At the 2005 Winter X Games FMX Best Trick, Jeff "Ox" Kargola pulled a huge one-handed, no-footed flip to one-handed, snowy landing. It seemed to be a winning trick, but then Ox's "boss," Metal Mulisha leader Brian Deegan threw the same trick. Deegan, who broke both wrists and his femur on the same jump just one year earlier, was the crowd favorite and the judges gave him the nod by just eight tenths of a point. But Ox was ecstatic with silver -- certainly the highlight of his FMX career -- and he followed his boss off the jumps one more time in an unauthorized, back-to-back backflip train, his mischievous, piercing eyes wrinkled with a huge grin as always.
Ox's life was cut short this past week when he crashed in Mexico, during the Rip To The Tip event that was founded by his long time friend, Cameron Steele. The whole motorsports industry is now mourning the passing of this friendly and popular competitor.
Jeff "Ox" Kargola: 1983-2011
I don't really remember exactly when I met Ox, but we were introduced by Cameron, sometime in the late '90s. Steele was leader/father figure to a group of San Clemente, Calif. kids who he mentored via dirt biking. Everyone in the group had their own special nickname, though most of them gave the nicknames up once they became young adults. Ox's name endured, because it became more of a mark of respect than a commentary on his size. At six foot two and two hundred plus pounds, he always stood out.
Ox was a big kid. You could say he was chubby back in the day, and if he had lived in Texas then he most certainly would have had an excellent football career. He played football at school, but was always more at home on a dirt bike or a surfboard and so that is where he gravitated as time wore on.
While his silver medal at the Winter X Games was the highlight, it was by no means the only memorable moment in Ox's FMX career. During the sport's early days, only the elite riders garnered enough respect to create and then name a trick, and to this day a one-handed Hart attack with the free hand grabbing a boot is known as an "Oxecutioner." He was a long time Metal Mulisha member and, when healthy, he usually earned himself an invite to the X Games and other big contests. He finished 2004 as the WFA Best Trick Champion.
Ox was just as comfortable in massive Hawaiian surf as he was with massive air on his dirt bike. And it's possible that freestyle wasn't even the motorsport discipline that he was best at. In recent years, he'd taken to off-road racing both bikes and trucks and the weeks prior to his death saw some of his best results on both. He won the San Felipe 250 for the second year in a row on his JCR Honda 450, alongside teammate Colton Udal. A week later, he won his first LOORS off-road race in his Superlite truck at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix. And he did all of that after a full slate of appearances riding on the Nuclear Cowboyz tour.
Metal Mulisha teammate and Nuclear Cowboyz roommate Derek Garland spent as much time with Ox in recent months as anyone.
"I thought I had a full-on job when I had to ride every weekend and then go home and deal with stuff there," says Garland. "He would get off the tour and head down to Baja and ride a couple hundred miles every day, then come back and meet me at the airport for the next weekend. We would get to the hotel, hit the gym, then go out for dinner and drinks, get up in the morning and go to the gym, then ride practice. And he'd want to go to the gym again! The guy just never stopped."
And he wasn't even done. Ox recently purchased a trials bike and was planning to learn how to ride trials as a means of practicing for the new X Games discipline of Endurocross.
As I write this, Steele is leading a group of Ox's friends, including surfing great Sunny Garcia, back down to Mexico to finish the Rip To The Tip in his honor. It's a brave journey to make, as they've just returned to the U.S. to deal with the business of his passing. This is an example of the love and respect that so many people have for this iron man of action sports and a demonstration of how tight that band of brothers, from a small California surf town, really are.