On Thursday, a new type of BMX event debuted in Times Square in New York. Dubbed "Air In The Square" and produced by MSG Action Sports and ASA Entertainment, the event was a modified version of the MegaRamp competition made popular by the X Games. Consisting of a 25-foot roll in, two huge box jumps, and a small (by MegaRamp standards) quarterpipe, the ramp was designed to place a greater emphasis on horizontal air than vertical air -- as was the judging criteria. In BMX, where there are more riders able to tackle big box jumps than there are with the vert skills required to hit the quarterpipe, events like this could open up Mega-style competition to a whole new group of riders.
Riders, for example, like Jed Mildon.
Last month, New Zealand's Mildon made BMX history by landing the world's first triple backflip on a BMX bike. The trick was landed in Mildon's hometown of Taupo, on a purpose-built ramp that consisted of a 66-foot high roll-in into an 11-foot-high kicker, stretching 43 feet to a landing built specifically for his jump.
Accolades quickly followed. The video went viral (to date, it has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube), and barely a week after the video debuted, Mildon found himself answering an email from X Games BMX organizer Mat Hoffman about the prospect of him taking his triple backflip to X Games 17's BMX Big Air contest.
Mildon didn't receive an outright invite to X Games 17, though. Instead, he was encouraged to enter the MegaRamp Championship Series opener at Woodward West in Tehachapi, Calif. on June 9. Hoffman and X Games organizers would be assessing Mildon's performance on both the jump and the 27-foot-high quarterpipe -- a ramp Mildon had no prior experience riding.
Mildon arrived in Los Angeles on June 7, just 10 days after landing the triple backflip. Two days later at Woodward West, he landed another world first: a double backflip over the 70-foot gap. He reportedly didn't fare as well on the MegaRamp quarterpipe, finishing eighth overall in a field of 10 riders.
The X Games Big Air format presents an interesting paradox. A lot of riders can handle the 50- and 70-foot gaps with style and tricks, but not many riders are experienced with airing the monstrous quarterpipe at the end of the ramp. But scoring for MegaRamp competitions are equally based on both the gap and the quarter, and we've seen what happens when riders shred the one but not the other: their scores suffer. This happened with Anthony Napolitan, who made history at X Games 15 by pulling the world's first double frontflip over the gap, but failed to medal in the event when he couldn't hold his own on the quarter.
This leaves Mildon with a decision to make. Does he practice riding MegaRamp, get a better feel for the quarterpipe and adapt alongside the current crop of competitors stepping up to the big ramp, which includes Austin Coleman, James Foster, Colton Satterfield, Ben Snowden and Coco Zurita?
Or, does he develop his own concept, which he calls the "Mega Mega Box"? Basically an expanded version of the jump on which he did his triple, the Mega Mega Box ditches the quarterpipe altogether and focuses on three jumps in a row that go from 50 feet to 35 feet to 20 feet.
"X Games MegaRamp to me was designed to go long and fast. The concept of the Mega Boxes is to go up! This in turn creates a point of almost weightlessness at midheight," explains Mildon. The setup he describes has more in common with traditional dirt jumps, which are steep and short and create a natural rhythm of airs.
Focusing on the Mega Mega Box would likely mean forgoing an X Games invite anytime soon. But the concept could potentially open up BMX Big Air competitions to a whole new field of competitors -- riders like Ryan Nyquist, Jaie Toohey, Brett Banasiewicz and Dennis Enarson.
"It will bring the dirt dogs back into the X Games," Mildon suggests.
But does the current crop of MegaRamp competitors want its discipline to move in a different direction? "There could be some fun in that setup, but the ramps need to change," says two-time X Games Big Air champion and vert veteran Chad Kagy, before adding, "Riders need to learn to ride a real quarter."
Mildon, for his part, doesn't necessarily agree. The ramps, as he envisions them, are plenty cool without a quarterpipe. "It's an unreal feeling and opens all the doors for unlocked tricks!" he says.
Those are two distinctly different visions for BMX Big Air; one with an established presence in the competition landscape and the other with potential to shake things up considerably. Where things go from here is anyone's guess.