We caught up with Cam following his Squamish #VWadventure to chat with him about everything from fatherhood to career transitions, and from being an announcer to making the most of a snowstorm with the help of a pallet fire. One thing we know we can always count on Cam for is to be entertaining... So, who is Cam McCaul these days?
A dude. One person calls me her husband, two call me their dad, most call me a bike rider, and now some call me a blabbermouth who likes holding microphones and talking to cameras.
We understand that you wrapped up your 2016 season with a little road trip in British Columbia. Have you had any time to reflect on this past season?
|I care a lot about freeride mountain biking and I just want to contribute what I can where it makes sense.|
This year has been a total blur. I had to look back in my calendar to remember what happened so I could answer this question. I was gone for 148 days out of 365. Bullet points: a month in Spain shooting for Not2Bad, seven episodes of hosting a TV show called 'Locals' on OutsideTV, a bunch of live event announcing (three Crankworx events, Rampage, Colorado Freeride Fest, a downhill ice skate race, etc.), some more video shoots, product launches and sales meetings for sponsors and, oh yeah… we had our second daughter in August. Phew. Crazy year.
How has your career transition been? Do you miss competing and performing, or is commentating/announcing just as challenging?
|When they first handed me the keys I was thinking, 'they have no idea how sketchy I am in a car... this is a bad idea and they don't even realize it.|
It’s challenging in its own way. The one thing I always loved about competing was the rush of having to perform under pressure. You get nervous, you go for it, and you either blow it or you land it. It’s like the opposite of drinking and then having a hangover. The uncomfortable and torturous part comes first, then you get a rush of adrenaline if it goes well. Live event commentating is the same way. You only get one chance to make the jumbled mess of thoughts and words in your head come out right, and if you blow it, that’s it. You don’t get a second run. As far as missing competing, thankfully I don’t. I did it for twelve full seasons, and I feel like it taught me a lot - how to be diligent, patient, the importance of good work ethic, how to manage risk, etc. All of those things help in life no matter what direction you go. With that said, I still have the desire to push myself as a rider, but the competition realm doesn’t feel like the right place anymore. I like to mix the tricks of slopestyle with unique terrain. Doing hard tricks on weird natural features is what I’m passionate about; as a result, it’s the realm where I feel comfortable risking my safety and well-being. I care a lot about freeride mountain biking, and I just want to contribute what I can where it makes sense. What inspired you to head to Squamish for this Volkswagen gig?
I had a couple of different ideas for the road trip, and the Squamish one was the one that stuck. It’s a place I feel like I’ve never properly experienced, even though I’ve done a few film shoots there and I’ve driven through it at least once, sometimes twice a year for the last fourteen years. I really enjoy the old school, technical style trails that are hidden in those woods, and I’ve always wanted an excuse to ride them. Also, for this project there needed to be a lot of driving shots in the VWSportwagen using the 4Motion, so the dirt logging roads in Squamish seemed pretty appealing. In what way do you think we can expose mainstream audiences to mountain biking so that they'll want to get involved, or do you think we should even be doing that?
My goal, anytime I've had an opportunity to film something, whether it's positioned toward the mountain bike world or something outside the mountain bike world, is to try and entertain. But I also try to spread mountain biking; it's in everybody's best interest if they're in the mountain bike industry. Even though it's nice to have your isolation in the woods, that's one thing that is really important about mountain biking, but it also feels pretty good to share this little secret with people. It's something that can really enhance people's lives, so I definetly don't think that we should ever have the surf mentality of 'these are my waves; surfing isn't fun so don't try it.' I think that spreading mountain biking is a good thing because there aren't really limited resources like waves. You can build your own resources; you can go out and build trails. And it's something that, unlike surfing where a wave breaks once and you want to be the only person on it, and if anyone else is there it's just messing up your ride, going riding with other people and your friends actually enhances your ride.
So you have the opportunity to get to know people and, you know, get the blood flowing. So I do always want to try to be the Johnny Appleseed and try to share our thing. Entertaining the mountain bike core audience is obviously important if that's an option, but then if something is more focused toward a non-endemic audience, the goal is to make mountain biking look fun and hopefully encourage some more people to give it a whirl. What was it about being involved with VW that made sense to you in this respect?
When they approached me, it was like ''Hey, we want to shoot a video,'' and right there, whenever I hear that I always perk up because I'm always looking for opportunities to make some ideas come to life. It's expensive to pay for a production crew, so it's hard to bring those ideas to life. And when one idea I had for a long time was to revisit the river gap in Squamish because, when we shot that thing back in 2008, I had a couple of tricks that I just didn't get to. We only had one afternoon to shoot it, and I really wanted to flip it and super-flip it, but those things take time to work up to; you can't just drop in first-go and hit your ideal trick. The light set and the crew had to be at the next location the next day, so that's one thing that had always been sitting in the back of my mind for eight years, to go back and get those tricks on that gap. And so, when VW came to me with this opportunity to shoot somewhere in Canada and to use the car as a way to get to these locations, I submitted a handful of different ideas. One of them was to go back to that river gap, and I knew the dirt roads in Squamish would be a great way to use the car and get some good footage, and then it would also give me a chance to go back and shoot that gap.
That was the working plan, and then, about a week before we showed up, I got word that the gap had perished. So I'm going ''Wow, I guess that the real focal point of the story isn't going to be possible. But there are so many great trails in Squamish that we'll just make a killer riding video.'' I wanted to hit all the tech stuff, the old trails that are super challenging to ride, but also get some good variety. So we'd have this riding video where we'd sample all that Squamish is. So we're like, ''Alright, cool, that's still a solid plan,'' but then we showed up and it was this massive snow storm, and the only trails that we could ride were the stuff really low down, so we had to shoot only the bottoms of the trails. But, at the end of the day, it ended up changing the tone of the whole thing from being this really goal-oriented, focused thing, to being how mountain biking is sometimes. You can't control the weather; you're riding in the mountains; you show up somewhere and you have an idea, but you might get rain, or you might get snow, or you might get wind. And that's an important theme to have, whether you're on a film trip or just a fun riding trip with your friends. You know, just eat the plate that you're served and try to have fun in whatever conditions you're dealt. You know, even though I had high aspirations of sending some tricks on this big gap, it was kinda cool to bring it back to what it's all about at the end of the day, which is riding trails regardless of the conditions and having some laughs with your friends. Was it fun getting loose on those snowy backroads?
First of all, I’m not much of a driver... I’ve spent more time on two wheels than four, and it shows. I realized when I rolled my first car that maybe I should leave the recreational drifting to my bike, but it's been ten years since I rolled that car and it was time to get back on the horse. The VW made it easy for me to drive above my ability level and, before long, I was getting into some nice drifts. I started to be able to pick lines on the road with the drift in mind. I got to the point where I was really enjoying ripping those gravel roads, but when they first handed me the keys I was thinking, ''they have no idea how sketchy I am in a car... this is a bad idea and they don’t even realize it.''
I think it’s dialed because as a dad you need to be a little bit of a chameleon and adapt to your surroundings and circumstances. One minute, I’ll be wearing mouse ears and singing the 'Mickey’s Clubhouse' theme song with my 3-year-old and the next I may be getting psyched to flip whip a stepdown. You start living these double roles that can coexist together if you handle it right. You gotta have a car that can do the same. A safe, stylish vehicle that can get the kids to school on time is a necessity, but wouldn’t it be great if that same vehicle is also right at home with a couple of bikes on the roof or drifting a gravel corner?
And there's a Fender sound system in the car? Why is it important to have an awesome sound system in your ride?
|One minute, I'll be wearing mouse ears and singing the 'Mickey's Clubhouse' theme song with my three-year-old, and the next I may be getting psyched to flipwhip a stepdown.|
That Fender logo was the first thing I noticed when I hopped in the car; it was a good first impression. Because I would rather be late or lost than have to drive without my tunes. Volume, tone, dynamics are all priorities! From the photos, it looks like you had all the epic road trip ingredients from poor weather conditions to trees across the road to a pallet fire. What was the highlight in all of it?
In the main video, you see us riding on brown dirt, but that was like 5% of what the riding was like on this trip. The first morning we looked out the window and it was a full on snowstorm. We rode a ton of stuff where you couldn’t see the trail at all, and it ended up being a blast. You’d lose control every five seconds and have to figure out how to save it. My favorite memory is following Fraser off the lip of a stepdown, having no clue where the landing was or if there would be something to case. There was a heavy snow-filled branch hanging low that we both smashed our faces on while in the air, so now we couldn’t even see when we were going to land. We ended up landing fine, but that moment of being double blinded in the air was awesome! Do you have a favorite trail in Squamish?
A long time ago, and this is a really cool memory that I'll hold onto forever, we go to drop into 19th Hole with my brother and Stevie Smith. So that was the one trail ride I had done in Squamish before this shoot, and that was kind of a little tease, just a taste, and why I wanted to come back and try all the other rugged and raw stuff. But that was back in 2011, and the top was snowy as well because that trail starts out high, so we dropped in with the snow behind Stevie and, you know, trying to keep up with him while roosting around in the snow is something I'll never forget. If you got to do this trip again, where would you go next?
Part of the deal for this trip was that it had to take place in Canada, so another town on the list was Kamloops. Same situation; I was there years ago for a shoot but never got a chance to go for a real ride. There are a ton more dirt jumps and freeride features there now too, and I’d love to hit it all up... maybe some day. Moving on to the state of slope style, it seems somewhat disjointed, with different types of marque events and different series spread all over the place. Do you feel like this type of mixed blend helps or hurts the sport?
I've always felt that it's a really huge benefit for slope style to have had ski, snowboard, BMX, and freestyle moto all come before so we can hopefully learn things from those sports. We kind of draw from each one of those in different ways, but yeah, I do think it's at a crossroads right now. It's found its voice; everybody knows what slope style is, but at what point will it become monotonous? When all the courses are super similar, everyone is riding the same line, is it straying from the original vision of slope style where people were picking different lines? I remember, back in the day, the slope course would be built in Whistler and people would always be talking about one or two different features or certain transfers. You know, ''Who's going to hit that? Do you think that will get it?'' And then, at the end of the event, you'd be thinking that you didn't think it would get hit and, second of all, I didn't think anyone could do that trick on that feature. That was always really exciting about slope style but, for a sport to grow, it kind of seems like it's necessary for there to be some constant from event to event. There was a period of time when that was necessary, and you'd have your marquee features, your flat drops, kicker drops, cannon logs, your step-up trick jumps, and that gave slope style its voice. There's obviously more people and events than ever, and the FMB has given structure to it which, people can say what they want about the FMB, but you can look at a lot of sports that had no governing body or structure to it, and a lot of those sports whither away. There'd be no ranking system, and it'd be hard for people to spread the sport and for new events to pop up if there isn't some infrastructure for it.
But part of me has always thought that if this thing ever becomes too standardized and, even though the riding level is just going to continue to progress, you don't want it to be the type of sport where you have to be really into it to be able to recognize that progression. There needs to be something where, even if you've never done a bunnyhop barspin before, you can tune into a slope style contest and relate to some aspect of it. If it gets too trick oriented, it's on a path to level out, but you want it to always ramp up. So, what's the answer to that? I think that course design is definitely important, and I feel like all the riders leading the charge right now are so amazing and have the potential to branch out and ride different types of obstacles, and to adapt their tricks to different obstacles. As a spectator now and a fan of the sport, I love the tricks but I'd also love to see some unique features to allow the riders with really broad skill sets to adapt their tricks to those features. What's up next for you? Do you finally get some down time with the family?
Yeah, exactly. I had one more trip after Squamish, and that was an episode of 'Locals' in Austin, Texas, with the BMX rider Chase Hawk, but I’m home now to chill and enjoy the holidays with the wife and kiddos. Probably the longest stretch of home time I’ve had all year, so I’m really enjoying it. My oldest is three, so she’s a blast, and my youngest is four months and starting to smile and giggle at everything, so its great to be home. What bikes are you riding right now?
I have a bit of a quiver. Two Ticket hardtails; one set up as a dirt jumper with single speed and a hydraulic gyro, the other with a free coaster to fool around on. Two Ticket S’s; one set up as a slope bike, the other with XT 11-speed and a dropper post. A Remedy 9.9, which is the one you can see in this article with the XT Di2. Two Session Parks; one set up with a Fox 40 and the other with a single crown and a FloatX2 (the single crown one may be my fave bike ever... it's basically a terrain-capable slope bike.) A Stache (29+ hardtail); never thought I’d have a 29+ but, believe it or not, I absolutely love this bike. Where is your favourite place to ride these days?
Deserts. It doesn’t have to be the standard zones you’ve always heard of. Look out the window when you’re flying in a plane. There are some secret hidden playgrounds down there, and it’s a blast discovering them. How do you spend your time when you’re not riding or announcing?
Hanging with the family and music. I’m obsessed with music. I really love snowboarding, too. I got a split board, and it’s my new favorite thing off the bike. You climb the mountain like you’re on a trail ride, then you surf down a different trail on every run - it’s like the best thing ever. Where are you happiest?
At home in Bend, OR. You can find me there about 217 days a year. Who or what inspires you?
Musicians who do their own thing, the way they hear it in their head. Who are your favourite riders to watch right now?
Nicolas Müller on a snowboard and Kris Foster on a dirt bike.