April 21, 2014
Santa Cruz Sentinel
by Karen Kefauver
Aptos >> Fifteen-year-old Katelyn Praly is on a mission.
"I want to become a better bike jumper and I want to learn how to be a better teammate," says the Santa Cruz County resident, who plans to compete in the women-only Sugar Showdown, part of the fifth annual Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in Aptos Village.
Riding since she was 8 thanks to her dad's encouragement, Praly is passionate about mountain biking, despite its inherent dangers.
"I love the adrenaline rush," Praly said. "And I love the amount of work and dedication it takes to keep control of the bike and land properly without eating dirt. That's one thing you don't want to do: eat dirt."
Riding her purple bike named "Mischief Managed," Praly hopes to improve her skills by racing in the Sugar Showdown, presented by Seattle-based mountain bike coach Kat Sweet of Sweetlines.
Sugar Showdown can be a one- or two-day event for riders. Women can take a clinic on the pump track Saturday that will focus on an array of skills, including basic riding techniques, pumping, jumping, drops, wheel lifts and railing berms. They have the option to compete in jumping Sunday on a course developed specially for them at the hair-raising, world-famous Aptos Post Office jumps. The cost is $155 for the clinic only or $185 to add the competition.
The fit, pink-haired Sweet, a former pro mountain bike racer and skiing competitor, specializes in coaching women.
"I'm doing it for the ladies," she said. "A lot of them want to jump bikes and they may want guidance in how to do it correctly. I coach new jumpers and also those doing it for a while to get them to the next level."
Kathy King, an alumna of last year's Sugar Showdown in Aptos, isn't participating this year because she was inspired to sign up for a longer, full-weekend course. But, she said, "I do use what I learned at the event every time I ride: flow trail and turns and jumps and where to look. All good info."
Ivy Lui, a Bay Area-based, two-time veteran of the Sugar Showdown in Seattle, said learning new moves alongside other women is helpful.
"When you see somebody else do it and their physique is not that different from yours and their skill set is not very different from yours, it gives you courage," she said.
Lui added that the clinic works for all skill levels.
"It's really worthwhile for anybody getting into mountain biking or learning new skills, because it's a very methodical process," she said. "They can get anybody to learn these skills and tricks."
With the help of four other top-notch women jumpers, Sweet hopes the Saturday clinic will attract 30 participants. On Sunday, she'd like to see at least 15 women competing.
Young cyclists gets a helping hand at the short track during a previous Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival, which returns to Aptos Village this weekend.
"It's rewarding to teach women how to jump or do a new trick and see the smiles on their faces. It's pretty awesome getting a pack of a ladies out there shredding the jumps and Santa Cruz," she said.
"It's an impressive festival. So many things going on — jumps, pump track, vendors. It's a fun venue and I am very happy to be back and to be part of it."
The two-day festival, organized by Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz, is expected draw 9,000 visitors.
"This is a celebration of mountain biking in our community," said Mark Davidson, president of MBOSC. "We have great people; athletes, bike companies, trails and we want to showcase them. Plus, we're creating a really positive message and introducing parents to this healthy lifestyle.
"We want more awareness of the great resources we have in this county. Mountain biking can be invisible here unless you mountain bike. Everyone knows it's a surfing town, but it's a mountain biking town, too."
Free to spectators, the event will also include dozens of vendors and exhibitions. Participants can test their skills at the pump track — an enclosed area consisting of a dirt course with twists, turns and berms — and at the short track — a course that runs around the perimeter of the festival. The daredevils who brave the massive jumps at the Aptos Post Office spot always draw the biggest crowds for the Sunday afternoon 831 Jump Jam and Contest.
For 10th grader Praly, only one thing really matters: "When I get out there, I get in the zone. I don't care about what anyone thinks ... I want to show people that girls will ride a bike, will jump and can, and will, do well."
Traci Hukill contributed to this report.
IF YOU GO
What: Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival
When: Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Aptos Village, Aptos, next to Epicenter Cycling
Cost: Free admission to expo area
Details: Pre-registration is required for some events. In addition to cycling, the festival includes a food court, beer garden, live music at 4 p.m. Saturday with Coffee Zombie Collective, special areas for kids and shuttle rides to the top of Nisene Marks ($25)
On the net: www.santacruzmountainbikefestival.com.