“I AM STILL GETTING BETTER
AT RIDING BIKES.”
CAM ZINK TALKS HIS RIDING FUTURE, NEW
FILM PROJECT & THE SEASON THAT WASN’T
Interview & Photos by Ryan Cleek
The label “household name” is probably as difficult to verify as, say, perhaps counting votes for the “world’s greatest grandpa” contest. However, with multiple world records, breathtaking riding highlights regularly featured on national television, plus a resume of freeride accolades, titles, and a reputation for going huge, Cam Zink, would be a frontrunner for any such designation.
At 34 years old, it’s been a decade since his 2010 Red Bull Rampage victory. However, when speaking with Cam, it’s clear he has no interest in slowing down, and witnessing him ride in person verifies he’s feeling better than ever.
With the 2020 mountain bike season turned on its head, I caught up with Mr. Zink at his Reno home to chew the fat on how the pandemic altered his 2020 plans, the evolution of his 170-acre “sandbox” where he’s building incredible freeride lines and downhill trails, his upcoming film project, the value of social media to sponsors, and of course, the upcoming Rampage.
WE’RE A FEW MONTHS INTO A NEARLY GLOBAL LOCKDOWN. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?
No one likes to see the economy decline, but personally it’s been very good to me. Normally, I would be traveling a lot these days, but the last few months I’ve been able to spend more time with my family and really focus on building and riding for other projects. There are a couple of projects I’ve been working on and planning for a few years, and this downtime from traditional responsibilities has allowed me to be productive and focus on those projects.
WITH A SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE BECOMING A LARGER PART OF SPONSORSHIPS, HOW HAS THAT RELATIONSHIP EVOLVED DURING YOUR CAREER?
Sponsors have expectations and athletes have unique needs and agendas, so as long as there are clear expectations from the brands and communication between us is clear things go well. When a rider’s agenda doesn’t mesh with a brand’s expectations, that’s when things are destined for disaster. It’s all about communication. Case by case and sponsor by sponsor, I need to know the brand’s expectations and have a regular line of communication with them about my plans.
These days, all of my sponsors seem really focused on my social media presence—thankfully that’s going well for me, and this time off has allowed me to put more focus on those outlets. At the end of the day, these marketing guys really want to see numbers they can report to their bosses, and social media reach is easily measurable. I’m in a fortunate spot where I have very high numbers in regards to followers.
Social media sucks on one side, but at the same time, I have an evaluation tied to me, versus an arbitrary amount based on contest results or photos in a magazine. Social media seems to have given brands a platform to quantify exposure, and I’m worth “x” amount to that company. I’ve worked hard during my career and that’s resulted in over three hundred and forty thousand people following me every day, which is pretty cool. In some ways it seems fake, but social media presence is just one aspect that allows me to keep riding my bike for a living.
YOU HAVE A LARGE SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWING FROM A SUCCESSFUL RIDING CAREER BEFORE THESE PLATFORMS EVER EXISTED. TODAY, THERE ARE A HANDFUL OF EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL RIDERS WHO PRACTICALLY HAVE ONLY EVER EXISTED ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIDN’T DEVELOP A FANBASE THROUGH A CAREER OF RIDING ACCOMPLISHMENTS. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THOSE DIFFERENT ROUTES?
It is becoming clear there is not just one way to be a successful rider in this sport.
I am where I am in my career through hard work long before social media existed, and on the other side the two most famous riders in the world, Fabio [Wibmer] and Danny [MacAskill] they have rabid fans who are 100-percent different fans than I have. Those guys have created anomalies of their own in the YouTube mountain bike space.
SPEAKING OF YOUTUBE, YOU RECENTLY STARTED YOUR OWN CHANNEL. HOW IS THAT EVOLVING?
I think it’s going awesome, so far. The goal for it is to have different kinds of shows and series within the channel, but the overall response has been very good. The end goal is to use it as a platform to show all kinds of video projects I’m doing and I don’t have to depend on anyone else to get the projects seen or need approval to make happen. My YouTube channel will also debut a director’s cut of my new film project, “Cam Zink’s Sandbox,” later this summer or fall. The main feature will live on Monster Energy’s channels.
YOU’VE BEEN HARD AT WORK ON YOUR PROPERTY JUST OUTSIDE OF RENO. HOW HAS THE TERRAIN EVOLVED?
One of the biggest focuses for my property is being able to create an area where riders can grow, have fun, and get better. It’s been an ongoing work in progress for a while, but it takes a village to build on the scale we’re doing right now. When we have a bunch of people out digging and riding, it is something special to see them get to ride and make it through challenging lines and see the joy on their faces.
It’s really a treat to be able to provide this setting where we can all dig, ride, and get better. What we’re building is nothing like any of us had growing up, but now we can make it into something to help the next generation realize what’s possible in their riding. Whether they’re trying to ride on a pro level or just at their own pace, it’s the greatest thing in the world to see my friends progress on this terrain we’ve built together. Someone shows up and works their way through the line and just see how happy they are being able to ride jump lines and the buzz they get after that accomplishment. It’s like a big kid’s sandbox where I can build whatever I want and many people get to enjoy what is created. I’ve been working on a video project called “Cam Zink’s Sandbox,” which embodies all that we’ve built here.
WHAT’S THE CONCEPT OF “CAM ZINK’S SANDBOX,” AND WHEN WILL IT BE RELEASED?
The goal is to put out a video part that I’m the most proud of since my career began, and I’ve been doing my own segments for the last 15 years or more. I also plan to have a couple of world record jumps in there, too. The overall idea plays off of the notion of just playing in the sandbox as a kid and creating things with toy bulldozers with just my imagination. It’s a direct correlation to having a little dozer in your hand in the sandbox and then being a lot older and having the resources and land to use a real dozer. I have 170 acres in Reno and I can build whatever I want, as long as I have the time and money for machines, watering, and a solid group of friends together who are willing to help build what we’re trying to accomplish.
The cornerstone of the video segment will be me trying to break my own 100-foot backflip world record with a 150-foot backflip, which would also break the overall distance record for a bicycle. I was super inspired by Danny Way with his invention of the MegaRamp and his great video part that led up to the MegaRamp. For me, it would be the best video part of my life leading up to the biggest jump of my life. The distribution will most likely be on my Youtube channel.
DO YOU APPROACH EACH DAY ON THE PROPERTY AS A FILMING DAY FOR SPECIFIC TRICKS OR JUMPS?
Filming each day has a lot of variables, but when I go to bed the night before I mentally prepare myself for what I might want to ride the next day. Maybe I’ll hit the 100-footer and focus on that, or ride a completely different part of the property. So much that goes into it each day before we ever begin filming. From getting loaded up at the house and going to the property, prepping jumps and berms, filling and transporting the water, waiting for the wind to calm down, or dialing in my bike, shoots just always take way longer than expected. But, we’ve been at it for months and things are coming together. We’re stacking clips each time we go out digging and riding, some of which will be seen in the behind-the-scenes footage. I plan to have a few more shooters out later in the summer to film the jumps specifically for the “Sandbox.” The timeline for the project is a little arbitrary. I was hoping to have it out before Rampage, but once it was cancelled that gave me more time to film more and add new segments. I am trying to have it all out before the end of the year.
SPEAKING OF RAMPAGE, OBVIOUSLY, THIS YEAR WAS A WASH. AFTER SOME UP AND DOWN RESULTS IN RECENT YEARS, WHAT’S YOUR MINDSET FOR THE NEXT RAMPAGE, PRESUMABLY IN 2021?
It’s a bummer this year’s event was cancelled, however, after talking to Kyle [Strait] about it, he said a year off wouldn’t be so bad, and I kind of agree.
However, my approach to Rampage is the same as it is every year—I plan to win. Each year, I know I am going to win. There’s no uncertainty in my mind. I know I have done everything to prepare and I have a good team behind me. I don’t go there with the mindset of just doing my best, rather I am there to win.
That said, it’s so hard to actually pull off the win. There have been quite a few years where I believe I should have won, but that’s the nature of judged sports. There were also a couple of years where I absolutely blew it, which can also happen.
THE CANCELLED 2020 RAMPAGE WOULD’VE MARKED THE 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF YOUR 2010 RAMPAGE TITLE. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RIDING TODAY COMPARED TO THEN?
I feel like I am still getting better at riding bikes today, which if someone asked me at 24 years old if I thought I would still be progressing and getting better a decade later I’d said, “no way!” I may not be progressing in the same arc or at as rapid of a rate as I was when I was younger, but I feel like I’m better today than I was yesterday, and definitely better today than years ago.
Maybe I’ll keep getting better until I’m 40, although I doubt it, but no one knows. Kelly Slater says he thinks he might be a better surfer at 50 than at 40 years old. My plan is to keep charging and going strong until I just don’t want to anymore. I love doing what I do, and I’m not trying to ride for money or do tricks for dollar bills. I ride because I want to and still feel comfortable doing big stuff on the bike. The minute I don’t feel this way, I’ll find another way to support my family. Fortunately, I’m in a great spot right now. The sponsors are happy, I’m happy, everything is awesome.
ALONG WITH STAYING SHARP ON THE BIKE, YOU HAVE SEVERAL OTHER IRONS IN THE FIRE. WHAT’S THE LATEST WITH YOUR TRAIL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT?
The goal of Sensus R.A.D. Trails [an acronym with multiple meanings: Research and Dig, Ride After Dig, and Ride and Develop] is to make mountain biking better wherever we can. That might sound corny, but I’ve loved the sport since I was a kid, and through hard work I now have the recognition to help get funding for trail projects. I feel like mountain biking is flourishing because better, safer, and more fun trails are more accessible to more people. The trails can be safer and fun, but also gnarly for those who want to push themselves.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE SEE SOME OF THE RECENT TRAIL BUILDING PROJECTS?
Cody Wilkins is program coordinator for Sensus R.A.D. Trails, and he’s done trail building projects in Missouri, Florida, Oregon, and Idaho so far. Although it’s been tough to get trails built close to home, we’re finally cutting through the red tape here in the Reno /Tahoe area.
Currently, we’re working on the local flagship trial in Reno, called the UNR DH. It’s an older, kinda sketchy trail that is prominent in the area. It’s right above the university and overlooks Reno. We’ve taken on the job of making it a full-on flow trail and more accessible for more people, safer, and just more fun. We’ve also been adding an upper section to one of my favorite trails in the North Lake Tahoe area, the Tyrolean Downhill. We’ve added a larger jump line before it descends into the natural DH trail that’s been around for years. It’s a work in progress, but so far people are digging the new addition.
All funding is through donations from local people and businesses. We did a fundraiser for the UNR DH trail and I donated signed jerseys and various components and things like that. Our goal is to transform this well-known trail into something special for riders in the greater Reno / Tahoe area.
YOU MENTIONED HOW YOU BELIEVE YOUR RIDING IS BETTER THAN EVER. HOW’S THE BODY HOLDING UP?
I feel really good right now, and that’s why I’m so happy. No nagging injuries these days, and I just feel great overall. I’m kind of shocked how well I feel after 13 total surgeries, including four ACL reconstructions, and six other knee surgeries. I feel really fortunate to feel fine after all of that stuff. I think it’s just the nature of the bicycle keeping me fit, plus I do my stretches each morning and that really helps. Sure, I drink beers and eat pizza, but I also put a lot of time in for training. I’m 34 years old, have two kids, and I feel great. It’s gotta be the bike—I think everyone should ride a bike!