Kris Fox - Southbound In Big Blue
Australian BMX Rules
Words and Photos by Kris Fox
I remember finding myself sitting behind a beer in the local pub with my Australian brother Jason Watts. It was near the end of an epic summer. Suddenly he leaned over and asked me, “If I buy a bus and start my own BMX/Whiskey tour back home, will you come along? It’ll be nothing but good times, mate. Bikes, babes, beers, and bowls…”
“Hell yes I will,” I replied.
He smiled and nipped from his glass of whiskey. “On’ya, champion.”
The next day I waved him off at Los Angeles International and as the months crawled by with us on opposite sides of the globe I remained adamant about coming over as soon as I found out he had bought a bus. I decided to keep my passport handy for the fact that I could distinctly remember the physical passion beaming from his eyes about it all. When a maniac as such gets a plan lodged into their brain I knew it was imminent I would be on that 11:00 PM flight from LAX to Brisbane at one point or another.
Then on January 5th a photo dropped into my phone of a blue and while Australian tank with a colossal steel bullhorn flexing up to the base of the windshield, and the timing was impeccable. The first stop of the Vans BMX Pro Cup in Sydney, Australia was just around the corner at the beginning of March, and with that element there was no way either of us were going to sleep on the opportunity. We loosely decided upon myself flying in early to road trip ten hours South along the coast of Australia from Brisbane to Sydney in hopes of catching the contest. Maybe we would make it, yet on the flip of the coin maybe we wouldn’t. Hell, I thought, we might drop the bus’s guts in the middle of the road somewhere between Nimbin and Port Macquarie. All Jason seemed to care about was that it would simply make for a damn good story either way, which was a valid enough excuse for me to catch a flight to the other side of the globe. Soon enough the heart of February crawled into view. I compiled my travel necessities and departed LAX somewhere near midnight, just like I knew I would be doing all along.
Now every time my bike begins dragging me around the globe I always end up with a deep-rooted feeling that it’s for some higher reason I can’t seem to grasp in the moment, and this time was no different. And with that being said I don’t mean in the context of contest results or heavy clips. Contest results and heavy clips come if they’re meant to come, and during the sparse times that they do decide to come, they don’t seem to be in any rush. So in a sense, there’s no need to sweat that stuff. However, it’s no secret that simply being a human isn’t the easiest job in the world. Whether it’s heath issues, relationship issues, or the times of the month when cereal is eaten out of Tupperware containers and the moldy pieces are picked off the bread. Or maybe it’s something else unfathomable beyond the daily nagging of normal everyday life. That’s where something as simple as a bicycle comes into play. A bicycle is constantly molding me as a human, just like a guitar would mold a musician. I personally happened to be born into Southern California culture, and although I love it to pieces at its core, there is no escaping the reality of it being a melting pot of superficiality on the outside. I live in the demented feeding grounds of the false promises supplied by the American Dream, and with now day’s social media advancements, it’s hard to ignore the pressures of living up to something everyday at the blistering pace of fifteen second increments. There’s always something that needs to be done, something that needs to be seen, something that needs to be liked or shared, and if these requirements don’t happen a feeling of being nudged aside and blotted out seems to consume a vast majority. It’s as if our distorted value of living as a human has surpassed needing to pump the accelerator of our exotic sports car down Main Street to please our existence, now we have to present ourselves pumping the accelerator of our exotic sports car down Main Street hourly to the cyber world. And if we can’t present it hourly to the cyber world then with think we’re not cutting it. The human ego is poisonous. Now with all that being said I hope this doesn’t come off as myself smashing on people, I personally love people. I just happen to simply think that we’re collectively not as cool as we all think we are. We need to chill.
"Now with all that being said I hope this doesn’t come off as myself smashing on people, I personally love people. I just happen to simply think that we’re collectively not as cool as we all think we are. We need to chill."- Kris Fox
Of course it’s all a state of mind. As for myself the claws of all these false American Dream promises used to have a slight grip on me years ago when my brain was in it’s youthful developmental process, but throughout my maturation process thanks to my bike dragging me around the globe I have grown to see past it all. I’ve grown to see that all of the truth in life is buried in the cracks of all the excess instantaneous crap that’s shoved into our faces every waking moment. I’ve grown to realize that it’s vital for a human to dive into the world and physically search for what they believe in. So when I landed in Brisbane and caught a glimpse of Jason buried in chords, inhaling plumes of sawdust, sifting through piles of timber, his phone with a shattered screen only being used for belting Black Sabbath through a set of portable speakers, all while sweating his nuts off in the blistering heat as he frantically finished off hand building the countertop of his in-bus whiskey bar I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be. One of my best friends from the opposite side of the globe had made a dream of his into a reality, and it wasn’t for likes, shares, or dreams of social status. It was as pure and as true as it could get, and I was honored to be on the maiden voyage. I celebrated by cracking open a cold one with Mum, Granddad, and Neal – AKA my Australian family.
The next day the two of us set sail in Big Blue with Jason as the Captain. About two minutes into our ten-hour journey the radio cut out. Then a couple miles later the cabinet doors snapped off vomiting our food all over the floor, so we fixed them back on with duct tape and bungee chords. Once we were back on the road it became evident quickly that she had a chronic grind from 4th to 3rd, and at one point on a main highway with dense midday traffic she wouldn’t budge back into gear. So Jason had to neutral drop and cut a couple of lanes at a snail’s pace to the side of the highway where he finally punched her back into 2nd and hammered the throttle. However, with the heavy task of getting that colossal beast road ready in only a couple weeks notice on Jason’s shoulders, things couldn’t have gone any smoother. All of these hiccups were trivial. When in gear Big Blue’s giant engine was roaring directly under our seats. We rolled the windows down and she began cutting down the highway toward the Gold Coast like a primeval pirate ship through calm waters.
Boyd Hilder and Jacman Hinss happened to be making their way down to Sydney in Boyd’s van, so we linked up with them in the Gold Coast. This meant Big Blue now had a road companion on the climb into Nimbin. During my prior visits to Australia I had never made it into Nimbin, so the only depiction I had of the place was from what Jason told me: “Mate, you’ll love it. It’s a small hippy town up in the hills with one of the best bowls in the world.”
He wasn’t lying. For one, I’m fascinated by the late 1960’s counterculture movement that went down in San Francisco, so Nimbin was undoubtedly the closest I was ever going to get to a contemporary Haight-Ashbury feel. Cannabis and assortments of hallucinogens seemed to be oozing from the pours of every local cruising down the main drag and cellphone cameras were daintily shoved in their direction by every uprooted tourist trying to document it all. Beautiful makeup-less backpacking women pranced around in every direction. Reminders of Peace & Love were painted over potholes and other areas of vehicle destruction in the streets. I reclined shirtless in the passenger seat and took it all in. Then Big Blue suddenly hooked a hard left and we began descending a steep grade that dropped us on top of one of the best bowls I had ever laid my eyes on. It happened to be tucked just off the main street and directly next to the campground we would be staying. Yet again, I was exactly where I wanted to be.
"For one, I’m fascinated by the late 1960’s counterculture movement that went down in San Francisco, so Nimbin was undoubtedly the closest I was ever going to get to a contemporary Haight-Ashbury feel."
- Kris Fox
We rode until we couldn’t see then headed back to camp for a BBQ, cold beers, and sleep. The next morning we strolled into town for a small exploration and a strong personal desire to kill my jet lag with coffee. By this point Big Blue had attracted more friends. Ryan Guettler and his wife Kelsey met up in their quaint RV to join our caravan down to Sydney as well as Jdoogg and his buddy Ben in Jdoogg’s car. After what started as a solo road trip between an Australian and an American in a big blue bus transformed into a land-train caravan consisting of more Australians sleeping in a van, another Australian with a Blonde Southern Belle Wife in a tiny RV, and a born Kiwi with a born Frenchman camping out of a car. The power of being connected to the world through BMX was working its magic. After finding a quaint local coffee joint, we all caught a session in the bowl to ourselves – A no shirt, cut off short, metal induced bowl roast session at its finest.
Before I knew it I was watching as the beautiful town of Nimbin receded from my view while Jason stabbed at the throttle of Big Blue charged on lollies and low-grade energy drinks. He was grasping the giant steering wheel with two pumping forearms and cranking it in the direction of the primitive curves in the uneasily narrow mountain road. Big Blue would careen down hill with the bar top creaking over every lump the suspension endured. The open windows rushed with air and whipped all of our empty food wrappers around the bus. Then I would feel his lead foot mash on the breaks while simultaneously punching it into a lower gear before cranking on the big steering wheel like he was trying to wrench open the top of a nuclear reactor. The axels would shudder and Big Blue’s colossal body would roll to the side as we sliced around corner after corner and I would peer white-knuckled down cliff after cliff, some with faces hundreds of feet meeting a dense green blanket of gum tree death. Well, I thought to myself, at least the caravan is behind us to inform everyone expecting us in Sydney that we cartwheeled Big Blue off a cliff somewhere near Jurassic Park. We were close to death yet even closer to life.
“You really have a led foot, man.” I spoke up once we were out of the mountains.
“Ah, mate! I love this thing!” He replied patting her dashboard, “You don’t need to worry about a thing, champion. She can take it.”
“I just don’t feel like dying yet ya know?”
“There’s a cup of cement in the fridge if you need it.”
“A cup of cement?”
“To harden up ya maggot.” He slipped on a pair of sunnies that looked like the sunnies all the characters in Star Trek wore back in the day, began blasting techno at a near unbearable decibel, then upshifted and stood on the accelerator.
I laughed. “Fair enough, man.”
“BY THE WAY,” He yelled through the techno, “YOU NEED TO SEE CODY RIDE THAT BOWL SOMEDAY.”
His comment was a major catalyst toward my love for the Australian BMX scene. As a fan of BMX, I’m fascinated by the whispers of mythical-like Australian Transition Lords who can air 12-plus-feet like it’s as simple as stopping to tie their shoe. Whispers like: “You need to see Cody Pollard ride Fairfield, mate.”… “Dylan Lewis riding Elanora in person is the most fucked thing you’ll ever see.”… “You haven’t seen bowl riding until you’ve seen Benn Pigot ride Five Dock.”… “Just go to Canberra and watch Chris Harti ride any of those spots down there.”… “Vocko did that gap like five years ago in a leather jacket, cunt.”
Comments as such always get my gears turning. The BMX talent that pours out of every nook Australia has is undeniable. Colin Mackay, Corey Bohan, Dave Dillewaard, Ryan Guettler, as well as countless other legends have always proven it and continue to prove it. So with that knowledge, the whispers of these new-age Bowl Lords instill a sense of mystery into my love for BMX. I simply have to see and appreciate it for myself. It feels like every time I find myself in Australia I’m drawn to explore and uncover my own personal truths when it comes to these mythical whispers. I’ll always remember the first time I saw Cody Pollard ride Fairfield in person. His level of riding was so heavy, so high, that it decimated any question on the truth behind the mythical whispers I heard so much about across the Pacific. It was an in-my-face fact that they were no myth at all and undoubtedly true. In fact, it was some of the realest shit I had ever seen. It was like hearing a new favorite song for the first time. I was watching a longhaired surgeon covered in tattoos intricately slice up a concrete bowl charged off Motörhead and beers after pulling a grueling nine-to-five diesel mechanic shift. It was incredibly intimidating yet vastly modest. I remember thinking to myself: “HELL YES! Finally! I can now feel what everyone who’s a part of it has been telling me. How can someone ride a bike exactly how I had always envisioned a bike being ridden?” I didn’t know in the moment, and I still don’t know now. It’s beyond my comprehension. However, what I do know is that it validated my fascination toward the BMX scene in Australia, and since then the desire I have to hang with the boys and let their scene fuel my passion for the craft I love is stronger than ever.
“HELL YES! Finally! I can now feel what everyone who’s a part of it has been telling me. How can someone ride a bike exactly how I had always envisioned a bike being ridden?”- Kris Fox
Our caravan lead by Big Blue arrived in Port Macquarie after the sun had set. After Jason backed her up into a spot directly along the ocean, the only thing left to do was drink some beers over a BBQ with the promise of heavy BMX sessions to come. One beer led to another and soon enough we were all out exploring the coast in the pitch-blackness of the Australian twilight. We trundled across some urban workout facility, so Jason had himself a little intoxicated pre-contest training session. He ended the session with a bare-assed rinse in one of the public outdoor showers, which had everyone dying.
We woke up early enough to catch the sunrise. Jason got on the grill immediately sizzling up some bacon, eggs, and veggies. What I soon found out during our romp down the coast was that, not only is Jason Watts one of the best bike riders in the world himself, the dude is also the ultimate craftsman/bus driver/BBQer. The only thing I seemed to be good for was taking out the trash, which I happened to be damn good at so I wasn’t too perturbed. The Captain and Co-Captain had developed a system, and the system was dialed. After a sunrise swim in the ocean and a session in the Port Macquarie bowl, Big Blue was roaring her way toward Sydney.
Big Blue dropped into Sydney about midday Friday before the contest. The caravan that began accumulating back in the Gold Coast split up and went its separate ways. Jason roared Big Blue right up to the front door of the house we would be staying in for the week, aside from Jason himself of course. He would hold true and sleep in Big Blue out on the street. The house itself was incredible and faintly resembled a tiny White House if it were made of brick. It would also soon be filled with some of the best people I have the honor of calling friends: Matt Cordova, Corey Walsh, Dan Foley, and Larry Edgar. Initially this was to mark the end of Big Blue’s romp down the coast. However, after days of rain pummeling Sydney we got news that the sun was pumping down in Canberra. With a house full of restless bike riders, a spontaneous plan of smashing two hours south was tossed into the living room by Jason waiting for his undies to dry. It was that easy, a mob of us piled into Big Blue who had been patiently waiting out on the street for us.
The crew stacked inside the bus ready for the Canberra mission consisted of Gary Young, Larry Edgar, Corey Walsh, Will Blount, Jason, and myself. Matt and Dan were still at cruising altitude somewhere over the Pacific but would be at the Mini Brick White House by the time we got back into Sydney. Once again Jason’s speed sunnies were clasped around his skull, the techno was pumping, and he was stabbing the throttle toward the dream of sunshine waiting for us in Canberra. It was a mission I was more than happy to be a part of.
We arrived after nightfall Saturday yet still managed to squeeze a session in at a local bowl before finding a quiet lakeside spot to sleep for the night. Of course Jason, the epic bus driver that he is, cooked dinner for all of us. Soon thereafter we locked the bikes outside and individually made miniature slivers of room for five bodies to sleep inside Big Blue, which was now busting at the seams with crap. Larry took a shelf up near the rear window, Cory on one bench with Gary on the other, Jason took the floor directly on top a tiny motor protruding from the ground which controlled Big Blue’s side door, and myself slept directly next to Jason with the refrigerator groaning in my face all night. Will took his chances and strung a hammock among all the eight-legged killing machines outside. I was more than happy to stay put in the bus with the five sweaty bike riders collectively breathing and farting on one another.
The sun broke over the lake in the morning and began cooking the bus with all of us inside of it. I woke basking in the stench of it all, however it was undeniable that I had slept great. It must have been the abundance of good vibes. We packed up and had a heavy morning session at the Belconnen skate park. The entire time we were there I heard whisperings of everything Harti and the rest of the Canberra locals had done there. I would examine the setups in awe and shake my head in disbelief over the belief that it was all true. From there we got the news that the sun was back in Sydney and we needed to smash out the two hour drive to make contest practice the next day. With coffee pumping through the veins of Jason, he was once again stabbing at the throttle in the direction of Sydney.
“WE’RE AT 130 K’S UP THIS HILL, MATE!” He would shout rubbing the dashboard, “FACK! I LOVE THIS THING!” We made it back to Sydney in no time, and when we did it was raining.
"With a house full of restless bike riders, a spontaneous plan of smashing two hours south was tossed into the living room by Jason waiting for his undies to dry. It was that easy, a mob of us piled into Big Blue who had been patiently waiting out on the street for us."
- Kris Fox
The entire following week was plagued by rain. However, through all the weather adversities a certain level of humanism hung in the air. My favorite element about these Vans bowl contests is how it brings all of us together. All of us find ourselves in various areas of the globe bonded by the same craft, entwined as likeminded artists expressing ourselves in the only way we know how. Every time the skies finished dumping, all the boys were on course drying it for everyone else. It didn’t matter if you were a rider, an employee at Vans, or whether it was squeegeeing, sweeping, toweling, or leaf blowing, all hands were selflessly on deck. The fact of it being your personal practice or heat didn’t matter either. The only thing that mattered was ripping with the boys.
During the cracks of the weekdays when practice was behind us and the good vibes were still surging, we continued to find ourselves itching to ride with one another. And on one particular Wednesday, the news of a BBQ at the Five Dock skate park trickled in. So once again, we filled Big Blue with yet another heavy crew consisting of Gary Young, Matt Cordova, Cody Pollard, Corey Walsh, Ryan Nyquist, Dan Foley, Larry Edgar, Jason, and myself then proceeded to stop at the nearest booze shop. After a few moments, Cody came lugging out with a thirty rack hoisted over his shoulder for the boys while Jason leaned out the window smacking the side of his door shouting, “Jump in, maggots!” As always, it was a mission I was more than happy to be a part of.
The memory of arriving at Five Dock and piling out of the bus will always stick with me. I looked in the direction of the skate park and realized they were all there. Not only did I ride in a bus to the session with so many guys I held deep revere for, now I was about to ride a known Australian spot legendary for the heaviest roasting imaginable. Plus, it was going to go down amongst countless locals I had always hoped I would finally see ride in person. Although by this point I had spent a good amount of time around Jason Watts, Cody Pollard, and Dylan Lewis, sharing the same deck as them in their natural domain will always leave my soft Southern California ass slightly intimidated. However on the flip of the coin I was deeply excited to watch it all go down as a fan.
One thing I’ve grown to notice in Australia, and it’s an element that draws me in the most, is how cordial all the locals are. Even as I pumped around lost, landed flat, cased, and checked all the boxes that go along with learning a new spot as quickly as possible, I could still hear the boys going crazy on the deck. It made feeling incredibly sketchy while being submerged in casual 13-foot Australian airs with Black Sabbath rattling out of the speakers feel tranquil and welcoming. After about twenty minutes of riding, I decided to pull a beer from Cody’s thirty rack and relax. I had been longing to watch that particular show for quite some time. So I asked Cody if I could have one, he told me I could have them all if I thought I could handle it.
From then on I remember things feeling surreal. I remember relaxing on deck at the legendary Five Dock skate park with a beer in hand watching legends like Nyquist ride in the flesh then causally looking over to see more legends like Joe Rich lounged out about 100 feet away. Across the bowl Mike Vockenson was barefoot filming Larry dump a near 13-foot three table over the spine. Then I remember finally getting to witness Benn Pigot drop in at Five Dock and I remember getting to witness a level of riding I didn’t know existed. Like the rest of them, the whispers I had heard all those years across the Pacific were all true. It was undeniably incredible. And then he quietly popped out on the deck and modestly took a nip from the bottle. It was like a perfect wave with a smooth glassy face had just roared through, and now it was quietly receding back into the waters after leaving everyone surrounding not quite believing what they had just witnessed. The entire session was one of the purest forms of BMX I had ever been a part of. It was the type of session that can’t be duplicated and comes around three or four times in your lifetime if you’re lucky, and the best part about it was that it wasn’t for anything other than feeding the soul. It wasn’t for likes or shares or dreams of social status. It wasn’t for self-validation in pleasing the plethora of eyeballs on the Internet. It was simply who we all were as bike riders. It was a group of likeminded artists expressing themselves in the only way they knew how. It was absorbed, appreciated, and will still hang around long after social media is gone. And that was all I needed to see. I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was content.
And now as I sit here under the morning marine layer on the Huntington Beach pier, the trip is its entirety is a pleasant memory to reminisce. One element that needs to be added, and in a sense is “the icing on the cake”, was witnessing one of the best humans alive win the contest. That particular trip to Australia was validation of why I not only ride BMX, but the reason I love it. Feeling the weight of a moment so pure in life is the reward. There is a reason why there are no riding photos in this story, and that’s because in my opinion the scene can’t be properly documented. Us fans of it can scratch the surface online, but the feeling of it all is impossible to replicate. It’s vital for a human to get out and physically dig through the cracks of life for what they believe is true. The Australian scene that I have become so fascinated with needs to be appreciated in that exact manner. It needs to be dug up in reality with bare hands, just like anything pure and true in life. And if you find it, you’ll know. And when you do, be open-minded, be friendly, because chances are you’ll learn something.
So from the bottom of my heart, cheers for the beers and inspiration fellas. If any of you have read this far, you always have a spot to crash in Huntington Beach if you want it. And to my dude Mr. Watts, can’t wait until the next one, brother. - Kris Fox
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