Popular FMX rider Jeff Kargola dies during Baja off-road event

Jeff Kargola, a popular freestyle motocross rider from San Clemente, Calif., died Friday morning of injuries sustained during a crash on the second day of the annual Rip to the Tip adventure ride down the Mexico’s rugged Baja California peninsula. He was 27.

Witnesses said the crash did not appear to be serious. But Kargola, who was wearing a helmet, was knocked unconscious for an extended period and also suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung. The exact cause of death has not yet been determined.

Cody Stuart, a close friend of Kargola’s who is part of the event’s U.S.-based support team, said a helicopter film crew had been following Kargola and nearby participants in the early stages of the 1,400-mile ride from the border town of Tecate to Cabo San Lucas at Baja’s tip. The incident occurred near Diablo Dry Lake, about 50 miles north of San Felipe.

The crew picked up Kargola and delivered him to a small San Felipe hospital. Plans were made to fly Kargola across the Mexico-U.S. border to a trauma center, but he perished before that process began.

Leah Steiger, executive director of the American Freestyle Motocross Assn., told ESPN: “I received a call at 8 a.m. and at that point he was unconscious and we were trying to coordinate a Medevac lift for him. But Medevac has to be able to stabilize you before they can even get you in the air. Unfortunately his injuries were just too great, and he passed at Buen Pastor hospital in San Felipe, Mexico. Now we’re just trying to get him home.”

Kargola, nicknamed “Ox” because of his large stature, was a member of the Metal Mulisha team of FMX riders, which in 2009 mourned the loss of another popular accident victim, Jeremy Lusk, who died of injuries sustained in a crash during a competition in Costa Rica.

Cameron Steele, founder of the Rip to the Tip, issued a statement Friday night that was posted on the Metal Mulisha website: “Words can’t express the emotions I am feeling. I love Jeff like a son and he was riding with all of his best friends he grew up with in San Clemente.”

Kargola has been an X Games participant since 2001. He won a silver medal in the Moto X best-trick competition at the Winter X Games in 2005. His focus in recent years had shifted to off-road truck racing, a sport that has lured many FMX riders into its ranks.

The Rip to the Tip, in its sixth year, is not a competition. It’s an eight-day marathon during which 30 participants attempt to execute a plotted route across terrain that ranges from mountains, beaches, city streets and deserts.

Conditions can be brutal across a largely remote landscape. Participants have ridden with gas cans strapped to their backs in order to traverse longer stretches. They’ve fallen against on cactus and plucked needles from their skin. Crashes are commonplace but serious injuries are not.

Kargola also loved surfing. A quote attributed to him on the Metal Mulisha website reads, “Your life is what you make it!”

Kargola’s father passed away when he was a young teenager and his mother lost a battle with cancer two years ago. He is survived by his older sister Christi, and his younger brother Tanner.

It remained unclear Friday night whether this year’s Rip to the Tip would continue.

— Photos of Jeff Kargola during Friday’s Rip to the Tip run, courtesy of Metal Mulisha.