Women’s event flying higher than ever
Over 60 women and 12 girls descended on Glentress freeride park in May for the annual Air Maiden Freeride Event.
Photo credit Greg Dickson
Now in its seventh year, it proved to be the most ambitious event yet by founder Lynne Armstrong.
Saturday kicked off with back-to-back coaching clinics delivered by Helen Gaskell, Jess Stone, Elisa Smith and Lynne Armstrong. Riders were taught a range of skills and techniques, from jumping and drop offs to cornering and, of course, the art of pumping on the newly completed portable pumptrack – provided by Bike Track People, (and which Lynne helped to build).
While it was dreich (yes, we are in Scotland) first day, it failed to dampen the spirits of Maidens who had travelled from every corner of the UK to take part. The sun emerged in time for the pumptrack challenge at the end of the first day, and stayed the course of the weekend.
This year also saw the Minimaidens Attack Squad appear en force: 12 girls, aged between 8 and 13, took part in coaching clinics before joining the adults to show them how it’s done on the pumptrack.
It’s a format that is made for entertainment - riders are lined up on opposite sides of the track in a cat-and-mouse style race to see who can pump their way to the next round.
Local, Ruby, just managed to edge out Aimi Kenyon, from Inverness, to take the girls’ title. The women’s title went to Sophie Nuttall after an epic battle of endurance with Sarah Wylie – ending with Sarah flat out on the deck.
Minimaidens Podium, 1st place Ruby Soho Smith, 2ns, Aimi Kenyon
Women’s Podium, 1st place, Sophie Nuttall, 2nd place, Sarah Wylie
Photo credits Greg Dickson
After a hard day’s riding, everyone headed to the Peel Café for a well-earned BBQ and complementary beer from Tempest Brewery – complete with limited edition Air Maiden labels. This was followed by a quiz night and a viewing of a series of short films which showcase some of the country’s most talented female riders. Thanks to Joey Gough, Lee Craigie, F-Riders and MiniMaidens Attack Squad for their contributions!
Dressed to impress
Sunday morning saw more coaching sessions, with riders finally getting a chance to face up to the now legendary Air Maiden kicker.
Lynne was thrilled to see so many women over-coming their nerves to master their jumping technique on a full-size kicker.
The sun made a welcome return, helping to warm up some tired muscles. After lunch, many women donned fancy dress costumes – in what has become a central part of the grand finale - the freeride competition.
There were inflatable unicorns, donkeys, bugs, sheep and even a Ghostbuster making their way down the trails and it made for a relaxed and stress-free competitive atmosphere.
Judging took place on two marked trails, which accounted for riders’ progression over the weekend. Points were awarded for technique, flow, amplitude and, of course, style as riders hit various features on the course.
Afterwards a train of 50-odd women whooped their way down to Buzzards Nest for the jump jam on the Air Maiden kicker. This was the ultimate opportunity for the women who had attended the coaching clinic to show off their style and comfort in the air. For the more experienced, the kicker was pulled away from the landing to create a gap jump and some serious air time. There were some amazing shapes being pulled – and organiser Lynne even managed to bust out a few no-footers, demonstrating that age is no barrier to enjoying air time.
A flare for jumping
The weekend was wrapped up with prizegiving for the various competition categories, including freeride, jump jam and, of course, best costume, with a tonne of amazing prizes provided by Flare Clothing Co.
Jump Jam winners: 1st,.Natalie Sleemand and 2nd,Ashleigh Simons
Best costume: Sarah Wyliie Photo Credits Greg Dickson
Freeride competition winners: 1st place, Beth Stagg, 2nd, Kirty Fullarton and Jenny Aungier, 3rd, Natalie Sleeman and Melody Fife. Photo credit: Greg Dickson
In fact, by Saturday evening, plenty of women were already wearing their newly acquired Flare casual tees and jerseys. Sunday saw more riders still in Flare riding jerseys – including a special edition Air Maiden riding top – the result of a continuing partnership between Air Maiden and Flare.
Juliana Bicycles also contributed some awesome prizes and a Joplin and Furtado were made available for participants to demo throughout the weekend.
Other call outs go to Bawbags Underwear, Mudhugger, 7protection, and GoWhere Scotland for their great prizes and to LeRoc Art for his awesome trophy!
Special mention goes to Taj and Jules from Flotec Suspenson. They offered suspension set up services for the weekend but also helped massively with the general running of the event. Jules even got some coaching practise in with both the women and Minimaidens.
“Huge thanks also to our coaches,” Lynne says. “This is what makes the weekend and we’re so proud to have some of the most talented and experienced coaches and riders in the UK coming along to share their expertise.
“Thanks also go to Greg Dickson and Liz Law for capturing the whole thing on film so our women can have a lasting image of their radness from the weekend, and to Louise Robinson, Neisha Sanderson, and Rich from Bike Track People for giving up their free time to help keep it all running smoothly.”
On the podium
Lynne wanted to add that what makes this event so special for her is that it brings together women from all over the UK. “They are of all ages and backgrounds, all there with the sole purpose of improving their riding skills but also to meet other like-minded women and to have fun,” she enthuses.
“There’s a great sense of camaraderie and encouragement across the board, evident down to the youngest Minimaidens, who have all helped each other grow in confidence and supported each other to achieve their riding goals.”
That, coupled with the amazing group of volunteers and sponsors who give up their time to help make this a one-off weekend, every year, she says.
Air Maiden has been at the forefront of women’s riding progression since it began in 2008, but it has evolved into something quite unique, Lynne points out. “My experiences in mountain biking have taught me that, first of all, this sport is just pure fun, and if we can combine fun with learning some pretty advanced riding skills in an environment that pushes you out of your comfort zone – but in a way that you don’t even realise it – then we’re onto something, I reckon.”
Lynne has never pushed Air Maiden as a big brand just to attract big sponsors. Instead, she has opted to grow it organically, with an emphasis on providing quality coaching and events with the emphasis on substance over style.
“Now we’ve been around for a while, Air Maiden is firmly on the map and at the forefront of women’s riding events and coaching in the UK. I’m excited to see that it has become a name that women know for all the right reasons.”
There are coaching days available across the country, and of course the all-women’s enduro race n Innerleithen in July, as well as more small group clinics and private coaching in the Tweed Valley. And a coaching day in Chicksands in September, with none other than Katy Curd and Joey Gough. Visit www.airmaiden.com to book a place on any of these, and roll on 2017!