USA BMX Freestyle Plans to Take Amateur Contests to the Next Level

The "path to the top" of competitive BMX has always been a tricky one to navigate, but USA BMX Freestyle is looking to change that. With a proven track record on the racing side and a few guys who know the freestyle game on staff, USA BMX Freestyle is organizing BMX contests across the United States - with additional digital contests through social media - and tracking riders' progression and results to crown champions and recognize talent. We caught up with Tony D and Shane Fernandez - two of the main guys spearheading this operation - for a bit more info on their 2021 plans. 


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For those not familiar, who exactly is USABMX? You're the same group who runs all of the race events in the United States - correct? 

Tony D: Yeah. USABMX is the Racing Association in America for BMX. It’s the largest BMX racing association globally, established 40+ years ago. USABMX and USABMX Freestyle, while different companies and associations, are part of the same parent company. While USA BMX began as an organization to run BMX races, build tracks, and grow the sport of BMX Racing, the end goal has always been to get kids on bikes. 

We have combined racing and freestyle at the same events and, now, we have the opportunity and resources to grow both. 


You guys have dabbled in freestyle before, but it seems like you're now fully committed. Why is being involved in freestyle important to you guys? 

Shane: I’ve always believed that the culture of BMX was a way of life that couldn’t be defined through one single discipline of riding. Some crush it at the tracks, others explore the endless possibilities of the streets, and others shred the parks and pools. We would be hard-pressed to find any BMXer who hasn’t done some combination of them all. The thing that personally draws me to freestyle is the expression and fluidity of it all. Like most things that drive inspiration, freestyle is what the individual rider needs it to be on that given day. I felt that we needed to offer a model for support and engagement for those riders who don’t make it to the tracks. We needed to provide a stage for the freestylers to express themselves through riding and then leverage our network to create opportunities to develop them into the best riders in the world. 

Tony D: Like many things with sports and events, the timing has to be right and you have to have the right people in place with a vision and industry support. I’ve been part of freestyle for a long time and have seen many phases of the sport and, right now, it’s a great time for BMX freestyle with new, young talent. 


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Do you think it's possible to replicate what USABMX has done in racing to park riding? 

Tony D: I think we need to let freestyle sort of create its own path. We are a few digital and one live contest in - and already we’re seeing things evolve with our current members, but also some similarities to what the racing members like as well. I think it’s safe to say we will be flexible, but stick to a game plan and a rulebook so everything stays consistent. 

Shane: Our team is completely aligned with the philosophy that freestyle needs to evolve and remain dynamic. So, the series will always be vetted and revisited to ensure innovation occurs at every opportunity. However, we have to create the same blueprint and alignment for progression that the racing side of our family has done so well over the decades. We have to be the conduit that gives our amateurs targets and milestones to shoot for and to achieve. 

If a rider wants to become a pro someday, USA BMX Freestyle has to ensure that we get that rider on the radar so we can connect them with industry experts that can elevate their potential - coaches, camps, sponsors, mentors.


Your event at Woodward a few months back looked awesome. Tell us a bit about the series you're hosting this year... 

Shane: I can’t say enough about the Woodward team and their passion in assisting us in making the National Amateur Championship happen in 2020. It simply wouldn’t have materialized without them. Everyone was ecstatic to have the opportunity to ride at the mecca and flagship of freestyle BMX. The energy from the riders, their families, and our collective teams was inspiring! 

Tony D: First of all, Woodward was an amazing host at that event. We worked well together to ensure that event happened while staying safe and healthy during the state of the world. Flexibility was a common theme with our members, and we were grateful to host the event with a great partner. Now as we plan for 2021, we’re excited to have a schedule, most of the locations, and a ton of excited riders. We confirmed we will have ten digital state level comps, five live national events at four different locations, and one grand final. There will be state level and national overall age group champions. It’s pretty awesome. I’m stoked about it. 


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Who exactly is this series for and how are the classes broken down? 

Tony D: This series is for anyone from the competitor that is hoping to start a journey to becoming a park discipline elite pro to the amateur that wants the experience to compete and hang with their friends. The event in Woodward further opened our eyes to those two types of riders - and everything in between. We had USA Cycling on hand to answer questions for the riders curious about the Olympic pathway and we were fielding questions about 2021 events and parents telling us how much fun their kids were having. It was a positive experience and certainly fueled the fire to get working on 2021. In regards to the classes for competition, separately, both female and male have their core age group classes - 10 and under, 11-14, and 15 and over. Until there are enough women to create the classes, only men currently have the additional options of Masters - age 40 plus - and expert open - age 15 and up advanced pre-elite level riders.

Shane: Our series was also designed to identify those riders who do not have the network or support to make a live event. In my outreach and research efforts, socioeconomics plays a much bigger role in Freestyle than it does in racing. By design, our virtual competitions empower any rider with access to a phone to introduce themselves to us. I was blown away by some of the videos coming in from riders no one knew anything about. One of our top scores during our 2020 series was a rider whose homemade ramp had grass for all the horizontal transitions. 

My goal is to secure sponsorships in the future to physically assist in getting top contenders to an event if their personal or financial situation at home might not otherwise allow them the opportunity. 


When and where are all of the 2021 events taking place? Why were these locations chosen? 

Shane: It was important to us that we provide the riders, teams, and their families with the best experience possible. Additionally, we also want to support local parks that are the backbone of BMX in their respective communities. Woodward is simply synonymous with the history and superstars of the sport. In terms of rider development, their facilities are legendary with over 350,000 square feet of parks for every rider and all the tools that enable progression. From foam pits and resi ramps to the mini mega, Woodward has it all. If we can align riders with venues that offer them a variety of tools for growth and also bring crowds and opportunities to the more intimate grass-root parks, then we’ve been successful in providing diverse experiences for our members and the surrounding communities. 


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A lot of riders associate racing with being too serious and competitive. What do you anticipate the vibe being like during your events? 

Tony D: I witnessed the vibe first hand - and I still communicate with our members daily. It’s really like any other sport. You have the kids that are there to win, the kids that are trying to figure out where they place against others in their age group, and you have kids there having a good time who could care less about what place they get. The awesome thing was they all got along. They all cheered for each other. They were all each other’s hype man. 


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How are scores kept? Are they accumulated all season long? 

Tony D: We have a data system that keeps all scores, placings, rankings. After the comp - digital or live - the competitors quickly know what place they got, then on the site shortly thereafter these placings are transferred to the rankings page. Each age group - separate for female and male - have their own rankings. At the end of the year, there will be state level and overall national age group champions. 

Shane: Our overarching goal is to give as many opportunities for a rider to compete and engage. We have to remember that the amateurs may not have the means or the freedom to attend every live event. Furthermore, we want to look for the overall trajectory of a rider’s progression trend that year. With our system, the events are weighted with the National Final having the most clout. The structure also accommodates situations where a rider can stay relevant even if they have to miss a live event or if they had a bad run on one particular competition.


Bit of a complicated question, but what's the main goal of your series? 

Tony D: I think the answer changes depending on who you ask - all in a positive way. For me, the main reason is to give riders a solid base and consistent avenue of where to start. Where to go for information. I think the sport is in a good place for pro elite riders. There will be one-off comps, UCI World Cup events, Funding from USA Cycling, X-Games, and more. But, for the ten-year-old or the thirteen-year-old, where do they start? Where do they go for information? That’s what the main goal is for me - to be that place and association where anyone can direct a new or advanced rider to compete or start their journey. 

Shane: Our series was designed by the freestylers themselves. I spent half a year conducting numerous phone interviews and setting up focus groups with a broad range of talent that ranged from Olympians, pros, local amateur teams, manufacturers, and sponsors. I was emphatic that we didn’t create this in a vacuum. There were very distinct and consistent needs, dynamics, and aspirations that became clear. The passion that was conveyed to me by every single participant was inspiring and contagious. So, our goals are simple - provide a blueprint to guide amateur riders in building a career in BMX freestyle, identify and showcase the dark-horses and underdogs of our sport, empower and elevate the riders by aligning them with diverse opportunity, leverage our network to open doors for all skill sets of freestylers, and increase the pool of talent representing the US on global stages 


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If riders want to get involved or parents want to sign up their kids, what’s the move? 

Tony D: We’re very active on Instagram - @usabmxfreestyle. Our website has all the information needed for anyone curious about Amateur BMX Freestyle - USABMXF.com. We reply to DMs or chats through the website pretty quickly, too. I think everything is pretty well outlined on the site. 

Shane: Don’t forget we have a Master’s Class for those parents who still flow! That class was amazing to watch at last year’s National. 


Any final thoughts? 

Shane: As much as we are stoked for the momentum and support from the industries, this wouldn’t have happened without the numerous conversations that so many of our pros, Olympians, manufacturers, coaches, camps, amateur teams, and sponsors were willing to have. We are humbled to be a part of the vision and we are eternally grateful for all of them. 


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