The spirit of BMX freestyle in Santiago – more alive than ever

Upon his arrival in Chile, Iain Stewart, beloved member of the Chile Today team, knew nothing about Chile, its culture or its job market. However, he did know the location of (nearly) all skateparks in Santiago. A passionate testimonial of an ageing BMX rider.

Pedro de Valdivia, one of Conquistador Francisco Pizarro’s trusted lieutenants, began the conquest of Chile in 1540, eventually founding the city of Santiago on 12th February, 1541. The European explorers suffered many setbacks over the following years when trying to head south to increase the size of their colony, not least to the continued and fierce Mapuche insurrections which ultimateley led to Pedro de Valdivia’s death in 1553.

Luckily for this European explorer, I have encountered no such hostility from the local Santiago populace, or to be precise, the BMX community of Parque Araucano in Las Condes. I first set foot in Chile on Christmas Day 2016, travelling into the wonderland of Torres Del Paine by bus from Argentinian Patagonia. My travels led me to arrive in Santiago on New Year’s Eve of that same year, where, as I have subsequently discovered, many explorers return, having been enamoured by Chile’s charms.

Since my arrival in Santiago, I have been asked on numerous occasions as to what prior research I did about the Chilean people and culture (none), what I knew about the job market in Santiago (very little) and what did I expect once I came here (who knows)?

Parque de los Reyes

Their flabbergasted responses take on an even more incredulous tone when I tell them that I did do my research on where the skateparks were located in Santiago (Parque O’Higgins, Parque de los Reyes, Parque Bustamante, Penalolen et al).

Ultimately, this sort of haphazard planning is the embodiment of my life and probably a robust reason as to why my Chilean girlfriend and I are no longer walking hand in hand at sunset. But that’s another story for another time.

Parque Araucano in Las Condes

Parque Araucano from the air

However, one skatepark I wasn’t aware was the aforementioned Parque Araucano in Las Condes. I stumbled upon this one morning last year when teaching English on the 18th floor in one of the skyscrapers south of Pdte Riesco.

I supped my morning coffee and contemplated life in the southern hemisphere whilst possessing not even a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish when I saw the ramps shining at me as bright as the full moon on a clear night. Oh, me oh my, what have we here, if this isn’t the cat’s miaow. I knew then that my quality of life in Santiago was going to be ramped up a gear (no pun intended), as this little slice of Eden was only a three-kilometre cycle from my apt.

BMX´ers meeting up

For any BMX’er far from home, meeting fellow BMX’ers in your new town or city is always a good thing. BMX was once a minority sport and because of that, there exists a certain kinship and fellowship amongst riders across the globe. And this discovery of the Parque Araucano ramps was to provide me with a first-hand insight into just how radical some of Santiago’s, and Latin America’s, freestylers are.

Coco Zurita shown here taking vert riding to new limits

I began frequenting the park and making acquaintances with the local riders, whose talents blew me away. Kids as young as five or six years old were honing their skills to become the professionals of tomorrow and dudes and dudettes in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s were busting moves that were as rad as anything I’d seen in my 36 years of BMXing (please don’t ask my age – suffice to say, I’m on the downslope of life).

Although once a minority sport, the perception of BMX has changed over the decades, with the wider populace now recognising the dedication, skill and talent required to become a top athlete. The sport has had an eventful transition from what was initially viewed as a fad in the 1980’s, to the rider owned companies of the 90’s, to where BMX freestyle is today – as a recognised bona fide sport with its inclusion in the inaugural ESPN X Games in 1995, and has been a staple in this event every year since.

With the massive increase in its profile due to dedicated extreme sports events such as the X Games, there has been a similar increase in the amount of competitions across the globe in the same time period.

Macarena Perez tearing up Parque de los Reyes at the Vans Pro Cup.

One such event was the Vans BMX Pro Cup Regional Qualifier which was held at the
Skatepark Parque de los Reyes in Santiago, on March 23 & 25, 2018. Here, riders travelled from all across Central and Latin America, getting to Santiago by hook or by crook, to compete with the ultimate prize being part of the Vans Pro Tour Team for the following season.

The top ten placings in the Men’s final featured 3 riders each from Chile and Brazil and two riders from Argentina, with Brazil’s Douglas Oliveira taking the overall top spot.

Santiago’s very own Macarena Perez won the Women’s Final with a rad run utilising all parts of the park.

Coco Zurita at the X Games

Another notable rider from Santiago is local legend Coco Zurita, who is acknowledged as one of the leading BMX Vert and Mega Ramp riders in the world.

Coco’s career has gone from strength to strength since moving to Los Angeles in California in 2003. Along with competing in numerous X Games, he came third in the BMX World Championships in 2009 and in 2013, Coco claimed his first X Games medal in Brazil.

Catching up with Coco Zurita

I caught up with Coco at Parque Araucano to shoot the breeze and to get his views on the scene in Latin America.

  1. You spend a lot of time in Southern California, USA, the birthplace of BMX freestyle. How do you think the riders in Santiago and Chile compare to those in the USA?

Well, I believe California is the centre of BMX in the world, including companies and also events in BMX, for us in Chile, it is a big example of the sport, a lot of the world’s best riders live in California or they visit there often. I don’t think in Chile we compare to them but we admire how they do things in USA and also, we try to follow their best examples.

  1. At the Vans Pro Comp Tour in March, riders from all over Latin America travelled to Santiago by train, plane and automobile to compete. What’s your views on the freestyle scene in South America?

I think it is amazing, the BMX Scene is growing more and more and Chile is catching the attention of the world. It has been a slow process and is taking a long time, but is worth it and we hope it continues to grow in to a bigger platform for BMX worldwide.

Coco Zurita flexing our minds and his body at the local Zignal park in Parque Aracanou
  1. In May of this year, you helped bring a full-size vert ramp to Parque Araucano in Las Condes. How important is it develop the younger talent and to push them onto higher levels?

Yes, we turned Araucano Park in to Signal park, for me owning this park has been an amazing opportunity to finish what my dad started and also be able to give back to the new generations, I love giving and helping others, I want to have one of the best parks in South America. This will allow Chilean riders to reach a new level of riding and also get them out there, winning competitions and world championships, so they can put the name of Chile up high.

What is art?
  1. At present, you are the only Chilean medallist in the X Games. Do you think the addition of this vert ramp can change this in the future?

Well, the tool to achieve the medals is there, now it is up to the kids to have dreams big enough to go get those medals. It is a lot more complex than just putting a pro level platform so they can learn and ride so they can become professionals, it is the mindset, the way we see ourselves and how much we believe in ourselves. I hope we see some young talent coming along. 

  1. At the inauguration of the vert ramp, world famous names in the BMX and skateboard world, including Dennis McCoy and Steve Caballero, were in Santiago for this opening. How did it feel for you to have brought such acclaimed riders and skaters to your home town?

To me It was a dream come true, really honoured and happy to connect these legends and do a world level show to the people in Santiago.

  1. You’ve been riding X Games since 2007 and BMX long before then. What changes have you seen in the sport in that time and how do you think it will develop in the future?

Well there has been a lot of changes, a few new generations have come in and we’ve graduated a big and strong generation also.  Now we have Olympics, the dew tours are long gone and five has taken it place. I can’t really tell how the future is coming all that I know Is that I love what I do whether there is money or events or there is none. Let’s roll with it.

  1. Santiago has a multitude of skateparks – probably an unfair question, but do you have a favourite?

Yes man, of course, my favourite one is Parque Higgins in the centre of Santiago, it is so fast and has a nice flow.

  1. Finally, any message to the riders of the world and the up and coming Mega Ramp vert riders?

Kids, you don’t have that much time, get to work, build your dream, have faith and work hard, everything is possible for you if you never give up.

BMX freestyle – a global currency

Unlike a great number of other sports though, the bigger the profile of BMX equates to the greater the spontaneity of tricks that the riders will deliver. This is one of the hallmarks of the sport and is one of the main reasons for BMX freestyle’s inclusion in the 2020 Beijing Olympics. From an underground sport barely thirty years ago, to the biggest sporting event on the globe, BMX freestyle has travelled a long, long way in a very, very short time.

BMX freestyle – the global currency of radness that won’t fade away, can’t be traded or be devalued.

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