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Photo of Finn Iles by Sven Martin

By Sean Griz McClendon

Eric Carter introduced “mountaincross” to the world at the Glen Helen Outdoor MX National in 1999. The event was on OLN (the now-defunct Outdoor Life Network) and covered in Mountain Bike Action. EC’s event sold me on the fact that MTB was really bad ass and was pure Bicycle Motocross. Between witnessing Shaun Palmer and Missy Giove win a World Cup at Big Bear and EC’s ground-breaking event that sent my MTB heroes bar-to-bar over massive jumps like my MX heroes, 1999 was the year I gave my life to mountain biking. I was 14.

My DH racing campaign began at Snow Summit in 2000, contesting the Amateur Cup series. When the NORBA National came through, I think John Cowan (another Sand Diego MTB legend) was responsible for the sideshow dirt jump contests which grabbed my attention. Talk about a forgotten legacy in freestyle MTB. Those comps always stoked us out! Thanks to TV coverage, I knew ahead of time that Big Bear built some big gaps and I needed to be prepared. During the winter of '99-'00, I started scratching lips in places that sent me to landings sculpted by mother nature – Crusty Demons/Moto XXX style – in my hometown Pine Valley, CA. The first gap made out there is the famous “scrub roller” and from there the gaps became progressively bigger as jumps turned into lines. At one point we had four sets of trails running. All we did was send it after school.

My love for big gaps and whipping a DH bike needed to be spread like punk rock in the 90's and led to the Sideflight Champs. Sideflight Champs in 2009 was simply a “best whip” contest. Like 95% of my MTB career, Sideflight was inspired by motocross. The MX community already had Best Whip contests and X-Games in 2009 and ever since EC’s mountaincross at Glen Helen, I’ve had visions of DH bikes flying (horizontally) over massive gaps like our MX brothers. 2009 seemed the right time to host an “invite only” battle of style with a casual vibe. At the time, Thomas Vanderham had a killer segment in Seasons that showcased pure DH bike style, and I wanted to add what I could to this momentum. Real Bicycle Motocross was alive with many riders able to throw down, and I knew my jumps could humble the best of the best after getting them built up the way I wanted it. I shared my ambitions to do a whip contest with a few riders at Crankworx in 2009; riders like JD Swanguen, Ryan Howard, Tyler McCaul and others. Not a single rider was opposed to the idea, and when I reached out to John Hauer (my team manager and X-Fusion Marketing director at the time) he fully supported the concept and scraped together a small budget to facilitate the dream.

The original Sideflight event poster from 2009.

Initially, the plan was to host the contest at my jumps in Pine Valley. Cody Warren and I spent some long afternoons prepping The Nattapult out there. We recently named the famous blaster jump The Nattapult because Kyle Strait moved to town and the jumps literally send you into the lower Nattmosphere. We were pretty motivated to make some jumbo hits. I warned John Hauer that we were likely to be shut down by the local authorities if we promoted the event at all beforehand. I knew we had to keep things quiet to dodge “the man” plus, it would have been so rad to produce all this online and print content with the element of surprise behind it. John went ahead and did his job and sent a world-wide announcement that a host of MTB badasses were going to Whip Off in the Pines. The Forest Service promptly shut things down the following day. I was given 24hrs to find an alternative location or the dream would be shattered. In a last ditch effort, I approached our local MX track (now known as 212 Land) and the dude who was managing the track on Tribal Land agreed to let us host this contest. Ray roughed out the jump line into a hillside with heavy equipment for a screaming deal. A lot can happen in 12 hours for highly-motivated people.

Final construction of the line began a couple of weeks before the scheduled contest date. Kyle Strait, Cody Warren and a few locals came out to shape and pack our machine-built line. Other names had committed to showing up, too. Thomas Vanderham and Brendan Fairclough made the trip to rural San Diego to support what was happening. We had a killer practice session at the MX site and  plenty of shots were also collected during jam sessions in Pine Valley. Brendan got at least one cover shot out of it all, and we created some unique online content that helped differentiate Vital MTB (which was just a few months old) from all other sites.

Unfortunately, Sideflight finals were blown out with unrelenting wind and the haters proceeded to hate. Although the wind was out of my control, I was crushed. I didn’t go through all that hassle to get blown out and years later become digital dust in the wind. I’ve broken my back to help so many riders get careers started, cover shots and 2-page spreads throughout the years. More importantly and despite the canceled Sideflight finals, the riders were stoked on the jam format and we can see the impact of the Sideflight contest today with Whip-Off World Champs at Crankworx and the newly-found FEST series.


If we go back in time and check some comments on the Sideflights practice video, you can see who advocated a whip event be held at Crankworx. I would have been there in 2010 to defend my title but I was busy being crippled in a wheelchair and tearing it up at a computer screen.

2011 Whip Off World Champs at Crankworx. Underground.

Fast-forward to Tyler McCaul winning the world over with his style and the names Bernardo Cruz and Finn Iles being globally recognized as two of the best big bike whippersnappers in the game. I think it’s bitchin' that riders can get their careers in MTB started by throwing dirty whips in front of a crowd of party people. At the end of the day, it’s a rewarding feeling having been involved in making it possible to gain global recognition and start a career in high-stakes competitive mountain biking.

A note about proper whips

As Sideflight Champs approached in '09, I had been studying Kevin Windham's and Justin Barcia’s technique for weeks, trying to break down their movements for whipping a dirt bike. I knew we could accomplish a similar whip on a DH bike, but it had not been done yet. It’s fairly complicated, but super fluid once you break it down. K-Dub taught me to aim for the far corner of a take off, load up the rear suspension into the belly of the lip and simultaneously go through a series of movements in a bitchin' flight pattern that gives you a feeling of weightlessness for a split second. That’s when you know you’ve cracked a real whip – when you feel weightless. Now throw your front wheel down with everything you’ve got to bring it all together. If you don’t throw your nose down you’re eating shit. It’s pretty cool that a 14-year old has finally figured out the sequence, too, some five years later. Just like the riders voted for Finn's winning whip at Crankworx this year, the riders voted for my first-ever MTB winning whip at Sideflight Champs in 2009.

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