Vero SandlerVision represents a bit of a landmark for freeride mountain bike films - it's the first one to centre around the story of a woman. Except, Veronique Sandler, its protagonist, doesn't want you to see it like that. She says, "For me personally, raising the bar for women in action sport is not about separation, it is about earning our place alongside the best in the game... It is important to me to drive inclusivity at the top of our sport and earn our equal place through skill, passion and determination, both on the bike and with a shovel in hand."
As a result, her film is hugely inclusive of all riders. From revisiting Brendan Fairclough's Madeira Deathgrip line with the man himself to taking Joey Gough on her maiden visit to La Poma Bike Park, Vero travels around some of the most iconic spots in mountain biking to end up at Revolution Bike Park, with her dream line built and some of the world's best riders shredding it together. The finale sees riders as varied as Casey Brown, Kade Edwards, Matt Jones, Steve Peat and many more all enjoying a massive session on the huge freeride line. We caught up with Vero to find out how she went from World Cup hopeful to Instagram dominator to landing a starring role in her own film.
The story starts with you falling out of love with racing. Can you talk through the reasons you stopped racing?
I started riding when I was 14 and obviously the only thing to do back then was race really. So I started racing locally and then nationally and then when I was in my second-year juniors I came overseas to race Worlds at Champery in 2011.
Talk about a trial by fire!
Yeah, it was straight into it. It was sick but gnarly times for sure. It was amazing so I wanted to come back over after I finished school. I started working a lot and saved up enough money to come back over. We were just a crew of Kiwis, cruising around in a van, racing World Cups and I did that for five or six years. I was like, “oh, I'll do a year of that and then go to uni” but it was so addictive and I had so much fun I sacked uni off just did that.
I think I got progressively better over the first couple of years and then I got to a point where I wasn't really progressing with my results. I was stuck around the tenth to fifteenth mark and it was frustrating. I didn't have any pressure from sponsors, because I didn't have any, but I had high expectations of myself to improve my results at each race but it just wasn't happening.
Why do you think that was?
I've never really had that race head that people have. I get really nervous in the start gate and I feel like I lose all my skills all of a sudden. I’ve never been able to put it together in my race run and that's something that was really frustrating. I've worked on a lot of different things to try and get over that but everything I tried didn't really work
Obviously, it was still fun being at the races but I definitely really wanted to do better than I was doing. It was also quite frustrating because I was working really hard to do something that wasn't really giving back to me.
So I was taking a step back from racing and just riding to have fun. I started riding with my friends, having a good time and sessioning stuff with my friends, rather than riding the trails as fast as I can to improve at the next race. My riding progressed a lot more than it ever has through racing, my skills really went through the roof and I started making little videos on Instagram and people were stoked on it I think.
Jamie from Wideopen hooked me up as a media rider and I guess there aren't many girls that do that sort of thing so I started getting more and more emails from people, which was sick. When I was racing, I'd email people like, “Yo, can you sponsor me?” and no one was keen and suddenly people were hitting me up, it was awesome.
So you didn't necessarily quit racing as a "career move"?
No, not at all, I didn't even think it was an option to be honest. I just knew that racing wasn't really that fun for me anymore and there wasn't really that much point doing that same thing year in year out so I took a step back from it all and it came naturally. Yeah, I never thought I'd be riding professionally at all and it's just fallen into place, it's sick.
You talk about the stresses of being a World Cup racer but there must be stresses that come with having a big social following too.
I don't really feel pressure there. I genuinely never feel like Instagram is stressing me out because I really enjoy creating content to post on there. People get really wound up over the whole algorithm but I genuinely don't even know what an algorithm is. People were trying to explain it to me and I still don't really understand.
I just go out and ride most days and if there's something cool that I end up getting a video of I'll post it. It doesn't stress me out , which is cool. I can see how it does happen to some people but I just really enjoy it
There are definitely negative sides to Instagram, like it makes people's lives look way better than they are blah blah blah, but I don't really change up anything I do for it so it doesn't have any negative effects for me.
I have noticed that the more followers you have, the more negativity you have as well. I find it quite funny to be honest because every now and then I'll get some negative comments about something that just makes me think, “what are these people thinking?”
I've had a couple of complaints for pulling the fingers or something in an Instagram photo and that makes me think you have to act a bit more professional when you grow your following, but it's kind of annoying because you want to be yourself on Insta. It’s a fine line and I'm still learning where that fine line is.
How did the Vision film come about, was it something you pitched to Adidas?
CJ, my team manager at Adidas, spoke about doing a video together. I thought it would be a normal edit like I usually do, 2 to 3 minutes long, me probably in a random field, building a couple of jumps with a spade but every time we spoke about it, the scale went up and up and before we knew it, it was an insane idea and I wasn't going to say no to any of it.
How important was it for the line to be open for the public after the film is released?
It was the most important aspect of the whole thing for sure. It's so cool to see the Deathgrip line but almost sad to see the state it's in. It's such an iconic spot and so many people say it's the best thing ever, and then you go and it's like “what's happened to it”? You can tell how many people would be able to enjoy it and have the best time if it was maintained so the biggest factor was building something that people could ride and enjoy.
You're keen for this not to be viewed as a women's film, it's all about bunches of people riding together...
Yeah for sure, obviously it's a touchy topic still people are very opinionated about it but I'm strongly of the opinion that we're all just people riding bikes and there doesn't have to be any segregation or even any labels put on anything. So many women out there say it's intimidating riding with the guys but if they didn't have the view that there are guys and girls, it would just be so much more chill I reckon.
It's a tough one but I think the way forward to push the women's side of it is to prove that we can ride with the guys, we can do the same stuff and we can have just as much fun riding big jumps. Hopefully, it just encourages more guys to ride with girls and more girls to ride with guys and everyone to just ride together, have a sick time and not worry about who's who and stuff like that.
You can tell watching the final segment, you can feel the progression.
Yeah, Tahnee, Vaea and Casey all did their first suicides it was so sick. They all just dropped in and did them in a train. It was so sick, so cool.
Did you learn to flip as well?
Ah, this is a touchy topic. I really wanted to learn a flip for the video but it was such a busy time filming I just had no time to learn one basically. I'd been to the foam pit a few times and done some sketchy ones on my jump bike and I was thinking on the last day I'd just go for it in case some miracle came round.
When I crashed, I sacrificed everything, it’s almost like in protecting myself I subconsciously landed on my head because I didn’t want to break any arms or anything so my head took some big hits. Learning to crash safely is also a big part of progression and something I have to work on. I definitely needed some practice and then a couple of weeks later I went and did one on a different jump on my jump bike just to prove to myself I could. I really wanted to use it for the film but it didn't tie in properly so they didn't use the footage but I'm going to have to use it for something, it's pretty gnarly.
I spoke to Martin Soderstrom and he was like, that wasn't the best jump to try on so that was good to know but it was good to have done it anyway. I was so gutted to not have done it for the film. I know next time I'll need to put some proper hours into it.
What's your favourite part of the film?
I really like the home section in Wales, which I thought was going to be the worst one because we filmed it in a really short period of time and none of the trails were in really good condition. But the vibes that were brought out and the energy of that section is just really cool and quite special to me.Edit:
Article updated to clarify Vero's comments on crashing.