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Casey Christie / The Californian

Professional BMX rider Greg Illingworth of South Africa gets in some practice time at Woodward West facility in Stallion Springs, Thursday.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

BMX pro Greg Illingworth works on his skills before Thursday's competition in Stallion Springs at the Woodward West facility.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Paul Ryan is a professional BMX competitor and ready for action at the Woodward West facility in Stallion Springs.

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Casey Christie / The Californian

Ben Wallace of the UK, right, hangs out with some of his buddies, Thursday, at the Woodward West facility in Stallion Springs. Wallace is part of BMX Team Wallace competitors.

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TEHACHAPI -- Big air, hard grinds, spins and tailwhips were just a few of the amazing, jaw-dropping tricks that were being perfected Thursday at Woodward West in Stallion Springs, as five lucky up-and-coming riders prepared for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It's a chance to compete with 25 of the world's best pro BMX riders, in the First Mongoose Jam -- a BMX-only event, featuring a competition among five teams, each headed by one of Mongoose's pro riders.

And right in the middle of it all, wheels whizzing as he takes flight from the deep end of the concrete bowl known as The Crater, is South Africa's Greg Illingworth.

Like something out of The Matrix, his long reddish mane flailing, he is able to suspend time, manipulating his bike to do incredible, gravity-defying stunts before returning to earth.

"This competition is kind of a new format that Mongoose came up with, and it's really interesting and exciting because no one has really done something like this before," Illingworth said. "You go around here and all you see is smiles on the kids' faces. It's all pretty cool."

The three-day event, which began Wednesday with five campers being picked from a hat following an amateur audition. Is all part of a unique laid-back vibe that encourages riders to work together to rise to BMX-glory, with the overall win in three categories, street, park and dirt contests.

"The kids are all happy with what's going on out here," Mongoose pro Ben Wallace said. "They're pretty overwhelmed with it all.

"The set-up really allows us the experience to mentor campers and show them the ropes of BMX competition."

One of those looking to learn from his role model is camper Brad Thomas from Chino, who will not only compete as part of Wallace's team, but will be celebrating an early birthday -- he turns 17 on Sunday.

"This is one heck of a birthday present, and I am stoked," he said. "I've been watching Ben's edits (video highlights) for years, and I've always loved his riding style.

"So I was happy he picked me. I get to ride with some of the pros I've been looking up to for a long time."

Although the purpose of the event is aimed at bringing riders together to have a good time, each competitor will want to show their best stuff, as the camper on the winning squad gets to spend another week at Woodward.

Wallace, who knows the pressures of competition, offered his advice to Thomas.

"I just told him not to sweat it and have fun," he said. "Brad is a shredder, and once he drops in, everything will be clear and he'll know what he needs to do."

Quietly watching nearby, is dirt racer turned freestyler Todd Cagel from Reno, who will compete in today's park event, despite suffering a shoulder injury during a practice run early in the week.

The 17-year-old said he was stoked to be riding with team captain Paul Ryan, and that the adrenaline would probably ease the pain once the competition started.

When asked if injuries will change the tricks he will perform.

Cagel said to describe the mindset one has to be in to ride to compete with the pros.

"There would be no fun if it there were no danger in it."

The Mongoose Jam event is free to spectators, and continues today with the BMX Park Contest at noon, and concludes at 6 p.m. with a BMX Street Contest. The event is also being streamed live at http://www.mongoose.com/usa/jam/.