Freeride mountain biking took a giant leap forward at DarkFEST last week as world records progressively tumbled – spearheaded by the 120-foot backflip jump by UK rider Tom Isted.
When the dust finally settled on the weekend, the world’s top female and male riders had capped off an unbelievable week of personal bests, world firsts, and huge distances down the vertiginous mountain slopes of the aptly named Hellsend Dirt Compound in the Banhoek Valley near Stellenbosch.
Isted’s record earned him the King of Darkness title, helped along by a backflip “train” with fellow Briton Sam Hodgson riding seconds apart that landed them world-record backflips of 106ft and 104ft respectively. The feat by Isted and Hodgson over the historic 110ft road gap jump (extended from 90ft in 2023) simultaneously broke the existing dirt-to-dirt backflip record held by Cam Zink.
To achieve world record distances in a train was an astounding milestone in the history of freeride MTB, and it earned the two riders the Darkfest Moment (Men) award. Hodgson had been over the 110ft jump only once before attempting the flip, which made it even more historic. “Flipping the 110 together in a train will be something that we never forget! Unbelievably stoked that it worked out,” Hodgson said. His countryman Isted went on to shatter the flip and dirt-to-dirt world records again during his solo attempt later on at Darkfest 2023.
For the women, the Queen of Darkness and the Darkfest Moment (Women) award could only go to New Zealander Robin Goomes, who reigned supreme all week at Hellsend. She became the first woman in history to ride the full 700-metre run, a proud moment in the career of the talented 26-year-old, who took just over a year in 2022 to become one of the best female freeriders in the world after leaving a full-time career in the Kiwi military.
Darkfest legend Matt McDuff, who founded the original Pure Darkness project with British rider Sam Reynolds in 2013, said: “This week pushed the sport – the first women’s top-to-bottom run, the longest backflip landed dirt-to-dirt, this is what the event is all about.”
First time Darkfest rider Kurtis Downs from the US executed an insane Cliffhanger Backflip on the step-up jump to take the Kenda Mind Benda (Men) award: “I honestly had no clue what to expect coming into Darkfest and feel incredibly privileged to be a part of it, so hyped to lay down a trick no-one has seen before on a big bike (at Darkfest) and pushing the boundaries and progressing the sport is what it’s all about, let’s go baby!”
Darkfest is one of the most anticipated events on the freeride mountain biking calendar, attracting thousands of spectators and millions of online viewers. This rider-centric event continually pushing boundaries and breaking new ground within the sport, there has been coverage across the world on national broadcasters and front pages of newspapers, testament to the incredible things happening on a rugged mountain slope near the wine farms of Stellenbosch.
This year saw an expanded contingent of seven women after their debut last year. The women joined 23 of their male counterparts to push their airborne skills on the biggest jumps possible on a mountain bike. The event takes place over five days, and represents a breakaway from formal contest structures. The trails are built by the riders, and prizes are voted for by the riders.
Darkfest 2023 winners list:
Queen of Darkness: Robin Goomes (NZL)
King of Darkness: Tom Isted (GB)
Darkfest Moment (Women): Robin Goomes (NZL)
Darkfest Moment (Men): Tom Isted (GB) + Sam Hodgson (GB)
Spank Best Whip (Women): Vinnie Armstrong (NZL)
Spank Best Whip (Men): Kade Edwards (GB)
GoPro Best Line: Bienvenido Aguado (ESP)
Kenda Mind Benda (Women): Robin Goomes (NZL)
Kenda Mind Benda (Men): Kurtis Downs (USA)
Biggest Burke: Adolf Silva (ESP)