Bikes, Camera, Action - The Sven and Anka Martin Story

Feb 13, 2017 at 17:04
by Danielle Baker  
Molini Finale Flims
Border hopping by bike between France and Spain.

Anka and Sven Martin spend much of their year managing busy, sometimes opposite, schedules that take them all around the world for racing, photography, and guiding. Managing the balance between their careers and marriage can be tricky, but their passion for bikes and being surrounded by the people they love keeps their motivation high. Now, they have taken on the NZ Enduro - a multi-day enduro stage race that includes natural singletrack and helicopter shuttles on some of their favorite trails in New Zealand.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Sven and Anka about the ins and outs of building a solid and strong relationship, while constantly pursuing their individual and joint goals within the bike industry.

How did you meet? What was the moment that won you over about each other?

Anka: Ha ha, we met in a bar in the small town where I grew up in Somerset West (Cape Town) when I was far too young to be hanging out in a bar - thanks to my older sister for her ID! I noticed this skate punk looking dude with long purple hair and massive baggy pants - he looked so different and that intrigued me. I grew up at the beach with all the stereotypical type surfer dudes.

Sven: I was in Anka’s hometown for a skateboard contest or demo tour with a bunch of other skaters, we went to the local bar and I spotted Anka. I had to move fast (being with a bunch of skaters), so I threw out a lame pick up line and she put up with it. She won me over with her free-spirited nature and love for the outdoors, she surfed a lot back then which was my other favorite pastime so we had something in common to do together on the weekends.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
Backyard backcountry overnight adventures. - Duncan Philpott.
QUEENSTOWN Summer 15 16

From what I've read about you two, it sounds like neither of you was into mountain biking when you met - who brought who into the industry?

Anka: Sven was a pro skater when we met, so needless to say I spent many a weekend watching him skate ramps and heading into the industrial zones of many cities to find certain handrails, stairs, banks, and obstacles to session. Hanging about in any city zone like that over a weekend is pretty dead and depressing, but I knew where to find all the good skate spots. We were living in Huntington Beach at the time and there is a long boardwalk, and I wanted a bike for the boardwalk so I got myself a hardtail and started heading out on the boardwalk. I started noticing little dirt tracks that shot off the boardwalk and that is where my off-road love affair started. It started off with small explorations to where those paths led to, and one day I stumbled upon Sheep Hills, the famous dirt jump spot in So Cal. I watched this amazing girl just killing all the jumps and I was completely hooked. That was so cool. We met and Maxine and I became good friends. She taught me how to ride a mountain bike and started dragging me with her to Big Bear every weekend and entered me into my first race. Not knowing what the difference was between XC and DH, I entered both and won both, so I was hooked. I decided to stick with the DH, as that seemed way easier! Long story short, it took about a year for Sven to be like, hang on, where do you keep heading to every weekend with a bunch of strange dudes in the mountains? He headed up to Big Bear to check out the scene, and then months later I convinced him to buy a Specialized SFR for like $700 - it was so expensive and it took him so long to take the plunge. Biking seemed easy for him coming from skateboarding; he had no fear, but many crashes. But once he got into it, he was hooked and loved racing, and I guess biking started to consume both our lives and we did whatever we needed to do to continue this newfound passion of ours.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
  Woodward West like it's meant to be ridden :-) Backside Smith. - Littermag.

bigquotesNot knowing what the difference was between XC and DH, I entered both and won both, so I was hooked. I decided to stick with the DH, as that seemed way easier!
- Anka

Sven: Soon after Maxine started taking Anka up to Bear Mountain for the weekends I got curious and maybe a little nervous about what she was doing up there with a group of other girls and single guys. I went and watched one weekend and then next time bought a $699 Specialized FSR expert from Superego on sale. Being a sponsored skateboarder and getting everything for free, I thought at the time that it was a crazy amount of money to spend on a bike or on anything actually. Having raced BMX back when I was 9 or 10 I figured it couldn't be too hard. I entered my first DH race in 2000 or 2001. Beginner Sea Otter and some amateur cups in Big Bear with a long 120 mm stem, V- brakes, 3 chainrings, and the stock 1.95 XC tires that came on the bike. But I put some cool thrasher magazine stickers on that bike and it instantly made it much cooler. Pretty soon I became addicted and started skating less (it was brutal on my body) and riding and racing more and more and buying more expensive bikes. A friend, Rob Brown, who ran the first team we were on pretty much taught us everything we needed to know about bike set up, kits, riding, and racing. He was ahead of his time and was dialed. We used to shuttle a ton, Laguna, Santa Barbara, Elsinore, Alpine, and even Crestline and Arrowhead back then and of course, there was Big Bear and Mammoth and all the Norbas we did around the US.

You are both driven and talented people; you run a business (HouseMartin) together as well as traveling around the world independently to race and shoot. How do you stay organized and when do you manage to see each other? Do you ever get to ride together just for fun?

Sven: It’s pretty hectic but it works sort of. It's less than ideal for 5 months between May-October. I’m pretty much booked back to back every weekend. Mondays and Tuesdays are travel and get work out days, so those don't really count as quality time. Luckily though our schedules do overlap half the time during the EWS races the past few years, but then both of us have jobs to do. Luckily between November and March, there is less scheduled work and we can both make our own schedule and this is when we get to do a lot of stuff together. Lots of riding near home (Nelson, NZ) and little road trips in and around NZ.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
  Kill Devil Trail, Golden Bay NZ. -Duncan Philpott.

Anka: This is pretty much the hardest part, trying to schedule and plan our year ahead to make sure we cross paths between events. We try to never go more than 2 weeks without seeing each other and for the most part, that usually works out alright. It’s never an easy task, there are always lots of compromises to be made, and it takes a lot of effort, but that is just what you have to do. Thank God for What’s App - pretty much the only way we stay in touch! January and February is a toughie when you’re waiting on so many other people to confirm dates and make plans, so it’s a big waiting, juggling game, and then when everyone has received confirmation of dates the air tickets have usually doubled up in price - ha! As far as riding together, we do go through spurts of riding together, not as much as we’d like to, but we do manage to make it work somehow and in our offseason.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
  Most of the "epic" trails on the South Island of NZ require a fair bit of hike-bike! - Duncan Philpott.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
  South Island lushness. -Duncan Philpott.

Tell me about HouseMartin and how it came to be.

Anka: A House Martin is a little bird that migrates south for the winters to find warmer climates, and that is what we were doing while living in the USA for many years, always heading south to find warmer weather - that is how the name came about. We started the guiding company after going on a bike safari in Botswana many years ago. We fell in love with it and just had to take people there to experience it. That was the beginning of our guiding company, and then once we moved to New Zealand we really started pushing the guiding trips to show people what and why we fell in love with New Zealand.

Sven: We left Bend Oregon due to the amount of snow during our 'off season,' basically when we had time to ride and chill after the hectic season the weather and snow would come shut us down. It didn’t make sense to live there anymore. So we flew south like the House Martins. After arriving in New Zealand we knew we wanted to plant roots here and also set up something for the future so we wouldn’t have to always leave for work. We have always loved organizing trips and taking people on adventures so we started up HouseMartin here in New Zealand. The best trails here are hard to do by yourself, they are point-to-point and require a lot of logistics and planning and also you have to be reactive to weather and conditions on the day. We also pride ourselves on the small details; the accommodation choice, food, snacks, drinks, and coffees. There's a lot to sample and love out here and then, of course, there is the riding. Each trip is different and depending on the group we tweak the trail choice to make sure everyone is challenged but still has a good time.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
  Home sweet home under the Southern stars. - Duncan Philpott.

With the amount of traveling you both do for work when you do have downtime together do you ever go away on vacation or is it a treat to be home?

Sven: During the season we still try to fit in at least one or two totally new locations each year. That's really what keeps it fun. Last year we squeezed in a few more new trips (well new to us) we rode some new spots in Switzerland and Italy that were mind-blowing, we even for the first time rode the North Shore after driving past it for 14 years. Getting home though is a treat. After functioning on 4-5 hours sleep a night for about 5 months straight I sleep in a lot, read a book every couple of days, get to go surfing a lot, and get stuck in the garden and house for a week or two straight trying to cut back the jungle that has grown while we have been away.

New years Eve 16 17 West Coast NZ. Blowfly Hut and Barn Bay 4x4
  A whole lot of metal and carbon about to take a dip. Crossing the cascade river on one of Jamie Nicoll's 4X4 bike adventures over New Year's eve.

We did a sort of vacation to Botswana with some friends and then to South Africa to visit family before coming back to New Zealand but those felt like whirlwind trips. Not much downtime. Over New Year's a bunch of us left the phones and computers behind for four days and did a 4X4 mission into a remote house on the far South West coast. We didn’t even touch the bikes for four days. That was refreshing - off the grid, no 3G or internet, and no electricity. You really connect with people then and with yourselves.

Botswana Bike Safari. Mashatu
  Anka's Soul Trails Botswana trip.

Anka: We try to be home as much as possible and to explore our backyard. There are still so many hidden gems, trails, huts, hikes, and adventures that we haven’t done, so we try to do one or two new things every year. One of the things that I enjoy most when I’m at home is having a bit of a routine again. The Monday evening yoga class, the Wednesday evening group ride, the Saturday morning market, it sounds funny, but those are the things I miss when I’m on the road, so when we are home, I relish in just being at home. We do head out on little micro adventures every now and then, but generally, I just try to soak up having a normal life.

 during the 2016 Whistler Crankworx
  Anka during this past EWS Whistler.

Samoans France. Round 4 of the EWS Series.
Samoans France. Round 4 of the EWS Series.
Making time each year in Europe for a little exploring and new trails, this time the Hautes-Alpes departement of France.

 during the EWS Finale
  Anka during the last stage of the last EWS race of the year in Finale, Italy.

What is the secret to staying happily married while maintaining often crazy schedules that can take you in opposite directions?

Anka: I think the secret is being content. Doing what you’re passionate about is so important. Supporting each other with whatever those passions are and then making the time to do things away from people. We’re constantly surrounded by people (awesome people), but sometimes you just need to separate yourself and get away. Following your own path is just as important as working together and maintaining your independence is key. You often morph into one person when you’ve been together for so long, so you need to keep doing things that identify you as a person. To me, it’s key to challenge myself and go on solo missions to make sure that I can still cope on my own! Never take each other for granted.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
Serene mid liaison lunch break on one of the trails of the NZ Enduro. - Duncan Philpott.

Sven: Maybe saying no to a few jobs helps. In the past, I’ve been pretty bad at that, but lately for sanity's sake and Anka’s I just have to say no more. Every photo or photo job you take or do takes up so much more time after the fact with the computer and admin side of things that you really have to think hard before accepting one. Even just one more client at an EWS or World Cup will add a few more hours to a day when you are already maxed out working 18-20 hours.

What do you see as some of the pros and cons of working in the same industry?

Sven: We have been lucky to have seen a lot more of the world than we would have without bikes and cameras. We are both lucky that our passions are also our jobs. I think that has to be first; if you are not happy doing what you are doing you aren’t going to be happy in other aspects of life. We have a great group of shared like-minded friends though working in the same industry. The cons are maybe having to make money from the things you love doing. It's a complete contradiction to what I’ve just stated above but sometimes it feels like that too. Another con is that maybe I’m too bike-focussed and I talk too much about bikes or am online too much on bike related sites. Anka doesn’t have that problem, but I do. I'm just a still a bike geek at heart.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
  It's no secret which day is every photographer covering the EWS's favourite day of the week. #mediareccewednesday in Argentina during the Bariloche EWS. -Duncan Philpott.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
The best part of working an EWS race is this! - Lee Trumpore
Those roost shots don't take themselves despite what the commenters may say. - Lee Trumpore.

  Lake Garda, a favourite stopover before or after Val Di Sole each year. - Dan Hearn.

bigquotesI'm just a still a bike geek at heart.
- Sven

Anka: I think it’s great that we both work in the same industry, it’s what we’re both passionate about and at the end of the day, it’s the people we work with that keeps us in this industry. I don’t really see any cons in this one.

In addition to already having a lot on your plates, you've also taken on the NZ Enduro. Why add more to your workload?

Sven: Good question. It has become another full-time job, especially being a first-time event organizer, but the idea when moving here was always to put on a multi-day race like the Trans Provence that our friend Ash does so well. So when the opportunity came up to take over the NZ Enduro that we helped a bit with in the first year, we jumped at it. We love the region and route and the potential to develop it. It's special to us and we wanted to make sure it kept its charm. We are a little quieter this time of the year so the timing worked well for us. That said we will definitely be needing a holiday after this one!

bigquotesWe pretty much fell in love and moved to NZ because of the trails that this race is held on, so this area and the trails hold a very special place in our hearts.
- Anka

QUEENSTOWN Summer 15 16
  Headed way back down and around there for an overnighter in the Kahurangi with Duncan Philpott.

Anka: We pretty much fell in love and moved to NZ because of the trails that this race is held on, so this area and the trails hold a very special place in our hearts. It is a race, yes, but it’s more of an adventure to ride these trails and to race them is just a whole other story. We always wanted to have a race on these trails and spoke about it with a friend of ours here in Nelson. He decided to get the event up and running when we didn’t really have the time for it yet and now two years later, he needed to get out and we decided that it was time to make the time for this event. To sum it up, though, we pretty much don’t have an offseason anymore and it’s become another full-time job! It's a good kind of busy though so I’m not complaining.

After both of you spending so much time around the world racing and shooting, are you excited to be on the other side of things?

Sven: Excited and nervous, yes. The events are of such a high standard these days that you really have to deliver a good experience and this is what we are hoping to do. The trails speak for themselves. Pretty much 100% natural in the most spectacular setting you could imagine. It needs to be relaxed and fun for pros and amateurs alike. No timed liaisons no fixed order and a cold beer or two waiting for you at the end. Three days of racing, a bit of a point-to-point journey taking in the best of an area, pedaling, shuttles, helicopter shuttles, professional timing, and a dedicated media team covering it all.

Nelson Summer 15 16
  Ancient beech forest on the Old Ghost Road.

Anka: It’s been a wonderful challenge and change for me to learn and figure things out on the other side. It’s great to see people get excited about an event and that is what fuels you to keep plotting and planning to make it bigger and better for the overall experience of the riders. We have a lot of plans for the future of the event and now that I won’t be racing full time anymore, I look forward to putting my heart and soul into developing this adventure.

bigquotesWe have a lot of plans for the future of the event and now that I won't be racing full time anymore, I look forward to putting my heart and soul into developing this adventure.
- Anka

What can racers expect from the NZ Enduro this year?

Anka: They can expect a wild and relaxed weekend of adventure-type racing in a beautiful region. The weather can be magical but at the same time a weather bomb could hit, so they should be ready for anything. We’ve really worked hard at making the overall rider experience better and offering them more. We want people to have a fun weekend and yes, it is a race, but it’s more about the journey, about exploring and riding on trails that are not that easily accessed to appreciate the nature and the 'specialness' of the event.

Off season in NZ means packing in as many long overnighter missions as possible. Cathartic after the hectic year of schedules. Heaphy Track.

Sven: We have few route tweaks, some new stages, and modifications, but we will leave those as surprises. We hope to improve the experience every step of the way. More food, more drinks, more shuttles, more toilets, more prizes, more raffle items, and a big surprise racer pack when you register. $345 NZD for a three-day race including helicopter uplift on some of the world's best trails with your buddies is hard to beat.

  The long point to point nature of many of NZ’s best rides requires a bit of planning getting in or out of the trails is an adventure in itself. West Coast, South Island fixed wing taxi.

Mt Starveall Heli drop. Richmond Forest Park.
  Matt is on speed dial for any last minute drop offs for any of Nelsons Epic big descent day rides.

We are most excited about starting up a trail advocacy initiative with NZ Enduro this year. We will be donating 100% of any raffle based fundraising to the trails and area we use in conjunction with the Marlborough MTB club and It's the right thing to do!

You've both lived in a number of places around the world, what made you decide to call New Zealand home?

Anka: We both fell in love with New Zealand, it felt very familiar to us, to where and how we grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. The culture, the people, the systems over here, it just all felt right. We both loved the people and their hospitality and the beauty of the country still blows my mind. I love that there are so few people and the fact that it is still pretty undeveloped. Some things are very forward, but other things just seem like they have stood still in time. The forests here are magical, they are ancient and beautiful and it has some sort of hold on me, I'm almost mesmerized by them. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s true. My main attraction was the beauty and the solitude you get out here.

In New Zealand.
  It all began here. A six-week scouting trip to find a new home in 2010 led to their permanent move less than a year later. Raglan, NZ.

Sven: The people and the riding and the sense of community. It feels more like South Africa that we left so long ago. People are proud and happy but also humble and down to earth. Everyone helps out and gets stuck in. We have always been torn between the mountains and the sea; bikes and surf. Here in Nelson, we are lucky to have both. Well, the surf may be a little inconsistent but when it's good it is really good.

  New Zealand's newest and longest must do ride for any visitors. Old Ghost Road.

What do you have coming up after the NZ Enduro? What are some of the things you are looking forward to this year?

Anka: This year is looking pretty jam packed. It’s filled with heaps of new challenges and projects and turning out to be a hell of a lot busier than when I just had to race my bike. In hindsight, racing seemed a lot easier, as you just had to show up to all the rounds and race your bike. You were either prepared or not. This year I’ve taken on a whole lot more responsibility with putting together 6 Soul Trails bike and yoga adventure trips for women in various countries, helping Juliana with some of their various marketing projects and some product launches, organizing the race, and then doing some collaboration projects at four of the EWS rounds. In-between all of this we’re working on a very exciting film project and various different photo trips. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to everything. Every year I try to explore one new place and culture, so that is very exciting. Somedays I do feel quite overwhelmed and anxious, and I’ve spent a lot more time on the keyboard and drinking coffee than on the bike, but my motto in life is to try and do whatever it is I need to do to stay out of a cubicle and away from office politics, so there you have it, never stop fueling your passion!

Sven: Right after the NZ enduro I have a Tourism NZ shoot, two film shoots as a stills photographer, then the EWS Rotorua followed by Crankworx, Tasmania EWS, and then it's not too long before its Lourdes, Madeira, and a press camp, then flat out back to the Irish EWS, Ft William, Leogang, Crankworx Les Gets, Transprovence - oh my!

I always look forward to the new rounds and new venues that the EWS manages to come up with every year. It's really what keeps me inspired as a photographer and bike rider. The UCI World Cup racing is at such a high point from a racing and competitive aspect but it could definitely take a page from the EWS handbook and mix it up each year with a minimum of 2-3 new venues to keep it exciting for the riders, fans, and media.

I'm most looking forward to visiting a few new exciting places with Anka now that her scheduled isn’t 100% controlled by her racing.

World Domination with Sven and Anka Martin
  The longer the ride the better the reward, - Duncan Philpott.

MENTIONS: @housemartin


  • + 75
 All I can say is wow. A life well lived by both Anka and Martin, makes me reconsider my priorities. More interviews like this with the people behind the scenes.
  • + 14
 Uuuuuuuh its Sven and Anka Martin
  • + 1
 @pedaler: Simple mistake... They are one and the same sometimes hahahaha I love these two people, even having never met them. They are living the dream eh
  • + 1
 @pedaler: haha typing too fast!
  • + 37
 Winning life! Much respect to both of them! Skills, passion and good humour.
  • + 27
 Everytime I look at Sven Martins Facebook I feel like I wasted my life... I am happy for them... in a way... and I hate myself... in a way. Good on you damn it!
  • + 6
 Is NEW ZEALAND taking applications for firefighters with 17yrs experiance? I might have to load up the Family Truxster and relocate.
  • + 2
 @FurryCrew: How do Machinists do down there?
  • + 3
In rural NZ you might be in luck specially if you've got experience in the farming sector.

Around Rotorua/Taupo/Hamilton has a lot of need for manufacturing.
  • + 4
 Sven chased me off his halfpipe in Cape Town when i was about 11. When he went in side, i ran up the tranny, dropped in and back lipped the other side then ran off like hell giggling with my mates.
  • + 3
 I am French, I moved to South Africa almost 10 years ago, and had a little stint at Canada in the middle. And I'm always left wondering why I am looking at another place, other landscapes, other cultures...? Why can't I just be happy where I am? Well I think the answer is obvious: because New Zealand.
Only downside is that you are on the other side of the Earth, far from everything (including family), but oh boy I can't get rid of this itch. I am doing my best NOT to go there on holiday. I might never come back again.
  • + 1
 Wow, how did you accomplish all that at just 31?
  • + 1
 Haha, I started early I guess Smile
  • + 1
 @ForestFab: Much respect!
  • + 3
 I saw the two bikes in the first photo and instantly assumed that the pink one was hers. Than I noticed it was a Santa Cruz... Big Grin
  • + 3
 Two ridiculously nice people to meet. They treat strangers like friends. This article should be a textbook on 'how to be happy.'
  • + 3
 Nelson is legit. The riding is rad, and they have falafel gourmet which is always worth a hoon.
  • + 3
 2 reasons that fueled the addiction of riding a mountain bike. I actually went skateboarding today to ????
  • + 2
 I really don't need a reminder how un-satisfying my office job is. Although, maybe I need more... What lives!
  • + 1
 Love this!! You guys are such a huge inspiration to me and what it means to live the riding lifestyle. Some of the hardest workers in the industry. See you cats soon!
  • + 2
 Does New Zealand need any software engineers?
  • + 6
 Absolutely ! PM me. (we're currently hiring... C# Full stack web dev and tend to have ~2-3 positions a year.)
  • + 5
 You can always try for the free trip down -
  • + 1
 Great article, great people, great attitude, you inspire me so much, keep on the good work!
  • + 1
 Very cool. Hope to be shooting events alongside you in the near future. Super excited!!!
  • - 2
 A great read; brilliant content. Thanks!!!
Love your work Sven.

Yeah, I know, don't complain etc etc, however, modern consumerism gets me down; even the art of photography as so expertly understood by Sven and others. With a photographic pedigree as fantastic as Sven's, the article for me was spoiled by the oh-so-obvious constraint of having to include nearly as much product placement as a certain German car manufacturer.
  • + 1
 They poached our floor at a Norba National in Vt in 2001. Anka was as sweet as could be. Sven...well ,uh...
  • + 2
 So rad,...and the wed ride makes its way to NZ!
  • + 1
 dayumm, i gotta do one of these adventure races. Very inspiring article and insight into two rad lives!
  • + 1
 Top article and top people. If you ever get the chance to ride with them I highly recomend it!
  • + 2
 yeeeeeah you guys, killin it at life!!
  • + 2
 screw the bikes, nice Land Cruiser
  • + 1
 Well Said
  • + 1
 As awesome as this is, I am not this motivated.
  • + 1
 These two fit in alright Smile
  • + 2
 Pure envy! Cheers!
  • + 2
 relationship goals!
  • + 1
 Over for a special House Martin treat this year. Can't wait ????
  • + 1
 I want to move to NZ. My god it looks incredible.
  • + 1
 F**kin great photos! Thanks!
  • + 1
 This is rad. Can't wait to see some of the pro field smash this weekend.
  • + 1
 I spotted the Pinkbike
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