I love nothing more than helping to fulfill a good sports make-a-wish. It’s why I love love loved the Fan Issue and our Fans With Benefits feature, which I hope we bring back some day. (Remember the 2010 Fan Issue? My favorite.) It’s why I loved Mom Make-A-Wish and Dad Make-A-Wish. It’s why I started writing this blog; because one day at Oakland Raiders training camp, I was struck with the realization that on most days, I am fulfilling someone’s sports make-a-wish. This blog is my way to share those experiences.
But sometimes I forget that while I’m living out someone else’s sports fantasy, I’m fulfilling my own, too. Any day when I have the opportunity to learn a new sport, ride with the best athletes in the world or meet new people in my own field qualifies as my own make-a-wish day.
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending two days at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, Calif., riding dirtbikes with the Red Bull crew and a few members of the media. Because there’s no better way to learn and understand a sport than to try it yourself, many companies and magazines in action sports hold ride days throughout the year, be it in snowboarding, motocross, skateboarding or surfing. They invite the media to come out and gain a better understanding of the sports they cover, improve their skills and have fun. I’ve been to a few motocross ride days and have ridden dirtbikes a handful of times while at athletes’ homes reporting stories. But last week was special.
I moved up from a 125cc bike for the first time. I went trail riding. I did a few–okay, more than a few–things that scared me and learned skills I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to learn. I got a bit banged up. And I had so much fun. These days are one of the many things that sets action sports apart from other sports. And they are a wonderfully humbling way to put into perspective just how gifted the athletes we cover truly are and how hard they work at their sports.
These experiences help to create the same type of shortcut we all have in our minds when we see football played at the NFL level or baseball played in MLB. Our minds quickly understand the years of work, training and sacrifice that went into that player becoming who he is, because their stories are so well known and we’ve likely spent time playing their sport at some level. If we didn’t grow up riding dirtbikes, skating or surfing, that’s a shortcut our minds don’t have. Spending a few hours on a bike or a board, seeing a track up close or getting stuck in the mud helps form that same type of shortcut for the action sports elite.
It’s also true that if you were to show up at a moto track in Southern California, chances are good you’ll spot a pro on the course at some point in the day. Show up to skate the Encinitas Y, and Bucky Lasek might drop in next to you. Same if you go for a surf in Malibu or the North Shore of Oahu or snowboard in Park City. The walls dividing the very best from those just starting out often don’t exist in action sports. Now imagine the same being true in mainstream sports. It doesn’t happen. (If you show up at a local basketball court and end up in a game of HORSE with LeBron James, please let me know.)
At ride days, the athletes do more than ride. They instruct, offer tips and encouragement. Red Bull athletes Ryan Dungey and James Stewart came out on day one to do just that, and then gave interviews to preview the upcoming outdoor season. After Friday’s riding session, we toured the X Fighters freestyle course and spent time with the freestyle athletes, who thankfully did not feel the need to hand out lessons.
Then we all parted ways, went home and altered our eBay alerts to include “used dirtbike.”