From the Hip: The Micayla Gatto Interview

Interview by Drew Rohde // Photos by Micayla Gatto

It’s been a couple fairly quiet years since Micayla Gatto retired from World Cup DH racing. Gatto has been enjoying her personal time and pursuing things beyond the track, and specifically, her passion for art. With her recent broadcasting gigs to winning the Dirt Diaries video competition at Crankworx, it seems that she is trucking along just fine as a personality in the mountain bike biz. The recent release of Gatto’s Red Bull Intersections video proved that she is as versatile as she is driven. We reached out with some questions to find out what it’s really like in Micayla’s colorful world.

You’ve had quite the summer! First a viral rap remix and now a motivating yet inspirational piece with Red Bull. How’s all that settling in for you?

MG: It’s been a trip for sure! It’s been so amazing working with such talented people, and the biggest reward has definitely got to be the reactions from the viewers. It’s so cool to see other people just as passionate as I am about the messages I’m trying to spread, and the love for riding and community that is forming out of these media pieces. It’s blowing my mind.

Most people know you from your time as a professional downhill racer. How has the transition been after leaving the start gate and training routines behind?

MG: After crashing and suffering through a pretty bad concussion for 2014/2015, I had a lot of time to reassess what it is I wanted in life, and what I want to accomplish with riding. I decided not to go back to the racing game, as I felt like I could make a bigger impact elsewhere by incorporating more of my creative mind, and I didn’t want that pressure of racing anymore. I also never want to hit my head like that again, and racing would definitely have put me at risk of that. I miss the training, and I am actually getting back into a program with a company called Migration Unlimited for 2018, that is, if I can stick to it! It’s definitely hard to stay motivated to a strict training regime if you don’t have any races to compete in! Might have to sign up for a couple just for a bit of pressure haha.

What has been the hardest part about leaving the race circuit, or should I say, what do you miss most?

MG: I miss my friends! Nearing the end of my racing career, I found I was more concerned about whether or not everyone around me was relaxed and happy than I was with my own racing. I’m a people person 100%. Being able to push myself with my friends by my side is definitely something I miss a lot. You go through a lot together, and no one really understands exactly what a racer goes through except other racers!

What do you miss least?

MG: Hmm…. I don’t miss the pressure and feeling like your only value is your race results. There have definitely been times in my career where I was on a crashing streak, and suddenly sponsors would stop answering emails, and be less interested in helping me out. Then I’d do something like win Nationals and suddenly everyone’s heads popped out of the sand and I was their best friend again. It’s business and it’s part of the game, but I definitely don’t miss all my personal worth being put on a plate number. It’s brutal.

There is a growing number of lifestyle or non-competitive brand ambassadors in the mountain bike world. How has it been going from a racer to a more independent role?

MG: It’s awesome! For me, I think what makes me unique in this industry is my creative mind, artistic abilities, personality and vision. Racing didn’t allow me to venture into any of those spaces, nor did it showcase my abilities. I wasn’t ever the fastest in the world, and I’m actually not that great at dealing with the stress of racing, so I think this is a much better suited avenue for me.

How do you and your sponsors determine value in your creative projects? Do you find it difficult to get the support you’d like to have to truly create things you believe in?

MG: Getting support is always a huge struggle, especially since I’m not the most business-minded person. I’m an artist! This year has been the first year I feel like I’ve been able to prove myself worthy in the media world, so we will see what happens next! Before, my sponsors were solely going on my word and crazy-brained ideas. Since Ferda Girls, my work with Pinkbike and Intersection, I feel I have some good legs to stand on when I approach companies with ideas and collaborations. I’ve proven now that I can be versatile in front of the camera and with the right producers and equipment, I can pump out some original content. All of my contracts are up this year, so I’m excited to see what opportunities I can dig up in the bike world and beyond.

It seems that most of your paintings contain mountains or some sort of element pertaining to nature. Why is that?

MG: To be completely honest, I used to hate drawing/painting landscapes. When I was young, I’d only draw animals. Then, as I got older and went to art school, I got super into portraits, and weird monster-looking people with no eyes/street art style paintings. Then I got commissioned to do a big mountain painting for a gym downtown, and the reaction I got from it was way more positive than anything else I’d ever drawn. This all happened right around the same time I stopped racing and actually had time to slow down and enjoy my surroundings for the first time since I was about 12. It made me realize how much passion I had for the environment around me that I had overlooked in an artistic sense.

Who or what have been major influences to your art?

MG: My grandpa, dad, aunt and grandma are all artistic people, and really encouraged me when I was younger. As far as artists themselves go, I have always loved the Group of Seven, Chilli Thom and some Brazilian street artists that use shape and colour like no other.

Your Riding?

MG: My big brother and Lesley Tomlinson were huge in my development as a rider. Katrina Strand, Claire Buchar and Brook Baker were my mentors as a teen and made racing and travelling/riding fun for me. Tracey Hannah has been a best bud since our first year racing junior worlds together in 06, and in more recent years Casey Brown, Vaea Verbeeck, Emilie Seigenthaler, Tahnee Seagrave, Myriam Nicole, Rachel Atherton, Steffi Marth and all those other girls have been huge inspirations and comrades in the biking world. #FerdaGirls!

What does the perfect day look like for you?

MG: Oh MAN! Such a hard one to answer but I wasn’t minding my life at Retallack Lodge last week: wake up, have an awesome breakfast buffet laid out for you, hop into a big decommissioned military vehicle and shuttle up to the alpine to shred some of the best trails with the best views I’ve ever experienced with some awesome people. Come back down, have a great lunch and paint until dinner. But to be more vague, my perfect day would consist of a ton of laughs and dirty jokes with an awesome group of friends, some sick trail riding or another adrenaline-fed activity, then some painting followed by a sweet jam session with people that can actually play guitar (I’m still in the rookie stages). The feeling of going to bed exhausted after an epic day is the best feeling in the entire world.

So you’ve now crossed off elite level mountain biking, billboard-topping (almost) rapper, and major art pieces for clients such as Lulu Lemon and Retallack Lodge. What has been a personal highlight or moment that stands out to you?

MG: Feeling like I’m finally making an impact. Ferda Girls was way bigger than myself and anything I ever imagined. To have people writing to me telling me how much they appreciated the video, and how it gave them a new level of confidence and a voice they were too scared to show is the greatest reward and biggest accomplishment for me. To get the feedback from people saying I’ve inspired them or their brother/sister/wife/kids to pursue their own dreams, or to hop on a bike or to start drawing is the most amazing feeling. I don’t care about results, how many likes I get or followers I have. I care that I’m sending out a message that reaches people and inspires people to live their best lives. That to me is success.

With all the recent buzz, we can’t help but think that your wheels are turning trying to create the next project or story. What do you have planned next?

MG: You’re not wrong! Lots of wheels turning these days for sure. I don’t want to give away too much as everything is still in the seed-phase. Need to get planting and watering, and I’ll get back to you. I can say though that due to my competitive nature with myself, I’m going to strive to keep going bigger and better with my ventures and I’m not planning on sitting still for very long! I also want to get my motorcycle license, and buy a van and convert it into a camper. Some say it’s trendy, I say it’s like growing a pair of wings to freedom.