Dakota Roche is sat in the Monster Energy cab at this years’ Battle of Hastings, broad shouldered and smiling.
Ten minutes before, on the main drag through Hastings, swirled in the wind and rain, a concrete box met me. An alien against the medieval churches of this old town.
Even stranger, with its stark, brutalist edges, when compared to the nostalgic and unkempt seaside buildings rattling away on the other side of the road.
Inside, away from the chopped up sea, you spiral downwards into a labyrinth of corridors and staircases, all of which lead to Source Park and the biggest BMX event in the UK.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen, honestly” Roche says. “But I can promise you it’s gunna be out of hand.”
The Monster Energy rider wasn’t wrong.
Larry Edgar and Finals Day
After the practice and qualifications on Saturday, the Battle of Hastings 2017 moved to a completely different level on Sunday. The world’s best BMX riders, peaking on finals day, riffing their way through Source Park’s off-white bowls and tacked on street circuit.
Looking down on the park, amongst the fans, and to the sound of a thousand hands beating on the plastic side panels, Larry Edgar sat alone.
Recognised as one of the best riders in the world, Edgar went into the competition as one of the clear favourites. He won it last year. That day, though, he looked tired. Lines cracking over his classically American, expressive face.
“I’m not happy with how I rode,” he said, eating cous cous from a plastic bowl. “It could have been better so I’m just waiting to hear if we made the finals.”
They did. And it was Team Edgar’s ride in the video below that provided one of the highlights of the whole weekend. His insanely talented team of Broc Raiford, Justin Spriet and Matt Cordova were all individually brilliant in their own way.
And that’s what you realise about BMX up close; it’s an art, a form of individual expression that pushes way past the realm of just another action sport.
There are athletic, precise and explosive riders, of which Edgar is probably the best. Lightning flying to the ceiling, testing the vertical limits of their sport.
Back below, a different current, where fluid riders bring their bikes as a second thought. At one point, with Jason Watts in mid air, I noticed time standing still, watching from the corner, having a beer with the rest of us.
“BMX is definitely another outlet for expressing yourself,” Roche says. “When I’m home I like to work with wood and I also skate, and along with BMX they all kind of benefit one another. So I could be in my workshop, working with wood, and I’ll start having an idea about a BMX trick. I think it’s important to have different outlets.”
Some BMX riders express themselves in a way that makes you wonder what kind of danger we’d all be in if they had never found the sport.
“Yeah,” Roche says. “Definitely some people have a wild compound that comes out in BMX. Like they can be really chill in everyday life and then all the craziness in them is let out on their bikes.”
You can kind of see that with Kevin Peraza, although his craziness is refined. He rides tightly measured, concentrated, operating somewhere near the eye of the storm.
Team Enarson Winners
The eventual competition winners were Team Dennis Enarson (Dennis Enarson, Chad Kerley, Garrett Reynolds and Alex Haim).
Chad Kerley set the tone for that team. He’s another rider with an unmistakable style, throwing his bright white bike around the bright white lights at Source BMX. It’s all power and finesse, physically ripping the bike onto his preferred lines along the course.
Team Edgar in second and Team Kyle in third rounded out the top three.
Later that night the Nora Cup kicked off. The ‘Oscars of BMX’ had never been held in the UK before, but the winners and events of that night have already been widely reported by people more expert than me. Dirtbiker Livetoride.
Before the gongs were handed out, at The Castle, Hastings, the world of BMX sat and stood to watch Beyond, Dan Lacey’s Monster Energy video.
Lacey was hit badly by injury, and this video was a long time coming. In the bar, later that night, you could see the relief he felt after getting it out. The boy from Hastings done well. During the video, every rail and stair set was cheered loudly by the sports’ biggest names.
You could feel the collective understanding, that this is hard work. That BMX is hard, that it’s art, and that good art is precious to people who can see it.