X Games Austin 2015: Behind the design of this year's courses
Fast lines and big transfers equate to fan excitement. Brian Harper knows this and embraced it fully when designing the X Games Austin street and park courses for BMX and skate. Now, the riders have to learn how to make the courses shine.
Early reviews prove promising, though. BMX rider Scotty Cranmer and skater Curren Caples both tell SI.com they like their early looks at the course. And Harper, a 20-year veteran of designing X Games courses, says the feedback he’s heard has him excited.
“The park is a little unique and a little more geared to bike guys with the big transfers,” he tells SI.com. “But so far I haven’t had any bad reviews. Everybody is stoked on it. It is really fast, has a lot of lines and that makes it exciting for the crowd. I think they are two of the best courses we have done.”
Not only does Harper, who works for California Ramp Works, design the courses, but he also manages the events. He knows a few things about building courses the world over.
For the park course, Harper tries to build something akin to a public skate park. “We are trying to take some of the best elements of some of the best parks out there and put them into the X Games,” he says. “It is a little more on steroids, if you will, than normal public parks. These (athletes) are the best of the best.”
With the riders—both skaters and BMX riders—having grown up on public skate parks, Harper always searches for a way to stay up with the trends.
“In park and street it is a battle to be creative, to do something different and do something with a little flavor of the town you are in, but while keeping up with the trends the athletes are doing,” he says. “It is a battle.”
This year’s street course, built just for the skaters since there is no BMX street event in Austin this year, boasts an overhanging roof that allows athletes to jump off the roof into a couple of different banks. Whether or not athletes choose to use it as often as other elements remains to be seen, though, Harper says.
For the park course, Harper knows he did get a bit geared toward the bikers. There, he built in a spine ramp he has sitting on the deck. Crafted in such a way to allow transitions in and out of the bowl, athletes can choose a variety of lines. “There are a lot of elements on the higher deck,” he says.
This year’s tweaking did take a more substantial tone, even if creating something completely brand new has become nearly impossible. “We have been building so many different courses, there is always at least something similar,” Harper says. “I don’t think there is something you could put in that is totally unique.” That said, tweaking obstacles and creating variables can give a completely new style of ride, allowing Harper to remodel pieces and parts each year for a new look.
Having athlete input does help define each new course and small change. Harper has relationships with all the athletes—some better than others, of course—something he calls important in order to gain that feedback and the openness for them to tell him when something doesn’t work or if they want to see changes for the next year.
This year, though, the design builds speed and varying lines—excitement too.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.