Rocket Launcher has age-old tribal connection to big wave surfing

The title sounds like a wild celebration by hackers from the Dark Web.

But DarkFEST is totally different, and a lot more scary, certainly in terms of potential for physical harm.

Just last week, one of the stars and founder of this rider-owned freeride MTB festival at Vuurberg Winery outside Stellenbosch this weekend, had to abort on the final feature of the course called the “Big Booter” or the “Rocket Launcher”, one of the biggest freeride jumps ever made.

The slight hitch for Sam Reynolds? He was in mid-air, 40 feet above the ground.

Jumps like this are built using serious earth-moving machinery and fine-tuned by the riders to maximise air time and trajectory to achieve maximum height and distance.

They fashion a giant mound of dirt into a ramp or ‘kicker’, then leave a gap before building a second mound, but with the slope on the reverse side to facilitate a safe landing.

There are several names for this jump. Rocket Launcher is apt. Hitting it at speeds of 70km/h, the kicker catapults the rider into the air like a rocket. There are other unmentionable expletives coughed up on the fly, so to speak, by adrenaline-saturated riders who have just landed it.

In a sickening video posted on their Facebook page, without a hint of sensitivity for his poor mum, we watch as Reynolds pushes the bike away from him at the apex of his aerial arc, then drops like a stone.

Filmed from a cellphone, you can hear the crunch as his body bounces off the landing feature.

Fortunately for him, he falls near the top of the up slope; not in the gap between the dirt mounds. But a 25-foot free-fall is still not good for your health. He shattered his wrist, and is out of his own event.

Of course, broken limbs and steel plates that hold riders’ bones together are par for this obstacle course. All that medical attention, all those hospital visits, is a sure-fire way to bond this band of brothers.

As Ryan Pane, communications manager for event sponsor Monster Energy, says: “These guys are tight with each other. They have each other’s backs. They push each other. They are mental. Actually, they’re bat-s**t crazy.”

Pane, who is also a keen surfer, equates this age-old tribal connection on a series of repetitive rites to big wave surfing.

He says it’s a similar ethic: the kind predicated on moments of such harsh exposure to risk, souls are knitted together.

The DarkFEST concept came about, says Payne, after the “guys got tired of riding contests constrained by sponsors when they wanted to build bigger and higher ramps”.

Go figure.

So as free riders, they designed their own series, with each course a formula of nine massive jumps. DarkFEST is the only one in the southern hemisphere, the African iteration from the “dark continent”.

It’s also the first for 2019. Then it moves overseas, with events such as Loosefest in Europe and Hoff Fest in Canada, each managed by a rider from that region.

If you have some time today, you can catch this motley crew of mullets from around the world defy gravity as they smash a special course prepared by Reynolds and his group, who are called Pure Darkness (of course).

Set in the beautiful Winelands areas of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, it’s a good day out. They ride early and late to avoid the midday heat.

But if you’re like me when the ‘ching ching ching’ Hitchcock moment comes in a horror movie, and you shut your eyes, you won’t see much.

Marine Launch

The Marine Unit of the South African Weather Service has launched a website that delivers high-resolution storm surge and wave forecasts for South Africa that “allows coastal and offshore ocean users, disaster management, municipalities and city councils to prepare for potentially damaging situations in real time”. Go to

Weather Tip

Today strong SSE winds return. A flat sea is due to pick up to 4-5’ in the afternoon. Naturally this means that False Bay is blown out onshore, and Muizenberg is messy and unpleasant.

The swell looks six foot tomorrow, but hammered by hard SSE. There may be waves on the beachbreaks, but the water is freezing. Expect a horrid onshore at Muizenberg.


Weekend Argus

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