By Joe Parkin
In mountain-biking circles, Cam Zink needs no introduction. The freerider from Reno, Nevada, with the go-for-broke style has one Red Bull Rampage win, two Red Bull Joyride wins and a Châtel Mountain Style first to his credit — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Zink started riding bikes at an early age like most other kids do, but he also got serious about it at an early age, entering local cyclocross and cross-country races starting when he was just nine years old. He says he picked it up right away, and people who were there to see the young racer remember thinking that the kid had something special.
At that point in our sport’s history there wasn’t really a freeride scene, at least not a paying one, so the path to a career in mountain biking was lined with course-marking tape and judged with a stopwatch. Zink did his first freeride contest when he was 15, but continued on as a racer until he was 20.
“The first year I won Crankworx Slopestyle (now Joyride) I got, like, 40-something-ith in a World Cup DH, and that was my best finish ever,” says Zink.
Realizing that his future was brighter in the freeride world, after that first win in 2006, Zink went all in for freeriding. Given his results and massive popularity, it doesn’t take a genius to know he made the right move.
I caught up with Cam at this Crankworx, just a couple of days before his attempt at a Joyride three-peat. Of course, if you paid any attention to Crankworx, you know that Brandon Semenuk beat him to that record third victory. But I doubt Zink spent too much time worrying about his results in Whistler, because he has other things on his mind.
Today, August 21, 2014, Cam Zink is scheduled to make an attempt at a Guinness World Record for the longest dirt-to-dirt jump on a mountain bike. To put things into perspective: 100 feet is 33.33 yards, and Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka’s 30- to 39-yard field-goal average for the 2013 season was 100 percent; Evel Knievel’s longest jump of his career was 141 feet (Zink will land further than 100) on a Triumph Bonneville T120 motorcycle with 650cc displacement and 46 horsepower. Of course, Evel’s infamous Caesar’s Palace jump ended in a crash that gave him a broken hip, pelvis and ribs, and required a 29-day stay in the hospital — and he wasn’t even trying to flip anything.
We’ve come a long way since the daredevil days of Evel Knievel, so it’s safe to say that Zink’s odds are much closer to that of Hauschka’s field-goal percentage rate than Evel’s success rate at Caesar’s palace. Still, there are real risks involved.
Sure, back flips have become almost commonplace in the modern-day freeride competitor’s quiver of tricks, but rolling into a back flip at 45-plus miles per hour to clear a 100-foot gap is something totally different — it’s big, it’s dangerous and it’s never been done before. Add to that the fact that Cam Zink is a new dad — his daughter was born not too long after he collected a third-place finish at the 2013 Rampage — I couldn’t help but to question the risk versus reward.
For the record: I’ve had the great fortune to meet and know many extremely switched-on and interesting people, and Cam Zink always hovers at the top of my list. He’s polite, driven, tack-sharp and extremely calculating. That said, I wasn’t ready for the way he answered my risk-reward question in terms of being a dad.
“I think it changes on the smaller stuff,” says Zink. “Where I wouldn’t think twice about something before — like, I’ll just do this because I want to … then I’ll think about it, because I have to support myself and my family.
“And on the bigger things … I wouldn’t be putting myself in danger, like on this flip, if I didn’t think there was a really, really high chance of success.
“The juice is worth the squeeze — the risk is worth the reward. It will mean all the better life for me and my family later in life.”
Zink says that providing for his immediate family is a primary motivating factor for doing what he does — and pushing the bar higher — but that he also feels obliged to help progress the sport for his extended family of mountain bikers. He says that mountain biking is a sport he’s always been attracted to, but a scene that he wasn’t all that enamored with until more recent years, when both the bicycle industry and the mainstream world began to look at mountain biking differently — when bikes and attitudes became truly cool.
‘Cool’ isn’t lost on his grip company Sensus, either. The team roster reads like a who’s who list of cool, and the hand-drawn Sensus stickers that found their way to Crankworx this year put a smile on the faces of even the most jaded of bike-industry insiders.
Despite Sensus’ Sorry For Partying tagline, I found a clear-eyed and upbeat Cam Zink early in the morning following Joyride, when many were surely recovering from the post-event festivities. He’s either a top pro at partying or his focus was forward, on that 100-foot flip.
When all is said and done, his World Record attempt today at Mammoth Mountain won’t take that long. Zink says, though, that he’ll be so far in “the zone” that the roughly 2-and-a-half seconds between takeoff and landing will feel like minutes, maybe hours even — the focus is so intense.
Science plays a part in the jump’s equation — he knows how fast he has to be traveling when he hits the face of the jump, for instance — but his success relies mainly on knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of riding, and jumping, bikes. And somehow, something tells me that he probably remembers most of his jumps. And something tells me he’s got this one in the bag — I wouldn’t bet a red cent against him.
Cam Zink’s jump will be televised live on ESPN Aug. 21 at 9:30 p.m. ET in partnership with Monster Energy.
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