With a population of less than 300 people, the small rural town of Woodward, Pennsylvania is the unlikely home to the world’s top action sports training facility, Woodward Camp. Originally founded as a gymnastics camp in 1970, Woodward has expanded to include BMX, skateboarding, inline and snowboarding. Every summer, 800 kids ages 7 to 18 pay $1,000 a week to train at Woodward’s facilities. In addition to hosting campers, Woodward has become the home and testing grounds for the top BMX X Games athletes.
Over the past three years, more than 75% of the X Games medals awarded to BMX riders have gone to athletes that have spent at least a summer at Woodward’s facilities. In the case of 37 year old and 8 times X Games medalist Jamie Bestwick, Woodward camp has been his training grounds for the past 10 years. Bestwick, originally from England, is an example of the wave of international BMX riders that are leaving their lives behind to pursue their two-wheeled dreams at Woodward. Other BMX riders like 23 year old Daniel Dhers from Caracas, Venezuela and 25 year old Steve McCann from Melbourne, Australia have also recently made Woodward their home. As evidence of Woodward athletes that have dominated the playing field, one needs to look no further than ESPN’s Summer X Games 14. In the discipline BMX Vert where riders drop into a half pipe structure and perform tricks as they air off the sides it was an all Woodward podium. Jamie Bestwick earned gold, Chad Kagy who has lived nearby Woodward for more than 5 years placed 2nd and Steve McCann won bronze. In BMX SuperPark, Daniel Dhers won his 2nd consecutive Gold medal.
What attracts the riders to camp are the facilities. Woodward adapted gymnastics technology such as foam pits and plastic mats for athletes in 1996. Instead of practicing on solid concrete or wood surfaces where riders are susceptible to injury, the athletes attempt tricks into pool sized pits of foam. After building confidence in the foam, riders can then move onto attempting the trick onto plastic mats called resi mats. Resi mats contain a sponge type padding beneath the plastic so that if a rider falls the impact is less likely to result in an injury. Woodward’s safety tools provide riders with a step by step learning process that enables them to learn tricks fast and free from injury. To enhance these safety tools, Woodward in the past 5 years has also installed a $15,000 video replay system that allows athletes to analyze their tricks. Watching the replays gives athletes immediate feedback about their riding and how to make adjustments. Together, the video replay and the safety tools Woodward provides make it the most innovative training facility on earth.
While Woodward has pioneered innovative solutions to helping riders progress, the camp is surrounded by Amish farming communities that haven’t changed their lifestyle in hundreds of years. According to the Centre County planning office, there are approx. 500 Amish living in the central Pennsylvania region of Penns Valley which includes the town of Woodward. The roads leading to camp are filled with Amish horse and carriages as well as Amish farmers tending to their fields and cattle. Living simple lives, many of the Amish sects are not permitted by religion to use electricity, rubber or drive automobiles. In contrast with the athletes and campers at Woodward who are on the progressive edge of fashion trends and electronics, the area creates an intriguing juxtaposition of the cultures. While interaction between the groups is limited, the region is an interesting mix of two cultures that are very different.
This story is a biography on Woodward Camp and the two opposite cultures that are living side by side as told through the eyes of the world’s top international BMX riders.