Your first year at Red Bull Rampage was in 2014, what was your experience like?
That was a goal that whole year. At the beginning of the year I wasn't in any of the big comps but I had a really good year and did well at contests and on the FMB World Tour. Then I got invited to Joyride super last minute, I was an alternate all week that year and then the morning of Joyride I competed and ended up eighth and that changed everything. And then I got the invite to District Ride and I got top ten there as well and both those contests lead to me getting into Rampage in 2014.
Before that, I filmed an edit with Rupert Walker as a submission video. I was talking to Todd all year and then top ten'ing at both of the big slopestyle competition was basically how I got the invite. I didn't really know what to expect. I had watched it for years but played it safe that year. I teamed up with R-Dog, Makken, and Kyle J. and we all built a line. Dustin Gilding was my buddy that I brought down to dig with me and my little cousin Dru Brownrigg. I just kind of took it easy and I ended up qualifying. I was the only one out of the riders on our line to qualify which was kind of unexpected.
In finals, I got both my runs, I don't remember what place I ended up getting [15th], but just qualifying and putting down all three runs - on my second final run I crashed up top, tied me in a little more to get the invite in 2015. Unfortunately that year I broke my collarbone at Joyride. In my last practice run, I crashed and broke my collarbone. I fought super hard to come back from that, I was kind of out for Rampage because [Todd] Barber and everyone thought I wouldn't be able to heal in time. But I have a good PT at home and I got back in time and felt pretty good. In practice, I crashed testing out a jump and I did my ankle pretty good, so then I didn't compete that year and it was kind of iffy if I would get the invite back in 2016, but then I did, and I came into that year with a stronger mindset. I still didn't have any expectations and that year was the year that I well and I got best trick and third place.
In 2015, when you have to pull out with the injury that was also the same weekend that they announced you had made the Red Bull Team. Was it hard to have that announced on a year that you couldn't compete?
The whole plan was for me to qualify and then on finals day they were going to surprise me with a fresh Red Bull lid that I would compete in. It was already planned, I had already accepted the deal. When I got injured I was super upset, but they said the deal was still on and it was all good. So, the next day, the qualifying day was when I officially got on with Red Bull. It was kind of a bummer. It would have been sweet if I had been able to compete and been in a fresh lid, but, it was what it was.
It can be hard to know when to pull out of an event like Rampage with an injury, but with that added pressure, what was your process for making the decision to withdraw?
I was super upset, I had worked really hard to come back from breaking my collarbone. I sprained my ankle really bad and I didn't know if it was broken or not. It was black and blue and completely swollen, so I thought something was broken. It was really hard to walk, and I couldn't put any weight on it. The PT team at the event were helping me a bunch, they taped it up really gnarly and I iced it and did everything I could. I wanted to get a cortisone shot in my ankle and then just kind of run it - it would make it so I couldn't feel it. But Todd pulled the plug on that. He told me there was no way they would let me drop in like that because it's not safe. I was the one who wanted to do that. It was a little extreme, but I had a lot of pressure riding on me, especially with just signing with Red Bull.
The PT crew taped up my ankle and I tried to practice the morning of qualifiers but I was in so much pain and I didn't have control. I couldn't take any impacts at all. I hit one of the tiniest jumps on my line and my foot blew off and it hurt super bad. That's when I pulled the plug. I was super upset, but it was the right call. It wasn't worth it, even though it's a big event. I gained a new perspective that day - as long as I kept pursuing this, it wasn't going to be my last Rampage.
So, I looked at it long term. I think that for anyone in this scenario it's usually probably best to pull the plug if you are pretty unable to ride. And I know guys like Zink have gotten to points like that. I also know he's had some of the best moments in his career having injury and last minute decided to ride and that was kind of my mindset. And that was also another reason I was so bummed, but my ankle was so bad that I literally couldn't ride. The injury led to a recurring sprain for the next two-and-a-half years and my ankle is still kind of messed up from it. I feel like ankles are pretty important when riding bikes, it wasn't like a broken rib or something when you could deal with the pain, I physically couldn't ride my bike. So, looking back on it, it was the right call.
Sometimes you don't have the perspective until you realize that there is a lot of longevity in your career when you are you are trying to make a name for yourself in the beginning, I would imagine that it's hard to back off of those opportunities.
For sure, now there have been multiple times where I pick the battles that are in front of me and look at it in with a different point of view, I want to be doing this for a long time so risking getting really hurt because of a smaller injury - it's definitely worth it to pull the plug sometimes. Pick your battles as they come.
Carson has been working hard alongside Zink, Kyle, and other riders who have teamed up for this year.
You mentioned taking a page from Zink's book and watching what he's done in the past, coming into Rampage, was there anyone who was a mentor for you?
Definitely Kelly McGarry. That was the last year that he competed in the event. He had a lot of pressure on his back coming into that. He was flipping the canyon gap and the year before he had had a couple of really insane falls. That year he decided he was just going to chill and have fun with it and take the monkey off his back and not commit to something huge. Even though he felt the pressure and felt like he needed to do it. Last minute he decides to take a smaller line. He built one way into the canyon in 2015 and then he built a smaller line and went with that. It ended up being a lot less stress for him and it was also a big moment for him. He as kind of talking me down and tell me to sit it out and telling me that there would be more to come, that there would be more years ahead of me.
Cam McCaul was another big one that year. He helped me when I was super upset. But it's kind of everybody. We are all good buddies and we all care for each other, there are no judgments, it's just making sure we are all safe. The comradery is real with us - at that event especially.
The event has made some fairly big changes over the years, what has that looked like for you?
I think 2015 was a dark year for the event when Paul got hurt, and a bunch of people got hurt. There were too many cooks in the kitchen. That was the second year at that venue, so everything was already built and then there were more people invited to the event. It was kind of a shit show, especially with the qualifying. I think Paul getting really hurt and breaking his back was kind of the catalyst for change and I think it's changed for the better. The last two years have been smooth, there are a lot fewer athletes that get invited to the event and that's how it needs to be. Red Bull, the Rampage crew, and Todd, they are all taking everything we say and trying to make it even better. A lot of athletes have a lot of input on it moving forward.
The lasts two years are the best that they have been and coming into a fresh zone this year is huge. I'm really excited and I think everyone is really excited. It's best when it's fresh, coming back the second year to compete on something that' already been built is when it gets scary because if you want to do well you have to add stuff to it, do more tricks and risk more. I think the fresh zones are key. I'm curious to see what the following years bring, but in my mind, having a fresh zone every year would be epic. But I know logistically that's pretty gnarly for everyone involved who make the event go down.
This is my third fresh zone and those are the years that I've had the most fun. Last year was gnarlier than 2016 because in my mind I knew I had my and I knew I wanted to stick to that line. Pretty much I just had to add to it and do more moves that are scary. In one way, it's more fun because you are building your ultimate line but it's fun to come to a fresh zone and just start new and not really know what to expect. There's less anticipation around what you're going to do because you don't really know. It makes more excitement all around.
Do you have a specific approach coming into a new zone?
I don't really know what the zone is like, so my expectations are pretty level right now. I'm trying to have fun with it and enjoy the process. Planning a new line and letting it unfold. There isn't a specific trick that I want to do. For example, I'm not looking to specifically three a massive drop, so I'm going there to look for the biggest drop I can find. I'm going to come into it and look at the whole venue and zone and see whatever looks good. Anything is possible with the line and you can go any direction you want.
I work on tricks all years - like we all do on our big bikes. Coming into it, there are things that seem more appealing that others, there are a set of tricks I know I like doing and I look at the terrain with that in mind, but it's not like I have something super specific in mind that I want to make happen because I don't really know what the zone is like. I'm going to come into it with a fresh mind and let it all unfold.
Do you enjoy the creativity that comes with creating something new like that?
I definitely enjoy that, and I think that's what makes this event so special and fun to watch. Everyone has their own creative touch with the terrain and you kind of showcase yourself riding through the line you built. It's pretty epic event.
Can you tell me about your experience in 2016 when you placed third and won Best Trick?
That year I didn't have any expectations, but I knew I wanted to do more than I had in previous years. There was a lot of work to be done to make stuff ridable that year, so I teamed up with T-Mac and Claw and a couple others and we teamed up on a couple things from the top and then I went off and did my own thing - my big drop. Then I teamed back up with Semenuk and Tom down below. There was definitely teamwork that year and it worked out for everyone. I had one move in mind as soon as I saw a spot where I could build a big drop; I wanted to spin it. That was kind of the cool thing, I didn't come into it expecting to find a big three drop, I saw it and thought, 'sick, it's big, it's scary, but it will work.' I went with it; built it and it did it, and I got a good score that held.
That's an example of how no expectations lead to doing well at the event. It was super unexpected, and it was awesome. It was the highlight of my career and changed its direction. I turned it around completely and allowed me to focus on the freeride aspect of the sport and less on slopestyle which for me was huge. It helped me grow a lot as an athlete. I'm super grateful to have done well and it was all unexpected which makes it even sweeter.
Was freeride always your career goal?
Growing up when I was a mega-grom, freeride was my background. Just going around town on big bikes and finding drops was my favorite thing to do. And then it kind of turned into - if you wanted to do well you had to focus on the dirt jump competitions. There are all sorts of jams, Sea Otter had a jam, there were jams everywhere so I transitioned into riding dirt jumps which lead me to slopestyle. I came around full circle. I still like riding dirt jumps and slopestyle and trail - I like riding everything, but I think freeride is cool to take slopestyle tricks that you know how to do and work on stuff and take it to the big bike. I think the ultimate way to show the legitimacy of our sport is to take it to the big mountain side and do the tricks you do on a slope bike on a big bike and to take it to the big mountain terrain. The big mountain stuff is the biggest and the baddest and the most fun.
It's just a good way to express the way you ride in a big terrain environment. It's the best for me.