Cam Zink - History 101

Apr 17, 2013
by Cameron Zink  
 
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Photo Christoph Laue

I will be writing a series of articles this year. This first rambling, of many to come, is a basic timeline of my life and mountain biking as I lived it and saw it before I turned pro ten years ago...

I kept asking my Dad for months for a full suspension mountain bike. I needed a bike to rip around the streets of Carson City, but I wanted something I could race downhill on, but wouldn't hold me back from anything else I could possibly ride. On my ninth birthday he pulled out a brand new, fully rigid beauty. I was not disappointed, but elated, for it was a brand new, high quality bike (you can guess the brand all you want but I ain't tellin'). I will never forget that feeling; I doubt anyone forgets their first mountain bike. It is a life changing experience. I already had a BMX bike that I would ride to school and had jumped some tabletops on, this bike was a whole new world of opportunity.

I started racing later that year, and after only a couple races I dreamed of becoming a professional mountain bike rider. With no thought in sight of the freeride world we know now, my tricks and jumps stayed at the school yard. Jumps on my BMX bike and my other non-suspended whip got me some podiums in the local cyclocross series and XC races. I rode my first couple DH races on it, but was not able to podium until I upgraded from that bone jarring rig. However, they did eventually come and ever since the beginning, all I wanted to do was practice, race, jump and ride anything that would build my bike control. It was my main focus (along with having fun of course) and I am still doing the exact same thing today.

Prior to Shaun Palmer and Kirt Voreis in their heyday, John Tomac was king and racing both XC and DH was the way to do it, so I tried to keep doing both. I raced XC at Sea Otter one year when I was about 10. I will never forget the announcers over the loudspeaker, prior to us juniors getting sent off the line, making every one of us appreciate our parents who supported us and got us there. No matter how far along any sport will take you, you are never there alone and you couldn't do it without the help of others. The gun went off and I struggled, but after a long grueling race, there was a steep, muddy section with drops toward the end. A place close to the finish where racers loved ones lined the red SRAM banners in anticipation of seeing their sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers succeed; the hecklers came to see a bloodbath. My Dad has video of 90% of the people yardsaling. It's hilarious. Tomahawking and literally flying over the banners and the crowd behind its heads. I came through not knowing what the hell lay before me. For some reason, that race I chose to ride my Dad's custom Conejo AP5 with Kooka components that was two sizes too big for me. Apparently, I ripped that gateway of gnar pretty good (must have been that RockShox Judy on there) because the crowd went absolutely nuts! This was my first experience of hearing a real crowd roar for me. Forget Soccer Goals and Little League Baseball; this was on a whole different level. I pretty much forgot about ball sports after that, for I had found my sport. I also realized which discipline I would excel at. Still to this day, the fans at any contest beat the money, standing on the podium, magazine covers and all the other amazing things this sport has brought me, hands down. Every time I land in the Crankworx finals finish corral, off the last drop, it feels like a Super Bowl touchdown. And that will never ever get old....


When mountain bike films first started to be made my Dad came home from the bike shop and gave my brother and I ''Fatraxx'' the movie. Our minds were blown. Phil Tinsman, Tomac, and even Kathy Sessler were the heroes that showed me what was possible on a mountain bike. People were being filmed riding their bikes with personality, showcasing what they enjoyed, in and outside of racing. Skidder lines and full suspension jumping was now an option. My brother was always better than me and I had to put in ten times the effort to try to keep up. He could keep up with his full factory competitors and jump as well as anyone on a mountain bike and with such little effort. If it weren't for chicks and cars he would be one of the best.

Shortly after ''Fatraxx'' we found a movie that seemed to live by this thesis. Everyone in ''Hammertime'' had no limits. This video was the beginning of freeriding. It is the predecessor to today's riding with a 14 year gap to figure ourselves out. When life gave them lemons they did a hell of a lot more than make lemonade. Eric Carter, Todd Lyons, Alan Foster, Chad Harrington, Brian Lopes and others were riding trails, steeps and jumping mountain bikes in ways that had never been done before. Some of the jumps and trails are still around and ridden every day! There was no classification. It was just a mountain biking video.

I quickly figured out that this bike I was riding could do anything; suspension or not. At that time, bikes and riders were progressing at such an alarming rate and the sport was growing so fast while sprouting off in so many directions. Freeride competitions still weren't even thought of. People were doing it, but it was still something done for fun and practice outside of racing.


But “Chainsmoke” rolled in. A life changing experience and still my favorite video of all time. This video changed more lives than just my own. Palm's opening segment pumping Downset's ”Empower” still gives me the chills. These guys were heroes, idols and rockstars! Why? Because of a well-produced video where the sponsors behind it showcased their riders as the bad ass S.O.B's that they are! Voreis, Randy Lawrence, Mike Metzger, and even Joe Parkin riding XC, looked so bad ass! 1-3 times a day my brother and I watched it. I didn't know the half of their race records, but it didn't matter. This was the power of a VHS. Lucky for us, Freeride Entertainment and Red Bull Media House still believe in creating heroes long after VHS and DVD sales have fallen.

When I was 11 years old, I was in the gate for a National Slalom Race in Big Bear. Lined up next to me was a very factory looking, 10-year-old named Kyle Strait.. My faulty Mr. Dirt chain guide and I lost that race. Kyle and I were friends shortly thereafter. We both had a similar view on riding. We idolized Voreis, thought his part in ''Evolution'' shat on every freerider movie at the time, and we both loved the riding outside of racing, while still keeping slalom and DH our top priority. He was promoted heavily by his Dad, picked up a paying sponsor at 13 and was in Rampage at 14. This was the first ever Rampage and when racing was just starting to show some signs of failure, Rampage showed her gigantic potential at the perfect time to explode at a steady pace. It wasn't too big for its own good and it didn't 'jump the shark.' Year after year, it surpassed everyone's expectations and kept people wanting more. This desire to watch it was the birth of slopestyle and even mountain bike dirt jump contests. It all started in big mountain. My first Rampage was #3 in 2003. After that I was slightly established and fully hooked. I couldn't believe what was possible on a bike, but what blew my mind even more was what I was capable of!

Even though this incredible new movement was going on, Kyle and I kept racing because we loved it; racing was king and we figured we could do both at the highest level. And I gave him a whoop in the 2002 series to be Junior Slalom National Champ. As the sport of freeride kept growing, US Racing kept dying. I remember my first National in 1997 at Mammoth. It was some movie star type shit. GT had a supercross sized semi truck and the pit area was three times the size of any pit in 2012. Wrenches like Craig 'Stikman' Glaspell and Chris 'Monkey' Vasquez were even borderline celebrities. It was an amazing time to be a mountain biker. My brother and I would fill up gigantic bags of stickers by strolling through the pits like trick-or-treaters and hopefully catch a glimpse of Missy Giove or Eric Carter rolling back from practice to their incredible hospitality.

cam zink winning trick on the second stunt at crankworx best trick contest

When things get good we are constantly pigeonholing ourselves by classifications, criticism, and crap. If mountain biking had a house there would be a sign on the lawn that reads, “New ideas and innovation welcome! Old ideas and legacies will shoot you in the face if threatened.” Brad Ewen will then yell the proverbial phrase.

From one thing we lead to another by human nature. We want to progress; we need to progress! In turn we struggle with identification and purpose. It is the nature of growing. It is inevitable. Money will ruin brilliant ideas and greed will tarnish legacies. Shaun Palmer changed the sport for the better by being himself, then NORBA shat on corporate sponsors with greed and wiped American racing off the face of the earth for nearly a decade. Mountain cross (not 4x) replaced slalom because NORBA watched a couple well done races at Woodward and Glen Helen, they got fat and lazy with the courses and inevitably NORBA and the newly coined “4X” ate itself leaving one of the most successful racing circuits and slalom racing in it's colon. Chevy: out, Jeep: Bailed. Corporate sponsors are a necessity in a sport that requires big money to make proper courses and give riders the ability to push the sport. Especially when they are paying to get it on National TV. USAC (USA Cycling) is still trying to kill what momentum people have built

Thanks to Crankworx, racing now has a prize purse (actually a few of them) that will buy more than dinner, and slopestyle comps have crowds that could fill a basketball arena. We are, once again, living in exponential times. The internet and technology make sure everyone will get their chance to make it and no longer will people be silenced. Great ideas will flourish! If we choose apathy we have no right to complain so create something remarkable or help someone who is. The governing body of a competitive sport will no longer have a monopoly. Festivals and one-off events are becoming the biggest and best places to ride and watch our heroes. We all started riding bicycles for freedom and freedom will keep our beautiful sport growing... that and capitalism.

History lessons are necessary to keep it from repeating itself.

Mountain biking is a beautiful thing...

Long live slalom!

Winner of the dual speed amp style
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93 Comments

  • + 75
 Yeah,man.U are a hero in my mind.U know when U crashed on the way down the trails in Turpan,Gobi Desert for WTTE,I felt too sad.I know it was very painful,but when U came back on the bike I really admire your enthusiasm for mountain biking.U have changed my way of riding.I am the guy who sent a message to Claw when U guys were in Turpan last year,but I did't know U were there at that moment.Mountain biking is so awesome.I love it too.I learn the skills by watching what u did in the video.I hope I can do something like that in the future.Thanks,man!
  • + 41
 i can already imagine zink falling and thinking "oh god, i made sniper sad".
  • + 82
 You*
  • - 25
flag mfbeast12 (Apr 18, 2013 at 15:15) (Below Threshold)
 yeah this isn't texting. also why keep saying "u" when you're properly spelling everything else?
  • + 17
 all the crappy spelling and punctuation on Pinkbike and now we're obssessing over the letter U? go bother someone else.
  • + 11
 I'm sorry for my poor English.
  • + 12
 dont apologize - they're f'ing with you
  • + 7
 Just bustin' balls. I wouldn't even attempt Chinese.
  • + 7
 we should attempt it soon - they can buy us ten times over
  • + 70
 Thanks for all the comments, props and congrats, everyone! Writing an article and putting it on pinkbike is more nerve racking than riding a bike, I'll tell you that much... Glad you liked it!
  • + 8
 Man, so many bad things happening in the world, specially in US with the boston and texas incidents.... but we got bikes!!! And we got people like you.. spreading inspiration around the world! Keep up the good job man.... You and all the other guys riding a bike around the world.... we are making a better world.. that's for sure!!! Regards man!!!
  • + 6
 what was the brand of that first bike ????
  • + 4
 Thank you so much for the huge amount of inspiration that you gave me with this article!!!
  • + 5
 Great post. It's really cool to read long-form stories from dedicated pros. It reminds us that every great rider starts somewhere. Nice work, Cam!
  • + 1
 Killa cam!
  • + 1
 Awesome! Content was great and delivered well. I liked the analogies and praises uses to tell the story. Kept my eyes glued to the screen. Do write more stories as your life if more interesting than mine!
  • + 29
 Respect Zink, you've influenced my life positively ain't got nothing but love for ya!
  • + 23
 zink is the man
  • + 14
 the last part felt like a "braveheart" speech for freedom. I migh paint my face blue next time i ride.
  • + 4
 so much respect for Cam. Best of luck this season. Looking forward to reading your segments.
  • + 2
 @GabrielDugas hahahha good idea man!
  • + 12
 Thanks for the insight, you are a good writer. In a future column, I'd like to hear your perspective on recovering from serious injury, particularly from a psychological perspective. I broke my right tibia and fibula in February riding at a skateboard park (tricks are for kids and I am 53!). Physically, I will recover completely and I'll be back on the bike in May.

Since I got my first mountain bike in 1984, my skills, my fitness, and especially my equipment, have improved. However my courage has diminished. This may be something you will experience yourself (ask your father). I am hoping that this injury has not further shrunken my cojones. Thanks again for today's column and your future journalistic efforts.
  • + 11
 Cam Zink is probably one of my favorite riders. He's not automatic like Semenuk, but when he's on, he can beat anyone in the sport. He goes big at every competition. Sure he might crash a bit, but when he manages to reach the finish line, you know he's always in contention to win it all. Zink, you're the man!
  • + 8
 You can't really compare the two. Semenuk could do all the tricks but hes probably not going to 360 or backflip off a huge cliff. In my opinion Zink is the best all around rider in the world.
  • + 2
 Yeah but in FMB events Semenuk is usually unbeatable because he's so consistent and clean. If Zink stays on his bike, he usually throws down bigger tricks than Semenuk
  • + 12
 Great write up, keep em coming. Best of luck this year.
  • + 6
 After seeing that massive crash at rampage it inspired me and I said to myself "if he can walk away from that massive crash with only a few scrapes then i can at least do that 3 foot drop that scares me" my next ride it hit it over and over, thank you for inspiring me and helping me realize that not all crashes will hospitalize me
  • + 7
 Amazing article! Love your attitude and style Cam! Keep on riding and keep the articles coming!
  • + 5
 I remember when Tomac was king. still one of my all time favorite riders. Steve Peat and Cedric are on that list too, and were racing during the Tomac, EC, King, Voreis, Palmer days also. so you know who's old school.
  • + 6
 Thanks for sharing your background, enjoyed the part about the old school vids.
  • + 3
 Cam, from your ninth birthday to this day, it is amazing what you have built man. Cos now YOU are a hero! I speak for myself! The kind of beating you take, the lines you ride, pretty much everything I watch you doing on a bike it is really inspiring... and for someone like me, who is beginner in the gravity world, it really makes me feel capable of learning and watching myself in the future doing things I can't do now.... on a step by step basis, I'll get there!!! I just have to believe and keep riding!!! Man, thanks for inspiring us! Now, I speak for a nation of riders!!!
  • + 3
 This is great, and I can speak for most everybody on PB that we are really interested in what you have to say.

I for one will happily lap up every word no matter how well (or not) it is written. Your writing is completely acceptable, but of course there is room for improvement. Writing will get a lot easier and enjoyable the more you do it. Just write about some experiences that you don't intend to share for practice.

I sometimes like to write about bad experiences and minor failures in life. I give them a cynical spin with a little dark, jaded humor, and it helps me process what happened and move on.
  • + 1
 very encouraging!
  • + 2
 Just goes to show that if you ever want to be really good at something it pays to start when you're young. I can't even remember what I was doing at 10.... sure I was riding my bmx but I never fantasized about hucking off cliffs
  • + 5
 What a coincidence that i'm wearing the troy lee designs "Cam Zink" t-shirt, and this is on pinkbike..
  • + 5
 I grow up watching U on videos films...Respect for Mr Zink
  • + 5
 oh yeah! one of my favorite rider! keep it up!
  • + 3
 Awesome write up Bro'! If they're just as motivating and inspiring as this one, I sure as hell look forward to more of these articles. Shred Well!!!
  • + 1
 As a 32 year old I know first hand how badly the sport tanked in the late 90's. I went and got my first job at 13 so I could buy an XC bike.I saved for months, and finally went out and bought myself a bitching KHS. My friends and I were diehards. Rode everyday, sun, rain, even snow. On Vancouver Island there were plenty of races to hit up Burnt Bridge, and Hammerfest were a couple of races we frequented. DH wasn't all that popular yet, and slalom races were basically non existent in our parts.

Then it all started to die. Races were cancelled the sport was trying to find an identity. I stopped riding XC (partly because the girls and cars thing too), and switched over to trials for a while. But that got very expensive. Bikes just couldn't hold up to the abuse trials inflicted upon them. If you weren't sponsored then you couldn't really keep up with the big boys. After breaking my second frame I couldn't afford to replace it, and eventually lost interest. I went a couple years without a bike.

And then I saw Rampage!!!!!!!

What a godsend that event was. Thanks to guys like Wade, and Tippie, a whole new genre of biking started to take shape. Mountain biking hasn't looked back since!!

Thanks to guys like you and Claw, and McCaul for pushing the limits, and growing the sport!! We all admire the things you guys can pull off on 2 wheels. Keep Shredding!!
  • + 1
 one of the smoothest freeriders out there and such huge huge nuts!!! youve been inspiring me since your first appearance in new world disorder. I, like you, watched all of those videos over and over again, several times a day getting stoked then going out and building trails and guinea pigging sketchy shit with my mates. mean article bro. looking forward to many more.
  • + 3
 Why cant they teach this kind of history in school? Well farewell fellow pinkbikers, off to catch the bus for another dull boring day at that horrid place called school
  • + 5
 Makes me think about the "good old time", when I started MTB
  • + 1
 "We all started riding bicycles for freedom and freedom will keep out beautiful sport growing... that and capitalism." Very libertarian thinking.... I like that!!
  • + 3
 ah man, I forgot about how much fun it was to watch Eric Carter... some old school bike DVDs going in the player tonight.
  • + 1
 My little brother (9 years-old) was asked to do a report for school on someone who has influenced his life, he chose none other than Cam Zink. He looks up to you so much man, keep doing what you are doing!
  • + 1
 Hope to hear some good Hell Track stories in the next article! The good ole days of ripping sections like lla and bike brothers.... And Howie Zinc and Frankie D. were straight up shredders!!! You too Cam.
  • + 3
 save of the year on the chatel nac flip in 2012!

www.pinkbike.com/video/285751
  • + 1
 There are lots of great pro riders but Cam puts all his heart on it, you can see it every time he rides and I think people appreciate this a lot.
He falls? no problem, gots up and does a 360 on rampage, sick...
  • + 4
 Very well said bro. Liking the article. Keep em comin'.
  • + 4
 My favorite biker on downhill...salute Mr.Zink
  • + 1
 Eddie Roman's Hammertime absolutely melted my 15 year old brain the first time I saw it back in the day as well. I literally wore out my first VHS copy.
  • + 2
 hell yeah man!! being a dad is the most amazing thing! stay positive keep shredding, and good luck
  • + 2
 Zink - cool article and recollection of the early days.

PB - do you employ an editor?
  • + 1
 Hi, What's ur name?
Would you like to have a job as an editor?
Please edit this next sentence:
Iz like too biek...yoo by mee a nuw biek rite nou!
  • + 1
 Unlike you, I don't hide behind an alias Wink
  • + 1
 Nice article Cam. I remember watching you race when you were 13 and telling my friends to keep an eye on you because you were going to be big someday.
  • + 3
 I bet it was a Blue Kona he was first given...
  • + 3
 Nope, keep guessing.
  • + 3
 Red Kona?
  • + 2
 His Walmart bike?
  • + 3
 Congrats on your upcoming fatherhood!
  • + 1
 “New ideas and innovation welcome! Old ideas and legacies will shoot you in the face if threatened.” never read a better sentence..
  • + 1
 Cam, if you ever write a biography tell us. I'll certainly get it. Your a great inspiration.
  • + 2
 Now they just need to make a tv show out of it!
  • + 1
 Awesome write up Zink! I thoroughly enjoyed reading that. Keep em coming, I look forward to the next one Smile
  • + 2
 Good read, keep em coming Zink!
  • + 1
 Wait! So corporate greed has ruined racing but at the same time capitalism will save biking??
  • + 1
 Great read. If only every article left me feeling inspired...and with "Empower" stuck in my head.
  • + 1
 U rule dude...plain and simple...
  • + 1
 The mid to late 90's are still the golden age of mountain biking!!
  • + 1
 New ideas and innovation welcome
  • + 1
 super fly Zink..looking forward to your articles.
  • + 1
 thanks for this!! Well stated
  • + 1
 zink, you're the man—hands down my favorite rider. great article.
  • + 2
 guys a machine
  • + 1
 Well said! Keep up the good work!
  • + 1
 God DAMN I want a Red Bull
  • + 1
 Awesome words. Thanks Cam.
  • + 1
 I really want to see the Sea Otter video
  • + 2
 There's another Zink?!?!
  • + 2
 Yes, He's a pro lacrosse player...
www.denveroutlaws.com/player/131/denver-outlaws-lee-zink

Ha Ha Ha!
  • + 1
 Awesome!!!! brap brap Cam, Lets goBig Grin
  • + 1
 what a guy
  • - 3
 MOUNTAIN biking!!!!!!!!! who's goin sheeeeredin tomorrow??????
  • + 1
 I have to go to school tomorrow, please don't rub it in!
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