Wade aims for high-air record
AUSTIN, Texas -- The state bird of Texas is officially the mimus polyglottos, aka the mockingbird, but it might as well be Morgan Wade.
Wade, a crowd-pleasing BMX Big Air rider from Tyler, Texas, is 215 pounds of truck-drivin', twang-talkin' good ol' boy who just happens to ride a bicycle for a living. Lance Armstrong he is not.
"He's a s--- kicker," says BMX pioneer Mat Hoffman.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Wade, 30, does not care much about winning when he drops in for his 11th X Games Big Air competition Saturday. Conditions willing, he will be riding in a competition all his own. The throwback rider has long had his eyes on a throwback record, and he thinks this weekend is the time to try.
Wade is aiming to break Kevin Robinson's mark for the highest air ever reached on a BMX bike, as measured from the top of the quarterpipe to the lowest point of the bike at its apex. Robinson set the current mark of 27 feet in 2008 in New York City, breaking the record of 26½ feet set by Hoffman in 2001.
"I figure we're in Texas and everything's bigger and better in Texas," Wade says with a grin, well aware that his state's mantra perfectly aligns with his own. "So why not give it a shot?"
Wade unofficially reached 25 feet during Big Air practice last year in Spain.
"That's not very far from the record on paper," he says. "That's basically my kneecap."
His mark of 23 feet, 3 inches during the Barcelona competition set an X Games record. Should he eclipse Robinson's height, it would add a new chapter to a long-running game within the game of Big Air.
Last year in Los Angeles, Wade won the gold medal that had eluded him throughout his career when he blasted a triple tailwhip 21 feet, 4 inches above the quarterpipe. So the gorilla is off his back. He would like to win a medal Saturday simply because, as he puts it, "there's a longhorn on those medals."
"But in the grand scheme of things," he says, "I would be way more excited about getting the high-air world record than a medal. Way more excited."
If he lands his first of three runs and the wind isn't too fierce, he says he will forgo tricks for his last two runs and simply pump for speed over the 63-foot gap into the quarterpipe, which stands 27 feet high.
"The way I'm looking at it is my No. 1 goal is not to break the world record," Wade says. "My No. 1 goal is to come out of it standing and for everyone to be all right. I'm not trying to take any ridiculous risks."
He will be traveling around 50 mph when he hits the quarterpipe. Then -- kaboom.
"Really, the only person in the world who can do it, I think, is Morgan," Hoffman says. "Because he goes the biggest and he has that style and he has the flow and he has the pop. It's kind of hard to learn. It has to be unconsciously part of your flow. I can't wait to see it. I hope he does it."
Hoffman launched the Big Air movement in the early 1990s when he built a quarterpipe in his native Oklahoma City and had a friend tow him into it on a motorcycle, roaring down a 200-yard plywood strip. He refined the ramp design and reduced the friction on the in-run when he broke his own record in 2001, at age 29.
Then came Robinson's attempt in 2008. His sponsor, Red Bull, pulled some strings and built a massive quarterpipe in Central Park. With Talib Kweli rapping in front of a huge crowd, Robinson, then 37, tucked down a custom ramp into the quarterpipe.
"It took me a few tries and finally I nailed it," Robinson said. "I've always said if someone breaks the record, good for them."
Robinson acknowledged that every high-air record is "subject to question" in terms of the inexact way in which it is measured. Even with a pole above the quarterpipe that shows the escalating numbers, without a camera mounted at the record height, it can be difficult to determine precisely how high each rider goes.
Robinson maintains there was no doubt he eclipsed Hoffman's 26½-foot mark.
When asked about Robinson's record, Hoffman said: "That's real touchy. That was kind of a marketing thing. It's hard to really say. I can't really talk about that because I don't want to dis anybody, but I think it's better that they called it [27 feet] because I think Kevin would've hurt himself really bad if they didn't."
Wade said: "I was not there, and I love Kevin. And for that reason alone, I will not comment on that. I don't want to go there."
Robinson, who, like Wade, rides for Hoffman Bikes, will be calling the event on live television Saturday night. He won't need to wait for the number to pop up on his screen to know whether he still holds the record.
"It'll be obvious," he says. "We'll be able to tell."
Wade, who will be riding without a front tooth (he has knocked out six teeth in his BMX career and ruptured his spleen, among other injuries), is tempering his expectations, if not his enthusiasm.
"I don't care if I don't do it," he says. "I'm not going to cry about it. But it would be cool to have something happen that all of BMX, if they saw it, they can go, that's what it's supposed to be. Something that looks good and is clearly the record. That's all I want."