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Derek Kolbaba during the first round of the Billings PBR 25th Anniversary Unleash the Beast

Riding For The USA

May 202018

The first part of the 2018 season hasn’t gone as Derek Kolbaba would have liked. But the third-year bull rider from Walla Walla, Washington, is on the verge of regaining the consistency of 2017, when he finished the season ranked second in the PBR world standings. This weekend he’ll compete at a PBR event in Canada before heading to Australia with the rest of Team USA for the second in a series of Global Cup events.

“It'll be a quite an experience just to travel over there,” said Kolbaba, of the 15-hour flight to Sydney. “If that ain't enough time to get bull riding on your mind then I don't know what else will.”

This will be Kolbaba’s first trip Down Under.

And one he never dreamed of.

“It never really crossed my mind,” said Kolbaba, who is the youngest member of the Monster Energy team of bull riders, “and then now to be able to go to go to Australia and ride bulls and do what we love, I'm really excited about it.”


Last November, Team USA was in Calgary, Canada, for the first Global Cup.


They upset the heavily-favored Brazilian team. 


“The whole team was on the back of your bucking chute when you were getting ready to go,” Kolbaba recalled, “and I mean in every picture, every video that you see from the Global Cup, they're right there, damn near crawling over the chute when you ride and just cheering for you.”


He added, “It was an awesome experience.”


He’s hoping for more of the same in Sydney.


Once again, Team Brazil is heavily-favored.


“Every team brings so much to the table,” said Kolbaba, before adding, “If we show up and ride our bulls … we're giving ourselves a pretty good shot.”


Team Brazil, which features Monster Energy teammate Jose Vitor Leme, currently has four riders ranked in the Top 5 and seven in the Top 10. The U.S. has only three in the Top 10.


The U.S. and Brazil each have 16 riders in the Top 40, while the rest of the world – Canada, Australia and Mexico – have a combined eight riders in the Top 40.


Despite missing half the first part of the 2018 season with an ACL injury, Kolbaba managed to stay in the Top 20. At the time of his injury, he had six Top 10 finishes at the elite televised level of PBR competition, four of which were in the Top 5, but was not able to regain that consistency in the few events after his return.


He’s hoping the camaraderie of a team competition and the support of his teammates will change all that.


Riding as a team is “a new experience” for everyone.


“You don't really get that in the sport of bull riding,” said Kolbaba, who is used to competing against his buddies rather than “riding with his buddies and we're always rooting for each other.”


He added, “I'm going to show up and ride for our country and if they’re waving the American flag after it's all said and done, you did your job. That's a huge, huge accomplishment.”


And it’s precisely the support that could catapult the 20-year-old back into the Top 10 and back into the conversation regarding contenders for the 2018 world title.