GRAHAM AGASSIZ: MADE IN KAMLOOPS - EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

grahamagassizmammoth2Covered in dust from another afternoon jump session he’s got that same smile on his face that’s been there all day long. Aggy is the latest local rider to begin his push to the top of the freeride world. He’s a nineteen year old phenomenon who has worked his way from local bmx track to an eighth place at last year’s Red Bull Rampage. And for him now, right now, the sky is the limit.

AGASSIZ: MADE IN KAMLOOPS

Text and Photos: John Gibson

Kamloops. It’s the birthplace of freeride mountain biking and is located in the heart of  British Columbia in Canada.  Back in the early 1990’s four riders from this city started a revolution on their hard tail mountain bikes. They are Brett Tippie, Richie Schley, Craig Olsson and Wade Simmons. They are the Godfathers of Freeride.

These four Kamloops riders pioneered a style of riding which combined some elements of downhill and trials mountain biking, bmx dirt jumping and motocross. They would ride down the steep slopes of the Tod Gravel Pit and hit drops on bicycles clearly not designed for this kind of abuse. Along with trials rider Hans Rey, they pushed the idea of a sponsored bike rider who did not compete, but instead gathered exposure through magazine photo shoots and bike movies. They paved the way for everybody else.

Meanwhile at this same time the trail builders of the North Shore in Vancouver were starting a revolution of their own. They were building bike trails with technical wooden bridges and ramps that captured the imagination of the bike industry. Between the two groups the wave of freeride mountain biking exploded.

Today on the leather couch at the Bicycle Café is Kamloops born and bred Graham Agassiz.  Covered in dust from another afternoon jump session he’s got that same smile on his face that’s been there all day long. Aggy is the latest local rider to begin his push to the top of the freeride world. He’s a nineteen year old phenomenon who has worked his way from local bmx track to an eighth place at last year’s Red Bull Rampage. And for him now, right now, the sky is the limit.

1. When did things start to happen for you last year? I was invited to the Bearclaw Invitational on Vancouver Island and got third. I don’t even remember my run but I did try to ride everything on the course. It was a crazy feeling to do so well. It was cool. After that it was a big deal for me to get invited to Rampage. All the hard work paid off.

2. Can you tell us about your 8th place finish at this year’s Red Bull Rampage? It was the gnarliest riding I have ever done. The photos and the filming do not show how crazy it was. There are one hundred foot cliffs on either side of you when you are riding. If you tumble you are going to fall a long way! It’s like riding on Mars. During my first walk through on the course I decided there was no easy way down.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was gnarly! I wanted to show everybody that I’m an all mountain rider and can ride more than dirt jumps.

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3. At Rampage this year, eight out of the final top 11 riders were from British Columbia. How does that happen? In Canada more riders have a big mountain riding background. The guys from California do more dirt jumping. Matt Hunter and I ride stuff in Kamloops that’s steep and fast like the Rampage course. We have advantage here in Kamloops.

4.What is the biggest difference between racing and competing in freeride contests? In freeriding everybody’s good friends and we help each other out. In racing everybody is against each other.  In freeride contests like Rampage everyone keeps it fun and we help each other.

5. What new tricks would you like to nail down this year ? My biggest goal would be to do a snowboard trick like Travis Rice does in his movie, ‘That’s It That’s All.’  It’s basically a tree tap. You hit a jump, whip out your back end out and tap a tree with the rear wheel. That sends you into a 360 spin.  I’d love to nail it.

6. Tell me about the Kona Clump? I signed with them in September. It’s great. We did a film trip in Mammoth Mountain in California late last year after Rampge.  I really like the crew. They are crazy, rowdy, fun people and I feel like I fit in. John Cowan was one of my favorites when I started riding. I still have a poster of him on my wall. Paul Basagoitia is a super talented rider and he’s more than a dirt jumper…he’s on a mission. Right now nobody can touch Andreu Lacondeguy. He’s a rock star and his brother Lluis is a very smooth rider…a super funny guy. Then there’s Chopper (Grant Fielder)…he just sends it …he’s a rad rider. Overall we have a great team.

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7. Was it important for you to get first sponsored by a bike shop? I think the first step to becoming a pro rider is to start riding for a bike shop. I owe everything to Cheryl and Taylor from the Bicycle Café in Kamloops. I started racing bmx for their shop and they helped me put together a resume to get deals on new bikes. Then I started doing contests and won a local dirt jump contest at Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops.  That put the idea in my head that I could be a pro rider.

8. What are your earliest memories of riding in Kamloops? I was super into BMX racing in Kamloops…and dirt jumping from an early age. I started making jumps with ramps and hanging out with older kids who rode their bikes. I was the little kid who was jumping everything.

9. Kamloops has a lot of history and is often thought of as the birthplace of freeride mountain biking. What’s it like now? Every sport has to start somewhere. What Tippie, Schley and Simmons were doing was the first level. They were mountain biking how they thought it should be done.

Now we have a bike park in town and that’s where the riding is happening. So now we are seeing more dirt jumping. Rose Hill is now shut down as the City wants to keep bikers off private property.   But we do have other downhill riding in town and it’s fast and wide open. We also ride at Sun Peaks ski resort which is a forty minute drive away. It’s not like Whistler which has a lot of machine built trails. In Sun Peaks it’s more like riding local trails. There’s never any lineups which is my number one thing!

10. Where is the whole sport of freeride mountain biking heading? Things are changing so fast. The level of riding is getting higher and higher. Things now are so much faster and bigger. I’m still riding with the same people though. I haven’t really changed.

11. Does Rampage winner Brandon Semenuk represent the next generation of freeride mountain bikers? His ideas and what he’s doing are taking things to the next level. The younger guys are here …the riding is changing and the styles are changing. There are some young riders in B.C. like Kurt Sorge (2nd Rampage), Eric Lawrenuk and Dylan Sherrard (another Kamloops rider) that are coming up fast. We saw it this whole past season. There are a lot of new, younger riders that will be in the top five in all the contests. It’s coming. It’s here.

12. Any advice for young riders out there that want to be a pro freerider? Follow your dreams. I’ve had my parents and friends tell me this ...if you want to do it just do it. If people tell you can’t do it …don’t believe them.  Ride every day and practice. That’s it.