Crankworx Les Gets Dual Speed and Style 2016 – Sean St. Denis photo
His story is the stuff of legend, nightmare, and inspiration.
In 2013 Martin Soderstrom was at the top of his game, landing podium after podium in the world's toughest slopestyle competitions. The Big Swede seemed to be carving out a career for the record books. But his last Crankworx podium in the discipline was one he would probably rather forget. A crash on his final run at Red Bull Joyride
put an end to his day, his season, and, in one respect, his dream. The first and third place finishers stepped onto the box and sprayed champagne in celebration, while Soderstrom lay in hospital. His silver medal, earned with the points from his first run, was delivered to him in the hospital. A long road lay ahead.
How can one go back to staring down the barrel of a gun after being shot down?
While he did return to Crankworx slopestyle competition briefly, even managing a fourth place finish in the Crankworx Rotorua Slopestyle in 2015, Soderstrom ultimately chose a new path. 2017 has been his strongest season in many, as he's hit the Crankworx World Tour circuit with his eyes on a different prize.
He chatted with us ahead of the Clif Dual Speed & Style
at Crankworx Whistler
People are so stoked to have you back. When your name is attached to an event, it’s like a ripple of excitement, from the fans to the photographers and organizers. How’s the year been for you?
Soderstrom takes on Tomas Lemoine in the final of the Mons Royale Dual Speed and Style at Crankworx Innsbruck – Fraser Britton photo
First of all, thanks a lot for the nice words. It’s always fun to hear. Crankworx is always one of my highlights of the year, so it’s always really easy to be very pumped up and happy to go there, and maybe that’s what people feel. 2017 has been really good for me. As many people I know I crashed pretty badly at Crankworx in 2013 and since then I’ve really been struggling with a lot of injuries, basically back-to-back injuries since then. This year, other than the start of the season when I had to miss Rotorua, I feel like I’m in a good place. It’s really hard to ride when you feel pain in your body, and also mentally it’s a big challenge. In such a dangerous sport you cannot even think about injuries, so when you injure yourself a lot it’s always in the back of your head. It really messes with your riding. But 2017 has been a lot better. I’ve found the joy again. And I think that shows in the results as well.
You mentioned a bit about being in your head, and how it's not a good place to be for a rider. You have to be fearless, in a way. How do you recover your mental game? Is it just time?
The sweet taste of a podium finish – GOTiT Shooting photo
First of all, it’s just repetition of all the tricks. The more you ride, the more confident you get, and, weirdly enough, the more you crash, that also helps. It’s a big confidence boost when you crash and walk away from it. If you do that a lot, then the feeling you need comes back, the feeling almost of being immortal. So, ride a lot, crash a lot without getting injured, and also compete a lot. Crankworx has been perfect for me. Three or four times a year you can compare yourself with the best riders in the world. There’s nothing better for the self-confidence than knowing that you’re up there with them.
You’ve been pulling in some super solid, and yet totally unsurprising, results in the Crankworx Dual Speed & Style events this year, with a third in Les Gets and a second in Innsbruck. Think you can keep that momentum going and go for gold in Whistler?
Clint Trahan photo
The preparation couldn’t have been better. I’ve just been feeling better and better every day I’ve been riding, and since Innsbruck I’ve just had a really good time riding my bike and I’m feeling really good. Obviously a win again in Whistler would mean the world to me. It’s been, what is it now, four years now since the last time I won. It’s really tough though. Whistler is always the one where the nerves come into play more, and all the best riders is there, so it’s the one that everyone wants to win. I hope I’m the one who wants to win the most and makes it happen.
I read in an interview recently where you said after 10 years of full-on mountain bike competitions, it’s not really your priority any more. Where would you say your focus has shifted?
Reed Boggs and Martin Soderstrom battle it out in the Mons Royale Dual Speed & Style at Crankworx Innsbruck in 2017 – Fraser Britton photo
I would say yes and no. I meant more that I’ve taken away my focus on the slopestyle riding that I’ve been doing for 10 years. But I would still say, if I enter Pump Track or Best Whip or a Speed & Style event in Crankworx, obviously I go in 100% to win that. But I’ve been taking a step back from slopestyle events as it’s just been too tough on my body the last couple of years with the injuries. But then, Speed & Style is just the perfect new thing for me to focus on. It felt pretty empty when slopestyle disappeared from my life, but now it’s really cool that Speed & Style, Pumptrack and Best Whip are really filling that space.
I imagine it’s an experience a lot of riders, both professional and people who ride for fun, have had. These injuries that then prevent you from doing the thing that’s been your passion up to that point. You sound very positive now. How was it working to regain that positivity?
Mons Royale Dual Speed & Style, Crankworx Rotorua 2015 – Clint Trahan photo
I would say that’s one of the hardest things. Because bike riding is what you love. But then if you have so many injuries back-to-back it’s so easy to start relating what you love with injury and rehab time and all the pain and stress. So it’s a really fine line when you come back to know if you’re fighting back to be one of the best again, or if you’re actually doing it because you love it still. I would say that’s really something you have to figure out for yourself. If you just ride to come back and be the best, then most of the time the pressure takes over and it takes away the fun and you don’t ride well. When you ride the best is when you’re having fun and not feeling that pressure and basically just having a good time.We’ve seen you tackle a lot over the years - slopestyle, pump track (even podium-ing in Whistler in 2013), and Dual Speed & Style. You mentioned recently also maybe doing some enduros. Think you’d like to hop on the Enduro World Series circuit?
I was thinking about it for a while. It seems like a super fun event, with a lot of cool guys racing, but I’ve just realized that it’s just impossible to find time. At the moment I’m doing a lot of filming and I still have a lot of sponsors that want me to do different things. So at least at the moment it’s really hard to fit it into my schedule, and my favourite thing is still being up in the air and doing tricks, so as long as I can do that I’ll stick to that. When that’s done, then who knows.
There’s a huge contingent of Swedish slopestyle riders on the scene these days. What do you think is the source of this growth?
Crankworx Les Gets Pump Track presented by RockShox – Sean St. Denis photo
First of all I’m just blown away and so happy that when I took a step back this sport kept on growing. It would’ve been a lot harder if it didn’t seem like there was anyone there to fill that empty space. But as you say we have Anton Thelander, we have Emil, we have Max, and also a couple more ones coming up. I’m just really, really happy and relieved that there are so many good riders coming up. And I mean, it’s obviously hard to say, but maybe one factor is that they could see my experience. Because when I started with slopestyle it was really hard to think that someone from Sweden would be able to make a living out of mountain biking and turn professional, because no one had done it before. So maybe that helped a little bit for them to realize that it is actually possible. But then, I’m not taking any credit away from those guys. They’ve done all the hard work. It’s a pleasure to watch them ride now and doing so well.It’s like the next generation. They saw you rise to the top and they followed suit. They’ve put in all the time and effort and it’s paying off. It’s cool to see the next wave.
Exactly. And at the moment you have to put in so much effort to be one of the best. So it’s really cool to see that all of them are doing that and really seem to know what it takes to make it all the way. I was only second in the FMB World Tour twice, so I really hope one of these guys will take the first place.
I feel like I have to ask it because for a lot of fans, you're still synonymous with slopestyle. You’re clearly very missed. Would you ever consider a comeback to slopestyle?
Back in the day... Crankworx Les 2 Alpes Slopestyle 2012 – Simon Nieborak photo
No. That thought probably goes through my mind every day when I have a good session on the bike. When I have a really good day, I feel like I can perform pretty well, but people that haven’t actually been in a slopestyle event, especially in a Crankworx event, don’t really understand the pressure and everything else that comes it. To perform well at a big event takes so much more that the riding. It’s the pressure, it’s the confidence. You can’t doubt yourself for one second with those big jumps, otherwise you’re going to crash and get really badly injured, so I would say you have to be in a really good mindset to be up there.
I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long and with the injuries I’ve had lately I just don’t have the confidence or the hunger to win. Even when I’m standing there with all the pressure and almost being scared for my life, the will to win has always been stronger than everything else, so I’ve always let that guide me, instead of being scared and feeling the pressure, if that makes sense. Now, I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long that maybe that drive to win is not as strong any more. When that’s not as strong then the fear and the pressure kind of take over. So to sum it all up, having the riding level to be out there and perform well is a totally different thing than actually being out there and riding well, because there are so many things that go into completing a good slopestyle run. I have a lot of respect for all the athletes that are out there. I know what it takes to perform at that level.
You’ve been really candid in the past talking about how what you do is scary, and what it was like fighting to get back from the 2013 crash, and your emotional, physical and mental recovery. Have you ever thought about sharing that experience in a bigger way—writing a book or making a movie, or finding some other big platform to share more about what your experience has been?
Red Bull Joyride 2012 – Michael Overbeck photo
I would say first of all, the reason I’ve been able to share it all is that my dad is a sports psychologist, so that’s really helped me a lot deal with all of this, but also it’s kind of been part of my everyday life my whole life, so it hasn’t been very weird for me to talk about it. At the moment I’m just happy to try and help the Swedish riders in every way I can with the mental game, because as I mentioned, it takes so much more than being a good rider, to be a good contest rider. Being scared is the worst thing you can be when you want to perform. Your body just doesn’t respond well to the feeling of being scared. But I don’t know, it would be super interesting to get more into it and try to help more.
I know some people say things like “f*ck pain,” but I know when you go to sleep at night, everyone’s afraid of injuries and crashing and maybe even dying, because in such a dangerous sport, it’s a part of our everyday life. So during the day when you’re riding you maybe don’t think about it very much, but at night it definitely gets to you. I also don’t really think there’s one way to really fight it. You have to find your own way to do it. I mentioned before that my way is just that I was so competitive that my will to win was stronger than my fear. I think some people instead practice so much that they feel 100% dialled. But we’ll see. It would be interesting to try and educate people about what we go through. Sometimes it looks really easy riding and doing a run, but when I look at a slopestyle run it almost doesn’t feel fair. When you see it on a live feed, it sometimes looks so easy. But the reality is the pressure, the wind, and the sleepless nights when you’re terrified of not getting a good result or crashing. It’s a lot going through your mind. Much more than just doing tricks on a bike. I toured the Joyride course earlier this year and it’s amazing when you see the size of the jumps in person, versus on the live feed. There’s no way that you can understand the scale until you see them in person.
Exactly. That’s the amazing part about extreme sports, but also the crazy part. We never know when the evolution of the sport will end. The tricks, every day, are getting bigger, and the courses are getting bigger and it’s just so incredible for all the viewers and for me, to watch things that we thought, even a year ago, wouldn’t be possible, being done. It just seems like the level of riding is endless, pretty much, and it’ll just keep on getting better and better.
Watch Martin Soderstrom in the Clif Dual Speed & Style LIVE on crankworx.com and right here on Pinkbike:
Saturday, August 12, 5:00–7:00pm PDT
Sunday, August 13, 2:00–4:00am CEST
Sunday, August 13, 12:00–2:00pm NZST