Cam Zink is a past winner of Red Bull Rampage, the holder of some of the biggest titles, and a solid guy who enjoys the many ways that the event challenges him. Coming into this year's event he had an unexpected injury to contend with in addition to the new site to build on. I chatted with him over the last few days to find out more about his approach to a fresh venue, how he's managing his injuries, and what his goal is for Friday.
How many times have you started fresh at a new venue with Rampage? Do you have a preference for starting from scratch or returning to an area you are familiar with? Why?
It's a technically my 6th new venue, which includes all of them. However, the first two sites were qualifiers and finals at the original site. Few people actually dug, it was more like raking and moving bushes, and everyone kind of rode everyone's lines.
I love starting fresh, but it's a huge undertaking; too much work for 9 days, so there is a lot left for the subsequent year(s).
The second year at a zone, personally, is almost starting from scratch again, just utilizing the main pieces of the line you had built but adding as much new terrain as possible. In 2013 we added a whole new top chute and traverse to what Bourdo built (he wasn't competing that year); in 2015 we added the bottom half of my line that we couldn't finish in 2014; and last year we added the most ridiculous chute we've ever done at the top.
There is never enough time, so this year will be building for a win, but also keeping in mind that we can add to it next year and elevate it even more, hopefully for another win.
Do you have a specific approach you use for a brand-new venue? Can you tell me a little bit about how you plan your lines from scratch? Do you start with the tricks you know you want to do or do you start with the terrain first and go from there?
We all practice certain tricks and a style of riding, but you can't come into a blank canvas with too many expectations or you will pigeonhole yourself. You have to practice anything and everything. Then when you show up and scout for what to build it should unfold naturally.
Can you tell me a little about your line? Who have you teamed up with and how did you approach the design?
It's all just trial and error and over the last 15 years of doing the event I've learned a lot - and Kyle has done every single one. We learned from the beginning that, for one, we can dig here but the new venues have caught people by surprise because you get into the week and realize that you're not going to finish your line. This year has the most experienced crew of riders, it's the second year of only doing 21 with no qualifier, so everyone on the hill is more knowledgeable than ever before. We all have more experience and enough people have done a new venue multiple times and we know we have to team up or we're not going to get it done - and still, people are scrambling. Kyle and I, as always, are teaming up - and I think this year we are actually doing the whole line, the whole way down. And Carson is teaming up with us for about half of it. So, the biggest drop and then the bottom jump have had three crews working on it - actually Godziek is coming into this too, so we've had four crews working on this.
We are using our time wisely and we also have some of the best diggers - and that is huge. Finding people, you can work with all week who are going to put in the work for you, and essentially not get paid. Kyle and I will end up giving them all the money we get to show up, but you don't want them to dig for the money. You want them to be in it for the right reasons, they are sweating for ten days for you from sun-up to sundown, so you have to be with people who you have good comradery with and who know what a good jump should be; they know how to put in a landing or a lip and they're going to put in the work.
Even having a side-by-side or the right tools, there's so much more that goes into it. It's hard to find an equivalent, other than life. It's like a game of life out here. Like finding your assets, being diplomatic up there when you cross other people's lines and working together, it's really cool. It's so much more diverse than just showing up and riding a course.
Do you find that this is an event where all of those skills that you have from all these different areas of your life come together?
Absolutely. It's so much more diverse than anyone could imagine until you're out here and in it. Even the people who come out and watch, don't understand what goes on the ten days prior to the event. I mean, even finding a road - I was just helping Kyle find a way up so that we could practice his bottom drop efficiently. Just little things like that. People were asking to borrow the nozzle from my hose because I brought my own hose. I knew we were going to have to tap in and we're going to want to use it. Just a lot of planning and bartering, like 'I'll trade you some beers and you can use my hose,' and then you keep your diggers happy and the diggers are all stoked because they get some beers.
Where are you guys staying?
We're camped at the bottom. We've figured out that the best way to do it is to bring out the fifth wheel - it's the only time I use it all year - and leave it there. We camp for the first five days. Wake up, come straight up here, go straight back and fall asleep. And then my family just showed up and we have rented a house for the rest of the week so that everyone can be comfortable. But the first week is just dig and get it done. Now we are at the point when our diggers set us free into the wild and we can go ride and they take over the digging and we just help with the fine-tuning.
Is there any piece of technology or equipment that has been a game-changing development for you in relation to Rampage?
A Mcleod and running water. The bikes have consistently improved each year but there isn't anything revolutionary; more evolutionary. The digging has improved dramatically. Mostly thanks to Todd Barber, Dave Smutok, Randy Spangler, Adam Billinghurst, and Jeremy Witek finding a way to pump water to the top of the mountain and run hoses down the ridges for us to tap into. Last year was the first year everyone landed a run, and nobody went to the hospital. It's unbelievable - and mostly thanks to the running water.
Has anything changed in your approach from your first years at Rampage to now? What have you learned along the way about yourself and the event?
My approach is still the exact same; I want to live up to my potential and Rampage is the greatest place and stage to do so. You can build anything you want, ride however you want, and go as big as humanly possible. And the world will be watching.
What do your preparations for Rampage look like? Is there anything you do to prepare now that you didn't do in the 14 years ago?
Different years always provide different forms of adversity. This year I am dealing with my shoulder coming out constantly, so I am doing a lot of physio and work with my trainer. Plus, I have two kids, so time management is tougher than when I was a kid. Back then I was either riding with no ACL or something else that made it that much harder, so not that much has changed.
What's going on with your shoulder?
I've been dealing with my shoulder coming out for the last year-and-a-half. It hasn't been too big of an issue because it's just when I crash. If I crash, then it comes out. It sucks, but it's not the end of the world. In Rotorua it started coming out; I came up short on this double through the woods on the downhill practice and I landed back wheel and somehow saved it and didn't weed it through the trees, but the front wheel dropped over the end and pulled my arm out.
That was the beginning of it coming out while riding and being really sketchy. And over the last two months, it's come out a few times while riding in situations where it definitely shouldn't have. I've been doing a lot of physio.
We went and rode King Kong which is like a mini Rampage line and it felt really good the first day and I was really stoked, and everything was great, and I was really stoked and then the next day I went up there and came up a little short on this little option triple line you can do, and it came out. I just wanted to go home. It's daunting riding this event anyway, but when you have something that just comes out of nowhere. . . I should have been able to just roll away and not even thought about it. It was just a little mistake, so it takes the wind out of your sails. But we've had a week of digging in the meantime and kind of doing PT with the hose and pickaxing, not stretch it out too much but keep it moving and mobile.
I went and rode yesterday. I started out really slow, I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself and I did a Kong lap and it felt awesome! My shoulder has gotten as strong as it's going to get, at this point, I just need to keep it that strong and keep it firing. I'm working with the bands and all sorts of stretches. I'm playing it by ear every day and trying not to overwork it. Just a minute ago when I was shoveling I could feel it getting tired, so I took some time off and I'll stretch it out and try to go riding.
You won the event in 2010, got Best Trick in 2010, 2013, and 2014, and are tied for Sorge for the most podiums - are there any other highlights you'd like to share from other Rampages?
My favorites are definitely the amount of 'biggest' I've been able to ride out of within a mile radius. Biggest: 3 drop (2010), dirt to dirt 3 drop (2014, 2015), step down flip (2013), and flat drop flip (2017), and also what they were saying is the steepest line in the event's history, but PEF rode it first so he deserves the credit.
Do you have any favorite memories in relation to watching other riders at Rampage?
All of 'em. Watching your brothers in arms ride in a way the public can never understand is something I'll always cherish. In particular, it's usually watching Kyle ride because we've been best friends since the beginning and have seldom ridden different lines.
As far as I've witnessed, your family has always been right there with you - from your pregnant wife watching your backflip off the Oakley Sender to seeing your little girl holding up signs cheering you on. How has the support of your family and having them on site with you impacted your experiences at Rampage?
Oh, it definitely adds a whole 'nother element to it. There's much more on the line but it's so much more gratifying. It feels like we're in a movie and coming home from war each time.
In 2015 you took a powerful stand when you chose to sit out your second run. What changes have happened since then that has brought you back to the event?
2015 was dark for a lot of reasons, mostly behind the scenes with the administration and middle management. When 5 people go to the hospital and one of your best friends gets paralyzed it's a pretty big sign that things have gone sideways. It's always darkest before dawn and they listened. They held an athlete summit, addressed most of the issues and the event improved, from a rider's position, dramatically. There is still a lot of improvement to go but we are all working together to get what each party wants and needs.
We would be doing it regardless, which is the most detrimental ideology for a rider. Sponsors, promoters, and media take advantage of it. But when someone else is exploiting you and profiting from it, then the dynamic changes.
It is always the best part of my year and some of the best moments of my life. It's just implementing checks and balances along the way to make it worthwhile doing what we love in someone else's production.
I watched you hit your lower line clean a few times. How did it feel to be back out there today after your crash?
Yeah, that's how it should have gone yesterday. It's 24 hours I wish I could have just forgotten. I started off the same way I did yesterday, I was just a little more patient today. It was wet in the morning [when Kyle hit it] and he told me two pedals, but then it dried up and was way faster. I went deep, hit my head, almost broke some ribs, and then now today, I reassessed it. I took my time, did a few test runs, as I should and like I always do - I was just getting too anxious and ahead of myself. I'm feeling good, a little sore, a little stiff, but I feel good on the bike.
And you're headed up to session a few things at the top now?
Yeah, it's kind of unique this year with the start drop not being that big, so it's almost like another warm-up up there, it's cool you get to warm up even on your final run. So, I'm going to ride the top drop and then work my way down.
What is it about this event that keeps you coming back?
What else would I be doing? Haha.
What are you most looking forward to this year?