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Axell Hodges setting sights on Ventura

X Games and freestyle motocross standout Axell Hodges on growing up on the outskirts of San Diego, California and hanging around with seven-time AMA Supercross Champion named Jeremy McGrath.

“I mean when I was younger, Jeremy McGrath was everything,” smiled Hodges, who will compete in this weekend’s Summer X Games Ventura 2024 at the Ventura Fairgrounds & Events Center. “I mean, Jeremy McGrath – seven-time supercross champion, and he lived right down from the street from me. So I wanted to be a racer, and I wanted to be like Jeremy McGrath. I wanted to get eight supercross titles of my own and be the new king. That’s what I wanted to be when I was a little kid.”

Supremely talented on a motocross bike, as well as being a natural-born showoff, Hodges did become a global motocross sensation, albeit not one on a racetrack. Instead, he’s a freestyle motocross and freeride sensation with well north of 1.6 million Instagram followers, as well as 12 X Games medals to his name.

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Hodges is not only stoked to get to Ventura to compete this weekend, he is also looking forward to hanging out with the fraternity of freestyle motocross and freeride athletes that he’s grown close to during his career.

“Yeah, I mean we’re a bunch of freeriders. I really don’t have that many competitions and events throughout the year, so the X Games are kind of our time to shine and get us all together and see who could go the biggest,” he says. “When we get there, we all seem to get together pretty well. You see who has been doing stuff on the internet, and when we’re together in person, we’ve all got respect for each other and we are all just trying to go the biggest and try and feed off each other. The energy between all of us is good.”

2024 will mark a return to the X Games for Hodges, who decided to sit out the 2023 X Games due to the untimely death of Hodges’ close friend and fellow action sports star Pat Casey out at Hodges’ Slayground Motocross Park last June.

“This last year has been a love/hate relationship with my dirt bike,” he said. “After losing your best friend doing something that’s your favorite thing in the world to do was just kind of a heavy hit to me, and everyone around me. I don’t know… I eventually started riding again and since I have been on the bike, I’ve been turning things around and feeling positive and have just been having a lot more fun again and just trying to stay tough. I mean, riding dirt bikes is a gnarly thing to do and overdoing things on them is crazy. To have that happen with Pat last year made me take a breather for a second.”

Not long after Casey’s death, Hodges crashed brutally while shooting video material in the Imperial Sand Dunes of Southern California. Shattering his right femur, Hodges was immediately sent into rehabilitation mode and a very long recovery.

“I wish we had another month coming into X Games,” said Hodges. “Just with my leg and stuff, and I’m not quite there. I had not decided that I was going to ride the X Games until really last week. I was just trying to ride to get my leg as strong as I can. I’ve been hitting the QuarterPipe a lot and it has been feeling pretty good. I’ve just kind of been going at it in baby steps. I’m just doing everything I can to get my mind and head and right. I’m just having fun on my dirt bike. That’s the first step. I’m stoked to go to X Games and just have fun and see what I can do.”

A past gold medal winner in Moto X QuarterPipe High Air, the discipline will be the lone event Hodges will line up for in Ventura come this Sunday afternoon.

“I’m just going to ride QuarterPipe High Air,” he said. “They invited me for Best Whip and QuarterPipe High Air. I was trying my best to get ready for Best Whip, but just with the small amount of time on the bike and with how I have been feeling, I just don’t feel like I’m there yet. I don’t want to go into something that I’m not prepared for. I’d rather waste energy on something that I am prepared for, and that’s QuarterPipe High Air. I’ve been feeling good on the QuarterPipe. I’m a lot better on the QuarterPipe than Best Whip, so I’m going to go in there and just kind of put my main focus on QuarterPipe.

“I want to come in there and preserve my body and stay fresh for Sunday and just try to get some big air. I’m feeling good on QuarterPipe and that’s kind of my favorite thing to ride, too. I feel the most comfortable with it.”

Can Hodges leave Ventura with another X Games medal draped around his neck?

“Yeah, I’m hoping I can get another medal in QuarterPipe High Air,” he said. “I’ve been experimenting with some new setups and trying some new things. I’ve been hitting it hard and high. You never know until get there. From where I’m at, I’d say I’ve got a really good base and I’m just looking at getting into Ventura on Friday and progressing through the weekend and trying to peak at the right time and getting that big air.

“It’ll be really tough. Colby Raha is always there in the mix and he’s on that new electric bike, which is something new for the sport. They’re just kind of breaking that in, so it is going to be interesting to see how much pop you can get with that thing and 85 horsepower. It’s a while new machine. He’ll be there and in the fight. Corey Creed is going to be there. He’s always riding QuarterPipe so much and he’s so good. He’s always in the mix. I’ve been riding a lot with Tyler Bereman. Me and him have just been kind of going head-to-head with it every day just feeding off each other and trying to progress with each other. I expect Bereman to be in there.

“Everyone in there is pretty damn good at riding dirt bikes, so I don’t think you can really count anyone out. I’m not really counting anyone out. I just going to come in there swinging. I want to win, but number one, I want to have fun. If I’m not having fun, then why do it?”

Story originally appeared on Racer