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The Athlete Edits

Paul Basagoitia: Finding New Life with Mountain Biking

Story by Katie Lozancich

Never in his wildest dreams did Paul Basagoitia expect to star in another mountain biking movie again. But the thing with Basagoitia is that he’s got quite a knack for making the impossible happen. When he sustained a spinal cord injury at 2015 Red Bull Rampage and was told he’d likely never walk again, well, Basagoitia didn’t listen. Instead, he got to work putting one foot in front of the other. Now, with the help of a pedal-assisted e-bike, Basagoitia is riding more than he was when he was winning Crankworx Joyrides and competing with the world’s best. Despite having everything taken from him through his injury, Basagoitia wasn’t able to shake his love for two wheels, and it’s this relentless drive and passion that made him a natural choice to film with for Accomplice. 

Photos by Katie Lozancich

The forest erupted in laughter. Seconds prior we watched Paul Basagoitia corner a massive berm at the Crested Butte bike park with Cam Zink trailing behind him. Without any warning, Zink crafitly took the inside line with hopes of jumping ahead of Basagoitia. But Zink didn’t move fast enough, and Basagoitia surged ahead, leaving Zink in the dust. We all couldn’t help but laugh as we watched from the viewfinders of our camera. There was no shortage of moments like this during the Crested Butte shoot with Zink and Basagoitia. Would you expect anything less from two childhood friends?

For Basagoitia, the whole week felt a bit unreal. 16 years ago, Basagoitia filmed his first ever mountain bike segment with none other than Zink. They push each other, throwing all kinds of jaw-dropping tricks like Evel Knievel,steadily becoming two of the best mountain bikers in the world. Zink was riding off all kinds of unimaginable cliffs and drops, whereas Basagoitia was landing new tricks like a 720 and a double backflip. They were living their wildest dreams, until a serious crash at the 2015 Red Bull Rampage left Basagoitia with a damaged spinal cord. Even though Basagoitia was able to relearn how to walk and ride a bike, he figured that his days in front of a film camera were done. That was, until good friend and director Jeremy Grant tapped him to star in his new film Accomplice. To make the offer too hard to turn down, Grant also invited Zink to join the segment, just like old times.

"Looking back on it, the bike has always made me the happiest person." - PB

We caught up with Basagoitia to learn more about his segment in Accomplice, and what other bike adventures he’s got in the works for the summer.

It’s been almost five years since your crash at Rampage, what have been some major milestones in your recovery?

Paul Basagoitia: From my recovery, to being able to pedal a bike again, there has been a lot of them. I was told that there was a good chance that I would never walk again. The biggest milestone at first was simply to get out of the wheelchair. That was never supposed to happen and I ended up getting stronger and stronger. I kept putting the work in because I was determined to improve my situation. That led to being able to pedal a bike again. To be able to get back on that bike—especially after it was taken away from me—I’d say was the biggest milestone from the last five years.

But, you’re doing more than just pedaling! You’re hitting jumps now and throwing whips. Could you speak more about the progression?

PB: I mean there’s that saying “It’s just like a riding a bike—you’ll never forget it.” For me, I feel so comfortable on the bike. I honestly feel more comfortable on a mountain bike than I do with walking. I still have a lot of paralysis in my legs and certain muscle groups are still not firing. Despite these challenges, I’ve been able to figure out how to still ride a bike in a way that I enjoy doing. I’m not ever going to be back at the level I was, you know, competing at Red Bull Rampage or slopestyle events. But I’ve found a way to ride with my buds, still hit the little jumps, and the technology of e-bikes continues to open up new doors.

How did your relationship with the bike change after your crash? I remember in Crested Butte you talking about hating the bike at one point—how did it shift to where you’re at now?

PB: I think it was the moment I got back on the saddle and tried pedaling again. I hated it so much because it caused this situation. I sold all my bikes. There was a lot of negativity during that time. I was honestly lost, confused, and just sad. There were a lot of emotions to cope with. I didn’t realize until I was back on one, but being on a bike just makes me the happiest.

There were certainly times in my career when I took it for granted. I’ll be the first person to admit that until you lose everything you start to see the things you took for granted and failed to appreciate. Looking back on it, the bike makes me the happiest person. Don’t get me wrong my finance does too, but the mountain bike for me is freedom, therapy, and exploration.

Looking back on my career I was so focused on competing and winning that the bike eventually started to become this thing that wasn’t fun to do. Once I stepped away from that side of the industry, the mountain bike became the best thing ever. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today hadn’t it been for my injury. It’s given me so much appreciation for the bicycle.

Did you ever expect to be in another mountain bike film project?

PB: No. Not at all.

When Jeremy Grant reached out to see if I would take part in this film I didn’t give him an answer initially. I couldn’t help but think, “what am I going to do in this film?” When you look at all the films I’ve been in—New World Disorder for example—my segments were always focused on progression. I was chasing new tricks or something that would push the sport. At first, I thought I would be out of place in this film because I’m not that rider anymore.

Then Jeremy explained the storyline to me and I was eager to join the project. It was really cool working with TGR.

Can you tell me more about your friendship with Jeremy Grant?

PB: Yeah we’ve known each other since 2004-05. We’ve been filming together since then, and he’s just been an all-around good friend. Jeremy showed up to most Any One of Us Premieres out of anyone I knew. He made a point to come to every single one of my premieres.

It was awesome to work with him again and see his grand vision for this project.

You also filmed alongside your good friend Cam Zink, how did it feel to film with him again?

PB: It was cool. I actually just watched the film for the first time last week at the Reno, NV premiere. The segment gave me goosebumps because the first segment I ever had was with Cam in 2004. Here we are in 2020, and we just shared another segment again. Obviously a lot has changed from 2004 to now. To be able to share a segment with one of your best friends was awesome.

A lot of things were going through my mind at the premiere: I never thought I was going to ride a bike again and I never thought I’d be in another MTB film. It was just a lot to take in. My life has been a crazy rollercoaster ride.

There’s the moment in the credits where Cam and I are dancing on a bar back in 2004. That was the year I won Crankworx Joyride and the next year he won it.

Your friendship with Cam goes pretty far back, right?

PB: Cam grew up 15 minutes away from me. He lived in Carson City, which was 15 miles away from me. Cam is a year old than me, and he’d always borrow his mom’s car so we could go ride dirt jumps together. We were always close buds as teenagers because we were really the only two people in our area that liked to ride bikes. Back then he was mostly mountain biking and I was doing BMX, but I eventually made the transition when Cam let me borrow his bike for Crankworx Joyride.

And you ended up winning the first Joyride?

PB: Yeah, with his bike.

How did Cam stand by you during your recovery?

PB: He would come and visit me at the hospital, and always made sure to come by my place and hang when I was back home. That’s hard to do. I don’t know what Cam’s perspective is on the situation, but if the tables were turned—like if Cam was in my situation? It would honestly be hard for me to see one of my best friends at the hospital, in a wheelchair, or never ride a bike again.

But Cam never showed any emotion. He was always here visiting and had this attitude that everything was going to be okay when I didn’t think those days would ever come again.

How did e-bikes change your life?

PB: The pedal-assist e-bike is the best technology to happen to me as far as mountain bikes. There couldn’t have been a better time for e-bikes to come out. The summer after I got hurt e-bikes started to become a thing, and SCOTT sent one to me. When I got it I was pretty negative about it. They ended up sending me a normal bike, and I went on a ride down the street. The problem was that anything that had a steep grade or slope I was not able to go up. Here I was with this amazing mountain bike and the only place I could ride it on was a flat street. I didn’t have calf strength or my glutes firing to get me up a hill. It wasn’t fun doing circles around my neighborhood. So I ended up giving the pedal-assist bike a try, and right away I was blown away. It changed my life.

Suddenly that little hill wasn’t a problem. The next day I rode singletrack for the first time again since my crash. Now I’d say I’m able to do 80% of the trails around Reno because of E-Bikes.

I’ve been riding more these days than I ever have in my life. I just looked at my E-bike’s odometer and it said I logged 500 miles. My goal is to hit over 1000 miles this year, which I’m on track to do.

Do you have this fire to keep exploring?

PB: Yeah! I’m such an adventure guy now. I’ve lived in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area my whole life and I’m still discovering new trails to ride. Before I was so focused on slopestyle, dirt jump, big mountain riding, and would often ride the same things over and over. Now, I just want to explore and ride new things. It’s really given me a new love for mountain biking because I get to see new places and ride with other people.

There’s this really iconic trail in Lake Tahoe called the Flume trail, and it wasn’t until after my injury that I actually rode it for the first time. Now I’ve ridden it six times, and I’m actually going to do it tomorrow evening as well.

What were some of your favorite moments from Crested Butte?

PB: Actually one of my favorite highlights was getting to operate the GSS camera. That was really cool. Jon Riley, the operator let me tinker with the controls, and I’m also interested in filming so I’ve got the utmost respect for the cinematographers. It’s such a talent. I’ve always been filmed with a GSS, and it was cool to see how it works.

Obviously riding with Cam on those insanely beautiful singletracks. And quite honestly, the film crew was such a good company. There were little things like going to this same Mexican restaurant for dinner each night, and it was awesome sharing the experience together.

What are some big goals of yours moving forward?

PB: Well I checked one-off last week with being able to wake surf again! I just want to keep progressing my health, keep staying happy, and that’s about it. I think everything else will fall into place. 

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