Mountain biker Cam Zink is no stranger to world firsts. Last October, he successfully completed the biggest freeride step-down backflip in history – a crazy 78ft jump at the iconic Red Bull Rampage.
Now he’s taking it one step further.
“I’m doing a 100ft dirt-to-dirt backflip at Mammoth in California this year,” he tells me mid-race at Crankworx in France last weekend. “No-one’s ever flipped 100ft before. I think it will break the world record by a lot.”
Zink became an international sensation in 2013 when the video of his 78ft flip went viral in a matter of hours. But in the world of mountain biking, he’s long been regarded as a freeride hero. After all, this man is not afraid to bigger and harder than anyone else in the world.
“No-one’s ever flipped 100ft before. I think it will break the world record by a lot”
Gravity-defying stunts have defined Zink’s careers over the past few years. Originally a downhill racer from Nevada, he competed in World Cups while jumping just for fun. It was in 2006 that everything changed.
Zink came 44th in the Downhill World Cup and won his first Crankworx slopestyle contest with a backflip X-up one-footer. “I decided I’m clearly better at this, so just went that way.”
He puts his inspiration down to former racer turned freeride pioneer Kirt Voreis. “He was the forefather, like Jesus Christ. Freeriding didn’t exist when I was kid, but Kirt was race doing all these tricks in videos that were so much sicker than anyone else.”
Now Zink has followed in his footsteps. He broke the biggest backflip record for the first time in 2011, for a G-Shock Watch advert. More recently, he endured a horrific slam after attempting a 70ft canyon gap and overshooting the landing.
But in true Zink form, he was back the next day his bike the next, hobbling around and popping painkillers. So, what’s the secret to his success?
“Confidence is key. This sport is so much about your mentality,” Zink says. “Obviously you want to stay fit, so your body doesn’t fail when you crash but for freeriding, it’s all about your mind.”
When you’re flying dozens of feet through the air, it’s hard to imagine what it must feel like. Zink tries to put it into words. “It’s just a two and half second air, but it feels like forever. You’re just leaning back, staring at the sky. Then before you can see the landing, you know where you are. It’s the sickest feeling in the world.”
While other riders weaken in the face of fear or defeat, Zink is unshakeable – even in the face of that drop. But he assures me that he does get nervous before any big competition.
“Inside I have feelings. I’m not a frickin’ psychopath. i just deal with stress better than most people”
“Inside I still have feelings, I’m not a frickin’ psychopath. I guess I just deal with stress better than most people. [fellow rider] Kurt Sorge always calls me the most confident man in mountain biking”
Even after spending eight hours in hospital with a swelling haematoma in his leg, Zink went on to pull the 78ft jump at last year’s Rampage with what appeared to be total ease.
Confidence definitely played a part there. He tells me it was only afterwards he realised how close he came to death.
Last December one of Zink’s friends, mountain biker Cedric Garcia, nearly bled to death after crashing into a tree and severing his femoral artery in his groin. His fellow rider had to stick his fingers in the artery while waiting for the rescue team to arrive.
“That’s almost exactly what I did before Rampage,” says Zink. “but it didn’t break the skin. It just flamed up and created a giant blood ball around my groin. If it had broken the skin, I would have just bled out.”
“You can die doing almost anything, but when you weigh it up the reward far outweighs the risk”
The incident was made all the more scary by the fact that Zink’s fiancé Amanda gave birth to a little girl in October. Has starting a family made him think differently about taking on even more dangerous feats?
“Yes of course, but I wouldn’t go into it if I really thought I was putting myself in that much danger. You can die doing almost anything, but when you weigh it up the reward far outweighs the risk.”
Zink sounds like a total badass. When it comes to riding, he’s up there with the world’s biggest daredevils but in conversation, he’s calm, friendly and totally down-to-earth.
At only 28 years old, he’s already accomplished huge sporting feats, started his own company Sensus making rider-designed handlebar grips as well as supporting a family of three.
There’s definitely more to Zink set than just having the confidence to backflip off hundred foot drops. The question people are asking though is how much bigger can these tricks get?
Zink thinks it’s just a matter of finding the right feature and having the confidence to go for it, “like that Rampage stuff was just perfect. You can go bigger if it lines up. It’s just a matter of finding something like that and taking advantage”.
“You can go bigger, if it lines up. It’s just a matter of finding something like that and taking advantage”
As far as his ESPN 100ft flip goes, there isn’t anything right now that “lines up”, so they’ve got to build a jump big enough. “It’s just a matter of time before someone flips bigger than that one off the Oakley Sender. Now that ESPN is backing us, we have the budget to make it happen”.
The world-record breaking attempt will take place in California on 21 August 2014, broadcast live by ESPN, Zink tells me.
“That’ll be the focus point of my whole year. I’m not gonna sandbag myself and not try and win the slopestyle or speed and style. It’s just cool knowing that if I do that, then nothing else really matters.”