Over the past 10 years of Crankworx, nobody has found more success in the signature slopestyle contest than Whistler's own Brandon Semenuk.
Semenuk heads into Red Bull Joyride on Saturday, Aug. 16, as the defending champion, having won the event two of the last three years. The 23-year-old has been on the Crankworx slopestyle podium five times, which is more than anybody else in the event's history. (Fellow two-time winner Cam Zink is next on the list with four top-three finishes.)
All eyes in the mountain bike community seem to be on Semenuk no matter what he does — be it in competition, his film projects or other endeavours. That's especially true each year on the second weekend of Crankworx, when he's perennially the hometown fan favourite among the 20,000-plus fans who gather around the Joyride course in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park's Boneyard.
With just a few days until Semenuk tries for his third Red Bull Joyride title — which would mark a new record of Crankworx slopestyle wins — Pique chatted with Semenuk to hear what he's been up to in the 12 months since his last Joyride triumph, plus some of his thoughts ahead of Saturday's Diamond Series event on the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour.
Pique: It's been a pretty busy year for you with Brandon Semenuk's Rad Company coming out, and another season of (Semenuk's web series) Life Behind Bars finishing off. What have the biggest highlights been for you over that time?
Semenuk: Probably just lots of filming. It's been fun and kind of a nice change from what I'd been doing the last few years. Just being able to go and build new, unique zones and ride new things, instead of just riding the same old stuff at home then going to contests.
P: What have been some of your favourite places that you've been able to ride in the past year?
S: I wouldn't say it's been anywhere new, just the stuff we've built has been really fun. Just kind of building stuff that you want to ride.
P: After scaling back your competition schedule and focusing more on filming over the past year or so, do you have a sense of what you might set your sights on next year and beyond?
S: Not really. Whatever opportunities arise that seem fun for me or the best option. I honestly don't really know. I'll definitely do some more filming and probably do some more events in the future. That's kind of the same old, but hopefully I'll be able to do cool, new projects and stuff that I haven't been able to do.
(Ed.'s note: Semenuk added that a fourth season of Life Behind Bars is "to be determined" for now.)
P: Besides it being your hometown event, what makes Red Bull Joyride special in your mind?
S: It brings the whole mountain bike community together and gets a crazy amount of people out. It's definitely the biggest event for a lot of mountain bike athletes. It's crazy because it's in my hometown, but it is just the biggest event.
P: Over the years, be it in Joyride or other versions of the Crankworx slopestyle, what are some of the moments from those contests that stick out most for you?
S: That's kind of a tough one. Even just growing up watching it made some of the most impactful memories for me. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever, and that's kind of why I do it now.
P: Some of those Crankworx podiums early in your career were probably pretty special for you, too.
S: Yeah, those definitely kind of set off (me) being able to make this a career and made it more of a reality. That was definitely something that I didn't expect.
P: You got a chance to preview the Joyride course a couple of weeks ago and seemed pretty impressed. What do you like about it?
S: It's more refined, basically just leaving what was really good and tweaking it a little bit to make it better. The areas that were a problem or the features that didn't work the greatest, we kind of just switched up a little. Paddy (Kaye) designed the course for Joyride Parks and he kind of just came to us, and we're like, 'Yeah, this is good, just keep these things in mind.' A couple athletes have their say and (help with) the monitoring of the course build to make sure things are put together like they should. So it's kind of a next-generation slopestyle course, just more refined and better for tricks.
P: Every time you compete, you're automatically seen as a favourite. How do you deal with that pressure, or does it not really affect you that much?
S: Not really. I just kind of do my thing and try not to think about it too much, honestly.
P: What does go through your head in the week leading up to a competition?
S: I just ride a lot and try to feel good on the bike. That's really all you can do, you know? If you show up kind of defeated already, then there's no point in dropping in.
P: If you had to put your money on one of the other guys in the field Saturday, who would you wager on?
S: I'd just say the kids who have been doing good already and showing consistency. Obviously (Brett) Rheeder and Tomas Genon, and then there are a couple of kids who have some big tricks. They might have some more stuff in the bag by now. There are a lot of good riders out there. Tons of guys could put good runs together, and it's Crankworx, so you just don't really know.
P: It's been almost a decade since somebody won back-to-back Crankworx slopestyles (Paul Basagoitia in 2004 and '05). What would it mean to you to repeat as champ?
S: Huge, man. It's one of the biggest events of the year. If I was going to win one, it would be this one, if I had to choose.
P: You spend a lot of time away from Whistler now, but how much does the impact of growing up here stay with you?
S: It still feels like home, and it hasn't really changed that much, honestly. Obviously, all of the trails are a little more developed and there's a new scene, but it's the same old thing. Ripping around town feels good. Whistler's a pretty special place.
P: Anything else during Crankworx that you're excited to take in?
S: Besides practice, I'll get to watch everyone else ride. It's so rad to watch all the other events like the Canadian Open and A-Line (Fox Air) downhills, and the Whip-Off and all that. It almost makes you more motivated for your event, because it's cool watching people do that. It's kind of like, 'Oh yeah, that's why I do it.' It's pretty rad to see.