When we first met Chad Kerley back in 2012, the professional BMX rider was still known as the new kid on the block. The 20-year-old San Diego native has changed all of that in just two short years, earning gold in the BMX Street competition at X Games Los Angeles last year, adding to a silver medal win in 2012. Now, he’s set to defend his gold medal at X Games Austin, airing June 5-8 on ABC and ESPN.
“This next week is going to be crazy, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready to ride, I’m healthy and I feel good,” Kerley told us by phone from San Diego this week. He also mused about finding success, surviving setbacks and why action sports continues to grow more racially diverse each day.
BET.com: The last time we spoke was at X Games Los Angeles in 2012, only two years after you’ve gone pro. How has your mindset changed, now that you have some more years of competition experience?
Chad Kerley: I just feel like I’ve grow into my own style a little bit more. I think the overall competition experience that I’ve been able to go through has definitely helped me become a better competitor. At an event like X Games, I’ve done it a few times now and I know what to expect. So now, it’s just about just having fun and keep doing what I do.
BET.com: You're known for your technical style of riding. What's your game plan going into X Games Austin?
CK: I try not to get too in my head about the game plan. My honest plan is to just go and have fun and be stress-free and try not to think about me being a defending champion because that adds more stress. I’m more just there to hang out with my friends and have fun, and I think overall that’s what helps me do well at these contests.
BET.com: Tell us the story behind the craziest trick you’ve landed.
CK: When I was younger, there was always this trick I wanted to do, a flare. It’s a back flip 180. I don’t do too many flip tricks, but this is the one trick that I wanted to achieve in my life. That’s probably one of the craziest tricks I’ve had to learn because it’s something different from the other tricks that I normally do, like bar spinners, no-handers and tail whips. I was at Camp Woodward [in Pennsylvania]. I was practicing on a foam pit and then I took it from there to the vert ramp. I was super nervous.
BET.com: What happened next?
CK: I was standing on top and wouldn’t get myself to go but I finally dropped in and tried it. And once you try a trick once, you understand what’s going on at that point. I was definitely really nervous about it and scared, but I ended up getting it done. I guess you could say that trick’s in my trick book now [laughs]. That was three or four years ago.
BET.com: You’re a trained athlete, but there’s always the risk of you getting hurt. How do you cope with that?
CK: Yeah, that’s a part of the game. Luckily, I haven’t had anything major [pauses] — and I knock on wood every time. I’ve had some minor breaks here and there, but it’s all part of the sport. The hardest thing about getting hurt is mentally telling yourself that you cannot ride your bike. It’s so hard for anybody that gets an injury doing something that they love because that’s all they’re thinking about. You just got to wait it out and heal up.
BET.com: The last time we spoke, you said that when you started riding, there were only a few other Black riders, but that it continues to grow. Do you believe that to be true now?
CK: Oh yeah, I think it’s still growing. I think with the pace of action sports is having right now and how big it is, and especially living in California and seeing it, I definitely see a lot more Black people riding and skating. It’s almost become accepted that action sports is not just kids acting a fool, but that it could actually take you somewhere. I was riding at a school not too long ago in L.A., and they had football and basketball practice going on and the coaches were taking a break and watching us. They told us that what we’re doing is great because you can actually go somewhere with this.
CK: I definitely think hip hop has helped a lot, especially with skateboarding. It’s become almost like...if you hold a skateboard it’s considered to be cool, even if you don’t know how to skate. Action sports has found its way into fashion as well. I have a teammate, Nigel Sylvester, who rides on the Nike BMX squad with me, who just came out with his own Nike dunk. Fashion, pop culture...it all goes hand in hand, and I think that’s why it's getting bigger by the day.
BET.com: What's your advice to young riders who want to go pro?
CK: To any kid that wants to go pro, I would say just have fun and ride every day. And before you know it, it will happen. Don’t try too hard on tricks, but more so just have fun with your friends.
BET.com: How does social media play into attracting sponsors? You’re among the athletes who got their big break by posting demos online.
CK: That definitely helps. Mainly throughout the year what you’re doing is filming videos and you’re stacking content. So making videos is pretty much the way for kids to get in. As far as social media goes, you can take it as far as you want. So go ride every day and post it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and then people will see it.
BET.com: You’re slated to appear in the upcoming Cinema Wheel Co. DVD. What’s that filming process been like?
CK: I’ve probably been filming for the past two years now. It’s mainly [shot] in different cities around the U.S. Actually, we went to Vegas earlier this year and we stayed out there for a couple' weeks and we got a lot of footage. It should come out by Christmas, and I’m excited about it because it’s going to be one of my best video parts to date.
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(Photos: Gabriel Christus / ESPN Images)