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Cam Zink Interview: So Close to Hell

We caught up with Cam Zink, the Red Bull Rampage star. Words by Ian Collins and photos by Ian Collins and Grant Robinson.

Cam Zink, Reno, USA. Pre-Red Bull Rampage back flip, pre-baby, pre-marriage proposal…straight out of the movies.

We caught up with Cam Zink, the Red Bull Rampage star…

Taken from Dirt issue 144, February 2014

Cam Zink… his name alone reeks of a big personality and echoes ‘bad ass’. Even to mountain bikers that are far removed from ‘the scene’ he hardly needs introduction. If you don’t know anything about him then simply punch his name into a Google image search, but be prepared to feel pretty small once the photos are emblazoned onto your mental sensor.

Zink is 27 years old and living with his fiancé Amanda in his home town of Reno, Nevada (USA). The couple just had their first child, Ayla, a couple of days after the Red Bull Rampage wrapped up this year. Cam isn’t your typical gravity guy. In 2009 he started Sensus, a highly successful company producing rider–designed grips. The list of riders who endorse Sensus is a testament not only to their quality, but also to Zink’s prowess as a networker. A rockstar athlete, with real world business savvy, who knows how to have a good time, but actually plans for his future and doesn’t drain his whole retirement through a toxic liver. Imagine that?

Although Cam has multiple accomplishments under his belt, he is most widely known for winning Rampage with total conviction in 2010 when he 360’d the 50 foot ‘Oakley Icon Sender’. In a harrowing (more bone chilling) sense, Zink is also known for overshooting a 70′ foot canyon gap at Rampage 2012. The stomach churning video of him falling from the sky straight to his heels went viral online immediately, and was featured all over television networks ranging from ESPN to cheesy morning talk shows.

Upon first impression Cam just seems like your average good ol’ boy from small town America. Anyone that’s heard him being interviewed knows he is a straight shooter, and probably assumes he’s pretty simple. He likes guns, Budweiser, tattoos, trucks, moto, metal bands and throwing a ‘dip in his lip’. While that does speak volumes about his character, what’s fascinating is that he really isn’t a simpleton, Zink is far more cerebral than he may appear on the surface. So, what dwells beneath? Is Cameron just some maniac with huge balls or is he more calculated than he lets on? What lies deep within that drives him to push the limits of mountain biking farther than anyone? A couple months back I headed into Reno to tag along with him for a few days while he prepped for Rampage, hoping that I could tap into his psyche and find out just what it is that makes him tick.

After landing, Reno was exactly what I expected. Slot machines in the airport, crusty desert, taxis lined up and frothing for the chance to take you to the gambling mecca of your choice. I stayed in a casino for two reasons. One, to get the full experience, and two because it was $29 a night for solid accommodation.

Reno has two infamous catch phrases to describe it, ‘so close to hell you can see sparks’ and ‘the biggest little city’. At first glance it may seem like a downtrodden town struggling to escape the long shadow of Las Vegas, but upon closer inspection it has much more to offer. It has an older feel, and for anyone with an active lifestyle it has a greater appeal. Better weather than Vegas, with a mere 30 minute jaunt to Lake Tahoe, a miracle in itself. This means world class skiing, snowboarding, trekking, camping, mountain biking, moto, rock climbing, hunting, you name it, all at arms reach.

At 6:00am I was rattled from my semi drunken slumber when Cam called and blurted out in a borderline militant sense that he was on the way. “You’re staying at Harrah’s, right?” he said. “Yeah, see you in like 45 minutes… is that cool?” I mumbled. “Nah, I’ll be there in 10, get your shit together”.

The first time I met Cam and actually spoke with him he didn’t have facial hair and we were crushing some crappy American beers with ex–World Cup rider and party animal Nathan Rennie at a house party. The two were totally transfixed on teaching me how to peel the tops off of beer cans with my teeth so you could down them faster. Apparently he’s grown up and gotten hungry. Regardless, I threw my stuff together and ran out the door hoping to at least score a coffee near the lobby. As soon as I got in line at the Starbucks my phone rang. “I’m outside, where are you?”…Damn it.

Steep and unridden lines are just a small part of what Cam Zink is about. Roadside sighting.

I came flailing out, dysfunctionally devoid of caffeine, with a ringing head and threw my camera bag in the back of his truck, praying he was low on gas and ready to stop somewhere along the way to wherever the hell we were headed. “So what’s the deal?” I asked. Prior to meeting and doing this interview I knew he was on the hunt to ride a particular local line that had been taunting him since he started riding big mountain stuff. He told me we were headed out to scope it and see if it was rideable. Apparently it was unclear, and getting to the spot was a mission in itself. The idea of witnessing him ride something unridden gave me goosebumps. Once we came around the bend in the road that revealed it, my jaw was on the floor. To me it looked doable. Well, not to me, but it seemed that someone with nerves like Zink could pull it off. He was planning on it and I was the only lucky bastard around with a camera in hand. I gazed around the truck a bit. Messy really. There must have been at least seven or eight random one gallon half empty water bottles, a bunch of shoes, tyres and crusty socks. Lots of grips, stickers, clothes, a lonely glove and a shoe here and there. It was a utilitarian vehicle after all. My eyes shifted to the bed of his truck where his bike laid. A massive air compressor and two big inflatable rafts were erratically jammed in. Apparently Cam likes to go tubing? Once we parked it all made sense.

Click through to view the full gallery of Cam Zink before reading on…

We arrived at the Truckee River; it flows from high Sierra peaks near Lake Tahoe down into the foothills that lie east and into Reno. As we parked I gazed across the river and digested the line he was contemplating. He had to cross the river with his bike and gear. Hence the mini rafts. Without much explaining Cam inflated a tube and started stomping away on a mission. Within minutes he was out of sight and floating across the river, then clambering over a massive barbed wire fence to scope out this line. I waited a bit, then slapped the big lens on my camera and started scanning, trying to find him. After seeing no signs of life for about 45 minutes I started to get worried. It dawned on me that this line was much larger than life. The scale was beyond me, and it was so much bigger and farther away than it appeared upon first inspection. Right when I thought something bad had happened Zink emerged from the weeds with his head down. Game over… if he can’t ride it, then no one in their right mind can.

Don’t you wish that your garage looked like this!? Cam at home in Reno with all of his toys.

Slightly dejected, Cam filled me in a bit on the ride home to Reno. Basically he’d been driving by this supposed line for years on the way to Tahoe and back, but never considered it. After filming the maniacal lines he rode in the film ‘Where the Trail Ends’ he came back and looked at it in a different light. However once he climbed up and saw it first hand, he realized it was more rock and chunder than it was sand and scree. At least he had the wherewithal to walk away from it. If something went wrong, I wouldn’t know how to clean up a mess like that in the middle of nowhere.

Ten minutes down the road he was already over it and giddy about what the next two days had in store. He was still hungry to ride some big lines and get some serious riding in over the next couple days as his preparation for Rampage was peaking. At this point it was barely 10:00am anyway. Plenty of time to score some gold. We headed to his house so he could spend some time jumping in his back yard, and show me around the place. Later we’d move on and shoot some big mountain stuff.

This was a short, fast paced trip, but on the road, over coffee, and between post–ride beers I would pull out my phone (recorder) and grill the poor guy every time I had a chance. After all, I had to get audio of his responses to all of the questions I had floating around in my mind…

What you do is obviously pretty intense. To do what you do, constantly progress and push the envelope, as well as stay healthy, must be a constant battle. Do you have any sort of particular, regimented training routine or do you just get out and shred constantly?

Cam Zink: It varies from day to day. Especially being a bit hyper, spending time on the road a lot, and just being wired all the time. I’m the kind of person that needs constant stimulation to keep me occupied and make me feel like I am even worth a damn. I’m always trying to do too much crap and that constantly gets me in trouble. People often think I’m inconsiderate, but I just need to stay busy and almost need to have too much on my plate. With the kind of lifestyle that I’ve chosen for myself, I still try to eat right. I linked up with Ryan Hughes and work with a trainer and a nutritionist. I try to take in the information and live that life, but with traveling and living a fast paced lifestyle I just can’t do that every day. I’m not gonna lie, I drink. There are times that I fall off of it, but when I am on it I do stay true to it so that I can afford to have some beers here and there. I try to hit the gym, stretch, even stand on my Bosu ball and do one–legged squats while watching TV. That way I can afford to fall off on the ‘other’ days.

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