Ambitions as a Rider: How Chad Kerley Is Changing BMX

Ambitions as a Rider: How Chad Kerley Is Changing BMXPhotos by Cameron Priestley

If it were up to him, Chad Kerley wouldn’t walk another step in his life. His feet are used to going in a dizzying circular pattern, lifted a few inches from the concrete, gripping a set of pedals. That’s where he’s most comfortable, not with his legs swinging back and forth, pounding his fresh pair of Nike kicks against the unforgiving pavement. He’s been riding a bike so long, he claims he barely even knows how to walk anymore. 

“I just feel awkward now,” Chad says. “I don’t do it often, so I look weird walking. I could ride from [New York] to China and wouldn’t be as tired as I am walking around.” 

Bicycles aren’t the only thing Chad uses to get around, though. He’s quick to hail a cab in big cities; he has no problem handling a halfpipe on a skateboard; and in high school, the girls are on a constant swivel, watching for one of his notorious piggyback attacks. Anything to avoid some steps. Regardless of his methods, Chad has been finding a way to push forward since he was 18 months old, when he first broke the shackles of training wheels and hit the open road on two wheels. The one thing he’s never had to ride is anybody else’s coattails. 

At 18 years old, Chad has spent all his life in Serra Mesa, a neighborhood in San Diego of less than 30,000, smushed between Interstates 15 and 805 near Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Chargers. 

Football, or any other mainstream sport, was never of interest to Chad. He started racing with a 14-inch Kent from Toys “R” Us at age four, when he couldn’t even get over the jumps, and has only moved up in the biking community since. 

 

I’d be at a race where there was a park nearby, and they’d have to come get me like, ‘Yo, your race is coming up soon, you have to get ready.’

 

Chad quickly rose to the top of the kids’ racing ranks, winning his district five times in a row, winning State two times, attaining National Age Group 1 at age 13, and placing second in Worlds later the same year. After nine years of speed, Chad decided racing had run its course. He was done, whether his parents liked it or not. 

“I was over it. My dad flipped, because that was all I knew. But I wasn’t having fun,” Chad said. “I started purely because I wanted to make it over the jumps, and I was tired of working out and constantly having to get faster. I was the best, and to stay the best, it was work, not fun.” 

More and more, he was drawn to skateparks. 

“I’d be at a race where there was a park nearby, and they’d have to come get me like, ‘Yo, your race is coming up soon, you have to get ready,’ but I just wanted to kick it there,” he said. 

Once he found a new, more natural-fitting, comfort zone with BMX street freestyling, he regained his strong passion for bicycling. 

“Freestyling isn’t nearly as stressful as racing,” he said, reducing racing to a thing of the past. “I’m not competing against somebody. I’m just riding around with my friends, making videos, and doing whatever I want.” 

Like his natural talent, sponsors came to the Cali kid early. After multiple small offers in racing, his first major opportunity came just 10 minutes from his home. Chad was riding at Clairemont skatepark in Mission Valley when the Haro BMX crew took over. Premium, a company owned by Haro, wasn’t watching its own riders, though. Chad’s particular skill set was what popped at the park that day, and Premium wanted him. That same day, he responded with an are-you-crazy-of-course-I-do “Hell yeah!” when asked if he wanted to join. Less than two years later, he turned pro for the company and has vaulted as their biggest BMXer. 

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