Mike "Hucker" Clark's Redesign of the Dirt Trails at the Oakley Dirt Lab
Blue prints never existed. There was no land assessment or grade analysis. Pencil was never put to paper. There was just one guy with a vision, a group of friends willing to put in the labor, and as much dirt as was possibly needed.
After weeks of piling dirt in the harsh SoCal sun, stacking sand bags in a downpour and smacking dirt for hours at a time, the crew of devoted BMX riders transformed the once-weed-covered trails into a fully functional, borderline world-class set of jumps. They're not complete; in fact, that day will never come. Dirt jumps are strange like that. But that doesn't bother anyone.
“These jumps will never be done,” confesses Mike ‘Hucker’ Clark, the mastermind behind the jump line mega-refresh. “They’re only good enough until you get comfortable riding them, and then you want to change them again. It’s a never-ending process, but that’s part of what makes a project like this so dang exciting.”
These trails came together because Hucker – constant smiler, regular thrill-seeker, rocker of a ginger mullet – ceased on an opportunity. The Oakley Dirt Lab has been around for nearly a decade; a place for Oakley athletes to come ride, train or just hang out. While the pump track has been maintained, the jump line had mostly be left to gather weeds and function better as a dog park. Knowing that space and protection from authority are imperative to building good trails, the opportunity was granted to Hucker in a passing conversation from the company's Bike Team Manager. Of course, Hucker said yes.
"I would have been crazy not to; an opportunity like this is every BMXers dream!" exclaimed Hucker. "I didn't really realize just how much work would go into accomplishing that dream, but fortunately I have a really passionate, hard-working group of friends who were willing to come help out and make this happen."
So, if no one on hand was an engineer and they weren’t relying on a specific set of plans, how’d it all come together? How in the world did a group of 20-somethings (and a couple older dirt riding lifers) transform what was a weed-covered, left-for-dead group of mini-rollers into an X Games-level proving ground? Well, lots of digging and dirt slapping, watering and some old-fashioned trial and error.
"There was definitely a bit of a learning process," Hucker admitted. "I mean, I've built plenty of jumps before, but nothing on this scale. When we first built them, we thought they were big, but the first time we hit them, we realized that wasn't the case – we completely overshot the landing. So they've just gotten bigger and bigger."
If you were a fly on the bush, just hanging around, the real deep development conversations went something like this:
"Hey Taka," Hucker would scream, "if we steepen the landing on jump two and add a foot to the kicker on three, this thing is going to be sweet."
Not exactly a scientific process, but the results certainly check all the quality boxes.
The outcome is a set of trails that are a desired destination for every dirt riding BMXer around the globe.
"I've had so many people hit me up to see when they could come ride them," Hucker says. "We had to put a chain and lock on the trails because the jumps are pretty gnarly and we really don't need anyone getting hurt or ruining them."
As he said, the work will never be done. But that's fine, because BMXers have a weird love affair with dirt. They understand dirt. They can differentiate the good dirt from the bad. They know how to treat it, how to salvage it; they're almost like amateur geologists. It's a vital resource to them. Fortunately, it's plentiful. And so jumps will continually evolve and grow and be knocked down and rebuilt. They can always be better or just different in order to keep the riding fresh and the stoke at an all-time high. Which is why you'll see the guys dirt-stained, with dirty fingernails, day after day. It just comes with the territory.
So whenever he's not jet-setting around the globe to comps and photo shoots, deep-sea fishing or playing with reptiles, it's pretty likely you can find Hucker in the Oakley backyard, smacking dirt, fine-tuning the trails before putting in a couple solid hours riding. You'd think all the manual labor would get old, but not in the eyes of Hucker and friends.
"All the work, that's part of the fun," he said. "To build something, to create something and have it actually work, that's the best feeling. But there's nothing better than riding with your friends. I've had a couple friends who thought they'd never hit jumps this big and I've talked them into giving it a try. They follow me and when we get to the end, their smiles are so big, you can tell they're just so stoked. It's the best feeling."