A BMX Track Grows in Bridgehampton

At Hayground, a former pro is teaching a new generation the joys of riding
Jeff Mayer caught air at the Hayground School while his son, Luca, looked on. Their 1981 Kenworth semi and its creative-space trailer, is in the background. Adam Stennett

In Jeff Mayer’s version of “Field of Dreams” it wasn’t “if you build it, they will come,” but rather they came and so he built it — the “it” in this case being a BMX pump track at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton.

Rewind three years. Mayer, a former BMX pro, D.J., and designer, was spending his first summer at the Hayground Camp with his wife, Angela De Vincenzo, a learning specialist, and their son, Luca. The couple were running their Blocks, Trucks + Art programs from the trailer of an 18-wheeler they call Big Mama.

The truck and the Mayer-De Vincenzo team were an instant hit.

The bikes weren’t initially a part of the picture, but when campers saw little Luca, then 5, so ably navigating the campus on a two-wheeler, they wanted in.

Mayer started teaching kids to ride. Some had barely been on a bike before. “It wasn’t like I was trying to teach BMX because that’s what I did,” Mayer said, recalling that first summer in Bridgehampton. As creative director of Blocks, Trucks + Art, he saw his wife as the main force behind their arts educational programming. But the BMX component of the program “really started taking off, too. Parents said, ‘You’ve changed my kids’ world; they have more confidence than they ever had,’ ’’ Mayer said.

Parents wanted more, kids couldn’t get enough of it, and the Hayground Camp director, Jon Snow, wanted to grow the bike program. So in June, Mayer worked with Jim Dellavalle of Dellavalle Designs in Stroudsburg, Pa., to build a BMX pump track on the Hayground campus, turning 264 tons of soil into a course of rolling mounds and banked turns that more experienced bikers can eventually circle without pedaling.

The track helps build bikers’ balance and strengthen gross motor skills. It’s called a pump track because riders use a pumping motion and work with the contours of the track to maintain speed and generate momentum, getting an upper and lower-body workout as they navigate their way through the course. As far as Mayer knows, it is the only track of its kind on the South Fork.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. he teaches BMX to campers of all ages, and on Monday through Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, he and his wife oversee BMX sessions for kids not enrolled in the camp. Sure there are opportunities to take jumps and do tricks, but “I’m not trying to teach kids to get into the X Games; there are other camps that are more geared to that,” Mayer said. “I teach them the basics. It’s an introduction and it ties in because it makes sense with our program: Kids are using their whole body and they’re learning through play. There’s nothing more fun than riding a bike as a kid.”

The whole Blocks, Trucks + Art concept revolves around learning through collaborative play, whether that be with blocks, paint, vinyl record albums, or a dirt track.

“Everything about our program is old-school,” Mayer said. “There’s nothing techy on our truck.”

At the camp, part of the BMX elective is called Dig to Ride. “Kids have to help maintain the track in order to ride,” Mayer explained. “Kids help water it, mulch it. They’re earning their right to ride it. . . . You have to help to be a part of it.”

Once they’re introduced to the track, most kids don’t need to be asked to help. They seem innately drawn to it and empowered by the sense of purpose it gives them.

At an evening session last week, when a rider wiped out and roughed up a turn, three more were quick to start packing down the area with their hands. Circling the track seemed to calm them down and focus them.

Evenings begin with free riding, and then Mayer calls a “team meeting” to check in with the cyclists and review the basics. The structure is loose, but it’s hardly a free-for-all. Kids all ride in the same direction, learning how much lead-time to give each rider based on his or her skill level and familiarity with the track. Mayer keeps his eyes on the whole track, letting the kids enjoy their rides in their own way but also stepping in to work individually with the ones who need extra work.

He has music spinning on a turntable in the open trailer to set a tone for the riders. De Vincenzo, while not the biking expert he is, is on hand to help the kids or reinforce what her husband is trying to teach them. “Angela has 20 years of teaching experience with kids, so she knows how to do that part of it; she jumps in where I’m still learning.”

De Vincenzo works at the Packer Collegiate Institute, an independent prekindergarten-through-12th-grade school in Brooklyn Heights. Along with Blocks, Trucks + Art, she also tutors and does educational consulting. “Angela is brilliant at pretty much everything she does,” her husband said. “I don’t think there’s anything she’s not good at.”

He loves working with kids, but has done it for only three summers. “She’s teaching me about working with children,” Mayer said. “It’s the hardest and best thing I ever did. . . . Those moments when you connect with children, there’s nothing like seeing a kid really stoked.”

Mayer grew up on 30 acres in rural New Jersey, where his family had a Christmas tree farm and his nearest friend lived 10 miles away. He was introduced to BMX when he was 9 by a friend who was racing.

It was a new sport in the late ’70s and less known on the East Coast than the West, but “Once you caught wind of it, you would subscribe to BMX Action or Freestyle magazine and you literally waited every month for that new copy and who was on the cover and what tricks were they doing. . . . You’d study the magazine and try to do it and then try to come up with your own version of it.”

“It used to be you grabbed a shovel and some friends and you just went and built some jumps,” he said. That’s what he did on his parents’ property.

At 10 he started racing, but what he really liked were the jumps, “and I didn’t care if I came in last. . . . That’s where freestyle came in for me. I started riding 10-foot halfpipes.”

“I was getting into the sport right when it was hitting the East Coast, so I was definitely part of the pioneer end of this. We were making tricks up as we went.”

After competing through half of his teenage years, he found sponsorship. “When you’re sponsored you tour in a van and do shows. Bike shops would hire a team to come do the show and hundreds of kids would come watch. It was amazing.”

He rode professionally until the early ’90s, when he broke his knee and was out of work for six months. As he slowly transitioned away from the pro biking world, he took up D.J.ing and design, eventually heading up the branding department for a major game company.

Now he describes himself as a full-time father and part-time designer.

It was their son’s love of trucks that led Mayer and De Vincenzo to Big Mama, a 1981 Kenworth semi, and the 70-foot trailer that is summertime home base for their family and their work. Mayer also credits Luca with getting him back into biking in a way he never imagined “in a million years.”

“The irony is I kept my pro BMX life and magazines and photos and everything out of his base of knowledge. I wanted him to find what he wanted to do and his own way in life. . . . I would still kick around on a bike; I had this 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-tall halfpipe in my parents’ backyard, but I wasn’t competing anymore.”

He rode as a professional “because I love BMX,” and now he is introducing a new crop of kids to the sport with an emphasis not on competition but on the joy of riding.

Evening BMX sessions are offered on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. The cost is $800 for a four-week session. Saturday open sessions run from 8 to 10 a.m. and cost $75 per day. All programs are for riders on two-wheelers. Sign-up is in person or online at blockstrucksandart.com.

The couple hope to take the program back to Brooklyn in the fall and are launching a Kickstarter campaign to make that possible “in the city and anywhere else they need it.” And P.S., Mayer and Dellavalle Designs can build you a track of your own.

Jeff Mayer worked with Jim Dellavalle of Dellavalle Designs to build a BMX pump track on the Hayground campus, turning 264 tons of soil into a course of rolling mounds and banked turns.Jeff Mayer
Campers who use the pump track earn the right by helping to take care of it through a program called Dig to Ride. In the back row is the camp's director, Jon Snow.