Accessibility Widget: On | Off

In 1923, when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, George Mallory famously replied "because it's there."  Perhaps it all just comes down to that. Perhaps there is nothing to understand, nothing to analyze, and no need to come up with big words and fancy labels. Some people do, and some people don't. As for what happened to Mallory, we don't know if he ever succeeded, we just know that he died trying - and that's the bit we really want to know more about.

Photo

​We've all heard the warnings before, and of course there have been lots of bad crashes over the years at Rampage, but 2015 was the year that the balancing act between glory and disaster came tangibly closer to actually turning into a life-or-death scenario. Yes, the writing has been on the wall, and it's easy to claim the "they knew what they were getting into" moral high ground, but that would be selling the whole event and indeed the whole freeride movement short in the name of simplicity.

Cam Zink the shredder - food on his face, but he knew where he was going even back then.

"There is a point where you're coming off a cliff...how high can you honestly go without everything going to hell?" - Lenna Zink, Cam's mother


Build it, and Zink will come.

For as much as what these riders are doing seems like utter science fiction to most of us "normal" people, they are people just like us. After another year of gorging on incredible racing and contest images, it's easy to forget that behind every stomped line and behind every millisecond gained lies an impressive body of work and very real blood, sweat, and tears. We're not talking about adrenaline-fueled Jackass wannabes here, we're talking high-level athletes who work hard to accomplish their goals, as impossible as they may seem from the outset. But amidst the fall-out from the 2015 edition of the greatest show in freeriding, embodied by Paul Basagoitia's serious injury, we've come to question the very essence of what these athletes are doing out there. Are they being exploited by corporate greed which pushes them to take more and more risks in the name of a brand's insatiable thirst for more media exposure? As spectators, are we no better than the Romans watching the gladiators battle each other to the death in the Colosseum? And perhaps more than anything else, we wonder what drives these athletes to risk everything for what seems like pitiful reward at times, especially if you compare mountain bike freeriding to say golf or tennis.

At Rampage, you pay to play. Zink has been there, and done that.

Nobody personifies "pushing it" like Cam Zink. If there's something out there that nobody else really wants to ride, he'll ride it. If there's a record to be broken when it comes to going big, it likely has Zink's name written all over it. And more than anything else, if it's drama and excitement you want, Zink delivers. But what few people see is the hard work, the injuries, the doubt and the raw emotion behind every one of the milestone moments that litter Zink's career. Cam's long time friend, Ryan Cleek, wanted to dig a little deeper and share some of these moments with the world, the result of which is Reach for the Sky, an extraordinary documentary telling Cam's story from early childhood to present day.

Cam-corders sure have come a long way since 2002, and so has Cam.

To tell the story of Zink is to tell the story of freeride. Cleek digs deep into the archives to unearth nuggets from Zink's childhood, seemingly spent as much on two wheels as anything else. Whether in pursuit of older brother Howie or trying to emulate his hero Shaun Palmer, Zink was as rowdy then as he is rowdy now. As the sport has progressed, so has Zink, but he was on the cutting edge from the start.

Zink bleeds red, white, and blue, and he's never been sorry for partying.

Anchoring the movie around the 2013 and 2014 editions of Rampage, as well as Zink's longest backflip world record attempt in Mammoth, Cleek lets the story tell itself in a raw, yet almost delicate way to create a movie experience that is as gripping as it is fascinating. Mixing footage from different eras is never easy, but the editing is up to the task and Reach for the Sky has an awesome lo-fi look to it that only adds to the excitement. With a subject like this it would have been easy to overdo the drama, but Cleek makes room for the people around Cam to help tell the story and it brings out a nuanced and intimate portrait that goes far beyond the rough and tumble facade - and is far more captivating for it.

Zink says his wife Amanda has the worst job of them all, watching from the sidelines.

Vital was shocked to point of wanting to react following this year's Rampage, and Reach for the Sky could not have come at a better time for anybody who wants to continue to look beyond the shine of the big event veneer. Whether he got unlucky or just made a few unfortunate choices along the way, Zink has never seemed to have the kind of support that a rider of his caliber should benefit from. Paying for his own flights while jetting around the world setting records and blowing minds for Corsair or Hyper bikes is a far cry from the conditions that top-flight World Cup racers enjoy, for example. Reach for the Sky gives Zink a perfect opportunity to share some of his struggles with the wider audience, and the fact that he does it without much apparent bitterness points to a lot of maturity. This is also our first glimpse of what really drives these guys to do what they do.

It's not easy being the little brother, but maybe Cam is as good as he is because of chasing big brother Howie?

Watching the highs and the lows of Cam's career laid out adds a layer of complexity to the equation. Yes, we still feel outraged at the conditions on offer from the industry as a whole, and yes we still think that we've come dangerously close to the edge of reason when corporate pressure and TV schedules can dictate when somebody needs to backflip a 100-foot jump, but listening to Cam and his friends and family talk about it clarifies one thing: they would still be out there doing what they do without the cameras and the crowds. They are just stoked to also be able to scratch out a living from it.

Go big or go home. A lot of people say it, Cam owns it.

With paychecks and careers on the line, of course the pressure to perform builds up and can leave you in an uncomfortable position when it's time to drop in. And that is probably where we feel corporate and industry responsibility should come into the question. Cam says he'll keep pushing even harder since becoming a father, as this is how he supports his family, and at some point, the industry has a collective responsibility to make sure that him and his fellow riders can afford to plan for the worst. We don't suggest that the riders aren't responsible for their actions nor that they should be relieved of such duties, what we are saying is that if you want to be associated with the greatness of Zink's achievements, you better step up to the plate as a sponsor the same way he does when it's time to put on a show. You owe him that - simply because he'll go anyway. The fact that Cleek at one point made a crowd-funding appeal to be able to wrap up the post-production (even after the companies that are now listed in the opening credits stepped in to help) is just as telling as the story itself. At this level, something should change, and we all have some part to play in that.

"I have very high hopes and little margin for error." - Cam Zink


Dropping in, for the love of the game.

It's not a spoiler to say that Reach for the Sky leaves Zink on a high note following the 2014 Rampage, the results of his adventures are as well-documented as they come. One year later, things feel different however. At this year's Rampage, Zink stomped an even better version of the line that saw him take 2nd in 2014, but much to his dismay and ours, he was only rewarded with 6th place. A judging error because Zink dropped in early, or more sinister forces at play? In the wake of a dramatic contest and a number of serious injuries on the hill, Zink launched the #fuckrampage hashtag from beside the hospital bed where his friend Pal Bas is currently fighting to regain feeling in his legs following a devastating back injury. It stands in stark contrast to what Rampage has meant to Zink and his career. Is this simply the point where enough is enough? Is this the older, wiser, and more well-traveled Zink looking to a future where he won't need to jump through hoops to put food on the table? Or maybe, we should read between the lines. Maybe it's bigger than one event. Maybe it's Zink's way of making peace with a world he has tried to prove something to his whole life. You can never tell, but we're pretty sure that next time Rampage rolls around, Zink will be ready to take on the mountain once again. Because it's there.

"Reach for the Sky" is available to download on iTunes

Want to help Paul Basagoitia directly?

by Johan Hjord

Create New Tag
4 comments
Show More Comment(s) / Leave a Comment