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Andrew Hofkins of Aptos shows off his style jumping over the “shark fin” at Aptos Polo Grounds. A Party and Jump Jam take place from 12-3 p.m. Saturday to celebrate the opening of the park, which is meant to replace the Post Office Jumps. Brian Pederson/contributed

Owen Marks of Aptos does a practice jump during a training session in Southern California. Marks plans to attend the grand opening of the new Polo Grounds Bike Park. While the Polo Grounds doesn’t feature such radical jumps, it is designed to help riders progress to more advanced levels by having separate tracks, easier to more advanced. Ian Collins/contributed

Owen Marks will travel to Whistler later this month to compete in an invite-only dirt jumping event, part of an international series. There, the Aptos resident will demonstrate some of his signature moves while airborne on his bike. Soaring from one towering dirt mound to the next, he’ll showcase a hair-raising combination of tricks including the “truck driver” — a 360-degree turn while spinning the handlebars — and the “back fliptuck no-hander” — a back flip during which he takes both hands off the bars.

“I love the adrenalin,” he admitted.

The 17-year-old senior at Pacific Charter School worked hard to build up his skills. He credits his expertise to nearly daily practice for five years at the now-closed Post Office Jumps and Aptos pump track.

“I started at the pump track in Aptos and slowly progressed,” he said. “There are a bunch of pros who lived nearby. I just talked to them at the jumps and they helped.”

Since the world-famous Post Office Jumps in Aptos closed last February, there has been a void in the community that nurtured top-notch professional dirt bike jumpers like Cam McCaul and Ryan Howard, who have reached the pinnacle of the sport. Now there’s a place for a new generation of dirt riders to hone their skills.

On Saturday, the Aptos Polo Grounds hosts a grand opening celebration, including a ribbon cutting by the Aptos Chamber of Commerce, for the new bike park. The family-friendly jump jam and party is free and an opportunity for all ages to ride on the track, which isn’t quite as extreme as its predecessor.

“It’s an awesome place for people to progress,” said Marks, who plans to attend the festivities.

There are three different lines riders can follow at the new park. The first line is intended to introduce riders to the sensation of pumping one’s bike. The second line has a table top, which means riders can jump and land on a dirt table and then roll off, reducing the risk of a crash. The third line is the most difficult and allows for tricks and more difficult moves, like the kind that appeal to Marks.

The Post Office Jumps that Marks learned on were always intended to be a temporary park. After 15 years, they were razed in February. Meanwhile, pre-existing dirt jumps at the Polo Grounds Park had served as a place for beginner and intermediate BMX and mountain bike riders to develop their dirt-jumping skills.

However, the site needed an overhaul.

Last spring, Epicenter Cycling and the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz received approval from the Santa Cruz County Parks Department to rebuild and update the jumps’ lines. Alex Reveles, owner of Dirt Magic Creations, launched the rebuild process and Alex Fowler of Action Sports Construction (which has designed Olympic tracks) was a master on the tractor and design. Due to the drought conditions, completing the rebuild was postponed until the winter. Work started again in January, but with some setbacks. With the help of an army of volunteers, the track was completed.

One of the best aspects of the 10,000-square-foot site is that it provides the opportunity to progress from small rollers to intermediate gap jumps. Candace Covello of Epicenter Cycle, said that’s by design.

“The park is in between a pump track and dirt jumps,” she said. “It’s for getting you to the next level for that style of riding.”

Dave Smith of Shuttlesmith Adventures and Party Bus, oversaw much of the labor.

“So many volunteers and kids came out and shoveled,” he said. “The community built this thing. I helped organize and push things a long. I couldn’t do it by myself.”

A father of two and Granite Construction employee for 29 years, Smith added he thinks the park is a good outlet for the county’s youth.

“Kids and families have a place to play. It’s free and in a county park,” he said. “They can improve their skills and get off computers, TV and videos. Kids help each other get better. The older ones help the younger ones. They share information and it’s social. It keeps kids out of trouble.”

At age 59, even he enjoys riding at the new park, noting it is for all ages.

Saturday’s celebration marks a milestone, but it’s not the end of community bicycle facilities, said Smith.

“We want to build a mountain bike park,” he said. “We’re working with the county and looking for an acre of land. We’re not finished yet.”

Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer and avid cyclist who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Her Spin City bike column appears monthly and was launched in 2009.

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