Twenty firsts -- Zack Warden, Mega pioneer
Long before he ever thought about dropping in on the MegaRamp, much less throwing an unprecedented bikeflip backflip to late tailwhip over its 70-foot gap, Zack Warden says he started where all BMX riders start.
"The first ramp I remember hitting was a milk crate with a piece of plywood and some bricks under it to keep the wood from bending, and that's all it took to get hooked," he remembers. "God, I don't know how many hundreds of times I must have dragged that thing out and hit it, thinking I was getting some serious big air."
It wasn't until a few years later that he'd start hitting his first proper BMX jumps and start messing around in skateparks and vert ramps, and a few years after that before he finally psyched himself up to try riding on the MegaRamp, but in each case the sensation and the motivation has been the same: Warden's always loved getting as much air as possible and figuring out how to make the most of it.
Still, Warden says the MegaRamp has been incredibly humbling for BMX riders. While some very young skateboarders have stepped to it with great success, the combination of a big scary roll-in, 50- to 70-foot gaps, and massive quarterpipe have had the effect of weeding out all but a handful of seasoned BMX pros. It's a lot harder to ditch a bike than a skateboard when things go wrong, as they tend to go on the MegaRamp. A lot of the top BMX vert and park pros won't go near the thing.
"The first time I showed up at a MegaRamp was for a BMX session Mat Hoffman got together at Bob Burnquist's ramp, and I remember just completely freaking out," he says. "That first day I got too scared and just sat down and watched. The next day I tried not to psych myself out and just went straight up the tower and went for it first thing. It was the most incredible sensation. I knew, as soon as I'd cleared and landed that gap, that it was going to blow open the doors for all kinds of tricks we'd been dreaming of."
For Warden, training at Woodward West provided the critical next step to making those dreams possible. Foam pits, resi mat landings, and the first MegaRamp open to the public have helped fuel progression in the sport, and it was there that Warden began working on variations of the bikeflip he'd previously made into a signature of his BMX Park runs.
"I went into 2013 just playing around with different tricks," he says. "It's not like I had a game plan to come in and throw a bikeflip backflip at X Games. I just started messing around until I got the hang of it, and a few weeks later, at X Games Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, I figured, "why not?'"
Warden won gold in Brazil, but left with a wild thought in his head: after bringing that bikeflip backflip around, he still had plenty of air time. At the next Big Air event in Barcelona he threw the trick again. Then, in what seemed almost like an afterthought, kicked a late tailwhip around before re-entry, landed it clean, and boosted an effortless triple tailwhip on the quarterpipe for punctuation. His friends and competitors went bonkers.
"That's the thing that's always been special for me about BMX and especially among the Big Air guys," he says. "Everyone wants to see everyone else do their best and keep bringing something new, and so even though everyone's shooting for that top spot, they're also rooting for each other. You never want to see anyone go down, or go off on a stretcher, so you're always cheering for everyone else."
Even after watching the video over and over in slow motion, it can be hard to piece together everything going on the bikeflip backflip to late tailwhip. Warden's tried to wrap his brain around some of the physics behind it, but says ultimately it comes to down to feel.
"When I take off from the lip, the first thing I'm thinking about his getting the bikeflip around. Once my feet hit the pedals, that's the point I know my body's coming around and I'm not going to land upside down, and from there it's just a matter of getting the bike lined up right. Once I've got that, if it seems like I still have time, I'll kick the tailwhip around at the last second."
Got all that? Warden says he had some new tricks he'd been planning to bring to X Games Austin, but will have to sit on them until next year.
"Unfortunately I won't be able to compete in Austin, which is a bummer because I've now won five medals in a row at X Games," says Warden, who had six pins and a plate put in his right knee after a tibia injury in April while messing around on the dirt trails at Woodward West. After six weeks of physiotherapy he's just starting to be able to put weight on it again. "But I'm looking forward to helping hand out the medals and being there to cheer on the rest of the guys."