From the local skatepark to Olympic qualifying and performing with Nitro Circus, to a change of discipline and taking up mountain biking, Ellie Chew is making the most of every opportunity.
Getting her first bike when she was 5, like many Kiwi kids Ellie enjoyed riding from a young age.
Hanging out with a group of friends at the Kenakena BMX track after school, trying out jumps and tricks quickly progressed to the skatepark.
"As I got older they all stopped and I just kept going," Ellie said.
"With BMX riding there's constant progression, there's never a finish – you can always get better.
"If you want to do big extreme technical tricks you can, or if you just want to flow around the skate park and have fun, you can."
Calling herself a "flow rider", Ellie expresses herself through her riding with an elegant and graceful style.
"Some riders like to do big tricks but they'll land really harsh so it can look ugly even though they've done a big trick, whereas I like to make things look elegant, landing smoothly, trying to go higher and make it look nice."
Starting out riding for fun, Ellie had no ambition to make a career out of riding.
Being in New Zealand far away from major competitions there was little chance of picking up sponsorship or going to competitions.
But riding for fun soon turned into a career as social media came about and videos Ellie started posting online began to gain views.
"Brands such as Vans Shoes started getting in contact with me.
"The first message I got was about participating in a girls demo at the 2016 X-Games.
"It went from nothing to massive really quick."
At first saying no to heading to the X-Games, Ellie overcame her feelings of not being good enough to have one of the most memorable experiences in Austin, Texas.
"Riding the X-Games course that you normally see on television was the best experience ever.
"The experience was amazing.
"To be on the same stage as all the people you look up to, the top athletes in action sports, and be treated as one of them was quite cool."
Competing in her first major event in 2017, the Vans BMX Pro Cup in Huntington Beach, California, kicked it all off for Ellie.
"After that things started to grow.
"I started going to a few competitions around the place, but it was mostly just for fun.
"Then it randomly popped up that BMX freestyle was going to be in the Olympics.
"This was quite a shock to everyone because it's quite a random sport to have in the Olympics."
Deciding to give Olympic qualification a shot, Ellie started heading to Fise events, regulated using UCI points, competitions she had not previously been entering.
"I had never planned to go to those events, but it seemed silly not to try qualifying for the Olympics.
"From here I started two-three years of travelling around the world, doing around a competition per month, all self-funded.
"It was heaps of fun and I travelled with my mum as there was no one else from New Zealand doing the freestyle."
With the Olympics on the cards, the events started to get more serious and Ellie found herself competing with people who had teams of coaches, managers and physios while she and her mum booked and organised their own schedules.
While Ellie's mum, Ingrid, did become officially recognised, gaining her UCI licence as the BMX NZ freestyle manager, Ellie found riding was getting too serious, losing its enjoyment.
"With all the countries being involved, things got very serious and it turned from the fun freestyle sport that it was, to quite a rigid competition."
An invitation from Nitro Circus proved to be the offer Ellie needed to take her career in a new direction.
"At the same time I was deciding whether to continue on and qualify for the Olympics I got an invitation to join Nitro Circus.
"There was an option to pay a whole lot of money to ride the events that I wasn't enjoying much, or actually turn it into a career getting paid to ride for fun."
Doing her first show in Wellington, Ellie landed a backflip riding in the lights of Sky Stadium for the first time, in 35km/h winds, to a cheering crowd.
"Trying to land a backflip for the first time was terrifying, but once you land it, in your head you understand the process of it and can normally land it again.
"Being in the energy of the show with all the other riders, landing my first flip was massive."
Doing enough to be invited back, Ellie was then invited to join the Nitro Circus team on their Spain tour where she landed a front flip – trying it for the first time in the middle of the show.
"I needed to do something to be invited back again, so I just asked the guys how to do a front flip and tried it right then and there."
Ellie didn't land her first one, but on her second attempt under huge pressure, she landed her second one.
"Running up to the top of the landing, cheering, everyone was screaming with only two other girls in the world having landed a front flip like that before."
It was enough to be invited back, and Ellie joined the team on their Australian tour until Covid-19 hit.
Not able to perform with Nitro Circus or travel to compete, Ellie has used her time trying out a new discipline: mountain biking, along with an apprenticeship at Graphic Garage in Paraparaumu.
"I'm really enjoying mountain biking because it's something different, and working at Graphic Garage doing graphic design, signwriting and wrapping cars has been fun.
"It's something I've never done before, but I'm enjoying it."
- This article first appeared in the Celebrating Kāpiti magazine spring/summer 2021