Thrills and spills

Daredevils and extreme sport spectators receive an eyeful as the FMX World Series tour arrives in Israel.

bike stunt 88  224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
bike stunt 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you're a parent, Koji Kraft is your worst nightmare. The freestyle FMX and BMX bicyclist does things that you drum into your kids' heads never, ever to do - like jumping off 60 foot ramps, doing 360 degree spins, double backward flips, and other stunts that have you thinking "emergency room." But the 25-year-old Chicago resident has managed to parlay his daredevil tendencies into a lucrative career as one of the stars on the FMX World Series tour, an extreme sport action competition that has grown into a gravity-defying international phenomenon. "I started as a kid, just riding down the street, making my own makeshift ramps and jumps. I kept on doing it until I was really good at it. By the time I was 13 I was getting paid for it, and by the time I was 17, I traveling the world," Kraft said the day after arriving in Israel last week along with a dozen other top American bikers and skateboarders. They'll be performing, along with top Israeli skateboarder Avi Luzia, this week beginning tonight through Thursday at the Nokia Center in Tel Aviv, and next from the 21st-24th in Eilat. Kraft, who spent his first day in Tel Aviv, naturally, biking around the city, said he's grateful for the warm weather here, which has enabled him to indulge in his favorite pastime. "I love visiting new places and riding around the towns and seeing things. Often it's just the hotels and the events, so I just avoid sleeping and go out riding. Yesterday, we rode all around Tel Aviv, and stayed up way too late," he said. Unlike other sports, Kraft said he doesn't spend long hours training or warming up for a show. "I don't really practice, or even warm up before a show. I just jump into it, I've been doing it so long. I guess I'm trained to do it without practicing," he said. According to extreme sport website, Kraft can cushion his falls as well as anyone on the FMX circuit, but he's had his share of rough falls over the years, resulting in broken ribs and other fractures. "I have friends that are paralyzed from accidents. It's a dangerous sport," he said, acknowledging that his line of work is a young man's endeavor. "As soon as you get hurt, that's it, there's no backup or pension plan. I didn't think about that when I got into this. There's talk of making FMX an Olympic event in 2012, and if that happens and the government gets behind it, it will help riders out," he said. But for now, Kraft and the other riding magicians live for the day, and the thrill of performing. "It's been awesome traveling the world and meeting people, I got more experience in life than if I had gone to college," he said. "I hope I can still do this in 10 years. But I have no contingency plan. I just hope I don't get hurt." Parents going to see Kraft and company this week will likely take FMX riding off their list of desired professions for their children, but that shouldn't stop the entire family from enjoying the thrills and spills of the FMX World Tour.