The art of airtime

I remember standing on the side of the track, jealously looking at people flying past me on the big jumps. They made it look so effortless, so easy. A whip here, a table there or just a simple bar tweak. It was hypnotising to watch; beautiful and scary at the same time. It was then and there I felt a fire light in me. For someone who had never thought about jumping, I suddenly had the biggest desire to join in; to feel my tyres leave the ground, find flow and get the adrenaline rush only airtime can give you. I didn’t know it back then, but it would take me years, many failed attempts, tears, mental ghosts and hours of kicking myself for not daring too before I could throw myself out into the big nothingness we call air. However, once I finally overcame my fears, it was worth every single minute of struggle because the feeling of airtime is one of the scariest yet most rewarding and exhilarating feelings I have experienced. Ever.

 

Fighting the urge

During my first few years of riding bikes, jumping was never really on my mind. I did do the odd small one here and there, but it was never anything I focused on or tried to get better at. Riding in the UK a lot of trails were techy and rooty and back in 2010 there weren’t actually that many jump trails around. Well, the ones that did exist were massive or technical. Nothing I would ever attempt or even look at.

 

No, the urge to learn the art of flight came later on when I moved to Sweden. For some reason, Swedes love their airtime and the bike parks and local trails were full of jumps. This was foreign territory to me. Wet tech I could do – big doubles I wouldn’t go near. Ironically I befriended the most jump-obsessed riding crew in Sweden and every time we went to ride the local bike park they’d wave me off at the top and super-train it into the biggest jump line. There I was, left alone to ride my techy trails, in complete denial of my urge to find wings.


Finding wings

At first I didn’t even look at the line, I literally pretended like the jumps didn’t exist. Yet something was luring me in. The sqeeks, laughs and stories told down in the lift queue after each lap enticed me. Eventually, I couldn’t help but to go stand by the track and watch them swoooosch by, one by one, in a giant train of bikes and bodies. It simply looked like too much fun and that’s when it happened – I decided that one day I was going to be able to join in.

 

I started off by jumping smaller stuff in the local forest. My friends would tow me in and get equally existed when I made it over a jump or drop. It wasn’t actually as scary or hard as I’d imagined it. The heart-throbbing nervousness and slight doubt was always present at the start, but once my feet were on the pedals and my eyes were focused on the trail ahead I stopped thinking and trusted my instincts. I wasn’t completely useless at this airtime stuff.

 

That first season of jumping was amazing. The rush of speed coming into the jumps, seeing the take-off rise like a wall in front of me (a small wall that is), fighting the urge to touch my brakes and then – take off. Flying. What a thrill. It truly is an unexplainable feeling. I would hit this one jump, over and over again. My friend Steve had built it and, being the amazing trail builder that he is, if you hit the jump with enough speed it would smoothly hip you slightly to the left and you’d make the steep off camber landing perfectly. It was easy, yet hard – the perfect beginner jump.

 

The mental block

I started dreaming about hitting the big jump line in the bike park the following summer. If only it hadn’t been for the long, cold and snowy winter that year. That together with my overanalysing head was not a great combination. I wanted it so badly it became an unhealthy obsession that turned into a brain stew of growing doubt and fear. Five bike-less months later, when spring finally sprung, my favourite jump was torn down and the jump after it was built even longer than it already was. Suddenly, all my confidence from the previous season was gone.

 

I’d talk myself out of hitting the jumps for weeks - it got kind of silly. So one day I decided to hit them even though I didn’t feel very confident. In fact, I’d managed to put so much doubt into my head that I was feeling incredibly unconfident and the fear was overwhelming when I dropped in towards the jumps. Suddenly I did something I’d never done before – I panicked. 10 meters before the superfast take-off I pulled my brakes, which sent me sideways over the jump straight into a tree.

 

The crash wasn’t as painful physically (although it did hurt) as it was mentally. “Why did I pull the brakes and how can I ever trust myself again” was a question that would be stuck in my head on repeat for the next three years. Yea, that’s right – three years! Talk about mental ghosts.

 

Get knocked down, get back up again.

Once again I started riding the tech trails in the park, completely ignoring the big jump line. If I couldn’t trust myself over the smaller local jumps, there was no way I could ever fly over the bigger gaps. Time went by, years passed. I was dealing with a knee injury and jumping was the last thing on my mind.

 

However, somewhere in the back of my mind I never truly gave up the idea of flying. The bike park had built a smaller jump line that I started hitting every time we went up. It still had gaps, but they were smaller and you didn’t need as much speed to clear them. Over time, I started enjoying it again and, although I didn’t trust myself, my confidence was growing. By now many of my girlfriends, who were at the same level as me, started hitting the big line, yet stubbornly I wouldn’t go near it. All I saw was that panic brake and tree-hitting-jump from 2014. What if I would panic and do it again?

 

I kept practicing the smaller jump line over and over, waiting for the moment where everything would feel perfect like some kind of sign that I was ready. That sign never came, but something else happened – I got bored of the smaller line. Suddenly I just felt like "enough is enough”. Somewhere in my head a switch flicked and I could finally visualise myself clearing the jumps, rather than going head-over-handlebars. It sounds ridiculous that I would take me so long, but I guess everyone is different.

 


Sending it

It would take until the summer of 2017, four years after watching people swoosch by me on the jump line, to actually do it. First, however, I had to go back to where it all went wrong - I had to hit the jump that had given me a panic and sent me into a tree. I went up there with the same friend who’d towed me in three years earlier, to do it again. To do it right.

 

First time it felt too fast coming in as everything got blurry and I couldn’t see the take off - I bailed. We pushed back up again. Second time, the same thing happened - I bailed. We pushed up again. This time I told my friend that I was getting used to the high-speed run-in. I took a deep breath, stopped overthinking and told myself I could do it. I put my feet on the pedals and dropped in.

 

It felt scary and fast, but amidst all the blurry trees I could see the take off. I hit it perfectly, sailed through the air and landed smoothly. We both burst into some kind of warrior happiness scream before my friend went serious: “you haven’t jump it unless you’ve hit it twice, let’s do it again”. And so we did. I must have hit that jump at least 10 times in the next hour. What a feeling. The mental ghosts disappeared on the same spot where they’d come to hunt me years before.

 

That week I went on to hit a kind-of big drop I had thought about for ages and then we headed up to the bike park for the final quest. We did one warm up lap and then my friend looked at me and said: “You’re doing it. You’re ready. Just follow me” and off we went…

 

Finally

I am now officially part of the jump train crew. It only took four years but it was worth every minute of struggle along the way. Sending that line is the biggest achievement of my life and it still gives me the biggest scare and buzz every time I hit it. To me it is one of the purest kicks of happiness on a bike. I am in no way a great jumper, but I have come to believe that I am kind-of-okay at it. Even I, with the overanalysing head and panic scenarios, eventually learned the art of airtime.