Sometimes it’s the parents dragging the kids. Sometimes it’s the kids dragging the parents.
Either way, playing in the dirt equals good, clean family fun.
That’s the message riding the Sandbox BMX race track on Sand Island. Island BMX completed its first full season Sunday with a vintage bike race and high expectations for the upcoming year including lights and night racing.
The process to build an ABA-certified track took about five years, according to Jim Drake, one of the driving forces to get the facility built. The closure of the track at Wheeler Army Airfield more than five years ago left a void in the bike racing community that many sought to fill.
Securing property, completing the Environmental Impact Statement, permitting and building the BMX facility — the first completed portion of the Sandbox Premier Offroad Park complex — took time, money, donated materials and lots of volunteers.
Success has been measured by the growing numbers of families coming to ride as well as the trophies won at recent national competitions. Last month, all six of Team Hawaii’s riders advanced to the finals of their respective divisions at the ABA Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., with 16-year-old Akoni Tacub bringing home first place in Novice 16s and a trophy taller than he is (6 feet 2).
"It actually was a surprise (to win)," Tacub, a student at Elite Element Academy, said. "I just started riding last October, and racing since February.
» Sand Island, right at the first light after crossing the Sand Island bridge
"It was all a coincidence. My mom was driving me to work on the Polynesian voyaging canoes (at the Marine Education and Training Center on Sand Island) and I said, ‘Oh, look, mom, a track.’ She said we’ll check it out after, we did, and I ended up sticking with to it."
It also stuck with Tacub’s mom, Jessie, who helps with race registration.
"It’s a really good family sport," she said. "We’ve bonded like a family."
Kevin Mokuahi likened the atmosphere to that of a Sunday canoe regatta.
"I love it because everybody is close," said Mokuahi, who finished fifth in Tulsa. "We race each other, are competitive on the track and, after it’s over, we’re all friends. There’s little huis, like regatta.
"I’ve been racing since I was a little kid but we haven’t always had a track. It’s definitely growing here. And not many tracks in the world have the ocean and the sunsets we do."
The hope is that the move to Saturday evenings will help the sport grow more.
"Nights would be better for a lot of families," said Duane Franklin, manager of the BIKEFACTORY Waipio, who chaperoned Team Hawaii in Tulsa. "There’s often church in the morning and I think nights would work out pretty well.
"It’s definitely family-oriented and anybody can do it. It’s better than most sports, in my opinion, because no one sits on the sidelines. It doesn’t matter how old or what size you are. They make bikes in different sizes."
The sport is relatively inexpensive. Drake, the track operator, said he encourages the curious to bring a bike they already own; fenders, kickstands, reflectors, chain guards and freestyle pegs must be removed.
"No sense to go out and buy a bike and you end up not liking it," he said.
Long pants and long-sleeve shirts are necessities and a helmet — full-face recommended — with a chin strap is required.
Island BMX is a non-profit organization, but there are fees required of riders. Annual membership in the ABA is $45 (family membership lowers the cost), $5 per practice day, $10 per race day. The majority of the moneys collected go back into weekly trophies — three per division.
Micah Bing said what her son Jaiden has gotten out of the racing is priceless. The 12-year-old is autistic but has found focus on the track, and finished eighth in his uber-competitive division in Tulsa.
"He dragged us into this," Micah Bing said. "He used his own money, bought himself a bike online for $35. He raced one race in California before we moved here but he already knew all about this track.
"He saw it at the Olympics and said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ Most people don’t know he’s autistic. Out here, he’s just another kid on the track."