Well, what a weekend that was! Such an adrenaline-infused, nail-bitingly scary, fear-facing Sunday we spent at Thunder Park in Bangor, County Down, getting to grips with some BMX skills during a family workshop.
We were kindly invited along by owner and BMX veteran, Matt ‘Captain’ G, to take part in a family workshop at Thunder Park, which was recently voted Best Creative Business in the Bangor Business Awards. Of course I had to say ‘Yes’, as my 3 boys jumped up and down with enthusiasm when I told them about the invitation. Serious Mum points were scored!
So, having no BMX experience whatsoever, off we headed early on Sunday morning to the Eddie Irvine Sports facility – the home of Thunder Park, a whopping 14,000-square foot custom-built Action Sports training and recreational facility. Let’s just say that the walls of mine and my husband’s comfort zones were well and truly smashed to smithereens as we nervously stepped inside the vast warehouse filled with various sized ramps and jump boxes.
We were warmly welcomed by our instructor for the morning, the seriously talented and genuinely nice guy, ‘Military Mike’. From the outset he made us feel at ease, clearly sensing Mum and Dad’s trepidation and trying his best to settle our minds. He chatted with the boys, finding out a little about our previous experience (none!) around BMXs and answering my torrent of questions! I can’t help it…I trained as a journalist many moons ago and I’m as nosey as ever!
Once we were all kitted out with safety helmets and a BMX each, Mikey took us on the grand tour, telling us all about the different types of ramps and how they are used. A massive 5-foot deep foam pit, the biggest in Ireland I’ll have you know, which is used by more experienced riders to safely practice new tricks, proved to be a whole lot of fun, especially with our 8-year old who loved repeatedly diving into it! Mikey offered to demonstrate some tricks into the foam pit for us, and we all watched with admiration as he performed some impressive tricks with apparent ease. By then, energies were running high, so after enjoying a little bit more warm-up time sliding down Ireland’s only Resi ramp, a plastic ramp with a foam underlay which offers a softer landing during practice sessions, we were ready and eager to get going and learn some skills of our own.
Initially, we were taught how to ‘granny pedal’, in order to keep balanced and not catch our pedals on the edge of ramps when the time came to be really brave! I honestly didn’t think we would be going up and down ramps on our first outing to a skate park, but turns out Mikey had other ideas and total confidence in us. We practiced ‘carving’ an arch shape along the lower levels of a 12-foot tall, 20-foot wide ramp, before having the opportunity to launch ourselves off a smaller ramp to carve the pattern we had been practising. Admittedly, when I stood atop the platform looking down the ramp, it looked really high and my tummy was doing a series of somersaults and the look on the boys’ faces told me they were all slightly nervous too. I dug deep, trying to bring about by mindful will, a cool, calm and collected demeanour. The boys and my husband went first (a million times braver than me) and did really well to keep their balance and carve out their arch shape.
Then it was my turn! With all eyes on me and the boys chanting ‘Go for it, Mum’, I took the plunge and went for it. Remarkably, I didn’t fall headfirst off the BMX as I ‘dropped in’ from the top of the ramp. I made it to the bottom intact and headed for the huge black ramp which we had been instructed to perform a small ‘rainbow’ arch on. All was looking well, until I suddenly realised that I was approaching the ramp quite quickly…brakes….! Mikey had told us to keep 2 fingers on the brakes at all times, ready to use when needed. But, with all my efforts concentrated on not falling off, I didn’t remember to use the brakes on time, and couldn’t cut around in time and so ended up off the bike and sliding down the ramp, much to my sons’ amusement! I’m quite happy to have a good laugh at myself, so I dusted off my butt and went for it again, this time successfully completing the task! Hurrah!
Onwards we went to try out some of the other ramps, Mikey all the while talking us through each stage of the process. Where to start from, when to turn, when to brake! He was incredibly patient, encouraging and positive – high-fiving us all when we did something right! Gotta say, I think he is our boys’ new hero, not just because of his own display of daring stunts, but because he shows off his passion with pride and wants to pass on his knowledge and tips so generously.
The workshop flew by super quickly and by the end we were all feeling more confident and brave due to the expert tuition and guidance we received at Thunder Park. Cheers Mikey! Once the lesson was over, we were welcomed to stay and play at our leisure and put into practice all that we had learned.
By that stage, the park was filling up with kids out to practice their scooter or BMX tricks. Our boys watched on in awe as they saw kids not much older than themselves perform some impressively daring stunts. As we made the most of our time working on the skills we had been taught, it struck me that Thunder Park isn’t merely a warehouse full of ramps, but a living place with real heart and soul. As I circled round, up and down a few ramps, enjoying the freedom and time away from routine, I overheard snippets of conversation: ‘Wow, that was ace!’, ‘Nice one, mate!’, ‘That was epic!’ and there were high-fives and pats on the back galore! This is a place where community thrives, where local kids have found a place to belong and pursue a passion to the highest standard. Surrounded by guys who all have a wealth of experience in BMXing, scootering, competing, coaching and mentoring, these kids are getting the best possible support they could hope for. And, with a BMX freestyle park being added to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics programme, there is indeed much to practice and aim for! These kids are being taught to dream big by some seriously cool and dedicated role models!
There’s no better place in Ireland to hone your craft right now than Thunder Park so if you want to improve and perhaps turn your dream of making Action Sports into a career then this is the place to see it become a reality! Go for it!
Or, if like my family, you simply want to step outside of your comfort zone, give something new a whirl, gain a few well-earned bruises, and have a whole lot of fun in the process, well then I would highly recommend a trip to Thunder Park. Apparently no-one is too old to give Action Sports a go and the welcome we received was top-notch. All abilities are invited to try out the extreme sports centre which offers a safe environment to have some daring fun, meet new friends and develop skills. I honestly thought I was gonna look so out-of-place in this very hip and happening environment, but I felt totally at ease from the get-go and so did the boys. The vibe the team have created at Thunder Park in extremely inclusive so that anyone from any walk of life can walk through the doors and feel at home. All the guys that we met were friendly, enthusiastic and only too willing to pass on their tips and advice. That’s pretty special.
If you’ve ever seen the Thunder Action Sports team in action you will know that they are super-talented and possibly a little bit bonkers. We as a family have watched them perform a number of times and are always wowed by their immense daring and skill-level. They certainly know how to push the boundaries when it comes to putting on a great show, but that degree of expertise comes with hours and hours of practice behind the scenes. They know their stuff because they put in the work – a good lesson for us all! So, if you fancy a day out at Thunder Park, you can rest assured you are in safe hands. There is so much to choose from too, with 1-2-1 lessons, coaching clubs, mini rocker classes, skateboard training, scooter coaching as well as DJ and breakdance workshops being just some of the things on offer. Group bookings and private functions can also be catered for – if you’ve got an idea, give the team a call and they will do their utmost to create an unforgettable experience for you.
Please note: I was not paid to write this feature about our family experience at Thunder Park but we were treated to a courtesy workshop free of charge and would like to say a huge thank-you to Matt, Mikey and the team for the fantastic opportunity. It was a lot of fun and the boys are already asking when they can go back!
To find out more about Thunder Park you can contact them at Eddie Irvine Sports:
028 9145 1457