Let's take those preconceptions and just push them aside for a minute and see this as an exploration of the culture and people of a very Marmite kind of country. FISE Jeddah was one to remember.
This isn't going to be a political piece, that's not my place neither my expertise, but I do know people. From my time there, albeit 5 days, I feel that like everyone else on the trip we got to experience an authentic representation of the people who live, work and play in Jeddah.
Words and photos by Mike Drummond
To start from the beginning would make sense and that started at the border where things were still shrouded in assumptions and hearsay. It was the first time I was having to sit in an airport and wait on papers. There is something unnerving about the wait and the uncertainty of it all.
We had our passports taken from us, returned to us, taken again, made to queue at border control ahead of a rather large line of (at the time) calm and collected visitors, who then after 40 minutes turned into a rather disgruntled and impatient posse.
As time went on we slowly made progress, the sight of a gently murmuring baggage carousel and sliding exit doors made the geo-political limbo feel like a distant memory as we truly arrived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by invite.
"We all remember our first experience of BMX, whether it be first hand or through a chunky CRT TV back in the day."
We were all here thanks to the shared passion and enthusiasm for a lifelong hobby (turned job) based entirely on these simple modes of transportation... (way to make our sports sound a lil benign and basic but it’s true.)
To have taken something so simple and cultivate it in so many unique aways shows the power of the human mind and our ingenuity.
Anyway, let's get back to the nitty gritty.
Scott Connor and I joined forces with a third traveller from the west. Varo Hernandez of Spain, prodigy of flatland pioneer Marti Kuoppa, who ended up taking 9th at FISE Jeddah.
As a trio we found a car, complete with driver, and after some wrong turns, miscommunication and a little heated debate the key cards were delivered to us, the lift buttons were pressed and heads rested on pillows for the first of many nights deciding on what temperature to set the AC to… The struggle is real.
The unconventional road layouts gave us a multitude of routes to where the FISE Jeddah park was situated – each journey, outbound and return, offered us the spectacle of new streets and sprawling wastelands strewn in rubble. Meandering coach trips saw us lumber round huge installations at the heart of each roundabout, each one more confusing and visually arresting than the previous.
Unfinished buildings next to 6 storey furniture stores sit adjacent to wide open fields packed with mounds of aggregate sometimes host to cricket games and football, played carefree by local kids in the sweltering heat.
"Calm, warm waters of the red sea kiss at the white sands as far as the eye can see, yet no swimmers in sight."
Hit a 6 and you’ll find the waterfront, which really is a paradise – calm warm waters of the red sea kiss at the white sands as far as the eye can see, yet no swimmers in sight. The promenade littered with ledges, palm trees and more sculptures, all interrupted by awesome looking kids’ playgrounds. Not like the ones full of chalkboards and no swings you get back home, I’m talking legit monkey bars and rope ladders. So sick.
An expanse of pristine beach had been chosen as the loose and ever shifting foundation for the event, named World Action Sports Festival. The flatland arena situated precariously on the water’s edge, much like in Budapest, however the sheer drop would meet you with a shoulder barge to rock before splashing down in the temperate shallows of the sea below.
Its position saw it perfectly suited to sunset sessions, ideal for some iconic imagery at the first event of its kind in Saudi Arabia and also just right to get some links put together without the furnace-like conditions of the day.
The sunset sessions really were the highlight of the week, the cooler air and relaxed atmosphere lent itself to the riders getting things down without having to top up their water and salt levels every 10 minutes.
A rich magenta backdrop intersected by the hard lines of the rigging made for great viewing while some of the world's top park and flatland riders enjoyed a session amongst enviable surroundings and an energy like no other.
Many of you – scratch that – all of you remember your first experience of BMX, whether it be first hand or through the magic of a chunky CRT TV back in the day.
You know where it was, and who it was. The crowd in Jeddah will know for sure that it was there on that waterfront and you could feel it, the unrivalled energy, emotions and eruptions of applause from not only the thousands of locals lining the beach but also the athletes from Jeddah and those who made the trip from the surrounding cities, many of whom had never seen a park before or even hit a transition before this event. It truly was groundbreaking and the reception from all was a sheer delight.
“Unrivalled energy, emotions and eruptions of applause… It truly was groundbreaking and the reception was a sheer delight."
One of the earliest finishes saw a group of us take a walk along the long warmed marble and concrete boardwalk onto the pier which reached out to the expanse of water just next to the venue. The pier was heaving, a popular time to take a moment for your thoughts, fish or catch up via the good ol’ past time of face to face conversation.
Our interactions were plentiful and one really stands out as being a real triumph of the amazing people you can meet through something as simple as a bike. Nick Bruce’s bike being the centrepiece to our encounter, we got talking to a local gentleman and his family about their love of cycling, how they would do rides along the rural coastline just outside of Jeddah. There seems to be a big road cycling scene and everyone saw the BMX event as an incredible exhibition of what was possible on a bike.
After our rambling conversation, we found out our inquisitive stranger was in fact an Astrophysicist, working at the forefront of our search for exoplanets around other stars. Yowza. Nick, Scott and Myself were invited for dinner, and to talk more about bikes and the great beyond. However, with our schedules so erratic and busy we didn't get over for grub, but we were still pleased to make a friend on the other side of the world. We are still in touch.
Although I've mentioned the sunset sessions and the way in which our passion for two wheels had led us to enjoy some once-in-a-lifetime interactions I guess it would help to offer a little insight on the actual BMX riding too, seeing as this is a BMX media platform.
The riding at FISE Jeddah was really good… Like any other professionally attended contest. Done….
Joooookes! So, despite the heat, which was seriously draining even for us lazy press folk, the riders found it in them to throw down when it really mattered. Declan Brooks saw himself qualify first and rightly so, using every inch of the course, hammering out some tech lines in between the occasional hammer and proving his time spent riding at Corby is paying off. He then got himself a podium spot in finals too, the boy did good!
"Declan Brooks saw himself qualify first and rightly so, using every inch of the course. The boy did good!"
Frenchy Anthony Jean Jean made waves too, and his solid riding throughout the week was rewarded. He is dialled and it made for a great watch for the guys on the deck and the crowds below.
The new judging system this season is two runs, best run counts. Judging by the way the end results lined up it's certainly shaken things up a little bit, yet didn't put Dhers out of his natural position. The current FISE world champion held onto his title, and put together, well, a winning run.
I guess it's down to the rest of the FISE World Series to tell us who this year’s world champ will be.