Freeride mountain biking has been a very male dominated category of the sport since its inception. It has been awesome to see the culture changing over the last few years as women such as Casey Brown and Vero Sandler have blazed a trail into this niche of the sport with plenty more talented female riders hot on their heels. The result is that now at events such as DarkFEST we are seeing more and more women sending it alongside the boys, even on the world’s biggest dirt jumps. The more people getting involved, pushing their limits, having a great time and inspiring others, the better! The event is open to the public on Friday, 21st April and Saturday, 22nd April.
The women of DarkFEST
The world’s top female freeride mountain bikers have descended on Stellenbosch for Darkfest 2023 this week to take part in the most boundary-pushing event in the calendar. These highest and longest dirt jumps ever ridden and for the second year, the female freeride community is along to make history and take the sport to the next level.
Darkfest takes place down the vertiginous mountain slopes of the aptly named Hellsend Dirt Compound in the Banhoek Valley, along a 900-metre course that now boasts the longest dirt-to-dirt jump in the world. Hurtling at speeds up to 80km/h riders fly through the air at heights of up to 50 feet (15 metres) above ground level over distances of up to 110 feet (33 metres).
New Zealander Robin Goomes and Canadian Casey Brown, who last year opened the way for the ladies when they became the first woman in history to land the 90-foot (27 metres) gap jump, are now back with another crew of inspirational riders to take on the history-making course and see where freeriding will progress through this jam-style event.
Goomes has already run the full line at DarkFEST this year, including all the jumps and the two giant “Rocket Launchers” at the bottom, so it promises to be an explosive two days of riding.
Spectating at DarkFEST
The expanded contingent of six women will join 24 of their male counterparts this week to hone their airborne skills on the biggest jumps possible on a mountain bike. By the time the gates open to the public on Friday, expect the closely knit crew of athletes to have perfected their technique and tricks during the week to wow spectators.
For those who dare to watch, the audience will be treated to moves that include Backflips, T-bogs, Tailwhips, Superman Seat Grabs, Double Backflips, Cali Rolls, Can-cans, Three-sixtys, Suicide No-handers, Nothing Airs, Tuck No-handers, and Nack-Nacks.
If you were there last year, you would have seen several world firsts, including the moment when American Chelsea Kimball became the first women to land both giant “Rocket Launchers” at the end of the course. These two jumps are globally recognised to send riders soaring the highest, and have been the scene of many a crash and visit to the ER.
No holds-barred woman rider Vero Sandler (GB), who will be pushing the limits at Darkfest again this weekend, last year landed a ‘Nothing Air’ on the 24 foot (7.5 metre) Step-Up ramp, which earned her the Best Trick and Best Whip award. The event follows a rider-driven “jam” format with little in the way of a contest structure or external judging. Prizes are rider-voted and will be given to the winners after the week’s riding.
Sandler says she has already fulfilled her two goals for this year, which is to land the 90-footer and to pull off a No Foot Can. “Anything else will be a bonus!” she said.
For the men, the massively talented and wild Spaniard, Adolf Silva, will be eyeing an unlikely improvement on his redemption double flip on the Rocket Launcher, the same place where he incurred multiple fractures of his wrist in 2021.
Why DarkFEST exists
Darkfest, founded by UK rider Sam Reynolds, began as a video project called ‘Pure Darkness’ by Reynolds and his crew, and has grown into one of the top freeride events in the world. Reynolds spends several weeks before each event to tweak and improve the course to ensure the jumps are bigger and better than ever.
Comments from the crew busy hitting the jumps is that he has reached that goal once again.
“We can’t wait to welcome the world’s best freeriders back to Stellenbosch for Darkfest 2023, after what we witnessed last year from the girls, I definitely see them going full send next week. Every year, we push the limits of what’s possible, and the riders never fail to amaze us. We’re looking forward to bringing together another incredible line-up of riders and a new speedier line that boasts a gravity defying 110ft jump to showcase the best of the sport.”
Fans of action sports can come and attend! Tickets available on Quicket. The public can access the grounds on Friday, 21st April and Saturday, 22nd April. There will be merchandise stalls, music, access to the riders, and food and beverage on offer.