There is a truth I have learnt about myself over many years of being involved in extreme sports; I’m not that extreme! I spent many years bodyboarding in some heavy South Coast shore breaks and then when I went to Uni in wales things got really heavy and I found I was really not very brave. Head height hollow waves breaking on a rock reef in the middle of winter were just too much for me. The same happened with Skateboarding though to a lesser extent; I was willing to ollie off some pretty big stuff but seemed to find half pipe stuff too scary. Snowboarding was yet another example; I loved it but I still find myself worrying about what the “reds” will be like at different resorts and if I will make the short black run between the two pistes I want to go on. I seem to also have the same issue with mountain biking – but there is hope and I am starting to see a pattern.
I have only really been riding a mountain bike properly for about a year; I have ridden before that and spent a lot of time on a road bike but not in a focused way. In this short period of time I have tackled various trail centres from Swinley to Bike Park Wales, Castlewellan and a pretty bonkers trail in the Mourne mountains. I have ridden Friston Forest a lot, Stanmer Park in Brighton as well as the W2 at Afan and more. So in terms of getting riding done I have been working hard to build up my experience and in what feels like a short time I have done pretty well. But I still get scared on what really isn’t particularly scary stuff.
If you have not heard of Poldice then hit YouTube and have a look. The trails are built on an old mine and there are some serious jumps, step downs and drops there. A recent visit there with two other relatively new riders proved a pretty full-on experience. I was basically terrified but I pushed myself and I did some stuff I would not have thought possible a year ago. However, I was fed up of being scared and looking back at some video footage I really should have pushed harder. So what is wrong with me and why do I suffer with the fear so much?
After much thought I have been trying to work out why each sport seems to become scary, or starts scary and never gets any better. My thoughts keep going back to skateboarding. This is the one sport I did for the longest, and basically the one I was best at. This is the answer; kick flipping down 5 steps seemed normal to me but I am pretty sure there are plenty of people out there that would find that way too much to try. So the point I have so massively missed here is that I am asking too much of myself in comparison to my skill level. As the skill level and experience increase – the fear level drops. Where this ends I don’t know, and there will be a different cut off point for each person, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The level at which we go from excited to scared to terrified is totally personal. But it is the sharing of this boundary exploration that so many people love. This was hugely evident at Poldice where my dear friends were helping me do some of the drops and rocky shoots I initially said no to. They had been before so had some level of experience, and that has been passed on to me.
I realised as I started writing this post that I am already in the middle of feeling less fear. It’s a gradual process so you have to take a minute to look back and see where you have come from but it is worth it. I feel like the jumps I am doing now are tiny and I beat myself up about them but they are twice the size I started on and next year I will go twice as big again. Next time I head to BPW I am going to nail the bits I bottled last time, and I am going to do the same at Poldice. It is a question of practicing and riding as much as I can and during this process: drops, gaps, jumps and the rest will gradually shrink and become less scary.
This may all sound very obvious but I wanted to share this for anyone who gets scared out on the trails and perhaps feels out-gunned by friends who are braver. Maybe these friends have more experience and maybe they have been riding more over the last 6 months. Of course, some people do simply have more guts than others and they are able to use less experience to do more things but that should not put you off.
Be confident – you will get better if you ride more, but remember to look back at the things you used to feel scared of and relish the fact that you can hit those things now with considerably less fear or even a smug grin! Support your fellow riders and let them know it’s OK to shit yourself once in a while, and just keep them motivated to practice and take things on when they are ready.