Field Notes: Hawaii's BMX riders playing in the dirt
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: the Sandbox BMX races.
WHAT IT IS
A gathering of bicycle motocross riders and their supporters (moms, dads, aunties, uncles, etc.) at an off-roading area on Sand Island known as the Sandbox. They use a winding, wavy dirt track, which they painstakingly built and diligently maintain, under an agreement with the state, which owns the land. Practice days are Mondays and Wednesdays, and races are held Saturdays, throughout the year.
Volunteers donated or scrounged virtually everything that went into making the track, from the repurposed carport that shades the riders at the starting line, to the decommissioned county lifeguard tower that serves as the announcer’s booth. The huge piles of dirt that have been sculpted to form the track’s jumps and berms were brought in by construction-worker dads, who tapped building sites where excavation was underway. The surplus shipping containers transformed into the track’s office and grandstand were procured by a commercial-airline-pilot dad, who found them sitting around at the Honolulu International Airport.
- Lots of families. On race days they back their vehicles up to the track, set up beach chairs and coolers, and tailgate into the evening.
- Lots of sweaty, bike-riding, adrenaline-filled kids, clad in colorful, padded pants, jerseys, gloves and helmets. On a busy Saturday, more than 100 of them compete. Most are boys, but a few are girls. Since there aren’t always enough girls to race each other, they go head-to-head with the boys. One 9-year-old has made a name for herself by beating 10-year-old boys, fair and square.
- All sorts of volunteers. They include heavy-equipment operators, who drive road rollers up and down the track after weather and wear loosen the compacted dirt. They include families who sell, at cost, tacos, pasteles, plate lunches or whatever else they can warm up using the hot plate and microwave in the track’s food booth. They include two bike-riding emergency medical technicians, who rush to the aid of racers who crash. Wipeouts are common, but in the track’s four-year history, only two have led to ambulance rides to the hospital.
- Zed, the announcer, who fills hours with his lilting, goofy, non-stop commentary. In four years, he’s missed just one race. “I slack off during the rest of the week, so I do this for the karma,” he says.
- A surprising number of men in their late 30s, 40s and early 50s, who ride the same small dirt bikes and wear the same colorful, padded outfits as the kids. Some are dads, who, after bringing their offspring to the track weekend after weekend, just had to try it themselves. “It looks easy, but it’s not easy,” says one such father, who quit smoking so he could ride faster. A small group of the adult riders raced dirt bikes as kids in the 1980s at the now-defunct BMX track at Campbell Industrial Park. “We used to kind of snicker when old guys would roll the track,” says one. “Now we are those guys,” says another.
The “striders”—toddlers who run along the track on pedal-less balance bikes. With their colorful outfits, bobblehead-like helmets, and dads pushing them up the steep parts, striders are the cutest things you ever saw.
WANT TO RIDE?
Show up Monday or Wednesday, 3 to 6 p.m. the fee is $5. If you need a bike, you can rent one for $1. Long-sleeve shirt, long pants and shoes required. Helmets provided. For location and more details, go to islandbmx.org.
Did you know? Bicycle motocross debuted as an Olympic sport at the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
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