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The Athlete Edits

Cam Zink: The Fearless Pioneer of Freeride

Story by Katie Lozancich

When Cam Zink first started riding, no one knew what a full suspension bike was capable of, and frankly, he didn’t care. He was too busy jumping off massive drops hoping that the frame wouldn’t crack. Over time, he added tricks into his repertoire, wowing the world with some of the heaviest 360s and flips ever attempted on two wheels. His career is a laundry list of accolades and pivotal firsts. Rampage veteran and podium topper, freeride pioneer, the Guinness world record holder for the biggest backflip, are just a few to name, and that’s not even scraping the surface. But beyond the insane things he does on a mountain bike, Zink has got a story that can resonate with anyone: He’s a guy who simply loves to ride his bike. 

Photos by Peter Jamison

You can’t help but be curious about what Cam Zink has in the works. He’s the kind of guy who schemes to backflip a 150-foot gap and ends up breaking his own world record with a test run. Or when he’s out at Red Bull Rampage scoping a new line, Zink naturally gravitates to the biggest natural features he can find. If he’s never done anything like it before, he’s not too worried about it. That’s just Zink’s style. He came of age when mountain biking was a juvenile sport. The opportunities were endless, and it’s thanks to bold thinkers like himself that freeride mountain biking is the vibrant discipline it is today.

These days, while still pioneering, Zink has also grown into a mentor, fostering the next generation of riders. There’s no quick and easy guidebook to becoming a freerider. Most of these skills are gleaned from years and years of experience in the dirt. For younger riders—like Tom Van Steenbergen, Ethan Nell, and Jaxson Riddle—working alongside Zink is a chance to tap into his invaluable bank of experience. It’s something you don’t want to take for granted. The young team had an opportunity of a lifetime to shoot alongside Zink for their segment in Accomplice. They filmed together at their favorite haunt, Virgin, Utah, to session old Rampage lines and features. The week was filled with plenty of drops, flips, and a few unexpected tricks. We caught up with Zink to hear more about the experience and his thoughts about freeriding.

 It’s my sport and I want to show the world all it can be.

Let’s start with your background, how long have you been competing/riding down at Virgin, Utah?

Cameron Zink: My first time going to Virgin, Utah was in 2003 for my first Rampage. It was one of the most unreal experiences of my life. Just rolling into the small town, with the giant geography gave me a feeling, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced… I felt like I was where I was supposed to be, but in a way where anything was possible and I had a lot of work to do, for a very long time. Funny how accurate that was in the long run.

What was the freeride bike scene like when you were first getting into it?

CZ: It was confused for sure, but so is any young sport. The earlier years were more trial and error than anything. Jumping anything worthy at that point was ten times gnarlier than it is now because of the unknown; is it possible? What is going to happen? Will your wheels or frame hold up? Will you hold up? Things have changed immensely across the entire spectrum; bikes, building, skills, and preparation have evolved into a completely different sport, but I love the earlier years just as much, if not more than now.

What do you love about riding in Utah?

CZ: Freedom. Endless possibilities. If you want it, you can find and build anything. The landscape will not hold you back, only enable you.

Looking back, what are some of your favorite highlights from competing at Rampage?

CZ: Way too many. It is always the greatest place to put all your efforts so great things usually come out of it as long as you are motivated. I’ve been fortunate to be motivated every year since 2003, but that was my favorite highlight. Simply dropping in and starting my life as a big mountain freerider was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was 17 and the second youngest competitor, just one year older than Kyle Strait. The sport was even younger than I was and it was so easy to see this was where I wanted to be and needed to be for many years to come.

You’ve been one to push the boundaries of freeride mountain biking all throughout your career. What inspires you to do this?

CZ: It’s something unexplainable, and that’s why it works. It is what I am and what I am compelled to do. It’s my sport and I want to show the world all it can be. I’m very fortunate to be there since the beginning and make my mark on helping to shape it.

Now you’re at this point where you’re mentoring guys like Ethan, Tom, and Jaxson. Why do you think mentorship is so valuable in a sport like freeride mountain biking?

CZ: Learning on your own is the most gratifying and honest way to grow, but definitely not the most efficient. I have a lifetime of knowledge I am willing to give to any of the younger guys; love those guys and I love riding with them. If they are open to listening, or ask for any advice, I am there. If they are anything like me when I was their age, though… I would have probably been too stubborn and walked the other way. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see anyone older or better than me where I could gain anything from their advice? Maybe it was just pure ignorance. Either way it’s an honor when Ethan, Tom or Jaxson ask me for advice.

What was it like shooting with that young crew down in Utah?

CZ: It keeps you young! They all have put their own twist on the progression of the sport, especially in Utah. Arguably more than anyone else in the last 10 years, so I love trying to keep up on the new things they are doing and also show them my favorite tricks and ways to ride the terrain.

Any favorite moments?

CZ: Jaxson’s heel clicker and crank flip off the big step down… I would do so many more tricks off that thing before either of those, which have never been done before on a sizable step-down…. I love watching him do what makes him tick and not fall into what is trendy or already been done.

What do you see for the future of freeriding?

CZ: The talent pool keeps getting deeper and deeper, the tricks get gnarlier and gnarlier, the building gets better and better, and all of the above get done on bigger and bigger jumps, all while being more consistent and stylish.I don’t think there will be any one breakthrough or notable change other than every single aspect of the sport getting more ridiculous.