Photo Journal: Swamp Fest 2019
Motivating BMX from the core
Words and Photos by: Wes McGrath
It's hard to try and convey in words what happened at Swamp Fest this year, yet the feeling is undeniable... When I showed up to the gates in Astatula, Florida late Friday evening, I couldn't help but feel a strong wave of excitement building over the entire course of the night. Which eventually burst into cheers of drunken friends, fireworks and multiple bonfires all across the contest grounds until sunrise. Hundreds of riders gathered and fueled themselves with enough fire, beer and mayhem to last all weekend, surrounded by legends and friends new and old this was a weekend for everyone, for us but most importantly, BMX.
You wouldn't think that this event is an actual contest, the format feels like a free for all in the backyard and riders from any stretch of the globe can come to ride and have their shot at Swamp Fest glory. Saturday was the main day of the event and it was stacked with a variety of obstacles set up all over the course, built to be destroyed! With seven different obstacles on the day, this Saturday was going to truly separate the savages from the audience. Starting at 12 noon with the Scotty Cranmer Obstacle Course and ending near darkness with the Trail Jam, the madness was nonstop! Including the Odyssey Vortex Challenge, Ramp Jam, Subrosa Swamp Rail, Backyard Chasm Jump and The Shadow Coffin, ending with a good old fashioned raging party.
From the mastermind of Trey Jones and with the support of Ronnie Bonner and the whole Shadow/Subrosa family over at Sparky's USA and the countless other working hands from all over the world, this D.I.Y. event would not be possible! To see Swamp Fest flourish this year surely was a spectacle to watch and I consider myself lucky to be able to join. This event is helping increasing the awareness of how bad ass BMX really is, making it more readily available to the world at large. The times of expecting this industry to get better on it's own are over... we need more contests like this one, more involvement to support BMX and the people that care for it and make it available to us today. If you haven't gotten a chance to get into the swamp yet, I suggest you mark your calendar for next year and join us in the muck!
Trey is the main man behind the madness of Swamp Fest and now that it's in the official 3rd year, his ideas and actions have made it possible for a new stage to be set for an event that gives back to more than just the people involved... This gathering of BMX has fueled the culture of BMX more than I've ever seen in one single weekend! Bringing us a little closer to the roots, where it feels good for us to follow our passions and spend time with friends.
Within the past 5 years I have been able to get a better grasp on what kind of person Trey is... We have ridden together and worked one on one while shooting photos together. Trey is one dialed and calculated individual and so when I had to the chance to come and witness the swamp in person this year I could easily see his determination taking shape all over the place, thanks Trey! Keep it up.
The Scotty Cranmer Obstacle Course
This obstacle course was absolutely crazy! The entire course was hovering over the swampy water and included monster truck tires, a destroyed vehicle, a 25 foot long telephone pole and about 30 plus pallets strung together to make somewhat of a path! Dozens of riders attempted the first couple portions of the whacked out course but only a few serious contenders rose to the occasion and made it to the last section. Reed Stark, Corey Walsh, Denim Cox, Erik Elstran and Mark Burnett battled it out until the soggy end! Reed Stark was the first one to make it over the janky pallet stacked see-saw successfully...
The Odyssey Vortex Challenge
Well well, this wild piece of architecture sure was the biggest buzz of the contest... The Odyssey Vortex is 12 feet tall, about 30 feet in diameter and pieced together with pallets, haggard sheets of plywood with nails and screws sticking out all over the place. Even though it looks like it's about to topple over at any moment, this beast was built with strategy and enough strength to handle people piling on top of it for the entire duration of the Vortex challenge. Riders were anticipating this piece of the course all week, once the photos made it online pre-event the bets and dares started pouring in... The price was set and whomever would be the first rider to get all the way around the vortex would win $1000 dollars in cash. To everyone's surprise the vortex was defeated within a few attempts by Ben Hoysted. That didn't stop others from still going at it full speed! Corey Walsh didn't end up winning the money but he definitely won over the crowd with his whirlwind of laps, going three times around the vortex!
"Yeah, it's like circus stuff!"
- Corey Walsh
The little swampy town of Astatula was founded in the mid 1920's and stands today in Lake County, Florida. This town only takes up a total of 3.6 square miles and a rough population of just over 2000 people. So to think that last year at Swap Fest 2018, there were 2500 people in attendance and without a doubt it's safe to say that this year the number was easily close to 3000. The specific property in which Swamp Fest was held this year was on a piece of land owned out right by a private owner and is now currently a motorsports park and event center... So when the city caught wind of this event happening again they tried to stop the event from taking off altogether. Thankfully so, the land was originally meant to be a BMX track so it turns out the owner actually had a specific portion of the deed to the property written out to protect such an event and basically had the rights to allow us to do whatever the hell we wanted, literally.
And so we did...
The Ramp Jam
Half cement slab and half sand covered in plywood, the ramp section of the course was far from perfect but at the same time it couldn't have suited the situation any better! The most eye catching piece was the massive double loop that stood about 18 feet high and built in true D.I.Y. style, you couldn't decipher where this thing started and where it ended?! You could air the laid back quarter on one side of it or dare to loop from the other side at high speed, all the while it never felt the same way twice... Also, there was a huge gator mouth quarter located just next to the stage and set back from another variety of misshaped transitions. Among a couple other street/ramp obstacles, there was a replica Little Devil van with the roof ripped off that was parked and made into somewhat of a transition. And just for the record, this was car number one that was lit on fire and secured a visit from the local fire department!
"Denim wears American flag socks and a baseball cap that says, good times. I don't know how else to explain this kid!"
- Gary the Gator
The Subrosa Swamp Rail
What a contraption this thing was, the Subrosa Swamp Rail is probably the most daunting piece of imagination on the entire course... 80 feet of rail which only had two ways out, either you make it all the way across and became victorious in Swamp Fest history or you'd be properly ejected into the shallow swamp water and covered in muddy shame! So make it even more unnerving by lacing 16 separate rails together, stacking them up with tires and pallets into a massive rainbow rail over water that can stain your skin up to a couple days! The riders were going full speed and making the most of each attempt, the crowd was soaked and everyone was laughing and hollering hysterically the entire time!
"Bjarki came all the way from Iceland to claim his Swamp Fest glory and he did just that!"
- Gary the Gator
The Backyard Chasm
There isn't anything that brings back those first memories of riding BMX better than the Chasm! Pedaling as fast as you can at a single 30 foot dirt jump and hoping for the best is as foundational as you can get... This years' Chasm was inspired by the original one at the Backyard Jam in Hastings, United Kingdom in 1992 and it surely didn't disappoint. Riders of all ages, skill level and gear ratio pedaled their brains off to clear this gap over a half filled manmade pond. The lip was magnificent and the landing was quite the opposite, soft and beat up from countless bails, some people were covered in full-face helmets and pads and others were wearing only shorts without any shoes. Swamp Fest definitely brings out the gnarliest in people.
"There isn't anything more pleasing than seeing the look on Nasty's face after clearing that backflip turndown."
- Gary the Gator
The Shadow Coffin and Trail Jam
As the sun begins to set and dusk brings on the anxiousness of the night, The Shadow Coffin Jam began simultaneously with the Trail Jam... The roll-in was packed with riders going at the coffin and at the trails, making for a swirl of bikes flying in all directions. The coffin was set up high on stilts with a wooden quarter pipe as a lip and a carpeted dirt landing. This was going to be the first obstacle burned to kick off the night, so after everyone took their last shots at Swamp Fest competition, the trails ran until they were abruptly brought to an end by the coffin fire becoming the main focal point of the evening. In other words the party has officially begun!
"To be able to ride trails, burn cars and ride in a monster truck all in one day is something only BMX can provide and only Florida can handle."
- Gary the Gator
Now, that the weekend's riding has come to an end and all the ramps were made to be destroyed, the time has come to get rid of all the wood... So as The Shadow Coffin begins to burn people began ripping apart ramps and obstacles and sacrificing them to the holy fire! Any and every piece of wood and pallet was up for grabs and it didn't take very long for multiple fires to pop up all over the grounds. The sky was filled with smoke and the night was lit with a blistering glow that lasted all night and blazed nearly 40 feet tall.
To top off everything and to really get things geared up, there was a Rock band that raged for a couple hours, right up until the Fire Department arrived to put out the flaming vehicles... A huge mosh pit formed and the shit show was fully let loose and the nights festivities were getting to a new height in Swamp Fest history.
"This gathering of BMX has fueled the culture of BMX more than I've ever seen in one single weekend."
- Wes McGrath
I honestly can't believe that I had this much fun in the swamp, down in Florideah! Thanks to all the people who came from far and wide to support our industry as it grows into something bigger and better with each event like this. Thank you Trey Jones and all the minds and hands behind this great event we call Swamp Fest... We need to come together like this more often for the benefit of BMX worldwide, but if I have to wait another full year to see this all take place again, I don't mind at all. Swamp Fest forever! - WM
No Rail Ride is Safe
Heard the one about Mary Poppins and the Japanese Bullet?