FEST Series – Behind the Scenes Exclusive
Photos Ale Di Lullo & Drew Rohde
The only thing bigger than the jumps the FEST crew builds is their vision. It may not look like it to the untrained eye, but this seemingly carefree crew of riders and builders are beyond driven. They stress, sweat and bleed over their creation. In the face of big dollar offers from major brands, the FEST founders have remained steadfast in their quest for self-governance and to run the show the way they see fit – by the rider, for the riders.
So what exactly is the FEST Series? It’s an officially unofficial series where selected members host their own signature events in areas near their home riding zones. Each host builds their own line of world-class jumps in hopes that their fellow riders will be impressed with the flow and feel. Often times they keep the line secret from each other and the public so the final unveiling is a surprise to all. FEST events do not have judges, they are not scored and there is no winner. Instead, the weeklong session at each stop is about riding, creating, filming and having fun, whether that’s on dirt bikes, soaking up rays at a local swim hole or discharging firearms.
The FEST riders, although very public in a riding and individual sense, are collectively, a bit more esoteric when it comes to their events. Most mountain bike events have a sea of media that accompanies a ‘more the merrier’ mentality. On the opposite end of the spectrum, FEST events are typically closed to media and spectators. The crew actually hand selects a photographer and videographer to attend and document the event on their behalf. FEST Series events are not free-for-alls where any camera-wielding Joey can roll up and start shooting. The event is in many ways a closed ceremony for full-fledged members who have earned their place through a blood and sweat initiation. The brotherhood is strong, and in many ways, FEST is more about the riders involved than anyone else. To outsiders the mentality may seem selfish at first glance, but the reality is, it’s also about giving back.
Founded by six elite-level riders who were feeling the burn of stressful, production focused events – the FEST Series evolved into the monster it is today. Mads “Makken” Haugen’s Hillbilly Huckfest was the impetus that spawned FEST. Nico Vink, Nick Pescetto, Andreu Lacondeguy along with Canadians Kurt Sorge and Graham “Aggy” Agassiz form the rest of the founding circle.
A large majority of FEST event riders are professional athletes who have ridden in some of the most famous and respected competitions on the mountain bike circuit. Those events have become increasingly stressful environments where fun and creativity can sometimes be pushed aside in an effort to deliver what the judges want to see.
Cam McCaul – One of the OGs of Steeze.
Kyle Jameson, better known as KJ, isn’t a founding member of FEST but is considered an OG in the circle. He’s now a three-time host of successful FEST events. While KJ still lived in Santa Cruz, California, he put on the much loved Cruz FEST in 2015 and 2016. Just months after to moving to Bend, Oregon, KJ teamed up with fellow Bendite Carson Storch to create Black Sage – a FEST course that was praised as being one of the most fun and longest lines in the series’ history.
“We were tired of feeling like circus animals being told when to ride,” KJ said. “It was more about when the helicopter was ready or if the cameras were rolling than it was about the riding,” he continued. “The vibe was different and it wasn’t always about the fun and some of us realized that the passion we had for riding was slowly dying as more stress and anxiety crept in.” This, was a common theme from the riders in attendance at Black Sage – less stress, more fun.
“We were tired of feeling like circus animals being told when to ride. It was more about when the helicopter was ready or if the cameras were rolling than it was about the riding. The vibe was different and it wasn’t always about the fun and some of us realized that the passion we had for riding was slowly dying as more stress and anxiety crept in.” – KJ
When founding members Nico Vink and Makken began sharing their ideas and swapped invites to ride their respective local areas with some friends, the idea sort of clicked. Nico shared, “I was lucky enough to get invited to Makken’s Hillbilly festival and we just decided that there was a solid group of us that had a bigger vision of what we wanted. We wanted to ride different stuff than what the current event organizers or industry was offering us. Now it’s been a few years and we’re still doing what we wanted, which is to ride really cool places with our friends and inspire people to have fun and ride how you want.”
Since 2013, FEST events have crossed the globe from Norway to Africa and the interior of Canada. Much like the 1960’s documentary, Endless Summer the FEST riders are on a never-ending quest to chase the flow. By steering clear of the stressful competitions that robbed the spark of passion, they feel motivated to ride for something more true. This is where the script flips as the seemingly-selfish motivation for the riders to ride for themselves actually benefits those outside the club.
While talking with Aggy at Black Sage we asked him how important events like this were to the mountain bike scene. “I feel like they’re really important,” he said. “It seems like passion is something the mountain bike industry has kinda been missing the last few years. If you look around here you’ll see everyone having a good time. People are high fiving each other and just stoked to be riding and pushing each other. When we’re able to ride in productive and relaxed environments like this we can progress to new levels. And hopefully when people see how much fun we’re having, and that it’s genuine, other people will get inspired to go out and push themselves,” Aggy explained. Through their desire to ride for themselves, they’re hoping to give inspiration and entertainment to others.
True to their mission, the crew went on mountain bike rides, moto rides and out to the event site to dig and work on the line after some unexpected rain. The riders in attendance come from motocross, World Cup racing, big mountain freeriding and dirt jump backgrounds. This motley crew of riders was always stoked and inclusive to everyone there. If it were anything besides a FEST event this same crew would be set out to compete against each other for the top spot or for points in a judged event. Here they were just friends looking to ride and hang out. In a way it almost seemed like a company retreat where coworkers go to mingle, relax and socialize outside their stressful work environments.
When the riders return from these FEST retreats their minds are rejuvenated and refreshed for the next competition or obligation they need to fulfill. While hanging out with the crew several things became apparent. First, despite the exotic locations, fun and allure a dream job may have, it’s still a job and I’ve never met anyone who loved their job all the time. Whether it’s waking up early to freeze their asses off for a sunrise photo shoot or hiking up a mountain for the 30th time to hit a sketchy jump in the wind, the reality shifts from dream job to dreaming they were back in bed. It’s no different than when a group of desk jockeys, burnt out from a week of TPS reports pack up their trucks and head out for a weekend ride trip. In a way, they’re throwing their own FEST event. This brings us to the point number two. Peel away the insane amounts of talent, huge jumps, and drool-worthy locales and a mountain biker is just a mountain biker. If you’re reading this then you already know better than anyone that the best medicine is going out for a rip with the buds. Imagine the only time you could ride with all your buds was when you were surrounded by thousands of screaming people. Then throw a few cameras in your face while you try to determine what is it the people watching you will find most impressive. That same escape we as riders crave is no different for those involved in the FEST Series. While some may find it selfish or narrow-minded that they keep the events so closed-off, I realized more than anything it meant these dudes are the real deal. These guys like riding so much that when they get burned out from the stresses of events and competition, the medicine they crave is just riding and chilling with their bros. How cool is that!?
For more info on the FEST Series or to see more from past events visit, festseries.com
“It seems like passion is something the mountain bike industry has kinda been missing the last few years. If you look around here you’ll see everyone having a good time. People are high fiving each other and just stoked to be riding and pushing each other. When we’re able to ride in productive and relaxed environments like this we can progress to new levels. And hopefully when people see how much fun we’re having, and that it’s genuine, other people will get inspired to go out and push themselves.” – Aggy
We asked Carson Storch a few questions about the event, the series and what it was like having an event like this in his hometown.
What were your thoughts about being included in Black Sage from a rider’s perspective?
It’s always a good time being involved in a FEST event. Before Kyle J and I held Black Sage, I had only been to two other stops; Aggy’s reunion 2016 & Cruz Fest 2015.
I know a lot of the reason why it happened at the Oregon Dirt Park was because of you. Could you say what was in your mind as a builder/promoter for the event that you’d be hosting and putting on in your home town?
I put in work quietly for two years building up relationships with the folks who own the park, knowing that the place has insane potential. There are a few longer term projects I have been working on from the start that are still in the works, but when KJ hinted towards being interested in moving to Bend, the idea of holding a FEST series stop really materialized. It was something we could get done, so the fall of 2016 we hopped in machines and sent the build. It was a huge undertaking for both of us, but in the end it was totally worth all of the struggles and growing pains. Being born and raised in Central Oregon, it was a childhood dream to have my friends and family witness this kind of riding firsthand.
Why do you think FEST Series is important?
The FEST series in my opinion, is the raddest thing happening in Mountain Biking right now. With the freeride Moto side of FEST growing as well, there is plenty of opportunity for both sports to combine and progress. When heavy hitters from different action sports reach out to support and respect FEST; you know we’re doing something right. It’s what the fans want to see, it’s what the riders want to ride, and it is a way to represent freeriding in a progressive and authentic way.
Black Sage – Photo Recap
Located in the heart of Central Oregon, the Oregon Dirt Park offered FEST riders serenity and some spectacular backdrops.
Graham “Aggy” Aggasiz
Hopefully the boys will pitch in to buy Aggy a bigger watch so he doesn’t have to strain so hard just to check the time.
Makken “Mads” Haugen
There are plenty of choices for getting airborne at the Oregon Dirt Park.
Makken is a bit paranoid – even though he runs a singlespeed drivetrain, he still likes to double-check his gear selection between jumps.
Kyle “KJ” Jameson
After putting in countless hours to get the Black Sage line dialed, KJ was taken out by a gust of wind early on Saturday’s public day. Some serious knee damage has sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. Heal quick buddy!
Fellow Bendite Cam McCaul completes the power trio of Bend rippers who regularly shred Central Oregon’s finest.
Tyler “T-Mac” McCaul
Tyler was on hand throwing down signature whips and stretched-out Supermans like this one here. We can’t help but admire his fine taste in mud guards… #loamwolfpack
Ryan “R-Dog” Howard
TV probably has more air miles flying sideways than most do flying straight.
When he’s not jumping mega ramps at the Nitro Circus while straddling a rocking horse, Dusty can be found riding with his wife Tara Gieger around their new home in Bend, Oregon.
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