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10 Apr 2019

Photo Journal: Swamp Fest 2019

Motivating BMX from the core

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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 Jones

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.

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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... 

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Reed Stark ended up taking home the win on the obstacle course! This course was no easy accomplishment, it was so difficult in fact, that the course ended up getting split into two sections. The first section was cleared and the top 5 riders moved onto the second portion. This was the first time the course forced the riders into the swamp and no one got out clean!

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Reed is no stranger to riding some extra gritty environments, so I wasn't surprised to see Reed crushing it all day... Good thing he has a proper bike built up for the occasion!

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The joy only Flordeah can bring out of you!

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! 

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Corey Walsh. Digbmx rider of the year 2018. Proving himself in the vortex this year by ripping around it three times with ease! No ramp transition is safe from Corey!

"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!

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Karl Immers takes the cake on the double loop by successfully doing the loop and flipping the second loop transfer! So many riders attempted this loop and boy did it get out of hand! Some flew right off of their bikes from the sheer force and others didn't stand a chance as they were thrown straight up into the ceiling and came crashing down, hard!

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The runway was janky and the boards were far from securely fastened to the loose dirt, yet the riders didn't mind, it seemed to make the misfit transitions feel smoother I suppose?! It's all about just going for it baby!

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The aspect of the jam format in this event is something I like a lot, it brings me back my younger days of going to contests and not knowing anyone's name or even where they came from... So with that being said I don't know this shredders name but he certainly made his mark on the loop! As you can see in this photo, the ramp was shifting out of the ground at this point, so when he pulled off this lip for the backflip no hander the quarter leaned a least a solid foot over to the left!

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Denim Cox is one tough cookie! Taking slams all day and getting right back up for another go, he challenged this loop more than a few times and on this attempt he rode out the loop but ran head first into the side after almost riding away clean!

"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

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Earlier in the month, before I even had a ticket to Swamp Fest, Jeff Dohwen spent a few nights on my couch in Long beach. We joked about seeing each other in Florida the following week but leave it up to the power of BMX to magnetize us together! Jeff over icepicks this shaky quarter pipe just as the sun goes down and just shortly before the entire course was violently dismantled and burned in one of the many raging fires of Saturday night! This photo is probably my favorite from the whole weekend... The busy composition mixed with the magic of timing, Jeff and I were able to make this photo look like it came out of an early 2000's jam! Thanks Jeff!

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You never know what you're going to see at Swamp Fest but it's likely you'll be blown away one way or another! The first time I stepped on to the street course to see what was going on, I caught Travis Lavoie trying a backflip to fakie and he apparently wasn't scared of the ridiculous situation he was using for a transition. So I quickly tucked myself away in a fairly dangerous spot just to snag this photo!

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Matt Closson came to Florida all the way from Las Vegas, Nevada in the name of Fiend and a good time! Matt is one of my all time favorite people on and off the bike, so when I first saw Matt I was happily surprised! Even better we were able to snag this sunset table top as the street course was littered with last minute riding and sun glare blinding half the course!

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!

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The swamp rail really brings out the true rail technicians. No matter how many flat rails you can ride on a daily basis, this one has no warm up and you have to commit full-speed ahead! As you can see even the first half of the rail is a feat to achieve in the first place!

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Mark Burnett is the rail champion from 2018 and he battled it out until the last attempt... Mark isn't scared to get a little dirty in the name of fun, he was motivating the few brave fellow rail challengers as they all tried to get to the other side!

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Bjarki Hardarson slides the full 80 feet of swamp rail after a thirty minute battle with a handful of very anxious contestants!

"Bjarki came all the way from Iceland to claim his Swamp Fest glory and he did just that!"

- Gary the Gator

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It was easier to find a Busch Hefty Boys IPA than it was to find water out in the swamp... Bjarki slams his beer in celebration under neath a massive monster truck! Bjarki Hadarson hails from Iceland and has become a part of The Shadow Conspiracy and Subrosa family. Early on in the rail challenge you could tell he was going to give everyone else a run for their money!

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Mark Burnett and Bjarki Hadarson hug each other in somewhat of relief that now the onslaught of the swamp rail is over!

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.

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The sidelines of the lip were lined with eager thumbs ready to post this deadman style dirt jump! You could pedal from as far back as you would like, even then some people couldn't make to the other side at all! The old school was alive and well at this jump!

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Corey Nastazio was in full effect on Saturday, pleasing the crowd and all those Nasty fans out there with his high speed high flying backflips!

"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!

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Reed Stark charges at this off center coffin ledge hoisted about 10 feet off of the ground and sticks this opposite feeble to 360!

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Justin Spreit floats over the trails as he takes one of his very last laps of the day... Justin was shredding the trails all day, I'm glad I was able to line this photo up at sunset!

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Nothing quite like a sunset trails session to end the day!

"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.

The Party!

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These guys really made it easy for us to rage! They loved our attitudes and we loved their's! They covered bands such as Metallica, Slayer and a few more to get everyone turned up to 11!

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I tried to stay at somewhat of a safe distance away from the hurricane of the mosh pit but it blew right into me and I had to give in!

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Who needs a flame thrower when you have combustable gases at your disposal?!

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When I actually recognized the real power of this fire we started was when more than 12 people tried to over power it and couldn't. The fire beat back this massive piece of wood and threw it back at us!

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The sounds of motors ripped throughout all hours of the day and night, this little moto was out partying all night with the rest of us!

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The fire scene got so out of hand that people were literally in danger from each other, this guy nearly got nailed with an 8x4 foot sheet of plywood!

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I couldn't help but be drawn to these photos in the fire... The scene was one to sit back and enjoy but the opportunity was too good to pass up!

"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

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