You probably already knew that Conor Macfarlane is a nice guy, a quiet achiever, a guy that you could approach in a bar and have a chat with, blah blah blah…. Yawn! You already knew all that, so there's no point in telling any more. But did you know that there's more to Conor Macfarlane than being a nice guy you could take home to meet the parents?
First day of riding season in Whistler and it’s hot! Proper hot. I suspected it was going to be hot in Whistler, but hot like England, where pasty pink people are getting burnt in 18 degrees, but it’s over 30, and we're sweating going up on a chairlift. I’m glad to be wearing some lightweight riding gear, but Conor is looking always trendy, decked out in some fresh Mons Royale clothing and denim jeans all complemented by “so hot right now” POC pads and a red POC full-face helmet. I haven’t seen Conor for over four years, since filming The South, and we're chatting like old times and catching up. What I like about Conor is he has an opinion, a point of view. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel the need to fight him over it if we don’t agree, but it’s refreshing to hear someone that is ‘nice’ also have an opinion. I think it shows drive and dedication. Not happy with the status quo and ready to push for more in a sport that perhaps hasn’t got a lot to offer a Kiwi at the bottom of the world, except good times and an empty bank account.
We talk about the state of slopestyle and who is good for the sport and who perhaps isn’t. I like talking about this with Conor, and it helps that we both agree that the hardtail trick rats of the sport should spend more time learning how to go around a corner fast than crashing continuously into a pit of foam. Conor understands that to make it in freeride these days you need to be able to do more than a couple of slick tricks; you need to be able to do them over any jump, and the bigger the better. He's been frothing over the ‘Fest Series’ that's been on the internet. Graham Agassiz, Andreu Lacondeguy and the boys have been making some of the biggest dirtjumps ever built for a mountain bike and showing the world what is possible. Check your tiny hardtail dirtjumpers at the door, because you need eight inches or more travel front and rear with matching extra-large balls to apply for this event. Conor has both and wants to apply. Perhaps with some hard work, a little dreaming and the right sponsorship we could see an event of this nature in little old New Zealand, or better yet on the iconic and picturesque Southland Frew Farm?
I always like to follow Kiwi riders on the internet. I find Facebook is the best way to stalk them; that way I feel like we're still friends and catching up. But it was to my surprise to see Conor in the finals of the Colorado Slopestyle earlier this year, a course designed by Tom Hey and Kelly McGarry. But my surprise was amplified to see him become part of an elite few to do a flat drop-flip. Upon discussion, he told me he'd only learnt them two days prior to the event. Apparently they're like doing a big manual (wheelie) and you just keep it going. I can barely do a manual so I’m still impressed! Conor ended up with a hard earned eighth out of 16, beating some big household slopestyle names in the process.
Conor got a fourth place against some “trick rats” in the amateur competition for the Bear Claw invitational which gave him an entry in the main event. The amateur event was the lower section of the course which was conducive to cute foam pit tricks, but the top section was where the big kids played. It was big, tech and scary; perfect for Conor. This is where he strives and he beat all but one of those amateurs and even a few pros, not being afraid to throw down his bag of tricks on those massive jumps, and even managing a backflip off the boner log. This earned him a twelfth out of 25 in the main event. Who knows what he could have achieved on his second run if it wasn’t for a troublesome mechanical?
If you want to make it as a slopestyler, a freerider, a mountain biker, you need to be able to ride a full suspension bike. That not only means riding loose corners fast, it also means doing tricks on jumps that may not be perfect; and that means Rampage. If you're aspiring to be a freeride superstar, Rampage is the stage to prove that. We all saw how Kelly McGarry got propelled into superstardom last year with his second place run. The GoPro footage alone of the starting ridge-line gave me goosebumps and made me realise I was not worthy (or a just giant pussy). But not Conor. He is focused and knows that if he wants to make it in this sport that's how you get it. Unfortunately, he missed out on his chance to get an invite this year, but expect big things for next.
Aside from being a part of an elite few that can do a backflip off a flat drop, Conor can race a mean Enduro race, placing fourth against some of New Zealand’s finest at the Dodzy Memorial in Nelson earlier this year. An interesting fact about Conor is that he represented New Zealand at World Champs for Under 16 XC a few years back. He is amongst good company, Brandon Semenuk having made his start in the cross-country discipline too. Perhaps a backup career to freeriding? Anyone for Slopeduro? Freeduro? Or better yet Endurostyle?
The chairlift finally reaches the top of the mountain and we can get on our bikes and hide from the sun which is beating down on us hard. I grab my beaten-up rental Demo 8; it's pretty much a shell of its former self from the season of rental duty. It rattles and everything feels loose but I convince myself that it’s all good. However, despite all this Conor is on his even more beaten up hardtail jump bike because his downhill bike—which legend Matt Whitaker (owner of Wide Open) had sponsored to Conor—had been stolen. We pull into the ever clique A Line, and Conor starts to flow. Even though thousands have done this before us, Conor makes it his own and puts on a show of boosting style and whips, all the while I’m barely making the jumps and finding a lack of excuses.