Riding DJ Brandt’s X Games Canyon Gap

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For most of us, stumbling across a canyon gap would be something to be avoided, probably with plenty of dragging of the brakes, a careful keeping back from all edges by at least three metres, and a good dose of definitely not looking down. For three young riders here however, it was an opportunity to ride an irresistible jump – not realising at the time that it was DJ Brandt’s top secret new feature for his video entry into the X Games Real MTB competition.

If you watch DJ Brandt’s video, at 24 seconds in he flips a canyon gap, built on the old Red Bull Rampage site in Virgin, Utah. Only, if you’d been following a group of young freeriders in Utah on social media, you might have caught a glimpse of this jump being ridden 6 months ago – before DJ Brandt asked them to take the footage down and keep the feature secret before his big reveal at the X Games. Finally able to share their images, we caught up with these young riders who inadvertently guinea-pigged this canyon gap.

Meet the Guinea-Pigs.

Aiden Parish

Aiden Parish, 16 years old, riding since age 5

Wyatt Thompson

Wyatt Thompson, 17 years old, riding since age 3 or 4

Navi Guerra

Navarro ‘Navi’ Guerra, 23, riding since he was 19 (yes, you read that right. 4 years of riding and he’s jumping canyons!)

In a land far, far away…

These guys are lucky enough to live in Utah, so a trip to Virgin to them is like a weekend at Bike Park Wales or in the Tweed Valley to us in the UK – just a great way to spend a weekend, have some fun and maybe try some new things. Only, with way fewer trees and a lot less rain.

Navarro says he rides down in Virgin as much as possible during the winter, ‘I go down every other or every third weekend as it’s the best place to find warm weather and dry dirt when everything in Salt Lake City is snowed over.’

Virgin Utah
When this is your local!

Wyatt and Aiden are on the same race team, Racekraft MTB, and many of their trips to Virgin are with the team. ‘It’s a really fun environment with all of us, we all get each other to send things we’d never think of if we were on our own’ says Aiden. Wyatt agrees ‘we push each other to new limits, but still within the person’s boundaries of what they’re willing to do and what we know they can do….I love riding in Virgin, it’s the terrain I feel most comfortable on, and it just feels like the most free to me because you can hike whatever you want and build whatever you want.’

For those of us who haven’t been there, Navarro has a go at describing the area: ‘To describe the Old Rampage site is tough, but if I had to put it in one word , I’d say gnarly. The ridge lines are steep, technical, and exposed making it just as much of a mental game to ride down there as it is a physical one. There are jumps, drops, and lines as far as the eye can see and no matter how many times I visit I am always finding new features to ride! I love Virgin because I can ride some of the scariest technical terrain and then walk not five minutes to some of the best jumps I’ve ridden, it really is insane down there.’

…Not so long ago…

So the scene is set. Our young shredders are ‘just riding along’ some of the most technical terrain in the world, probably displaying steeze and stoke, almost certainly schralping. ‘Oh my, look yonder’, says one. ‘I see a new feature, it looks jolly gnarly, gosh chaps, do you think we might give this a shot?’. Well, no, it wasn’t quite like that…over to Navarro.

‘One of my friends came to me and said there was a sick new canyon gap jump on top of Powerline, one the many ridgelines nestled around the old site. Later that evening me and a couple friends, I can’t remember who exactly, walked up top and sure enough, standing in open view was one of the coolest looking jumps I had ever seen. The gap was far, the lip was prime, and the landing was smooth, it seemed like a dream come true.

Aiden Canyon Gap
Aiden sends it
Aiden

The others echo the appreciation for the jump, Wyatt coos ‘it looked beautiful!’, while Aiden says ‘we were kind in all awe of how big it was’.

Having discovered the jump the day before but only looked at it, the boys went back to check it out with bikes in tow. Wyatt admits ‘it was really scary for me because it wasn’t just a gap, it was a canyon gap, and the drop below was like 30, 40 feet just straight down.’

Navarro was similarly cautious ‘Personally, the jump was no where near the longest or the biggest I had hit, however, it did have some of the most severe consequences of anything I’ve ridden, which added an extra bit of adrenaline in the moments leading up to our first hits. Furthermore, having just found this jump in the open, none of us knew the speed adding yet more tension to the situation.’

Aiden explains ‘my thought was just do one run up and if that feels good then just go for it because if you think about it too much then it’s going to get in your head.’

Navarro and Wyatt had a couple of runs at the jump to check the speed, but then Aiden abandoned his plan ‘I kind of guinea pigged it, went first off it…my thought process was ‘I think I’m going to do a speed check’ and then I go down it and I’m just going to hit it, it looks fine with the speed they’re going…I was a little bit tired so I just whipped it, got a little bit sideways’. Navarro recalls that was the signal for everyone else to get jumping ‘After watching that, myself and the rest of the guys jumped right into the session and sent it over the gap. The jump felt incredible, it was super smooth and barely took any effort to get from the lip to the landing. I remember it was a bit gusty that morning and every drop we were waiting for someone to call out that the wind was calm, but other than that the session went off and we all had a blast. After a few hits straight airing the jump I knew I wanted to get a suicide no hander over it and since Wyatt wanted to get a t-bog we both went to battle with our own tricks. It took each of us a few tries to get our stunts looking the way we wanted them to but we both landed them clean in the end.’

Navi takes off in a cloud of dust
Aiden, making DH bikes look light
Wyatt
Wyatt with the T-bog

Letting the guinea pig out of the bag

Tricks landed, photos taken, parents probably a little shaken, the guys did what any of us might do after a ride and posted their footage on Instagram. It was at this point their activities were clocked by the builder of this pristine jump, DJ Brandt, who wasn’t particularly keen to have his brand new jump ridden and revealed to the world. Navarro explains ‘I was confused as to how DJ might know we even exist … Of course we had no way of knowing who built the jump nor that it was for any special purpose. I wasn’t annoyed at the fact that he wanted us to take down the footage, in fact I can understand why he might want that, especially since we had no part in building the feature.’

‘I was really happy that we hit DJ’s jump before he did, so we guinea pigged it for him. So when he went back there…he saw tyre tracks on one side and landing on the other, so he knew it had to work’. With the air of a kid in a chocolate factory being told not lick anything, Wyatt adds ‘You can’t just build something and then expect people to not hit it!’ ‘And not post on Instagram about it for another six months!’ finishes Aiden. Wyatt and Aiden laugh ‘that was rough, sitting on those clips’.

Now though, the secret is out and the guys are free to share the photos and video clips they got on the day – though Aiden rues not getting more shots of himself. Some of us might be glad of just one shot of us sending a canyon gap – and more glad still to be able to admire it from the comfort of a living breathing body. Clearly though, these young riders are not like some of us, so what did they make of the tricks in the official video, will they be heading back out there to emulate DJ Brandt?

Wyatt canyon gap
Get a better look at that canyon!

Wyatt thinks not, he has other plans. ‘I don’t have any interest in copying the tricks DJ did over that gap however I am interested in going back and getting another session on the jump. For myself, riding bikes is something personal, and I only want to go back to progress my own tricks and my own style. The jump is sick and the spot is beautiful, DJ pulled a sick flip and a steezy super indie for his part, and for those manoeuvres and the insane amount of work it must have taken to build that, he has my respect for sure.’

‘There’s way I’m flipping it…I wanna crank flip it, I feel like that would be neat.’ say Wyatt, despite being able to flip, while Aiden says ‘if I got back I’ll probably sui it on my downhill bike, or get an even more sideways whip. And definitely get more clips on it!’

Just for kicks?

Are these riders, spending their weekends playing on the old Rampage site, the Semenuks of the future? Or will they be the dentist that fits you for your false teeth? Aiden is clear that freeride is just for fun, his sights are on riding pro downhill. Wyatt too rides for fun – or at least his version of it – ‘It’s a super nice outlet to have, to be able to go pedal your face off and just think about the next couple of pedal strokes instead of what’s happening around you’. Navarro, a little older, has some clear aspirations on and off the bike, ‘I primarily ride dirt jumps and slopestyle and hope to reach levels similar to those of the competitors on the gold tour. I am still in College and my first priority is finishing my degree in product design next year, however, once I graduate I want to see where my riding could go. However, I am also extremely interested in the back end of the bike industry and how the bikes we know and love are designed, engineered, and built so that we might ride them. I would love to work for any one of the many bike companies out there designing the next generation of components and frames so that the next generation of riders might enjoy them as I have!’

Wyatt Canyon gap

Speaking of the next generation, let’s conclude with what these riders – who are starting out doing tricks that hadn’t even been conceived of within the lifetime of Singletrack – think we might see next in the world of freeride.

Wyatt’s reply is instant, ‘Cork 720 tailwhip…I’ve been thinking about that…I want to see Semenuk do that.’

Aiden and Navarro are less definitive, but Navarro offers up a glimpse of the spirit that has already brought mountain biking from the klunkers of the Repack to where we are today, ‘With the creativity of all the world’s riders, I think it is impossible to predict what will come next, however, we can say for sure that riders like myself will never stop progressing the sport and creating tricks, parts, or bike parks the likes of which none of us can imagine.’.

Thanks to Aiden, Navarro and Wyatt for their time, the parents who helped out with images for this article, and of course to DJ Brandt for building that irresistible jump.


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