GT loaded up the team and made a straight shoot down I-95 to Florida for a week of BMX fun leading up to the Florideah Swampfest. The motley crew of this Vantastic Voyage consisted of Leandro Moreira, Brian Kachinsky, Dan Conway, Jeff Ludwig, Albert Mercado, Jordan Grandinetti, and Kody Bricen. Here’s a recap of their adventures, along with loads of great photos and a video too!
Text by: Jeff “With Glasses” Ludwig
Photos by: Jeff “With Canon Glass” Zielinski
The Portuguese Manowar Jellyfish (Physalia physalis) holds a very powerful venom that causes extreme pain to those who come in contact with their tentacles—except the GT BMX team. Leandro Moreira picked them up like footballs while Dan Conway and I are popped them with our bare feet in the sand at Miami Beach. They weren't ready for us, and neither were the gators, snakes and turtles as we drove an airboat around the twists and turns of the Everglades, reaching for discarded Valentine's Day balloons stuck in the reeds to get a selfie. Out of all the creatures on this trip, the real wild ones were inside the two rental vans packed with BMX bikes driving south on I-95 to the Florideah Swampfest.
Before we get any further, it needs to be mentioned that this trip was Kody Bricen's first actual BMX road trip ever, so us seniors had to break him in a bit. Imagine being the youngest dude in a van full of developed personalities for over 17-hours for the first time. Imagine listening to "Sweet Leaf" by Black Sabbath on repeat for 17-hours blasting from a cheap blue-tooth speaker for the first time. Imagine playing C-Lo for the first time at a gas station, or every gas station, every pee-break, and every food stop for that matter. By the time we reached Jacksonville, he got the point. When we weren't on our bikes grinding rails and flying out of ramps, we were still crazy weirdos.
It's not actually a jellyfish, it's a multiplicity of organisms in which live in symbiotic mutualism, appearing to be functioning as a single organism. The first stop was Jacksonville. This place seemed at little like Jersey—a bit of scattered grime with spots in between. Right outside the hotel was a nice long painted flat ledge that everyone got a chance to scrape some peg on. While riding throughout the city we met up with a homie named Destin who met at the Kona park and he showed us around and roasted a huge rail hop in the downtown area. A few spots later and after stopping for some snacks, we rode down the street waving to the locals as one laid in the middle of a busy street, so Jordy and Conway could bunnyhop over him. Well, maybe his laying in the street wasn't for the bunnyhop, but it worked out and looked pretty cool from my angle. Then, we rolled up on an abandoned parking garage with poop on the walls and a nice little flat rail, where we got to see Kody barspin and Leandro hop whip over a gaping hole in the upper floor—probably the cleanest thing this structure seen in a long time. Nuts!
Using an inflated bladder called a pneumatophore, the Portuguese Manowar Jellyfish floats on the surface of warm tropical water, typically around the Florida Keys, Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Indian Ocean. The next stop we made was historic for me. Kona Skatepark in Jacksonville was made somewhere in the late 1970's when skateboarding began to take off. This place has ramps to accommodate just about every style. We arrived pretty early and got to shredding in no time at all. Everyone got a chance to rip down the huge snake-run at mach-10 speeds. Albert and Leandro destroyed the pool sesh, doing actual dead-man tricks in the sky and on the edge of the deep end. Ben launched the big hip in one of the cemented sections and pulled sick a one-footed X-up for the cambone. Conway flew up the side of the Kona quarterpipe and smacked a vertical smith to 180 on its side. I think the whole the time I was there I rode down the snake-run over and over, trying to go faster. It's so much fun.
In order to eat, they utilize their elongated tentacles called dactylozooids, which hold a venomous sting in their cells called cnidocytes that are activated by either mechanical or chemical stimuli. After a short cruise, we reached Miami Beach. The scene there was just like any big beach town in Jersey, lots of hotels and bars all on one road with a sandy beach and ocean a block away. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because, after all, it was February and we were at the beach. The weather was absolutely perfect. After a swim and a shirtless photoshoot, we piled back into the van and headed into middle of southern Florida-no-mans-land to hunt for alligators in the Everglades. The place we stopped at looked like an old U-Turn tourist trap meant for roadtrippers like us, with nonsensical magnetic junk in the giftshop and some shorthaired weirdos behind the counter. It wasn't as bad as I'm making the visual out to be, maybe subtract some of the hillbilly-esq from your head and that should be about right. Not long after we watched a guy tackle an alligator with gigantic turtles circling the pen by our feet, we were hopping into a boat with a huge fan on the back. We caught the sunset tour, or the last boat on the water for this place. Our tour guide made it extra fun as he drifted this boat over plants and animals, skipping on the swamp water like a flat rock.
The Portuguese manowar jellyfish reproduces both sexually and asexually. Inherently, asexual reproduction grants the ability of an organism to rapidly reproduce without the need of a mate. However, since the organism can replicate with a lack of genetic diversity, there is a great disadvantage dealing with survivability and fitness in a changing environment. Swamp Fest was one of the most BMX things that has happened in a while. If I can advise anyone that rides BMX, you need to go to events like this, because there aren't many like it. When I was like 16 or so and getting into the scene a bit, I went to the first Bone Deth jam at FDR in Philly with a few homies from my town. It made me want to ride more, and most of all it helped me understand the freestyle culture. The Swamp Fest jam sort of reminded me of that except it was quite a bit more structured. Anyhow, this jam was sick. On the eastern side of the spot was a series of dirt jumps starting with a drop in from the top of a storage container. To the sides of the jumps were these moats filled with water and mud to make it extra important to stay on course. In the middle was the hang out spot with the vendors chillin' and displaying all the BMX goodies. The western side of the jam spot was the wooden pallet ramp jawn, complete with a huge curve wall, giant toast wallride out of a quarter, a suspended Subrosa rail, a satellite dish and a broken loop. As soon as we pulled up in the vans, Kody called out the broken loop. Within the hour, while half of us were still putting our front wheels on, Kody pulled it! We were all goin' nuts over seeing our friend ride full speed at a ramp that discontinued at the 180-degree mark way above our heads. Street-dog Conway also surprised us as he ripped through the trail section like nobody's business. Before we knew it, the jam was in full effect and people were everywhere—in the sky, on the ramps, in the mud, in tents, on motorcycles and monster trucks, etc. The contests were also wild. The super long grind rail over the mud hole challenge was so awesome to watch as riders pedaled full speed and tried to grind the whole thing. Mud was everywhere, destroying bikes, shoes, and innocent bystanders' cameras. There was also a huge dirt jump contest where a bunch of dudes were pedaling full speed at and sending heal clickers n' backflip turndowns. Leandro was doing the most tailwhips I've ever seen in my life all at one time in the air on this jump. I was also really hyped to see some of the LFS dudes roll up, too. Special and Smallfry did a little roadtripping of their own and made the jam even better.
This trip was so action packed. Riding with the GT homies was an absolute blast. I still don't know how Jeff Z. put up with us in the van blasting the same Sabbath song on repeat from a blue-tooth speaker while he drove for hours on end. When we all split up it was a bummer to realize that was it. The end. A full two weeks on the road with the boys. The winter sucks and this was the perfect introduction into a fresh new year.