At the end of 2009, seemingly out of nowhere, something called the AM Flatland Circuit popped up. A first for modern flatland, it was a points system throughout a series of contests for amateur riders. Now deep into 2010 the first year of the Circuit has come to a close and has crowned two riders as the year-end champions. We caught up with the brains behind the operation, Steve Lapsley, to learn more about it all. -Fat
Name: Steve Lapsley
Location: Buffalo, New York
What’s your background with BMX as a rider?
I started off riding everything—flatland, dirt, ramps, street. I've been riding solely flatland for about 10 years now. I've had a few breaks here and there, but have always had a bike.
Aside from being a rider for so many years, did you have any other “industry” or “behind the scenes” experience in BMX before you decided to organize the AM Flatland Circuit?
I haven't had any prior involvement in the industry or behind the scenes part of BMX. This is a first for me!
For those who aren’t familiar with the idea of the AM Circuit, what is it in a nutshell?
The AM Flatland Circuit is a series of flatland contests in North America. Riders compete for points in each round in an attempt to be crowned the year-end champion.
When and how did the idea for the AM Circuit come about?
I'd say the idea first came up about two years ago. There was a discussion about the lack of pro flat riders who compete in North America. Flatland is far from dead in here. We have a really good scene. Tons of amateur riders show up to every event. There's just nothing really pushing these guys to turn pro. In other sports there's a set standard…little league, high school, college, then professional. I came up with the idea of an amateur only series to help push the pro ranks. There has been a demand for organization in flatland for some time now. I guess I hope the AM Circuit can act as a feeder system for the pro class.
After the original idea was spawned, how long did it take to get things rolling and organized? And what all went on during that process?
I'd say it took about a year before things really started rolling. I mentioned the idea a few times, but that was about it…nothing really came from it. It seemed like a lot of riders liked the idea though. A few people in the industry kind of pushed me by saying they'd support it if I did it, and that is when the actual brainstorming started. I began contacting some of the riders who I knew and respected. I wanted an opinion of what the riders wanted. After coming up with the general idea I started putting together a game plan. I had to decide which events I'd like to have included and if they'd even be interested in being a part of this. Every contest I contacted was super psyched. Then I had to come up with a points system that would be simple and fair. My dad is a math teacher so we came up with the point system together. I researched a lot of different "series" or "circuits" in other sports to get ideas. In the end I think the AM Circuit uses a simple, unique, and extremely fair way of tallying points. After the contests were set and the points system was developed, the rest was just minor details, Web site, logo, etc.
The first year of the Am Flatland Circuit has come and gone as four contests all around North America have taken place, so let’s reflect back a bit… Were there ever any doubts along the way that the Circuit may not end up panning out or may not go anywhere?
Absolutely! I was worried that the number of riders competing wouldn't change much at all from previous years. I was worried that the riders wouldn't support it (in person). I had no clue how to contact sponsors. I had no clue how I was going to fund the circuit. There wasn't really a time when I didn't think it would happen this year, but I definitely had doubts along the way that I'd be able to do this in the future.
What were the challenges you faced during the year as Circuit was all unfolding for the first time? What are some of the things that you had to deal with that people might not be aware of?
Aside from Flatland Fuel coming through with some of the funding in the end, the AM Circuit was funded straight out of my own pocket! We had T-shirts designed that Pat from Flatland Fuel had printed. All of the proceeds from the sales were to help fund the circuit (year end prizes, etc.). We just didn't sell as many as expected. The final round of the series was really stressful because not that much info was available. One thing people may not know is that I have nothing to do with the organization or running of any of the events.
Obviously a very broad question here, but what are your overall thoughts on the Circuit now that the first year is behind you?
I couldn't be happier after this first year! I think that the circuit exceeded almost all of my expectations. Each contest on the circuit had more riders this year than they did in the previous year. One of the contests didn't even exist last year! So these are all positives for me. I am really pleased with how it turned out!
What has been the response from the riders so far?
The response has been extremely positive! I think the riders really like what is going on with flatland in North America right now. I think the circuit has given the riders something to feel a part of and to look forward to. I haven't heard much negativity from other riders. All the riders who have approached me at the contests have had good things to say, so that is motivating. A lot of riders have told me how the circuit has really pushed them to progress this year.
I know you rode in the contests this year, so as an older amateur rider yourself, why do you think it’s important to ride in the series that you help organize?
It's what I love! I also want to lead by example. I am one of the riders who used to go to contests and ride in the jams but never compete. I'd like to see more riders compete, including those who normally just watch.
Since you don’t organize the individual contests in the series, what is it like working with different event organizers and how does the variety in the locations, organizers, formats, etc. affect the Circuit?
Working with the different organizers has been great. They have all been really excited to be a part of the circuit. I think one of the best parts of the circuit is the variety in each contest. It gives riders a chance to ride in different environments. Different locations allows for a more diverse group of riders to participate from different parts of the country. Having different formats allows for contests to stay fresh…you never know who could come out on top.
What did you learn from the process that you’ll take with you going into the 2011 contest season?
I've learned you can't control everything. Certain things are out of your hands, so you have to be able to just roll with the punches and move on.
Did your original goals with the Circuit ever change throughout the year, and have they changed now going into the second year?
My expectations were pretty low going into this. When a lot of riders started showing up to the events and giving me good feedback it was very motivating. So, yes, my goals have changed a lot going into year two. I think things went really well in year one and I am ready to really push it and shoot for an even bigger 2011 AM Circuit!
If you were doing a quick brainstorm of what you’d like to see with the Circuit as far as how it pertains to the “big picture” of flatland, what would you say were your dreams?
I'd really like to have more sponsors/support. Whether it is financial support, product or prizes. In order for the AM Circuit to continue to thrive, supportive sponsors are a must! My goals and dreams would be to funnel new, young riders into the pro ranks every year! To me, more riders in the pro class equals more money for the sport. If sponsors see 15-20 pro riders competing at each event they will have to take notice. I'd love to see flatland featured in the mainstream again. Full contest coverage on Fuel TV, ESPN, or MTV would be amazing! I'd like for the AM Circuit to help flatland get the same attention surfing or skateboarding gets.
What do you think it would take for you to reach those goals and dreams for the Circuit?
I think rider support is key. Riders need to keep coming out. At the same time, sponsors in the industry need to support this also!
How did sponsor support play into this first year, and what do you hope to achieve through sponsors next year?
I think that the lack of sponsor support played the biggest role in year one. Going into this I didn't know how to deal with sponsors. Going into next year I am really hoping to gain big time sponsor support. This is key to the success of the circuit.
Any closing thoughts or words or things you want to get out there to the masses about the Am Flatland Circuit?
This year went great and I am already working to improve it for next year. I want to give a big thanks to Pat and Katie from Flatland Fuel for everything they've helped out with this year! Also, a huge thank you to all of the riders who showed up and competed at each round. Keep checking our Web site for updates about the 2011 AM Flatland Circuit. (www.amflatlandcircuit.com) Also, stay in touch with the AM Circuit all year long on twitter. (www.twitter.com/am_flat_circuit) Expect big things in 2011!