Taking a wicked ride
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 5, 2010 1:46 PM
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
With the lights of the Wayne Regional Fair in the background, Wicked Bull bull rider Brandon Maready finishes his eight-second ride and tries to dismount with the help of one of the bull fighters. Maready finished with a score of 81 out of a possible 100 points. The riders scores from Monday will be added to their totals tonight, when bull riding resumes at 7 p.m. at the grandstand.
For a bull rider, sitting in the chute, strapping onto the 1,500 pounds of pure, angry muscle underneath -- that's the hard part. The staying on for eight seconds as that animal jumps and twists and turns and bucks, well it's not easy either, say the Wicked Bull bull riders, but at least then all they have to do is hang on.
"Being in the chute, that's the worst. That's where all the metal is. That's where you can get hurt the easiest," said Dusty Gailey, the leader after Monday's opening rides. "Once you're out there, it's just instinct. You go with the flow."
Bringing the bull riding Monday and again tonight at 7 p.m. is Wicked Bull of Garner, featuring 15 riders, including several from eastern North Carolina -- all "future champs" trying, as emcee Luke Kaufman said, "to keep it right there in the middle."
One of those, riding just shy of eight seconds was Brandon Chambers. A native of Newport, Chambers now lives in Princeton, where he moved recently to be closer to the bulls he was spending all his time riding.
Chambers, a former surfer and skateboarder, explained he got into the sport after a chance introduction at a county fair while sidelined with two broken ankles -- the result of a skateboarding accident.
"First bull I ever got on was in Princeton," Chambers, 22, said. "I used to ride skateboards. I had sponsors. That's what I did for a living, but after I broke both ankles, I was at a fair and saw bull riding, got interested and tried it in a practice pen. That was six years ago. Now riding bull's what I do for a living."
In fact, he added, Monday was his sixth straight day riding at one location or another.
For Gailey of Archdale, whose ride earned him 88 out of 100 possible points Monday, the story's much the same -- early exposure piqued his interest.
In his case, it was his neighbor, bull rider Jerome Davis -- who had opened a bull riding school after becoming paralyzed himself -- who first exposed him to the sport many call the original American extreme sport.
"I just got to liking it. It's exciting," Gailey said.
The one tip he would give, to future bull riders would be to not try to pull up on the bull, and to not sit back too far on the bull.
"A lot of people think you have to pull on it (the strap) and overpower the bull. You want to kind of push it. You want to be up front over the horns. That way he's pulling you everywhere while all the power is in the back."
But Monday's show wasn't just about the bull riders, or even the bulls themselves. There also were those guys in the ring with the bulls -- bull fighters as they're called. Most of the time they are there to protect the riders, to distract the bull, to herd them back out of the arena. But the two performing with the Wicked Bull company also demonstrate their prowess in the ring in another way -- a freestyle bull fight, where all they have to do is stay as close as possible to a mad Mexican fighting bull for as long as possible without getting hurt.
"It's all about placement. You put yourself between the bulls and the bull rider and keep the rider safe," said Cole Ivey, 23. "I can jump high and run fast. It's exciting. I love this. Why would I want to have a real job?"
And of course no bull ride would be complete without the second emcee in the ring -- the proverbial rodeo clown. Filling that role for Wicked Bull is 19-year-old Austin Stewart, a fifth-generation bull rider who has been in a ring since he was 4 years old.
"It's what I grew up with. I played baseball and basketball and ran cross country, but there's no sport like this one, and not everybody gets this opportunity," he said.
As part of his role with Wicked Bull, he provides the comic relief -- bantering with Kaufman, impersonating rapper Lil' John and former King of Pop Michael Jackson, and showing off an array of trick rope skills.
"I like to make people laugh, talk to the crowd and have a good time," he said. "The crowd tonight was great. I just wish they were a little closer."
And so, as Kaufman says, "Crack the latch, let's have a bull match" -- bull riding will continue tonight at 7 p.m. at the grandstand at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair.