Updated: June 21, 2010, 10:50 AM ET

Burnside and BMX

Tracing the early roots of BMX at Burnside skatepark in Portland, Ore.

By Shad Johnson (words), Dean Dickinson (video)
ESPN Action Sports

In 1990, construction on a DIY skatepark in Portland, Ore., began underneath the Burnside Bridge, in the northeast part of town. Without the permission of the city, the local skateboard community took charge and created one of the first modern-day concrete skateparks in the Northwest. Word quickly spread throughout the area, and it wasn't long before Northwest BMXers started visiting the skatepark. Although the first BMXers to ride the park experienced hostility from the local skateboard community, the group persevered and continued to visit Burnside, riding early in the morning before any skateboarders arrived. Eventually, the BMX scene in Portland started to grow in numbers as a result of many early morning Burnside skatepark sessions. This is their story. -- Brian Tunney

Veterans Day 1992 was the first time I traveled to Portland to ride Burnside. The concrete skatepark was founded in 1990, and it didn't take long for word to spread. The plan for my first visit was to wake up at 5 a.m. and drive from my hometown of Bend, Ore., to Portland -- a drive that takes a little more than three hours. I was the young guy in the crew back then, and lucky enough for me, two of the older guys in town (Eric "ODB" Jensen and Matt Hobson) had decided that I could squeeze in the back of their Geo Storm with all the bikes for the trip.

The night before, I couldn't sleep. All I could think about were the stories they had told me about riding the "Burnside Project." I imagined cement transitions as far as I could see. I lay there all night thinking of the stories I had heard -- stories that would eventually turn into legend.

After a very uncomfortable drive and quick stop at 7-Eleven for hot dogs, we arrived at the park. Much to our surprise, the park was packed by 8 a.m. Jensen and Hobson made the call that it was too busy to ride and said we would go street riding instead. But I wasn't having that. I didn't get shoved into the back of that car for three hours to just turn around and walk away. I went back to the car, opened the back hatch and grabbed my bike. It was a black Wilkerson Airlines that had seen better days, but it always got the job done, and it was going to help me finish this one. Unfortunately, within five minutes of riding, I had two skateboards whiz by my head. I reluctantly agreed that it would be a good time to go ride street.

A few years later, I found myself moving to Portland from Eugene. I was waking up every morning at 5 a.m. to meet up with all the guys who rode in town at the time. A big session for us back then would be eight or more guys, and if we stayed 'til 8:30 a.m., we had a good ride.

Around 2000, the scene in Portland was really starting to grow and we were starting to stay later at the park. But trying to ride into the morning didn't come without a price. There were numerous confrontations between us and local skaters. At the same time, though, there were skaters who didn't mind riding with us. We were also trying hard to pitch in and raise money for the park. By no means will I ever say that BMXers had a hand in creating what is Burnside, but I do like to think we earned our sessions there. Eventually, the non-BMX Burnside locals realized we had as much passion as they did and that we also didn't mind putting in hard work.

Shad JohnsonBurnside overview from the present. Launch gallery »

Looking back, it's strange to think of how many sick guys have came out of these morning sessions we had: Justin Inman, Bruce Crisman, Rich Hirsch, Matt Puorro, Andy Merral, John Bristol, Daniel Randall, Lil' Jeff Landtiser, Ben Ward, Ben Hucke, the Sosonya brothers and numerous other riders I'm sure I've forgotten.

The scene in Portland has grown so much since the first time I made that first trip up, and the city is growing like crazy. Although we have been getting at least one new public park a year lately, the sessions are still happening under the Burnside Bridge in the morning. Some of the faces have stayed the same throughout the years, some have changed. But the goal is the same: to shred one the most original parks ever built.

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