Inside The Vans Pro Cup - Part 1
A contest series focused on style, creativity and unique lines? Check.
Words and photos by Rob Dolecki (Intro Photo by Wes McGrath)
This year’s Vans BMX Pro Cup series has gained quite a reputation. Instead of using traditional judgement criteria for parks, which is focused primarily on trick progression, these concrete bowl comps favor style, creativity, and unique lines, something that seems to make a more relaxed environment with positive vibes emanating from everyone entered. Ahead of this weekend's final round in Huntington Beach we caught up with two of the main organizers, Vans TM Jerry Badders and the legend himself, DMC, as well as one of the judges and someone who needs no introduction, Mr. Joe Rich, and got a little insight into how and why this series came together. Check back for Part 2 with some of the riders’ take on the Pro Cup.
Catch all the latest videos from this weekend's Vans BMX Pro Cup final round in the related section below and and follow the DIG Insta for regular updates. You can watch the finals LIVE here on DIG too on Sunday August 6th.
How did the Pro Cup come about?
You have to go back to the Vans Triple Crown in 2001. I first rode for Vans in ’85, and came back to Vans in ’01. Paridy (Dennis’ wife) and I started running that event with them. It was such a big part of BMX for a while- three events a year for that four year span. Some guys would pay the entry fee just ride all weekend, and have some quesadillas from the grill cooked up by Steve Van Doren, listen to good music and have a blast, and by the time their runs came up they just goofed around or pulled out of the event. Half the riders were serious about the contest. I think that brings a great vibe in, compared to something where it’s all people just wanting to win the event. If everybody has that mentality, it’s just not the coolest to be around. When the Dew Tour came about, Vans sponsored some of those stops, and the one kind of had to make the other go away. There was a long span where Vans still did events, but not on a big level with a series. When Vans sponsored the U.S. Open again in 2013, I was out in Southern California and Jerry mentioned he’d like to do a BMX event there. We sat down in the office with Steve Van Doren, and being such a supporter of BMX, he said he didn’t know what the budget was going to be or what the schedule was but we’re going to run an event there. That’s what happened. The riders that were invited were such a part of the energy of the event. The Van Doren Invitational became the blueprint for doing a bigger series. This year was the year to make it happen. Badders had to pull off so many things from a budget standpoint. We made it happen under the circumstances. Everybody has been, “ I believe in this shit, make me a part of it.” It’s a community involvement, and the riders are as big a part of it as anyone.
How did you determine the locations?
Jerry and I visited the Guadalajara site in January; Vans Mexico had a desire to do it. In Europe, Ruben’s park is just an incredible park. Spain is such an amazing country. When an event is so good, you want to make it an annual thing.
You ran the Dew Tours for a number of years; how do you approach doing the Pro Cups differently?
Way differently. We ran it for eight years; it was a points series. In the early years there was the big prizes; over ten million dollars total was given out. There were tons of high moments, and people made a lot of money. But there are going to be more memories made from this thing than what people had during the Dew Tour. The biggest change is I’m working with Vans. If the riders have an idea, we have a discussion, and the decision is made. If we have to go up the ladder, we go to Steve Van Doren. It’s so smooth compared to the Dew Tour. Big decisions about the format for BMX events and how the prize money breakdown is structured shouldn't be left to interns around a water cooler. A lot of what was our ultimate departure from the Dew Tour was, I was told we were too vocal about what the riders want. We don’t have a rulebook that goes out to the riders for what they can and can’t do. You show up and have fun, and rip it up.
So you and Jerry are steering the ship.
We’re in a world now where concrete parks are all over the place. The coolest thing about it is the very first BMX contests were in cement parks, in Delmar and Upland; it’s come full-circle. Those comps were incredible. The only reason they went away was because they closed down those parks and filled them in. And we sort of made do with wood ramps; it was, “How can we mimic what used to be there with plywood.”
Has all the positive reactions helped motivate you for future events?
We don’t have anything set in stone. We know it’s being well-received. There are plans to do the series again next year. We look at this thing as an evolving series that changes with the riders’ desires and what makes sense. We want to bring the party to different spots.
What’s been your personal highlight at the Pro Cup series so far?
Every one of the Van Doren Invitational stops was amazing. Like so many other people talked about the event in Malaga, I was standing there watching, and for a moment, I thought this might be the best comp I have ever been to. I had to stop and think, I have been going to major events for 33 years. You can’t really compare that directly to an AFA velodrome comp that had flatland and ramps, or a X Games with like five disciplines. For a one-discipline event, with the energy and vibe, I was left there thinking it was the best event I’ve been to. There have been so many highlights. In Australia, watching all the riders not pissing and moaning, but out there with squeegees and leaf blowers getting the course dry.
What’s been your personal favorite thing you’ve seen go down so far?
In Malaga, people had so many lines and were going so huge. In Huntington Beach, when you get that many riders and a height pole, people were blasting to the moon.
Have you judged all the Pro Cups/ Vans Invitational bowl events?
Yeah, I think the first Invitational was four years ago.
What’s your take on the Pro Cup series so far?
It’s really cool, because I think that the first year, there were so many other contests that were run a certain way. It was so awesome to see the course that was built, people were hyped, and the vibe was awesome. As each year went on it came into its own. The ones in Huntington Beach, always you see the interaction between riders, how much fun they are having, cheering each other. I don’t see that at X Games practice. Maybe there’s more on the line, or different people. It almost seems like a jam, and everyone understands that they are competing against themselves and not against each other. It caters to a side of riding that so many of us absolutely love. I felt like it became more about watching dudes just do what they do rather than riding in a way to get the best score. The dudes that are pre-qualified- everyone has such distinct styles, and you just can’t wait to watch them ride. It’s not like am I going to see ten more of this or fifteen more of that, and how am I going to decipher between that. It’s that you really get to see what they like about riding come out in their own way; that’s the best part. I never set out to be a judge, I never thought that I was qualified, or my opinion matters more than anyone else. But if someone asks me, I have no problem telling them what it is.
You’ve judged a variety of contests, like X Games, Dew Tour, etc. Do you feel your process of judging changes at all for these?
Not really. I don’t take it lightly; all these dudes are busting their ass. I love watching this style of riding. I know what I like and I know what I don’t. That’s why I’m here, to basically say that. I’m not going to start trying to rewrite the way I see things, just for the sake of what someone else thinks of my opinion. I have things that I pick out and consider, and it may be different than the dude sitting next to me. At the end of the day, everyone has to face the fact that there is no wrong or right. Malaga- the top four dudes could have been shuffled up any way. It’s been pretty rad; at all the Vans Pro Cups, we’re pretty damn close in what we think. People have their opinion, but they’re not trying to force it. With everyone that’s been involved, that mutual respect and understanding has been awesome. If I had to put what I like riding in a contest form, it’s there; I feel really lucky.
What do you think of the parks they’ve been held at this year?
The parks are always great. The dudes are so good they make them look way batter than they really are. Going into something like Malaga, it’s a park built by Ruben, and it’s an all-BMX event- you just can’t replicate that vibe. People were just fucking hyped the whole weekend. People were just going ape-shit. The course almost becomes irrelevant; it’s more of a gathering of people who like doing what they do. It kind of reminds me of going to the old B.S. comps. That to me is the difference when it’s just us BMX’ers here.
Is there anyone you haven’t seen at the Pro Cups that you’d like to see ride?
Oh man, so many. I don’t even know where to start. It’s not so much the contest run aspect of it, I would just love to see them ride in an environment where everyone is shredding and having a good time.
"That’s part of the reason why I chose these judges; they all ride and they know if a transfer is harder than a double-tailwhip."
How did Vans Pro Cup come about?
I was trying to get Vans to do global BMX contests. The idea came about a few years ago. The pro skatepark series went off last year, and I was able to lock in these Pro Cups. There’s not a lot of BMX events around anymore. Basically I'm using Vans' budget to make these things happen. I wanted to create something more about style, creativity, choosing your line… everything that Vans is about. Seems like more and more concrete parks are getting built. Since skateboarding is in the Olympics, there will be a lot more popping up. In Australia I saw a lot of awesome talent, same with Spain. They don’t get seen or noticed; that’s another reason why I wanted to put these on in each region. It’s an open qualifier, so any kid can compete. We take the top ten and they can compete against their idols the next day.
With direction of how the Pro Cups seem to be judged more on style and and how people are riding the park as opposed to trick progression, why do you think that’s important?
I don’t want to bag on anyone. Nitro Games is rad, but I don’t know, the kids that win it aren’t even BMX’ers. That's not good for the sport. Progression is good, but a box jump isn’t for everyone; neither are concrete parks. Out here you see a lot of different riding, styles and a lot of new talent. At Nitro Games it’s all about hucking yourself and landing on resi. I wanted to bring back the Vans Triple Crown days about fun and putting a smile on kids faces, and remember these things.
The way people ride concrete bowls is such a refined technique developed over years. In my opinion, it can be on par with progression of tricks themselves.
Yeah, that’s part of the reason why I chose these judges; they all ride and they know if a transfer is harder than a double-tailwhip. It’s always two different judges at each at event. Judging is hard these days; it’s tough to not pick a team manager, or friend. The main thing is you just got to ride your best and be happy with yourself.
What are the plans for next year’s destinations?
We’re going to try to do one in South America, Australia wants to do one again, Europe, Mexico definitely wants to do one again, Canada, U.S. There will be at least four or five stops and a final.
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