Nina Buitrago Pro Spotlight

The winter months in Ohio can get quite cold. Here Nina Buitrago takes a much needed fire side break at Ray's MTB Park to warm up. York

ESPN.com: First off, being a female, BMX is naturally not the typical sport of choice, how did you ever get started with it and involved in riding?
Nina B: I was pretty bad at skateboarding, and my car died. I had a friend from Queens that rode BMX, but I just thought him and his friends raced BMX. One day I saw them in my neighborhood out on the island. I tagged along with them to their trails and after seeing how awesome it is, I knew I had to get a bike and at least try it. So I got a bike, and I have been hooked ever since.

Nina Buitrago

Born: June 14, 1981
Hometown: Port Washington, N.Y.
Current Residence: Lakewood, Ohio
Nicknames: Nina B, Neendawg, Burritoburger
Sponsors: DK Bicycles, Etnies Footwear, Albe's and Bern Helmets

Years Riding: 9

"Other than Krys Dauchy in the '80s, I would say there hasn't been another girl in BMX as influential and about pushing the limits as Nina Buitrago, period!" — John Povah, Etnies BMX

Starting out riding and even now, have you ever had any trouble or stories with other male riders being discriminate towards you, just because you're a lady?
Back when I first started riding, it was pretty rare to see a girl on a bike, more so then than now. I tried to blend in more with the guys then too and would dress more like them just to be less noticeable. As I met more girls over the years, and everyone being even more supportive of girls BMX, it has been a lot easier to actually just be a girl AND ride BMX. Well, that and the whole guys in tight pants revolution, "ha-ha" it was the most awesome opportunity to start dressing like a girl again, ha-ha thanks guys! Jay Miron himself used to tell me, "girls can't ride bikes!" but then he asked me to ride for his company MacNeil one day. Go figure!

That's right, you used to ride for MacNeil, was that your first original sponsor and what made Miron change his mind and sponsor you? Why did you ever end up parting ways with MacNeil?

I think it was at one of his contests he noticed me, I crashed a bunch of times trying this kinked rail. It was the first time I think anyone saw a girl on a bike go for it, on a rail that big, and after moving up in the ranks over the years competing against the dudes in his contests. Or maybe with more girls starting to try to enter the AM class with the guys, whatever it was, it was at that contest when Miron must've come to realization that maybe girls can ride bikes or at least are crazy enough to go for it! He was down to help me out I guess, so he invited me on the team, which was such an honor. I got to ride with the likes of the Canadian Beast himself, John Heaton, Bibi, Gary Young, Alistair Whitton too name a few it was so awesome! He also let me throw a girls class at the Vancouver Metro Jam for the next two years, which was so much fun! In the end, I parted ways with MacNeil when Catfish gave me a call from DK Bicycles, a local Ohio company, which would make it easier to help me travel more, where as with MacNeil being in BC, Canada it got kind of tricky to get together for team stuff. Man, that was one of the most nerve racking phone calls I think I ever had to make to the Beast, but at least now if you ever hear him say, "girls can't ride bikes!" "Ha-ha-ha", now you know what's up!

You use to run a DIY BMX print zine called, 'Emerald Nation' and I haven't' seen it around lately, what happened to it? Aren't you working on a new zine project?

Yes, Emerald Nation was a fun zine my friend Stacey and I created to fill everyone in on the latest happenings in girls BMX in addition to some of the websites and blogs out there. Since there were only a few girls if that getting any coverage in the big magazines, we thought it would be sweet to do our own thing, just to create an additional yet tangible source. We put out like 9 issues over a few years, went on a little bit of a hiatus due to computer issues, finances, etc. and well now my friend Angie and I have started a new one. This new zine is called, "Yeahhhh!" and it's just another tool we have to cover girls BMX, contests, road trips, random stuff and inside jokes. Instead of publishing it on-line, we print a limited number of copies that we'll have with us wherever we go. Even though we'd probably reach more people, I still think it's way sweeter to actually hold a printed/folded zine in your hands versus logging into one of the many social networks out there just to view it on a computer, I feel it has more character and artistic value.

You currently work at Ray's as your day job and bartend at night. Is it challenging to balance your time as a pro rider too?

Working at Ray's is awesome because I still get to ride around all of the time and with so many friends and fellow riders passing through. It's like, a BMX mecca, and I still get to travel during summer so it works out awesome. I picked up some bartending shifts here and there to help make ends meet, which was real nice to have something else to do for instance when I got shoulder surgery. It broke up the six months off of my bike without feeling like a, "diabetic at the candy store" checking everyone into bicycle paradise all of the time while not being able to ride and enjoy myself the same. Now that I can ride again, I make sure I am still able to ride everyday!

You just finished physical rehabilitation for your shoulder. What happened to it to begin with?

Dang, one too many crashes to my left shoulder over the years left me with a blown out capsule and torn rotator cuff. After rehabbing over eight dislocations, and still dislocating, the final resort was surgery. I finally had health insurance and wanted to ride again without worry, so 6 months later and I'm just starting to get back to where I was again!

It seems like the women of freestyle are a pretty tight knit group. Is that so and who do you hangout with the most?
Yeah, I think so because there aren't as many of us. We tend to try to all keep in touch and ride together as often as we can. This year's been awesome! Two of my best friends and riding buddies moved out here recently to be closer to Ray's as well: Betsy Olsavsky and Angie Marino. In addition to them, there are so many girls that ride BMX up at Ray's on the regular now and there are trains of girls riding through the rhythm sections daily.

There are so many girls that ride BMX up at Ray's on the regular now and there are trains of girls riding through the rhythm sections daily!

--Nina Buitrago

You're currently sponsored by a couple of huge teams in BMX, Etnies and DK. What's that like for you and how did all that come about getting sponsored by them?
Wow, Etnies has been a huge supporter of girls BMX since 2005. I had contacted John Povah to see if Etnies would be willing to support an all-girls road trip that Stacey Mulligan and I were planning. It just so happened that Etnies expanded their girls team and was adding BMX, and I've been riding for them ever since! It's been cool. They also do BMX clinics at girl's day at the X Games every year, so we at least have a presence there for other girls to see us riding BMX and get to try it too! And with DK, Catfish has always come down to all the girl BMX jams when we had them at Chenga and helped us out whenever possible. He has always been a supporter of BMX as a whole, and so he called me up one day, said there were some openings on the DK team, and that he could help me travel more and to help me keep doing what I'm doing, helping the girls side of BMX grow even more. Ultimately I couldn't turn it down! They have been one of the most diverse and kick-butt teams in BMX! So pumped to be a part of it, DK has been really awesome supporting any girls BMX events that I throw and have helped me to keep riding as much as I can.

Each year you hold an all-women's night. This past weekend was one at Ray's. How was the turnout and how did everything go?
I got hired at Ray's three years ago under the condition that Ray allowed me to have a girls BMX jam there at least once a year as I have at other parks in the past. He agreed as long as I opened it up to MTB too, and so the first year like 60 girls showed up, the second year 120, and this year about 200 women came through! Friday was the main event. We closed the park to women only the first half of the day for clinics. Girls could go freely from section to section to work on fundamentals all the way to tricks in the foam pit. I brought out some of the top female BMX riders: Angie Marino, Cory Coffey, pro racer Rachel Smith and myself to handle all the BMX clinics. It was a fun weekend of riding. We had about 40 girls on BMX bikes pass through, gave away some prizes, made new friends and had a ton of fun. It's now the largest non-competitive women's biking event of the year. And for the record I'm going to say, in history too.

Your heading up to the Notro Jam this weekend. Are you going to enter?
At first I wasn't going to. I'm still feeling a bit hesitant with my shoulder, but I have cruising privileges and still want to support the girls class! It's more of a jam session anyway and we all tend to have a really good time pushing each other to try new stuff on a course we'll only get to ride once for the weekend. So "Yeahhhh!" "Ha-ha", I'm entering, and will be distributing first issue of the zine there too.

That brings me to my next question. How do you feel about contest in general? Do you think that girls should have to compete against men? If there were enough competing girls, do you think there should be a whole separate category that the women should compete in or should it all be as one?
I think contests are fun; they motivate us to dial in tricks and try new ones. If anything, I think it's cool if girls are able to enter at all! Before 2004, Jamie Bestwick's Goodtimes contest and Matt Hoffman's BS series offered girls classes, I never really ran into a problem riding against the men. That was at least for the first few years I entered contests, until Dew Tour turned a few girls down. I guess they don't allow girls BMX at all, not even in the "open" qualifiers. I think any contest series, televised or not, that if enough girls show up and there is a demand for it, that they should totally have a girls class. Not only would we be stoked to get to ride a new course, but it would help our side of the sport so much by exposing that many more girls in the crowd see that girls ride BMX too, ultimately inspiring them to try it. It would just push the level of riding the girls are at now too, in addition to opening up new markets for females and BMX in general. If bigger TV comps did that, who knows, we could help fill the gender requirement for the Olympics and have male and female BMX Freestyle compete in the Olympics!

How many female BMXers do you think there are throughout the country or even the world? Do you see it growing and do you think it will ever be balanced between the guys and girls?
Wow, a few years back Women of Freestyle documented the numbers quite well, but there are so many girls now that ride all over the world, it's hard to throw out anywhere near an accurate number. I see BMX growing for girls, more contests keep offering girls classes, and pushing the level of riding for us. The potential is there and we're after it! I know it won't happen over night but hey it's been almost ten years. And we're at the point where I think girls BMX is accepted more than ever. Hopefully it will be more casually in the near future.

Before 2004, Jamie Bestwick's Goodtimes contest and Matt Hoffman's BS series offered girls classes, I never really ran into a problem riding against the men. That was at least for the first few years I entered contests, until Dew Tour turned a few girls down.

--Nina Buitrago

Most girls are intimidated to get started in BMX. Any advice you could give to them, especially the girls that are debating whether they can do it or not?
Well like I always say, "You don't know until you try!" I would say, especially if you have friends that ride, take advantage of the opportunity to have them get you started! Keep an open mind, grab a helmet and some shin guards, and hang on. One more thing: There is no set-learning schedule. It's freestyle, so have fun with it! Some people learn faster than others, but just remember that everyone, believe it or not, starts at the same level!

Where would you like to see the future of BMX girls go?

To the moon! I really hope it takes off to the point where the younger girls can have more than just a few of us to look up to, and will set goals and kill it on a BMX and look forward to traveling and progressing their riding with support from more companies than just the ones that have helped me out over the years. As girls BMX takes off, I hope I can help pave the way for more companies to reach out to more girls, and get this party started!

Any last words and thanks?

I'd like to give a shout out to all the young up and coming girl BMXers worldwide, keep shreddin'! I would like to thank my family, DK Bicycles, Etnies Footwear, Albes.com, Bern Helmets (www.bernunlimited.com), Davey O, Ray, John Povah, Afro Pat, Catfish, Flip, Angie, and anyone and everyone who's ever helped me out with flats, riding, or put my shoulder back in over the years. Thank you for all of your support! Go big!