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Pro Rider Interview: Mike Hopkins

Pro Rider Interview: Mike Hopkins

Mike Hopkins and Norco teammate, Sarah Leishman, recently traveled to Israel as part of an international delegation of journalists, on a mission to discover what this part of the world has to offer mountain bikers. Fresh off conquering a few demons at Red Bull Rampage, we caught up with Mike during a day on the trails not far from Eilat and the Red Sea. We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions in between railing turns and hucks to flat in the desert.

Pro Rider Interview: Mike Hopkins

Who is Mike Hopkins?
I’m a pro freerider out of Rossland in the heart of British Columbia. I spend my time traveling around the world, shooting films and editorial stuff, as well as riding in one contest per year, which is Red Bull Rampage.

Mike didn't have much trouble adjusting to the loose and rocky trails of the Israeli desert

When was the first time you went “big mountain” riding?
I must have been 13-years old or so. Me and a bunch of buddies would go out and ride the stuff from Kranked 1, like the old, abandoned mine pits in Rossland that we used to make our own trails down. You’d basically drop in from the top, and that was the time of v-brakes – it was loose at best and we had no idea what we were doing. It was a time of carnage, but things evolved from there pretty quickly.

So exactly what is freeride mountain biking to you these days?
Freeride is really a bunch of different things. It has diversified, and it’s not like freeriding is just one thing. You have slopestyle, the big mountain guys, the film guys, and then you have the hybrid contests like Rampage that sort of combine all that. At the very top, it has almost become a sport in itself, and there are very few guys that can do both and remain competitive. You pretty much have to pick one [style] and work on that, unless you are so well-rounded that you can go from slopestyle to Rampage and still compete. Ultimately, freeriding is the creative aspect of the sport, and it allows us to show what mountain biking is to us.

But freeriding is also whatever riding your bike is to you. Everybody pegs freeriding as the big stuff, but you don’t have to do 50 foot backflips to be a freerider. Break down the word in itself, and it’s basically just you and your buddies out there riding your bikes, whether you’re on a trail or dropping into something gnarly.

Mike is no stranger to earning his turns - he dropped us all handily at will!

Why do you ride Rampage?
I used to ride slopestyle way back in the day, but I’ve never really been competition-driven. I’ve always been more interested in the creative aspects of riding, like photos and film. I like the whole idea of building the stuff you want to ride and showing people your perspective of riding, as opposed to dropping into a ready-made course that may or may not suit you. Ultimately, competition wasn’t really my thing. I was always about showing people how mountain biking was in my head, and I had a lot of fun doing that so that is what I pursued.

When it comes to Rampage, it’s more of a hybrid event for me where I feel like I’m filming more than I’m competing. It’s more a giant session with your buddies than it is a start-to-finish thing, although that is obviously how the competition runs are ridden. Everybody gets to create their own lines, it’s not like you’re given a course, and then it’s all about who does the best trick here and there. It’s a competition yes, but Rampage allows us as athletes to show what mountain biking is to us. It does have a start and a finish, but there’s a whole lot of fun in between!

Sarah Leishman railing it through another canyon

How hard was it to step back up to the jump that took you out in 2012?
Well, at first I was over it, I hadn’t even planned to jump it again. But when I got out there this year, I took a look at it and figured I couldn’t just leave it there. I saw a few things that were wrong with the take-off, so I shaved a bit off it, and with a few practice run-ins under my belt, I went for it. Turned out to be not such a big deal after all.

Have Rampage features become too big?
I wouldn’t say it’s too big, but everything has become quite consequential. People are starting to realize that, especially this year. It’s to the point where we’re in the same realm as motocross. If a guy is falling or crashing, it’s not a matter of him just bouncing back up and waving to the crowd, he’s getting carried out on a stretcher and helicoptered to hospital. We’re talking broken femurs and massive concussions, and it’s definitely at the point where you don’t quite know what is going to happen. Nobody wants to think about it, but there are some serious consequences on the doorstep that could be the be-all-and-end-all kind of thing, you know?

Assorted mountain biking media getting a much needed re-fuel before heading out on another trail

Should Rampage move? Should it be a different format? Does it need to be toned down? Back to building and riding a gnarly line but without the huge structures to go off?
Right, so at the same time, these massive features are there, and nobody is pushing us out of the start gate. We all want to be there, but there are ways to make the event safer. A guy should never have to be at the top of his finals run having to go hit something for the first time – that happens, and it’s just a recipe for disaster. That’s when people are going to get hurt, and careers could end. We’re putting far too much on the line to be put in a situation like that, and more practice and build time definitely need to be added to ensure it doesn’t have to happen. Three days is not enough, and it’s putting both the show and the athletes at risk. We want to be there and we want to put on a good show, but it comes to a point where we’re extremely uncomfortable at the top because we’re dropping into stuff that is extremely exposed and that we haven’t had enough practice on.

The group discovering some pretty serious trailbuilding out in the middle of nowhere

Could there be a freeride tour similar to the freeskiing one? Go to five different locations and ride what’s in front of you on the day?
It’s been discussed, but for various reasons it is not something we see happening. I think it could be done and it would be super rad, but it would take a toll on the riders for sure.

Does any of the riding at Rampage compare to something in the world of us “normal” riders? Can you tell us something to help us relate to it?
We as riders go to Rampage not to compete or to push the sport, we go to push our personal boundaries (and if that happens to push the sport then great). We always get asked what it’s like and how it compares, and the answer is that it doesn’t really compare to anything else. At the same time, we as riders ultimately want to go back home healthy and having redefined our personal limits, so in that respect, it’s a strictly personal thing. Everybody has different limits and if you go out and discover those, that’s ultimately what it’s about to you. Do it for yourself, otherwise why would you be there?

Mike's Norco Range took a beating throughout the week, and kept coming back for more

Tricks or whips?
Whiiiiips!

Mike doesn't know how to do straight airs

What’s the gnarliest chute you’ve ever ridden down?
I went to Bralorne and I rode this one chute, it was 2700 vertical feet or so my watch said afterwards. Speed was like 65km/h, and it was super narrow and engaged the whole way. The video shot was sweet, it looks like I’m out-running the helicopter, which I’m not, but it looks that way and it made me feel like a boss!

Exploring the Bendor Range

How does that stack up to the gnarliest chute you’ve seen somebody else ride down?
Uhm….well, ahh…hmmmm. (Mike’s not claiming it, but sometimes, silence speaks a thousand words!)

You’ve been on some incredible adventures lately, what are some of the highlights for you?
I go to many rad places, and that’s a highlight in itself. For example, I’m lucky enough to get to go to New Zealand, and when I’m there, it’s completely awesome riding, but I also get to go try all these other sports, like scuba diving and stuff. And right now, I’m giving this interview in Israel, and the riding and the whole experience here have just been all-time. Exploring is a constant highlight!

Exploring new terrain in Israel

Tell us something about Mike Hopkins that nobody knows.
I have an unnatural fear of sunken shipwrecks. Totally can’t deal with them.

Tell us something about James Doerfling that nobody knows.
He sleeps in a cowboy hat.

What is down the road for Mike Hopkins?
I’ve had a dream project for a while, and now I’ve finally managed to put it all together and it looks like it’s going to happen. I’ve already done some filming for it, but I’m going to go out and re-shoot it in spring. It’ll be something very different and quite outrageous, although don’t worry, I’ll still be jumping off stuff! I also think there’s some work to be done to lay to rest the debate around the biggest air off a hip jump ever pulled. But other than that, I just really want to go out and explore, get off the beaten path, ride a volcano in Russia, that kind of thing. I just want to get lost!

Not just a pro rider, but an avid photographer and explorer, we're looking forward to following Mike on many more adventures to come!

Photos and interview by Johan Hjord

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