- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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A few hours after watching Nick Dunne, one of the young MOB Syndicate riders he sponsors, take the pro-am division at the second-annual AFMXA Nationals at Pala Raceway, Mike Metzger stepped on stage at the AFMXA Ramp Awards at nearby Pala Casino wearing a long, red wig and fully embracing the 80s hair-metal theme of the evening. He then presented the Legends Award -- which he took home last year -- posthumously to 1999 X Games silver medalist and FMX pioneer Mike Cinqmars, who died unexpectedly last year at the age of 31. Emotions ran high as Cinqmars' sister, Cassey Fisher, accepted the award in honor of her brother, and again when Nate Adams accepted the Lusk Legacy Rider of the Year Award and gave an emotional speech in honor of his good friend, Jeremy Lusk, for whom the award is named.
Then, after several more awards were handed out -- including to Josh Hill for Biggest Slam, Robbie Maddison for Muchos Cahones and Jeremy Stenberg for Fan Favorite -- an 80s dance party broke out.
Okay, so the Oscars this was not. But what the second-annual AFMXA Ramp Awards was is a step in the right direction for the sport of freestyle motocross. A consistent fan favorite at the X Games with some of the most colorful characters in action sports, freestyle has also been the least organized sport in the category. Now, with an association looking over its shoulder, an amateur series to feed the pro ranks and a year-end awards banquet to call its own, freestyle feels like it is beginning to stand on solid legs. "Less than two years ago, the sport of freestyle was in disarray," says Toby Boast, CEO of the La Jolla Group and chairman of the AFMXA, which was founded in 2009 with the objective of making the sport safer and ensuring its future. "Now it is more organized, has a consistent platform and a solid amateur class. These guys have never been recognized for all the things they do, but now they have their own awards to recognize their achievements."
As simple as it sounds, these pros feel that simply by having a year-end awards show -- which will air on FUEL TV in February -- featuring awards voted on by their peers, they are signaling their desire to be taken seriously as an organized sport and viewed as more than just a Supercross sideshow. "There are awards shows in motocross, but they're mostly based around racing," says Chuck Carothers, X Games gold medalist and organizer of the AFMXA Amateur Series. "Having our own awards show is big for our sport." Adds AFMXA founder Brian Deegan: "We needed an awards show to give credit to the people supporting freestyle and keeping it alive. I was worried about freestyle for a while. I thought it was dying because it wasn't growing as fast as it was in the past. So I'm doing my best to keep it alive. So are a lot of guys, and they need to be recognized for that."
If Saturday was any indication, freestyle's lifeline is looking strong. The second-annual amateur nationals featured 55 aspiring riders from around the country, up from 20 last year. "These young guys were surprising the hell out of me," Metzger says. "Guys in the pro-am class are flipping and the young guys in the novice division were going for it at 55 feet." Last year's pro-am winner, Lance Coury, had never competed in the U.S. before showing up at Pala, Raceway and went on to earn invites to compete at X-Fighters, the Dew Tour and even the X Games, although he was hurt and unable to compete at X. "When I won here, it opened doors for me that weren't available in the past. Other contests looked at me and gave me a chance," Coury says. "In freestyle, there are so many good guys at the top that they barely wanted to open the door for anyone. But now, with this amateur series, you can work your way to the top and get noticed. I'm proof of that."
This year's winners hope the same will happen for them.
2010 AFMXA Ramp Awards - Winners:
Best Spread in a Magazine: Todd Potter -- "Look Mom, No Hands" shot by Chris Tedesco, Sept 2010
Best Viral Media Piece: Deegan vs Deegan -- Metal Mulisha
Unsung Hero: Dr. G
Biggest Slam: Josh Hill -- backflip attempt in practice
Muchos Cahones: Robbie Maddison -- Canal Jump
Fan Favorite (fans voted at Transworld Motocross online): Jeremy 'Twitch' Stenberg
Legend Award: Mike Cinqmars
Lusk Legacy Rider of the Year: Nate Adams
2010 AFMXA Nationals -- Winners:
Novice Class: Davi Johnson -- Odessa, TX
Amateur Class: Ted Culbertson -- Helena, MT
Pro-Am Class: Nick Dunne -- Redding, CA
2010 AFMXA Amateur Series -- Winners:
Novice Class: Deake Hinton
Amateur Class: Mark Merrix
Pro-Am Class: Ed Rossi