From almost anywhere in Taranaki, the skyline is dominated by its namesake volcano, Mt Taranaki. The peak juts skyward in an almost perfect cone. Poking out of the West Coast of the North Island, it’s exposed to weather from all points on the compass. With no other mountains nearby, local weather patterns are known to change without a moment’s notice, creating one of the country’s deadliest alpine environments.
Although Taranaki isn’t far out of the way, it’s also not on the way to anywhere, so it retains a remote and wild feeling; in other words, you need a good reason to visit. This, combined with the weather, has created some pretty hardcore residents.
Nestled in a tiny corner of Taranaki’s hub city of New Plymouth is a unique work of art. It’s not a painting or a multi-million-dollar wind wand. It’s made entirely by hand, mostly from dirt. Some would consider it a sculpture, or many sculptures. This gem is known as Rotoz.
Although many have put shovel to dirt there, one man, like the volcano, stands out as the park’s dominant force. He’s put in more hours and wheelbarrow loads than any other person to ride there, and his work has put New Plymouth on the map for having one of the world’s best dirt jump parks.
I got the chance to sit down with the man known as Bedy for a bit of a yarn about Rotoz, and this is what he had to say.
Q: What’s your name and how old are you?
A: Scott Bedford, but everyone knows me as Bedy. I’m 28 years old. Maybe 29? [Laughing] Nah, 29 turning 30 in June.
Q: Where are you from?
A: New Plymouth. Born and raised.
Q: How long have you been riding bikes?
A: For as long as I can remember.
Q: What’s your background?
A: I come from a background of racing downhill. That’s why the trails at Rotoz are the way they are. Most dirt jumps are a straight line, but I like to have different styles of jumps mixed with berms and features. It makes it feel more like riding a track than just jumps, and you can get the most out of the space. And I don’t do many tricks [laughs].
Q: Why did you stop racing?
A: Working a full-time job as a builder started to eat into my racing time, but otherwise I don’t really know why I stopped. There aren’t a lot of downhill tracks around New Plymouth to ride. I grew up riding with Wyn and Eddie [Masters] riding heaps. Having them around was good and we used to race together a lot. But if you wanted to continue to race, you had to leave this town to do yourself any good, and I never did that. I mean, I went away and did trips to Whistler and that, but I dunno. I just kind of faded off it, I guess.
Q: When did you get into dirt jumping?
A: I’ve always been dirt jumping because when we used to travel to races, we used to take our hardtails as it was only those and downhill bikes in those days. There were a few dirt jumps around, not like they are now, but like Gorge Road [Queenstown] before they did the extension and stuff.
Q: When did you start digging at Rotoz?
A: There was a guy called Che Evans that started it about 15 or 20 years ago. When I was racing downhill, I’d always come and give him a hand, so I’ve always helped out a bit, but it was probably about five years ago it was more of a full-time thing, just somewhere to come dig and ride, I guess. It’s such a reward you know, building something and riding it. But that was before I even knew how to slap dirt and shit like that [laughs]. Back then it wasn’t as hard out as it is now. We’d just put a bit of dirt wherever we felt, and ride it. Now it’s crazy, you spend more time on the sides and backs of features than the ride line. The ride line is the easy part!
It’s rad having Gorge Road in New Zealand—the best jump park in the world—to compete against, but I don’t want to be like them. I want to be different. I want people to come ride here because it’s the same level as them, but different. Different is good, you know?
Q: How did this place get its name?
A: There’s a lake next to the park called Lake Rotomanu. Just like heaps of things, we shortened it to make it easier to say, like, “I’m off to Rotoz to ride.” And it just stuck.
Q: I know you do most of the digging here, but do you get helpers?
A: I just dig so much that no one can keep up with how much I dig here! [Laughs] Heaps of people think this is my full-time job, but it’s not. I go earn money as a builder so I can afford to come and dig here. They think it’s like a council funded operation, but it’s not. I just got right into it. I’m pretty stoked every time I dig something because I can look back and see progress and reward. And now it’s so big, I’ve always got shit to clean up or fix or shape. But that’s why they have the carpet or turf because it sort of looks after the dirt and allows me to ride so many different lines with less maintenance.
Q: How many hours do you reckon you put in per week on average?
A: It can vary, but I just treat it as a normal work week, so 40 to 45 hours usually. There’s a lot of jumps for one guy to look after! But then you got the weekends, so I don’t know… maybe 50 hours?
Q: Who owns the land the park is on?
A: The local council. They said I can build and do whatever I want to do here. They come in and they love it! They’re stoked! There’s a big lake just next to here with a lot of native plants and I’ll just go and dig up a few excess ones and plant them around here. They don’t mind at all! I like how it looks with all the plants around, and if I plant natives, they can’t come in and chop them down. [Laughing] Fruit trees would be nice though, for some snacks!
I don’t really like spending money on this place, but I have. I’ve bought timber, hose connections, heaps of tools. I’ve put so much money into this place, but I’d rather the council help out with that stuff. I love digging here, and I’m willing to put in my time, but I just don’t like having to spend my own money. I still gotta eat.
Q: Was there something that sparked you into putting so much time and effort into this place?
A: I’m a qualified builder and used to do a lot of contract building. But about six years ago I got into a bit of trouble and had to spend a few weeks in jail for a drink driving conviction. When I got out of there, I never signed another contract and just came down here and started digging. It was a sort of therapy for me, just come down and dig. I just kept digging more and more, then at one stage I was like, I’m going to go hard, 7:30am to 5pm every day, and see what happens when I treat it as a normal job!
Q: What’s one of the hardest parts about digging here?
A: It just kept progressing, getting bigger and bigger, but it gets hard when people don’t respect it. Because the lines keep getting bigger and harder, not everyone can ride it. A lot of people just come in and climb all over everything and wreck shit. Everyone gets stoked on it and comes down, but people have got to respect it, water it, and look after it.
Q: Where does all the dirt come from?
A: It’s all barrowed in. I know a few contractors around town, so I bike around and see if they have any they don’t need. They dump it at the gate and I bring it in one barrow at a time. That’s the only way. I used to spend weeks and weeks just barrowing dirt, barrowing dirt, barrowing dirt, to build all that big shit—there’s so much dirt in there—but now, every barrow of dirt I bring in, I just love it! Everything only needs a few barrows now instead of a hundred! [Laughs]
Q: What did this place used to be?
A: A quarry. The lake next to us used to not be there. I think it was in the sixties, they dug it up and made concrete here to build the chimney at the port. The sub-box where they used to load the truck up is still here. If you dig a spade into the ground here, it hits rocks, and old cars, trailers, backfill, and random shit. It was also an old dumping site for machinery and stuff. It’s basically a shithole the council didn’t know what to do with, so they didn’t care when jumps started getting built here. They even let us put the container here to leave tools and things in.
Q: I see you have water and hoses here now. Where did that come from?
A: We raised some money years ago and dug a trench from the road and hooked into the mains. The mountain bike club [New Plymouth Mountain Bikers] came on board for that and pay for the water. That’s pretty good of them, and they do the lease of the land every year, too. And finally, this season I got some money off them and bought hoses and fittings for the irrigation. Without water, this place dries up and becomes unridable.
Q: Tell me a bit about your digging.
A: When I started, I had no idea. No idea about maintenance, about when and how to dig—anything, really. I used to just be down here in summer doing all my digging, but all the jumps would just fall apart. Winter is the best time and when I’m down here most. Not so hot and dry, so the dirt holds more moisture. Then I just do maintenance all summer and keep it watered.
Q: I’ve seen your jumps turn into more like a work of art or sculpture in the past few years. Would you say you’re paying attention more to how the jumps look, and not just how they ride?
A: Fuck yeah, I love it. That’s why I always take a photo of it when I’m done. I love how it looks and rides. I can keep it that way, but as soon as people ride it dry, it gets destroyed. The dirt here can’t handle being ridden when it’s dry, everything just crumbles and cracks. But if you don’t dig here like me, you don’t know that. But that’s just me being picky. I never knew about that either though until I trained myself. I never knew about slapping dirt, or stacking dirt, or anything. I’ve made tools and that for digging and shaping and whatnot, but no matter what, the best tool you can have is a good shovel. The Atlas—that’s a good shovel. That’s the shovel that taught me how to slap dirt.
Q: I keep hearing about riders coming for a look from out of town.
A: This season has been the best for that. I keep getting riders from overseas coming to have a good time, work on the trails and get stoked. This year alone, I’ve seen heaps of people from France, USA, Canada, Germany, and Belgium. There has been more of them than Kiwis. I’ve had some lads show up from Rotorua and Wellington coming in to ride and help out, but not as many as the foreigners. It’s pretty rewarding to hear that people from other parts of the world have heard about the park and want to go out of their way to come ride here.
You can check out more of Bedy’s artwork by following him on Instagram: @bedyb. Or if you can, make the detour to Rotoz and lend a hand to one of the best dirt artists around. After all: no dig, no ride!