how and fraternity of flatland in its purest form. Flow, originality and balance with an open-mind.
Felipe Montagne – Cotsa Rica
Felipe, also known by his friends as “Pino”, currently resides in beautiful Barcelona. He is a professional cook who had made a name in Costa Rica, though recently moved to Spain with his wife. He spends his days working at a booking agency and rides as much as possible on those pristine flat Barcelona floors! Pino can seem laidback, but always attentive, and he will twist anything into one of his beloved comedies!
I’m super happy that flatland is back on large scale events such as FISE and UCI series as it provides a base where flatland can be showcased to a much larger and broader audience on a regular basis. This constant exposure of flatland brings a sense of increased legitimacy of the sport to the general public and brings support from organizations which would otherwise not support the sport or its athletes.
I believe grassroots events are essential for the healthy development of flatland as they promote contact between riders of all skill levels on a fun, familiar and relatable manner and therefore, creating positive experiences for everyone participating in the event as well as the audience.
Juan Camilo Niebles – Columbia
I met Juan at the second edition of a contest series named Real City Spin I put together from 2014 to 2016. That year when he first came to Canada, he tore some ligaments in his knee at a jam with us in Chinatown. He couldn’t compete nor could he ride much until even the next year. Through rehab and the will to get strong again he was able to find strength again in his leg and fulfill a contract of shows in China in 2018 following his surgery. Juan recently found support from his local government and made his way to Chengdu for the Worlds. He is currently the best rider out of Colombia and one of the best riders in South America.
I have been riding flatland for the past 11 years and chose this sport as my life project. Being a rider from South America, it is really difficult to get sponsorships and money to participate in international competitions such as FISE, the UCI World Championships or other important competitions around the world. Therefore, it is very important and positive that flatland and BMX in general are getting better organized in the way that FISE and the UCI are doing, these organizations are creating platforms for flatland to grow and for the athletes to be seen in a more professional light. Thanks to this it has made it a little easier for me to get support from private companies and even from the government of Colombia, which is very complicated. In my opinion, if the sport continues to take the direction it is currently taking, it will be much easier for future generations to become professional athletes and to be able to live off the sport. For me this situation is like a window opening to make my dreams come true.
Contests like Octobiker Fest keep the essence of our sport alive. The kind of moment when you forget you’re in a competition, where you share good moments with your friends and can easily connect with the spectators. This type of vibe is what keeps our sport alive, this is what the local competitions make me feel. That is why local competitions should never disappear.
With a sense of pride and love for my community, I find much relevance taking part in having the flatland riders speak their minds more in depth about the topics that concern us. Up to this point I had an awkward feeling about how some may have felt about our current status as a UCI sanctioned sport. It seems pretty straightforward now, reading our friends from around the World, that there is a thirst for growth and an overall excitment that has taking them/us over a the thought of our discipline going legit. Surely, we are heading in a positive direction, we just need to make sure the system is as democratized and that the players can be heard within the process, in order to place the right people in power to take the decisions for the sport and riders respectively. It is now obvious that both types of contest can coexist, where one promotes it’s culture and family ties and the other creates a platform for opportunity and visibility. Let’s continue to forge the shape of our discipline with all our energy and show the World what we are about! I love to see flatland stand for itself and build it’s own identity. We ride flatland for we stand out as individuals, let’s keep the flatland as authentic as possible for the sake of it’s current and future generations.