Home grown internationally renowned mountain biker Josh Carlson postponed departure for a World Championship event before Christmas to talk to Destination Wollongong partners about what being able to compete at the global level in Wollongong would mean to him.
With the draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy put on public exhibition late in 2018 a lot has been said about the economic advantage of mountain biking.
But Carlson was asked to share his thoughts on the appeal Wollongong would have to the best riders in the world.
Carlson lived in Whistler, Canada, for six years and Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh first met him three years ago when he came back to Wollongong to get married.
Mr Sleigh also met one of his guests, a professional planner from Whistler, who writes economic development reports for mountain biking.
That resulted in some work being done on the potential benefits to the Illawarra.
But Mr Sleigh said it was important to hear from someone who travels the world competing internationally about whether Wollongong would be attractive to the other elite riders.
Asked how the Illawarra Escarpment trails compared to those around the globe Carlson said “the scale of the trails we have here in the Illawarra already is already up there with some of the best trails you will see anywhere in the world”.
Carlson said he left Wollongong in 2012 to chase his dream of becoming a professional mountain bike rider and be close to all the action in North America.
“I wanted to further my skills as a professional mountain biker on some better trails,” he said.
“But then the mountain biking scene blew-up back here and all of a sudden this place was just as good if not better. Which meant I didn’t have to live on the other side of the world with my family. I could be riding, training and preparing on some of the best trails you will find anywhere”.
Carlson has since had mountain biking friends travel to Wollongong from around the world. He said they have all been of the same opinion and would love to see World Championship events staged here.
“This place is awesome. And the facilities we have at our fingertips is what really sets this place apart. To have it here so close to the city means this is a mind-blowing opportunity.”
Carlson said being able to ride mountain bikes minutes from the beach in a bustling city like Wollongong that was only an hour from an international airport was ‘super unique”.
So much so many international competitors will bring their families with them when they train or compete in Wollongong.
“There is all kinds of stuff they can do. They can go to the beach, Jamberoo Action Park and Symbio.”
Carlson said the restaurants, cafes and nightlife was also as good as anywhere he has competed.
“To go to a mountain bike destination that has all this is unheard of. This is a phenomenal opportunity”.
Asked what it would mean to ride in a World Championship event in his home town he said “that would be amazing”.
“Just the idea and the thought of having an international event here in Wollongong makes my heart skip a beat,” Carlson said.
“This is my job. This is what I do for a living. Having an international event here in my home town on the trails I have ridden since I was a little kid, in front of my wife, kids, family and all my mates, I can’t put words to how excited and proud that would make me. And to bring everyone else from around the world here to Wollongong to showcase that would be awesome”.