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Olympics or not, BMXer Kevin Peraza is already winning

Kevin Peraza competing in The Real Cost BMX Dirt during X Games Minneapolis 2019

(Photo by Pete Demos / ESPN Images)

BMX had been in Kevin Peraza’s blood long before he decided it was what he would dedicate his life to. 

The 25-year-old Mexican American rider, who turned pro in 2010, is the son of a former BMX racer, Victor Peraza. Kevin’s brothers Victor, David, and Eddie are BMXers, too. 

But the athletically gifted, self-described “super hyper” kid who was always excited just to be outside, had to rule some other things out before he gave in to a life on wheels. 

“I was playing baseball at the same time I was racing as a kid, but I just had way more fun at the racetrack riding my bike,” Peraza says. “There was more self-discipline, more self-joy; it was more or less just my part in learning and growing at my own pace.”

“Growing at your own pace is the best way you can start something,” he adds. “There’s no right or wrong way to do it.”

Artistic and passionate, it was the lure of setting his own pace that led Peraza to break from his father’s path of BMX racing to freestyle BMX not long after he first got on a bike at age 4. “Now that I ride BMX freestyle, it’s like you get this blank piece of paper and they just tell you to paint,” he says. “The freedom of expression is so fun.”

Peraza was born in Tucson, Arizona, but his parents are from Hermosillo, in Sonora, Mexico. Growing up, the house was “always filled with boys and bikes.” He entered his first contest in Hermosillo at the age of 13. He won. Wins at the Gatorade Free Flow Tour Park event in 2010 and 2011 soon followed, and in 2013, he was offered a spot on the Mongoose Pro Team

“The moment we first saw Kevin you could instantly tell the amount of energy and good vibes that radiates off him,” says Leigh Ramsdell, Peraza’s team manager at Mongoose. “That was something we wanted for our team. He really brings across what BMX should be about — fun! And it doesn’t hurt that Kevin can win a contest at the drop of a hat.”

That infectious energy has become Peraza’s trademark as he has progressed in the pro circuit. He’s been a staple at the X Games since 2013, showing off his versatility as he competes in Park and Dirt disciplines. In 2017, he took gold in Park at X Games Minneapolis and third place at the Vans BMX Pro Cup Series World Championships in Huntington Beach, California.

Known for his megawatt smile and positive attitude even after huge crashes, Peraza is the kind of rider who can knock you off the podium while becoming your best friend in the process.  

“Being at the contests already is winning,” Peraza says. “At this level of competition, there are a lot of guys who take it too seriously, who forget why they started in the first place. I’m always having a good time.”

Kevin Peraza and Mongoose team manager Leigh Ramsdell

(Photo by Pacific Cycle)

Indeed, Peraza, who loves to draw and paint in his spare time, approaches his runs much in the same way he does his art. He describes his signature style as classic tricks mixed in with technical riding, but he loves to keep both his competitors and viewers on their toes. “When I ride contests it’s pretty common to know what other guys are going to do,” he says. “I always try to do the exact opposite and confuse everyone and always save the best for the actual contests so it’s a surprise to my fellow competitors.”

“I think I’m most known,” he adds, “for having fun.”

Peraza’s visual nature is apparent in his photography. He carts his Sony a7S II with him around the world to his contests. He wants to remember the new cultures, food, and landscapes this career opens up to him. It also lends itself to his process of evaluating his runs after contests. Using an architectural design program called SketchUp, he’ll re-create contest courses and reimagine his runs on them. “If I wasn’t happy with my run, I do the whole thing on paper and then on my computer I redesign the course and imagine myself competing on the course again,” he says.

Though he never knew what he wanted to study after graduating from Sunnyside High School in 2013. When his riding career slows down he’s honing in on architectural design or BMX course design. He’s attended meetings with California Skateparks to help design the courses and is excited to see where that will go.

Wherever he may go, Peraza will be joined by his fiancée, Itsel. She has a graphic design degree and is helping Peraza design logos for his signature frame with Mongoose. “We work as a team,” Peraza says. “We share these different outlets where we can really sit and create together, whether I’m creating just for fun or she’s creating for a business.”

Peraza and Itsel will wed later this year, in October, in a beach town outside of San Carlos, Mexico, where Peraza’s parents are from. (Itsel’s parents are good friends with the Perazas.) As if his calendar wasn’t already full enough, Peraza will have one other major focus between now and his wedding. He will attempt to be among the first group of freestyle BMXers to qualify for the Summer Olympics. Freestyle BMX will make its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Despite hailing from Tucson and representing the U.S. in domestic events, in Olympic qualifiers, Peraza rides for Mexico. 

The Olympics brings together the world’s top freestyle BMX riders at qualifying events around the world. Peraza will now compete against the American riders he has formed bonds with through riding all these years. When UCI (world governing body of cycling) took over freestyle BMX qualification events, Peraza registered to compete for the U.S. “It was never like, ‘Who should I ride for, what’s gonna benefit me,’ it was more just to get a license and just to be at the events,” Peraza says. “A lot of guys were on the same page where they didn’t know if they should have started in a different country or not.”

Kevin Peraza competing in Toyota Men's BMX Park during X Games Minneapolis 2018

(Photo by Pete Demos / ESPN Images)

When he switched to riding for the Mexican federation, Peraza was penalized from riding in the World Championship last year. This move severely impacted his ability to earn points. He had to start completely over in the qualification period events (November 2018 through May 11, 2020). During this time, riders have been trying to accumulate points for their countries at sanctioned BMX Olympic qualifiers. 

Olympic qualification is a complicated process. It boils down to this: 18 riders, nine men and nine women, will compete in the Tokyo Games.  As the host country, Japan’s top male and female riders have an automatic bid. For the remaining spots, the country that scores the most points in the UCI rankings will send two riders. Right now, Australia is in the lead and the countries placing second through fifth will each send one. The final two spots are determined by individual performance at the UCI World Championships.

Peraza is the rider from Mexico with the most points so far, but the country is currently ranked 10th. This places them just outside the cutoff for an Olympic bid. Everything hinges on the UCI BMX Freestyle Park and Flatland World Cup in Hiroshima, Japan, in April. This is an event which, if Peraza wins, could vault him into Olympic contention. 

And if he doesn’t make the cut? That won’t change much.

“It was never an end goal to make it to the Olympics,” Peraza says. “What’s in front of me right now is an objective that I feel capable of achieving. I don’t ride a bike to feel stressed out; I ride a bike to get away from all the things that cause stress. It’s still another contest; whether I’m representing Mexico or the U.S., I would still go up there and have the best time of my life, doing the best I can.”

Ultimately, Peraza’s yardstick for success in this sport isn’t measured in metal discs. It’s measured by the smile plastered to his face after each and every event, win or lose.