By: Justin Felisko
September 13, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Every September, Derek Kolbaba would look forward to his parents, Kyle and Sandi, pulling him out of school in Joseph, Oregon, and driving 120 miles west to Pendleton.
It may not have been Christmas morning for Kolbaba, but his family’s annual pilgrimage to Pendleton for the PBR Touring Pro Division event and Pendleton Round-Up Rodeo became one of the highlights of the year for the aspiring bull rider.
Nowadays, Kolbaba makes his annual return not as a fan, but as a professional bull rider.
“Last year, I got the win there and I really enjoy that bull riding,” Kolbaba said. “It is 30 miles from my house (in Walla Walla, Washington) and I grew up going and watching it ever since I was a little kid. I always enjoy getting to go back.”
Even Kolbaba admits it is still somewhat unreal just how far he has come in the past year.
Kolbaba is now a 20-year-old rising star in the PBR, and is ranked 13th in the world standings.
“It is nuts how this sport works,” Kolbaba said. “You keep working at it and next thing you know it is right where you want to be and right where you work to be at. It is definitely pretty crazy to sit down and really think about it.
“I love everything about it and am excited to keep moving forward and creeping on up.”
It was only a year ago when Kolbaba went 2-for-2 to win the BlueDEF Tour event in Pendleton to earn his first crack at the illustrious Built Ford Tough Series. He was 66th in the world at the time of his victory.
Kolababa rode his first BFTS bull – Rojo for 82.25 points – in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on the heels of a J.B. Mauney buckoff and quickly became a rider to watch during the final weeks of the season.
The then 19-year-old surprised himself by placing eighth at the 2015 BlueDEF Finals to earn one of five wild card berths to the 2015 World Finals.
“It was kind of surreal you could say,” Kolbaba said. “I heard people saying it was a shot to go to the World Finals and I was like, ‘Yeah, right. I am just here to win the money here at the BlueDEF Finals.’
“Next thing you know, I am getting called to go to the World Finals that next week. It was like, ‘Where the heck did that come from?’ It was a great experience and it helped me that much more for this year. It was great.”
Kolbaba will look to bounce back Tuesday night at the Pendleton BlueDEF Tour event after bucking off War Cry in 7.49 seconds in Round 1 Monday night.
It was Kolbaba’s ninth buckoff in 10 outs at all levels of competition and he is hoping a week home in Walla Walla, Washington, will help him recharge for the final six Built Ford Tough Series regular-season events.
He is also slated to ride at the PRCA rodeo in Pendleton on Wednesday night.
“Yeah it is always good when you get to go home,” Kolbaba said. “I will be home all week, which will be a nice change of pace. Last week, I got to go home for one day. It will be nice to go home for a full week and ride there where I grew up and have a lot of friends.”
Pendleton may not be a BFTS event, but it has always been one of the top-non BFTS events on the PBR schedule.
Kolbaba remembers being fascinated as a kid seeing legends such as two-time World Champions Justin McBride in 2004 and Mauney in 2008 nodding for the gate at Pendleton Round-Up Arena.
“It was always cool because it may have been a Touring Pro or Challenger event, but you would see Justin McBride, J.B. Mauney or (Shane) Proctor showing up at that event. It kind of made it seem like it was a pretty big event. The crowd there is unbelievable. They pack it every night and they are pretty wild and having a good time. It is a pretty cool atmosphere and all of the family gets to come out and watch. Yeah it is one of my favorites for sure.”
Kolbaba is 19-for-59 (32.2 percent) with a 15/15 Bucking Battle (Anaheim, California) and an event victory (Des Moines, Iowa) in his first full BFTS season.
Things have gotten a little tough for Kolbaba since the BFTS resumed last month in Nashville. Kolbaba has begun the stretch run to the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals (Nov. 2-6) 2-for-13.
“It is hard to say to be honest,” Kolbaba said. “I am not going to make any excuses, but a lot of it is getting my head right and getting fired up and going at these bulls like I need to be. We are going to do that tonight.”
Kolbaba is second in the BlueDEF Tour standings and is only 5.83 points behind BlueDEF Tour leader Jess Lockwood.
Kolbaba said he is likely going to compete at the 2016 BlueDEF Tour Finals in Las Vegas at South Point Arena on Oct. 29-31. The BlueDEF Finals kickoff PBR Finals Week.
The 2016 BlueDEF Tour champion wins $50,000.
“See that is great,” Kolbaba said. “That is always a thought for sure. If I can get that title under my belt before we go to the World Finals then heck. It will be a couple of extra bulls to get on. I don’t see why not.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Make sure you get to Las Vegas to see how the 2016 story ends. Tickets and information for PBR Finals Week, including the BlueDEF Finals and Built Ford Tough World Finals can be found at the offical PBR Finals Week site.
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