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Bull riding contestants hang on for championship
Matt Grizzle of Lula is thrown from a bull Sunday during the Jim Hardman GMC Truck Southeastern Championship Bull Riding event at the Georgia Mountains Center. - photo by Tom Reed

Bulls buck. They rear. They kick. And, oh yeah, they spin and twist, too.

And no, the real eight-second ride is nothing like that mechanical bull ride you had at the spring carnival last year.

Despite the threat of injury, contestants were ready Sunday for the finale of the three-day 16th annual Jim Hardman GMC Truck Southeastern Championship Bull Riding event at the Georgia Mountains Center.

Bryan Hope, a promoter and clown for Southeastern Championship Bull Riding, enjoys being able to see people in the audience laugh during the championship.

“The more they enjoy it, the more fun that I have,” said Hope, who was glad the snow and ice didn’t stop too many people from attending the championship.

“Friday night we were a little weak, but Saturday night, we had an outstanding crowd,” he said.

On Sunday there were 18 bull riding contestants from 12 different states ready to prove that they were in control.

Each contestant rides for eight seconds, and there are two judges that award points to both the rider and the bull.

“The judge has 25 points for the bull and 25 points for the rider,” Hope said. “So the harder the bull bucks, the more points he gets.”

The combined point totals from both judges equals the final score for the bull rider.

“The one that gets the most points out of two bulls is the champion here,” Hope said. “They can ride all three days, and if they are good enough, they can win all three days.”

Hope said that the points that the riders earn over the three-day championship will count toward the championship at the end of the year.

Chad Vanamburg, 17, of Archdale, N.C., was ready to stack up some points Sunday.

Vanamburg, who is originally from “the big apple,” earned the nickname “New York” from some of his fellow contestants.

“They pick on the way I talk sometimes,” said Vanamburg, who believes he has a blended North Carolina and New York accent.

Vanamburg, one of the youngest bull riders present on Sunday, is the first person in his family to be a bull rider.

“I watched it on TV, and I grew up on a farm, so I started catching the calves,” said Vanamburg, whose mother wasn’t always supportive of her son’s ambition.

“She didn’t like it to begin with, but she said, ‘if that’s what you want to do then that’s what you want to do.’”

Vanamburg explains that not all bulls are aggressive and angry creatures.

“There are some here that are calm, and you can go back there and pet them,” Vanamburg said. “It just depends — some are aggressive and some ain’t. I like the ones that ain’t, though.”

Vanamburg, who has been competing for 10 years, has won both junior association and professional bull riding competitions, but he admits that he still gets butterflies in his stomach.

To relax before a contest, Vanamburg does some breathing exercises to keep him calm. Before getting on a bull, he tells himself that he is the best and there is no bull out there that will throw him off.

Vanamburg said that when he wins he sometimes takes his older sister, Chantel, out to dinner.

Chantel Vanamburg, who said she loves watching bull riding contests, enjoys being able to watch her brother compete, but she does get nervous.

“It is so scary watching your little brother get on a big animal,” she said. “I just keep hoping that he wins.”

Chantel Vanamburg said that once her brother is on the bull and out, he is more focused on his drive to win.

“He has that mentality that he has to do it,” she said.