By Seb Kemp
Photos by Anthony Smith
I caught up with Brandon Semenuk recently when he had just got back to BC after a leisurely roadtrip through Oregon on a skatepark hunting mission as part of a Life Behind Bars webisode. But this trip was also to help clear his head now that the slopestyle season has ended. For Brandon, 2012 had proven a great season, apart from a disappointing Crankworx finals. Now it was time to retool himself the last event of the year: the unique and terrifying Red Bull Rampage in Utah.
SK: I have to ask, how was Crankworx for you?
BS: It was shitty, but whatever, it happens. It was just a tough break…I dunno, coming into the event I was stoked and I felt really good in my first run. Actually I felt good on both runs going into them, but it was just stupid little things that happened. First with my wheel folded and then I got a shitty line that made me case the boner jump.
It was such an inconsistent course for how inconsistent everyone’s runs were. My run was going to be way harder than any other run I’ve done this year, so I have to expect that I probably won’t get it as easy as my other runs, right? But the course didn’t favor people doing gnarlier, harder runs.
SK: You have told me before that plan a first run that you are 80% sure you can get first time and can win with, but that you hold a little bit back in case that run is challenged on run two? Was this the cases for Crankworx still?
BS: It is definitely harder because there are a few different variables. Like tricks I had never done before. I know I can do the trick but I had never done it on that obstacle so it takes away a little bit of consistency, but I was pretty positive I could do it. Like the flip off the drop; I’d done that once. Then there was stuff further down my run that I had never done. I fucked up on the things I wasn’t worried about.
SK: You had some serious tricks ready for Crankworx, some of which we didn’t get to see because you didn’t get that far down the course. Do you think you took your eye off the ball because you were so focused on these other things?
BS: Probably, yeah, maybe…the first run was weird [Ed: when he over-rotated a relatively simple 360 barspin but the rear wheel folded on landing] because I had done that and I thought I was going to land it. I wasn’t worried about tacoing a wheel. I didn’t expect that to happen. I landed ready to stomp it but then the back of the bike felt like Jello and then next thing I knew I was on the ground. On the second run I was so focused on the trick that I didn’t focus on the line I took, I didn’t even think about going too wide, so that was definitely me being stupid.
SK: You said consistency goes down at Crankworx because of the course and what is at stake, did your own consistency suffer?
BS: Yeah, look at everyone that fell that day. More than half the field didn’t make it to the bottom. That’s the way with Crankworx, either everyone gets their run or no one gets their run.
SK: When you crashed the second time what went through your mind?
BS: Frustration. It just sucked…you put a lot of time and emotion and effort into that one event and then you fall on something stupid. If I had fallen on something bigger that I had planned then at least I got a chance to try it but I didn’t even get a taste of what I wanted to do. I dunno, it was just sad really.
SK: The FMB suddenly changes gear from highly technical and gymnastic slopestyle contests to the Red Bull Rampage, which is gnarly and technical in a whole different way.
BS: Yeah, it’s totally different; polar opposites really. It pretty much gets gnarly and is all about bike control. Whereas slopestyle you can get away without a certain degree of bike control as long as you can do the tricks.
It’s cool because you build your line if you want. You build what you are pretty sure you can ride. It’s not like a slopestyle event where everyone is riding the same line, but you think about what tricks everyone is going to do and how consistent is everyone going to be. Everyone can do a ton of tricks, but with Rampage you have to ride your line and just make it down the hill.
SK: You come across as highly independent, self-reliant, and calculating, do you enjoy the extra element of control because you build your own line?
BS: Yeah, it’s sick. You know yourself what you can ride and it’s a big mountain event so if you build a gnarly enough line you can win without tricks. You just put your own style on it. It doesn’t have to be just like a course that was built by someone else and then do the tricks that are favored on that course. Instead you go out and build a line that you think is sick. A bad ass line.
I feel like its going to be a pretty heavy year for building because there’s a lot of stuff that is built already and its pretty tapped, so to build new stuff you have to think out of the box, work a little harder and get a little creative with what is out there.
SK: What is the plan leading up to Rampage now?
BS: Just get comfortable on my bike. Set it up and ride it a bunch, then I’ll go out there beforehand to check out the site just to see what it looks like. I haven’t been out there for two years now. It will be good to look at the land and have a good idea what I want to do there, then go home and ride preparing for that. Then when the event comes around I can go there with a game plan of what I want to build and how I want to ride.
SK: A lot of preparation?
BS: Yeah, this event is tough. You build a line, but if you can prepare for the line you are going to build then you have a way better chance. If you know your line is going to have a lot of flat drops or hips or chutes or steep rocks then you can go and get comfortable on that stuff before getting there for the contest.
SK: You have said that in slopestyle contests you can kind of figure out what runs people are going to do and what you are going to have to do to top them. So in the same way, when you approach Rampage do you have the ability to look into your crystal ball and figure out what other riders are going to do?
BS: Rampage is harder. You can get a bit of an idea when people are building because you see what they are building and you can figure out if it is gnarlier than what you are riding. But are they going to clean their runs? Which is a big question mark for that event because a lot of people crash there too.
I will probably just go into it to build a line that will be really challenging for me and I think will score well. It has good fluidity, it is gnarly, and it has a variety of styles, not just a lot of jumps, drops, or steeps, but all of those. I want to get a well-rounded run together.
SK: You have only competed at Rampage once – and won – because the last time [in 2010] you were injured. Doing it once and winning once is not a bad record then.
BS: When I did it then I got invited and didn’t expect to get invited. I had already had a pretty good season, I was young and stoked on the season so I just went there to have fun, built a line I liked and I didn’t expect to qualify as good as I did. I certainly didn’t expect to win the thing.
Back then I don’t think I realized how gnarly it was either. I was too young to realize that it was crazy, fucking nuts. I just did my thing, didn’t put too much pressure on myself and it just went well.
SK: And now?
BS: Now it is a bit of a different story. Now there is pressure and I kind of realize how crazy and dangerous it is out there. There are a lot of ways to fuck up. Then again, knowing that maybe a good thing because there’s a lot of things I could look for now whereas before I got lucky and got away with a few things then.
SK: What about the FMB points chase coming into the last round?
BS: That’s a tough one. Rampage is sort of like Crankworx where you want to send it, but…there are people that can catch me up on points easily so I do need to put a run down. I think as long as I get a run down the hill it will be fine. But then how much do I push it? I want to win, but how worthwhile is it to maybe reign it in a little.
SK: Will you find a totally unique line?
BS: Ideally I’d like to build a unique line from top to bottom. Maybe ride one pre-made thing, but I want to ride the natural stuff. I’m not a big fan of the pre-made stunts and excavated trails on the course because it turns into a slopestyle course. The last time there were lines that were totally packed – it was like a valley trail – obviously with big jumps and drops but it wasn’t that gnarly in the Rampage way. I’d like to rough in a whole line that is natural and hasn’t seen a machine. I think that’s cooler.
I understand why they want these big features but it doesn’t appeal to me. Last time there was some lines that you could ride from top to bottom where all you had to do was ride a couple of chutes to link it in. You could ride it on a small bike almost.
SK: What about Cam Zink’s ridiculous 360 in 2010? Where do you think that leaves things? Will people try and top that or has a limit being reached for now?
BS: I think its possible to top it but how much do you want to push it? Someone could do a big backflip off that same obstacle, or maybe people are going to attempt to front flip their downhill bike. When Zink did that spin he ate shit the first time and the second time he just made it. To try and do that again still leaves a huge area for stuff to go wrong.
SK: In the past we have chatted a lot about risk versus reward, do you think there will be a lot of people rolling the dice for potential reward?
BS: Yeah, I think so. It is the last event of the year so people don’t care so much; they don’t have to worry about getting to the next event. I’m not saying people want to get hurt, but because it is the end of the year it does lead to a heightened ‘I don’t give a fuck’ vibe.