This was my fourth year doing skills clinics at the Santos Fat Tire Festival in Ocala, Florida. It's become the traditional start to my busy season as a skills coach. The FTF is one of the largest festivals on the East Coast, with over 2,000 people attending. It's not hard to understand why they come when they have things like great trails, Florida sunshine, fun skills clinics, and an expo area where participants can check out MTB gear and demo as many bikes as they want in three days.
Despite Florida being the flattest state in the Union, the Ocala Mountain Bike Association
has done a stellar job creating a lot of diverse riding experiences. You can ride fast and flowy singletrack where every turn can be drifted or you can hit up the progressive jump park all day like many choose to do. The trails in the old limestone mine are far more technical than you'd expect in Florida or many other states. You'll find a lot of wooden features sprinkled through the woods or the infamous Vortex section which is the heart of Florida's freeride scene. Don't laugh!
This diversity of trail style allows me to teach a selection of skills that riders can immediately go test on the trails. The clinic subjects are mostly specific to one topic and last only an hour so people can get back out on the trails and try the new techniques. One of the best things about teaching at Santos is that people can go experiment then come back and give me feedback.
Four years ago, the skills clinics had sparse attendance, which I attributed to the general attitude that mtb clinics were only for beginners. This has been the case in the first year for all the festivals I've given clinics at, yet each visit back I find the clinics have begun to fill up to the point where I have to turn people away. I'm extremely happy to say that the clinics at the FTF in Ocala this year were bursting at the seams! Almost 130 people attended one or more of the eight clinics I gave.
The festival attracts a lot of people from the southeast and even a couple crews from colder states above the Mason Dixon line. It's the perfect spring break weekend for more than a few riders with the relaxed atmosphere and trail riding camaraderie.
If you want to get away from your winter blues, head down to the festival next year in March. I'll be there!
- Harlan Price