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Kamloops Reminiscing: Getting Back To The Roots of Freeride

June 22nd, 2012

Stephen Matthews catching the last rays of the day.

I was invited along for a weekend of riding in the Kamloops by a small crew led by Seb Kemp, who was writing a story on the Loops for Dirt Magazine, and Reuben Krabbe, who was capturing the images for the article. I had not been to Kamloops in a long while, focusing my travels on other parts of BC, and more exotic locales in the previous few years. I feel strong ties to that arid part of the province though, having spent many weeks there in the early days of my freeride career, shooting for the New World Disorder movies and getting into the youthful trouble that seemed to follow our film shoots around in those days.

It really hit me on this trip how steeped Kamloops is in mountain bike history, and how it continues to set the bar for progressive freeriding. Terrain plays a big part in this; as Kamloops’ rolling sagebrush covered hills and clay-based dirt provide the perfect canvas on which to realize big one-hit-wonder booters or blistering fast trails. These manmade features dot the landscapes, many of them visible from the highways, all with stories and names attached to the lines, including Bender’s Jah Drop, Bourdon’s Road Gap, Hunter’s Step Down, Aggy’s Hip, Tippie’s Gravel Pit and so on.

These seemingly inconsequential piles of dirt or scraped out features have all helped shape the bike industry over the last 20 years. A new genre of mountain biking was born on the slopes of the Barnhartvale gravel pits and the imposing Devil’s Tower, the couple seconds of freefall in the infamous Jah Drop made legends, and snowboard, moto and freeride styles were fused together and introduced to the world with the ground-breaking film segments of Kamloops-raised riders like Matt Hunter and Graham Aggasiz.

My mountain bike reminisce was brought on largely in part due to the crew we were hanging with that weekend. Seb, tasked with writing a story on Kamloops, was full of questions about my early days filming and riding in the area. We were also traveling with my friend Stephen Matthews, who grew up in Calgary. He and his friends would not think twice about making the 8-hour drive out to Kamloops on a Friday night, sleeping in a ditch somewhere, and then methodically checking off the hit list of jumps and lines they had all studied in the movies before making the Sunday night drive back to Alberta, hopped up on Red Bull and adrenaline. Stephen was a veritable dictionary of Kamloops features, pointing them all out and naming the rider who built it, and what movie it appeared in.

We rode the Kamloops Bike Park, a breeding ground of young Loops rippers, and the result of a lot of hard work by dedicated locals. We hung out with Brad Stuart for a day, a rider who has taken Kamloops freeriding to the next level with his immaculately sculpted moto-inspired backyard jumps and next-level visions. We were lucky enough to be taken to Gnarcroft, his latest project recently featured in Strength in Numbers, where we sessioned booters alongside Brad and Dylan Sherrard, another Kamloops phenom. At the end of our session, Brad showed us some future projects, all of which seemed impossibly difficult to build, let alone ride, but we did not doubt him for a second.

They say to know where you are going, you have to know your roots. We visited the Barnhartvale gravel pits, arguably the birthplace of freeriding. I can almost trace this spot back to the source of the start of my freeride career, having seen Tippie and crew bombing these lines in a pre-Kranked teaser by Christian Begin called Wheels of Freedom. Robbie Bourdon and I had watched this and gone straight to our local gravel pit to jump off some cliffs and ride some sand lines — kicking off what was to be years of bike adventures all over the world.

Fast forward to now, and our crew had an amazing afternoon surfing dirt in the pits, racing each other down the long steep face, admiring our lines from the bottom and then hopping back in the truck to go do it all over again. It was probably not much different than what those pioneers were doing 20 years ago, and we were still having just as much fun. Some things never change.

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