Photo Story: An Oasis of Perfectly-Sculpted Jumps in California

Feb 26, 2020
by Brian Plunkett  
Sam testing out his massive drop which led to a split scrotum.



California has some of the best year-round weather, plenty of elevation, and tons of different types of terrain, which should make it a freeride mecca. The problem is those variables have brought in millions of people, which in turn has led to billions of dollars in development. Conservation groups try to protect whatever natural land is left, which also leads to limited access for bikes. Even with all that in play, the reality is most bikers either lack the skill or the gumption to ride most ‘freeride’ lines anyway. Us mere mortals clamor to watch Rampage or Fest Series as the best in the world throw down feats that often seem impossible. After Rampage, we may all become a bit courageous and send a drop bigger than we usually would or possibly find the gnarliest trail around to satisfy our desire to ride like the pros. However, if we are being honest, even riding at our best, we do not look half as good, or ride stuff half as difficult as those same pros riding at their worst.

Sam Mercado and I 'met' through social media after I ended up riding with one of his friends. He posted a story of a ridiculous jump and I immediately started inquiring where such a thing could exist in our neck of the woods. After some back and forth, I asked if I could photograph him and his jumps. I have been shooting mountain bikes pretty seriously for a few years and always look for new spots to shoot. I thought it would be fun to hang out and see someone send these behemoths. After a few weeks of planning, we settled on a day to get together. Sam sent me an address of where to park and a general idea of where to go to find his little oasis. When I started to get close to the address, it began to make sense how these jumps are able to exist. Let's just say this area is not the glamorous side of town. California is truly unique in its ability to go from multi-million dollar homes to homeless encampments all within one short drive. After I parked, I squeezed past a few angry dogs and tried to get my bearings. I had to message Sam to ask where I should actually go once I parked, with the build tucked behind some hills as to not be seen from the street. I hiked back for ten to fifteen minutes, past a large homeless encampment (Sam has actually befriended one of the guys that lives there), some graffiti, and a whole lot of trash towards his jumps. The size was even larger than I expected, and the sculpting of the jumps even better than I could have imagined.


The road to freeride in California...

Sam watering his perfectly sculpted lips and landings, look at the massive step up hip jump that connects the two parts of his main line!


Sam meticulously blocks off his jumps to stop moto riders in the area from hitting them - he also builds drainage before each storm to ensure his lips aren't destroyed and them fills them in before sending his jumps.


Sam with his YT Tues 27.5 frame rolling on 26" wheels, painted black, and a spoke or two tied together in the back

As I walked up, Sam was already carrying Home Depot buckets about, watering down the take offs and landings for each hit. He greeted me with a smile and offered me a banana in case I had missed breakfast. We talked while he prepped. I barraged Sam with a litany of questions: where he worked, his background, his bike, his personal life and Sam obliged me with answers to everything I wanted to know. The funny thing is the answers could not have been more simple. Sam does not have a girlfriend or a family, he does not have any other hobbies, he does not worry about politics or read the news, he does not fret over e-bikes or what athlete signed with which team. Sam's life basically consists of three things: he works in construction, he builds trails, and he rides.

Sam in his element


Honestly, it was hard to believe the whole thing was real, like a mirage in the desert I found myself skeptical. Yet, this was no mirage, the jumps were very real, and Sam is as authentic as they come. It is just jarring to come into contact with someone that lives in your community, but has established a life so contrary to your own. Almost like a sort of domestic culture shock, I found myself trying to make sense of it all. I could not believe the simplicity he had created within his life, or the joy he had found in building and riding his jumps day in and day out. Often building at 4 AM before going to work for ten plus hours, or heading out to the spot AFTER working ten hours, Sam has put in thousands of hours into his creations. I asked if he ever gets tired and he stated he is often exhausted after work but building jumps re-energizes him. Sam's level of commitment to his jumps would make most couples jealous.

Sam has not built one freeride area, but has multiple spots all over town. The craftsmanship is Rampage-level, but all done by one man carrying up each sandbag and sculpting each feature. Each line includes an array of hits that all link up. On top of top-level craftsmanship, there is also some real creativity in creating unique features like a giant step up 180* hip jump, an off-center jump where you take off and yank the bike to the side to land off-center, some really clever natural rock chutes, perfect step-downs to pick up speed, step-ups to scrub speed, and the list goes on. I have never seen someone with the vision, craftsmanship, bike skills, time, effort, and courage to build and send such an array of gnarly features. The photos below encapsulate only a portion of the empire Sam has built.

Sam's 'Squirrel Catcher' feature

Sam sending his perfectly sculpted shark fin

Sam's moon booter, full speed, full send

Sam's Rampage-style canyon gap - these might be the biggest jumps in the state and almost no one knows about them

The feature that precedes the canyon gap to gauge speed

One of the more unique jumps; a massive step up hip that links the two halves of his lines together

The off-center landing allows Sam to yank the bike sideways off the lip - look at how perfectly that landing is put together

Couldn't truly call it freeride if it were only massive jumps!

Another unique hit integrating this amazing artwork into a technical drop which includes a very narrow rock spine run in

Always difficult to capture the true size of these things, shot on the left for the style, shot on the right for the perspective - look at the landing and take off in the background of the 180 hip jump

Endless features litter this trail - the views on this one are pretty spectacular

Don't forget about some epic berms - ones you can rail so hard you pop out of them!

Even the features he considers 'little' aren't small!

The boy can throw some style in there - came out of nowhere with the tuck no hander

In a world where we often only celebrate those who achieve between the tape, I think for me it was important to remember the point of this whole thing: to have fun and create meaningful memories. Sam has gone all in on making everyday fun, creating memories, and pushing himself to prioritize his passion instead of filling his life with other things. It has motivated me to get out and ride, but more importantly, to enjoy my rides instead of worrying about the small stuff. I get caught up in worrying about the components on my bike, or hating on e-bikes when they zoom by, but in the end it is just making me more miserable. Heck, Sam ties his spokes together when they break and keeps having fun. Why am I sweating the small stuff? Even if you aren't ready to sell it all and ride all day, it is a healthy reminder to check your priorities. It was for me. We often uphold value based on monetary or competitive success, but is that really what makes something worthy of praise? I'm not so certain.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to thank Sam for letting me come out and photograph him and his work. I know he was apprehensive at first, but I hope he is proud of our work together. I also hope he gets the opportunity he truly deserves: to be a full-time professional trail builder. Sam still lays concrete more than 10 hours a day despite the fact he is probably the best builder in the state (at the very least). Carson Storch, Darren Berrecloth, Thomas Genon, and Brian Lopes all have photos or edits using his jumps, clearly showing the quality of his work. He has built at Rampage twice: once for Logan Binggeli and last year for Thomas Genon. Out of all of the cruddy stuff we use social media for I think it would be awesome if putting Sam's name out there allowed him to follow his passion as a full-time gig.


152 Comments

  • 160 7
 The funny thing about this is I bet the litter all over the place is more legal than the sculpture jumps that he built.
  • 63 0
 And jumps have been known to cause cancer in the state of California.
  • 28 2
 You are 100% correct. He is more likely to be in legal trouble than the homeless that are around his area
  • 16 0
 @dynamatt: yeah 2 guys just got busted in Marin, CA making trails and they are saying they did $72k in damages which they want them to pay
  • 5 0
 @dynamatt: Wait, so I can or can not defecate in the center of this trail? If I am homeless I can but if not I cant?
  • 2 0
 Sad but true.
  • 15 0
 @asmtb: It's crazy that the birthplace of mtb is so anti-mtb.
  • 2 0
 There just isn't any point in going after homeless people because they have nothing, there is nothing for the police to gain it just makes them and the department look bad so they look the other way. Mountain bikers on the other hand are ripe for the fleecing.
  • 1 0
 @RoadStain: only homeless coyote's and deer.... the struggle is real....
  • 3 0
 @asmtb: meanwhile tollroads and high rise modern day projects goin up everywhere...weve seen helicopters after mtb in Laguna beach w/loud speakers saying stop, blah blah.
And we have several friends whom are local pd whom say thats such a frkn joke
  • 2 1
 @jrocksdh: I think that you may have just offended someone who would never read this site, if they did read this site, but they wont. But, if they did they would be so you should feel terrible.
  • 75 0
 "Sam testing out his massive drop which led to a split scrotum"
It's hurts just reading this.
  • 54 0
 nutty
  • 44 0
 on a positive note, at least it was a massive drop, and not the squirrel catcher that got his nuts.
  • 14 1
 also, how can you tease that at the beginning and never mention it again? then again, maybe I don't really want the details, hurt enough reading it the first time
  • 1 1
 Getting the stitches must of been a little awkward.
  • 7 0
 They probably were ready to split from carrying his massive balls. Props to the man who made such a massive earth-working project by himself and owns the skills to make those jumps. The world needs more Sams.
  • 1 1
 I instinctively cringed, tucked and crossed my legs when I read this. Maybe this is why there is no video, as a split scrotum (massive or not), is not something you want to film...even PB may lose some viewers?

This sounds like it could be a career ending injury for many people, so we must give credit to Sam for even getting back on his bike, let alone hitting massive drops and gaps again.

Ouch, even after surgery, would it not hurt to even sit on a bike seat?

I wonder if the "split scrotum" has anything to do with him not having a girlfriend...
  • 2 0
 Two words you never want to see next to each other
  • 3 0
 @Geochemistry: yes it does, and he is one of the kindest and humble individuals I've ever met
  • 2 0
 #RoughAFSmile Long Live Lund Like Sends!
  • 56 2
 #26aintdead my friends!!!
  • 6 1
 That's all I got ! :-)
  • 5 1
 It should live on forever in a few kinds of bikes: Dirt jumpers, older kids bikes, freeride. At least I hope so Smile
  • 4 0
 Sam is an awesome dude, ive met him a few times and hes super humble. Also his suspension is FREAKING stiff!
  • 7 5
 SUCK IT 29ERS
  • 30 0
 Sammy is the man. I think he works 8+ hrs a day sometimes & then builds. A human excavator.
  • 5 1
 Dude is a different breed, unbelievable what he accomplishes.
  • 36 2
 @rewob I'm pretty sure that's specifically addressed in the print above. You know, the stuff between the pictures.
  • 3 1
 Ye, it says 10 hour shifts then he rides
  • 2 0
 That'S massive!!! I wonder where he digs all the dirt from?!?
  • 1 0
 @yoobee: Great question that I share! Looking at the background, I don't see any large disturbed areas. Perhaps it's like a Shawshank Redemption in reverse.
  • 2 0
 @pdxkid: Haha! Yeah, maybe there's lots of tunnels in the area now Big Grin Is it near the mexican border? lol
  • 2 0
 Respect. Everyone wants to ride, no one wants to dig.
  • 2 0
 @pdxkid: I didn't read to be honest. I just know him.
  • 24 0
 Hell of an opening caption... nothing like starting an article with sympathetic testicular discomfort
  • 3 0
 'sympathetic testicular discomfort' hell of a metal band name
  • 21 1
 I would "perfectly sculpt" each of those landings with my face.
  • 14 1
 we all need more people like him which means we all need to be more like him
  • 11 1
 Wow that's awesome!
  • 7 0
 Dude come down here and ride em and I'll shoot the photos. Love your YouTube stuff man.
  • 6 0
 @shreddyshots: Thanks a lot! Would love to check that out one day!
  • 3 0
 @remymetailler: reach out to me on here or insta if you ever seriously want to link up.
  • 1 0
 @shreddyshots: make this happen!
  • 5 1
 @shreddyshots: Awesome shots and great read!
Seeing this in person is just insane and as great as the shots are, they still don't do these hand built jumps justice! You the man Sammy (and his side kick Rob :-) )
  • 3 0
 I’ve know Sammy for a few years and I’m so stoked that his finally getting the recognition he deserves.. @shreddyshots thanks for the article on sam and mentioning my boy Rob as well who’s always chasing Sammy on those massive jumps while Im just spectating from the sidelines wishing my balls were as big as there’s lol ???? please follow them on IG to see some awesome projects he has planned .
  • 6 0
 There is so much awesome in every part of this article. Top work lads.
  • 4 0
 Thank you so much, first article on pinkbike so I really appreciate the positive feedback.
  • 4 0
 This is probably the best article I have ever read on here! Tastefully done and it highlights a cool person in our sport. Thank you.
  • 2 0
 Dude that means a lot man, my first article ever on here haha. So weird seeing your work on pinkbike. I'm a full time school teacher so this is just a side gig.
  • 5 1
 So much respect for the quality and dedication!
I'm curious about the legalities here. This is all illegal work?
  • 4 1
 If it is illegal, PB just advised the authorities who did it?
  • 1 0
 We can assume, that he doesn’t to own the land.... He might but that’s not mentioned. So whoever the owner is could file a lawsuit against him for damages. Or worse if it’s state owned they will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. Trespassing/ etc
  • 2 1
 @dynamatt: Thanks, yeh I'm wondering how likely it is for the state to take action. I'm also wondering how concerned the builder is, this is a massive investment on his part. We have a mixture of crown land, and conservation lands that make up our trail assets. There's officially no tolerance for illegal building, but in reality nobody is there to take action. It falls on the local trail associations to manage anything that could pose an issue for our land owners/partners. There's little-to-no land were this kind of building can happen - unfortunately.
  • 2 3
 @Silocycle: it's in a mountain area that no one goes to bedsides homeless ppl. The legal obligations to prosecute him for building would be stupid. Many ppl build jumps all over the state.
What your saying is that any local trail that has jumps on it, if u build it. You can go to jail.
  • 6 1
 It's not legal, and it shouldn't be an article. Beautiful jumps, dumb idea to splash it on the most popular mtb website.
  • 1 0
 @SaVriding: I'm not making any claims about this scenario - just interested what it's like for builders in that neck of the woods. Again, this guy's work is next level. Respect.
  • 1 0
 This guy is as pure as MTB gets. Every video I've seen him in he is 100% committed, all in, happier than ever when he's sending his own lines and probably even happier when towing people in and helping people progress. Like the article says, more people should idolize this guy than the famous youtubers or top 5 or 10 in the world riders.
  • 5 1
 A split scrotum?? Oh man.
  • 8 2
 Had to carry a friend 100+ yards to get help back in the day, one testicle hanging out ! ( '80s BMX Uni Seat, boxers and loose shorts not a good combo ! ) Got rid of my Uni immediately !!!
  • 4 0
 I guess that proves he only has metaphorical balls of steel.
  • 5 0
 @bigtim: If you have balls as big as Sam, they’re going to catch from time to time. Those jumps are massive.
  • 11 1
 @ATV25: That's why it is called the Uni
  • 2 0
 @DMAC65: LOL
  • 1 0
 thought I did something similar when first started riding 29ers. Was scared to even look
  • 5 1
 The spirit of freeride is still alive
  • 3 0
 Good story. More of this. More of builders and the people behind the scenes in general.
  • 1 0
 Thanks for the support man, Sammy is such a unique guy, stoked to get his name out there.
  • 6 2
 E bikes are worth hating not a waste of time at all
  • 1 0
 Hahaha thanks man that cracked me up.
  • 2 1
 Come build in the Midwest. Weather isn't SoCal, but you can ride year round. Plenty of rock, terrain, and money. There are several trail companies, here's one doing great work www.rocksolidtrails.com/join
  • 1 0
 he wants to build big ass jumps, working for a trail company usually just means blue flow everday
  • 1 0
 @luckynugget: You haven't seen Rock Solid's work apparently...
  • 5 1
 Dude is a badass!
  • 6 4
 I want to trade Yorkshire for California more than anything. Who do I have to kill?
  • 4 0
 You don’t have to kill, you have to marry a Californian ;-)
  • 19 0
 @Dabbo: And, conveniently, there’s a homeless camp in walking distance of the jumps. Plenty of eligible ladies for @TommyNunchuck to chose from.
  • 4 1
 @TommyNunchuck It's definitely all it's cracked up to be. There are many reasons why so many people are leaving California. And if you like green grass, forget it - majority of California is a desert.

Anybody that downvotes me, I dare you to attempt to prove me wrong. Lifetime CA resident with a career in the irrigation industry.
  • 1 0
 @tmadison12: Hell, even the coast has cactus.
  • 1 0
 It’s an honor to have known Sammy this long and watched him progress. Atta boy. Keep killing it ????????????????????????????????
  • 3 0
 great write-up and photos. a truly enjoyable read.
  • 1 0
 Thanks man! Took me forever with a full time gig and a little kid. Feels good to share it with everyone. Can only imagine how many hours Sam has spent building.
  • 4 0
 This guy is a legend
  • 1 0
 Sam's a cool guy. Rode with him a couple times. He was always talking about the big hits he was building on his trail. I had no idea...
  • 1 0
 Sammy it’s a beast there it’s a lot of people who don’t know how hard it’s for hem to build on those conditions!!! Keep it up real brotha!!
  • 3 1
 Sick! dude is a legend! I love that he just put 26in wheels on his bike
  • 2 0
 Those jumps should live in perpetuity. They are true works of art.
  • 3 0
 fucking incredible
  • 2 0
 Good lord those are manicured! Please send us video.
  • 2 0
 @jewpowered: I just looked at your username and died laughing. So good dude.
  • 2 0
 @shreddyshots: it's kosher, i started using it after being subject to some ridicule for calling one of my cars a Jew Build, guess I should have said it had chutzpah.

Also I am bad at usernames
  • 1 0
 @Lone-Wolf-Productions: Anything to support Sammy, a saint of socal freeride
  • 2 0
 First article on front page?! Hope to do a photo shoot with you one day!
  • 1 0
 Yeah it is man, thank you for the support man. Are you really in YL too?
  • 1 1
 @shreddyshots: Yea i am actually. I have been building some jumps in the dry lakebed
  • 2 0
 Just waiting for Wil White to chime in....
  • 2 0
 Awesome work. Inspiring to say the least
  • 2 1
 This is such a cool article, Im a cali boy and wanted to know if this is NorCal or SoCal?
  • 3 1
 SoCal... i believe the snow capped mountains in the background of one of the shots is of Baldy.
  • 2 0
 He made the jumps by himself?
  • 1 0
 All the bond funds go towards hiking trails ,to midpensula to buy land then put up trespassing signs for bicycles
  • 2 1
 This is the essence of freeride
  • 2 1
 R.A.D! reminds me of a local BMX builder Stoney
  • 2 0
 This is awesome!
  • 1 0
 @man4sure interesting and distressing all at the same time. Frown
  • 1 0
 Cheers Sam! @shirebuilt hiring?!
  • 1 0
 These are art sculptures that only a select few can slay .
  • 1 0
 Where is the edit? We need footage!!! Already jonesing for RAMPAGE 2020!!!
  • 1 0
 f*ck yeah Sammy @rocksdirtand.bones!
  • 1 0
 WHERE'S THE VIDEO!!!!!??????!
  • 1 0
 And I thought my neighbors' was well manicured.
  • 1 0
 Keep doing what youre doing Sammy #RideLoco
  • 2 0
 Same the man!
  • 2 0
 Sam*
  • 1 1
 Fight with the motos on the dirt, hold hands in city council meetings (at least in cali). Hilarious
  • 1 0
 #2650B
  • 1 0
 YES SAMMY!!!
  • 1 0
 Brilliant!
  • 1 0
 Amazing!
  • 1 1
 GoPro vidéo needed!!!
  • 10 0
 Go on Instagram @rocksdirtand.bones
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