Another year and another edition of Darkfest is in the books! The week consisted of big sends, first time hits, an insane amount of unbeatable whips, flips and spins, and of course some downtime hair styling. It's safe to say that freeride is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence within the MTB community, and rightly so, with the current abundance on talent on two wheels, but this time, the surge in freeride has brought with it not only rad new male riders, but the rise of women's freeride.
For the first time in the event's history, women were invited to hit the Darkfest course, with Veronique Sandler, Casey Brown, Hannah Bergemann, Chelsea Kimball and Robin Goomes being amongst the first women to hit the notorious course. But the newcomers didn't stop there, with the Ruso brothers Daniel and Elias, along with desert-loving Reed Boggs all hitting the course for the first time.
The riders enjoyed calmer weather at the beginning of the week, getting in as much session time early in the morning before the heat became too hot to handle before retreating to the nearby pool before heading back out late in the afternoon to throw down insane evening sessions. By the time the public event days rolled in, so did the weather, with the gusts picking up making only the step-up a safe option to ride, thankfully the riders had a large selection of tricks to throw down and practice on the most session-able jumps on the course.
The energy on course throughout the week was electric. The buzz from the girls hitting features such as the "Rocket Launchers" and the "90" for the first time hyped up the entire crew as the guys celebrated the women and vice versa. There's often a lot said about how amazing it must be for the women to have the guys on hand at such events for advice, and whilst that is of course true, with the women turning to the guys for advice on bike setup and speed for the Darkfest course given their years of experience riding it, the benefit is not one-sided. Watching the men and women ride together depicts a perfect balance of riding styles and experience that is shared freely through the group. Sometimes, (not always), the women may deliberate longer over a trick before dropping in, ensuring that they know the jump well enough before they drop in to style it up and this deliberation pays off. A perfect example of this was Nicholi Rogatkin's feedback after the women hit the Rocket Launchers jumps for the first time, as a stoked Nicholi watched from the bottom of the course, congratulating the girls on their push back up to the uplift saying "For the conditions today you could not have hit that any more perfect."
But that doesn't mean that the women hold back by any means, as Kiwi Robin Goomes eloquently summarised: "sometimes you've just got to hit "f*ck it mode" and go for it." The blending of such approaches between riders from all backgrounds with varying experiences helps improve everyone's riding and approach regardless of gender. Any hype and advice, whether it be from bike set-up, speed or mental tips that is given out between riders is always returned, proving once again that like everything in life, the MTB community is stronger when working together, and to top it all off, Darkfest provided equal prize money for respective male and female awards categories.
It wasn't just the riding that kicked up a notch this year, but the hairstyles
The only way to chill in the sun at Darkfest is in custom South African Darkfest speedos, as is a spot of golf