You might expect Mat Rebeaud to look a little worn and torn after 11 years of professional motocross riding, performing more potentially bone-busting stunts than Daniel Craig’s stunt double. Yet the Swiss national appears remarkably well preserved as he cheerfully signs autographs for young fans at the Swatch store in Mall of the Emirates before last month’s Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour event.
This, the second stop in a series that also visits Mexico, Japan, Spain, South Africa and the US, saw some of the world’s best freestyle motocross riders go head to head in a high-risk spectacle at Burj Park.
Part of the Swatch Pro-team, Mat, 30, has been competing in freestyle motocross events since 2005, picking up dozens of titles along the way. It’s no wonder he got into the sport, having grown up surrounded by the intoxicating whiff of axle grease and gasoline.
“My grandfather and father were motocross riders,” he says. “My sister isn’t a motocross rider but she’s married to a motocross guy. It’s definitely a family sport.
“Even as a child I was motivated to ride my bike. And when I received my first bike at the age of four my dad put me on it and I would ride and ride until the gas ran out. My whole life has been motocross.”
For the uninitiated, freestyle motocross is an event in which riders attempt to impress judges with jumps and stunts performed off ramps and over dirt or sand. It’s not a spectacle for the faint of heart nor, presumably, for the loved ones of the riders, given how dangerous it is. There have been several fatalities. How, then, do the riders practise their tricks without causing themselves serious injury?
“We practise over a foam pit,” Mat explains. “It is kind of like a swimming pool filled with foam. You can try pretty much everything you want on it and when you can do the move, you transfer to dirt. But when you start to do it on the dirt you have to concentrate a lot and that’s why you practise a lot on the foam pit beforehand.”
There’s the whiff of mild superstition about him when asked what’s the worst injury he’s picked up in his career. “I don’t really like to talk about it,” he says. “All I’ll say is that I’ve been injured way too much.”
At his age, Mat admits he’s “no newcomer”, but neither is he quite a veteran. “I’m kind of in the middle,” he says. “I hope to have a couple of years in front of me doing this. I think everyone is different. I hope to stay in this sport when I retire as it’s like a family for me now. I’ve been in the sport for so long it’s given me so many opportunities to travel to amazing places and I meet so many people.”
Being part of a touring event, Mat gets to perform his stunts in front of audiences all over the world. Asked which city or country has impressed him the most with its enthusiasm and passion for the sport, he answers “Madrid” without a moment’s hesitation. “I think the Spanish guys are crazy,” he laughs.
“The people there really express themselves when we ride, it’s in their culture to do so. They cheer and applaud a lot. But last year in Dubai was pretty sweet. I really like Dubai. It’s cool to come here.”
Asked about representing Swatch, a company that is based in his native Switzerland, he says it’s a brand that has long adorned his wrist. “In Switzerland it’s a special brand and we are very proud to have it in our country as back in the day Swatch pretty much saved the Swiss watch industry. My first-ever watch was a Flik-Flak – probably like all Swiss people.”
And then he’s off to sign more autographs for the aspiring motocross stars of the future, and he’s smiling like he’s living every boy’s dream.