“Riders ready. Watch the gate.” The gate slams down and the race begins. Big jumps, deep turns and steep backsides await racers of all ages daring enough to take their bikes through the Sand Island BMX racecourse.
BMX or bicycle motocross began in the early 1970s in Southern California when young cyclists began riding motocross tracks for fun. Racing and stunts eventually evolved into the specialized competitions we have today.
Operated by Island BMX, a nonprofit organization staffed entirely with volunteers, Sandbox BMX is an outdoor dirt track built for racing. A typical lap takes around 30 to 45 seconds. To race, a rider must use a specific bike: a single speed bike with 20-inch wheels. Sandbox BMX also has a separate race category for Cruiser bikes with 24-inch wheels.
“I race both 20- and 24-inch bikes. It’s a lot of fun and keeps me young,” says a Sand Island BMX member.
Riders are required to wear protective gear while on the track. A full-face helmet, long-sleeve shirt or jersey, long pants and covered shoes are mandatory. Some riders choose to wear more safety gear, including neck braces, knee and elbow pads, gloves, and any other type of body armor. Kids, teens and even some of the adults rock bright colors on their jerseys, race pants, and helmets.
Sponsorships and teams recruit riders to wear their colors and logos while they race. Sandbox BMX has a few teams that call Sand Island their home track. Some teams include The Bike Factory team, The Bike Shop team, A&J Racing, as well as the newest team on the block, JCM Racing.
A practice fee to use the track is just $5 and the race fee is $10. Race prices vary based on special events. Before the events, volunteers work tirelessly to open the track an extra day so riders can get in extra practice before the big day.
As riders race and progress, they advance in skill level as well as title. All racers begin as novices. As soon as they attain enough wins, they move up to intermediate and eventually expert. Young girls go from novice to a separate girls category. That’s not to say girls can’t compete among boys. A young 9-year-old girl at the Sandbox has made a name for herself by beating 10-year-old boys fair and square.
Cruisers race in a separate category as well. Riders who show serious promise can attain the title of Junior Development (Jr Devo), Development (Devo) and progress enough to race professionally (A Pro, AA Pro, AAA Pro, Vet Pro).
Island BMX has an agreement with the state of Hawaii that allows them to develop and maintain the land for BMX activities. Kids and their families look forward to practicing their riding skills on Wednesdays and challenging their friends to high-intensity races on Saturdays. Riders are awarded points for each race won and season winners are declared at the end of the year.
After being introduced into the Olympics in 2008, the sport has quickly grown on the mainland as well as Hawai‘i. Kids seem to take to it quickly, and many are able to advance in skill levels. Now in its sixth year of operation after opening in October 2009, the Sandbox proudly hosts more than 150 members.
“It’s a self-motivated sport, self-propelled. It works on confidence-building in kids. Kids learn to dig deep within themselves to give it the best they got,” says Kris Moniz, the new track operator. “No matter what the outcome is, it’s a good life lesson – things they’ll use in their daily lives.”
“It is just a race over jumps on your bike, and it really takes nothing to start,” says Jim Drake, former president on the board of Island BMX and previous track operator.
A new strider category allows kids as young as 2 to take on the track with their push bikes. Also a category for 60-year-olds and over has riders battling it out every weekend (at their own pace).
“We came out on our trial day and we never left. We’ve been here for four years now,” says Keira Tabanera of her sons, Maka and Rylan.
If you get hungry before, in between, or after races, the Lunchbox is the place to grab a quick bite. Families schedule different weekends and get to cook and sell their food out of the small facility. The family who sells the food gets to keep all the proceeds. Many families use the Lunchbox as a way to collect money to send their children to the national races in the mainland.
“I love the Lunchbox. It’s always something different and always something delicious. It’s also great to know I’m helping my fellow riders go to a national,” says a local rider.
To realize the thrill that BMX gives a rider, its fans say you really need to experience it. With over 370 BMX tracks located all around the country, there is bound to be a USA BMX facility near you.
For more information about Sand island BMX and USA BMX, go to Islandbmx.org or usabmx.com.
by Andrew Drake, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter