Zach Newman wanted to step up in competition in BMX bikes.
To do that, the 2007 graduate of Frankfort High School had to move.
“It wasn’t happening for me in Kentucky,” Newman said during a phone interview last week. “You really have to be in some sort of place where you’ll be around people in the industry, people who know you’re still progressing.”
So about a year ago Newman moved to Pennsylvania. He lives in Centre Hall, a small town 10 minutes from Penn State.
He’s just as close to Camp Woodward, an extreme sport camp.
“It’s more or less the mecca of my sport,” Newman said.
That’s important in a sport where competition is by invitation.
“It’s all invitationals,” Newman said. “It’s people in the industry who see you riding. Social media is a very big thing in my sport. If you have a lot of videos on YouTube or pictures on Instagram that people can see, that goes a long way.”
Social media and moving to Pennsylvania have had an impact on his BMX career.
“I kind of moved last year after the contest schedule,” Newman said, “but within a year I was already getting invited to contests, the best of the best.
“Things are looking up, and I’m able to make a little bit of money here and there instead of going to a 9-to-5 job every day. That’s kind of my goal.”
Newman works in a bike shop — “I like to be busy,” he said — and spends his free time riding.
“I try to ride as much as possible,” he said. “I would say at least five times a week and at least two hours every time. It’s a very time consuming sport, and I’m lucky to have a girlfriend who puts up with it.”
In the past year Newman has taken part in three major competitions — the Kia World
Extreme Games in China, the X Games in Austin, Texas, and the Dew Tour in Ocean City, Md.
The Dew Tour event was his most recent competition, taking place June 29. Only 10 riders were invited, and Newman placed eighth.
He was first alternate at the X Games in June, where only eight riders compete.
“Since that’s basically our Super Bowl, they need at least one alternate just in case,” Newman said. “The show must go on. I was the first alternate and I rode up until the contest started.”
The Kia World Extreme Games were April 30-May 3.
“The longest plane ride I’d been on was six hours, and from Chicago to Shanghai was 14 hours,” Newman said. “I’m a pretty tall guy, so the plane ride was an experience.
“The contest started the moment I left the airport. It was a 12-hour difference, so I had to prepare for the time difference, about when I’d eat and when I’d sleep so I’d be on some sort of schedule and when it was time to ride I wouldn’t be sleepy.”
Riding was only part of the trip.
“It was a different experience,” Newman said of Shanghai. “It’s a large city, a lot of hustle and bustle. Being a bike mechanic I saw a lot of bikes that needed a little restoration.
“There are a lot of little markets that were cool, bartering for things I didn’t need. One of the reasons I really wanted to go to this contest is Shanghai has the world’s largest skate park. That was cool. It was a massive structure, terrifying to ride, but it was cool to go to, and almost all of us did. It was a really good time.”
His recent success reinforces his decision to keep riding.
“Any time I hop on a bike I never have a bad day,” he said. “I’m definitely having fun. It gives me a little extra drive and incentive to make myself progress.
“Even if I wasn’t in contests I’d still want to progress and learn, but it’s a little extra push. I finished eighth at the Dew Tour, and I was happier after that because I did what I wanted to do. I accomplished some tricks I hadn’t done before, and for me that was enough.”
Newman earned a degree in photography with a minor in business from Northern Kentucky University, but he doesn’t plan on using that degree for awhile.
“For only being here not a full year and already getting invited to contests, it kind of enforces the fact if I train and I work hard I can only go up in my skill level and places in contests,” he said.
“I want to keep riding, keep traveling.”