PUEBLO, Colo. – Derek Kolbaba climbed onto the in-arena fencing at Rabobank Arena and pumped both of his arms into the air toward the crowd.
The 19-year-old took off his helmet and flashed a quick grin, but otherwise Kolbaba’s reaction following an event-winning 85-point ride on Buck Even was nothing more than just another day at the office for the aspiring Built Ford Tough Series rider.
The ride, which was unofficially his fourth qualified ride of the night after being awarded two re-ride options during the Bakersfield, California, BlueDEF Tour event, helped him secure an automatic bid to the Built Ford Tough Series season opener.
In just his second BlueDEF Tour event of 2016, Kolbaba was already able to cross a goal off his bucket list of 2016 goals.
“This is perfect,” Kolbaba said. “That is where I want to be. I told myself after Vegas I wanted to get back there and have a great season. This is a great way to kick it off.”
It has been a whirlwind couple of months for the Walla Walla, Washington, bull rider. It hasn’t even been a full two months since Kolbaba made his BFTS debut in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and less than a month since he recorded his first qualified ride at the World Finals when he covered Long Haired Outlaw.
In fact, both of his last two qualified rides have come with a little sentimental value.
Long Haired Outlaw is owned by fellow Washington native Craig Wentz.
Kolbaba began making the 90-minute drive to Prosser, Washington, to practice on some of Wentz’s bulls since he was 15 years old.
It was during those important developmental months that Kolbaba began to gain experience getting on PBR-caliber bulls.
“Craig and his family have been a big help for me growing up,” Kolbaba said. “Anybody that is going to give you the time of day to help you out, you might need that little bit of help so it was nice to have him there. He is always positive and that is great.
“I had seen that bull a lot and figured he would have fit me pretty well. It worked out good.”
Kolbaba also had good history with Buck Even. He had ridden Buck Even for 80 points in June to win the historic Reno, Nevada rodeo.
“Funny thing is I rode that bull last year to win a big rodeo,” Kolbaba said. “We kind of had a little past together. I am glad it worked out again in my favor and definitely brought me to another win.”
The impressive part of Kolbaba’s victory in Bakersfield was his composure in the final minutes of the event.
Kolbaba had just ridden Buck Wild for 73 points in the championship round, which wasn’t going to be enough to help him move ahead of 2004 World Champion Mike Lee for the victory.
Therefore, he accepted his re-ride and took care of business by riding Buck Even.
Kolbaba essentially had two qualified rides in the toughest round of bull riding.
Granted Buck Wild, who has been ridden in five of 14 BFTS outs, and Buck Even, who has been ridden twice in five outs, are by no means the rankest Built Ford Tough Championship Round-caliber bulls, but it still was another building block for the young bull rider.
“You know last year and the year before was a great learning process for sure,” Kolbaba said. “Bull riding is 90 percent in your head. Once you can get everything kind of cleared out and focus on what you need to do it definitely goes a little better.”
Kolbaba concluded 2015 ranked 50th in the world standings. He went 27-for-87 (31.03 percent) in 40 events at all levels. He qualified for the World Finals by going 2-for-3 at the BlueDEF Tour Finals in Kentucky and was one of the Top-3 finishers that hadn’t already qualified for Finals.
The opportunity to compete in two BFTS regular-season events and the Finals was a good taste test for Kolbaba as he works toward one day being a Top-35 bull rider competing weekly on the PBR’s CBS- televised tour.
“I learned a lot and it definitely pumps me up for next year and to get back there and be seeded well,” Kolbaba said. “It definitely fires me up this year.”
While he is excited about earning an exemption for the BFTS, Kolbaba said he still has more to accomplish before he can relax and take a break.
If Kolbaba has his way, he will win the BlueDEF Tour event in Cincinnati on Dec. 6 and earn another exemption.
“The confidence is huge in this sport and it was great to come here and get that,” Kolbaba said. “This pushes me to go win Cincinnati. Paulo (Lima) has two wins so I might as well get me (another).”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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