From Joyride to Rampage to unReal: Brandon Semenuk's Non-Stop Year - High Fives

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Brandon Semenuk on his way to 3rd place and the People's Choice award at the 2014 Red Bull Rampage. Red Bull Content Pool photo.

Brandon Semenuk is having one damn productive year. First was the release of his own movie, Rad Company, which premiered in the spring. Then came a big hometown win–his third–at the Red Bull Joyride slopestyle contest at Crankworx Whistler, where Semenuk started his run with a backflip off a flat drop into a flip double-whip and two cork seven variations, sending the Whistler Village up in arms. Following that, and with barely a week to get back to feeling comfortable on the big bike, Brandon set down a burner of a run at the Red Bull Rampage freeride event, taking home third place at the People's Choice award.

With the contest season over, Brandon's now looking forward to the next, more creative chapter–working with TGR & Anthill Films on their co-lab bike movie, unReal, which will hit theaters next summer with the help of Sony, Trek, and Shimano (see the trailer here). We got Brandon on the phone on his way to the Sunshine Coast to shred to get the low-down on a serious year in the life of one of biking's most successful riders.

Since you were doing both FMB and Rampage stuff, how do you make sure you’re staying on top of both slope and freeriding?

This year’s been kind of crappy because it’s been super back-to-back. I was filming all spring for Rad Company , and at that point I pretty much hadn’t touched my slope bike for a long time and didn’t practice a lot last winter. As soon as I was done filming, around April, I just started training for slope events, and after that I pretty much didn’t touch my downhill bike almost all the way until the week before Rampage, because I was so behind on where I wanted to be on my slope bike.

After a slew of contests, I had five days at home before I had to start digging my line at Rampage. I rode the Whistler bike park a handful of times, and that was pretty much it, and I left. Ideally you want a ton of time beforehand, get a ton of time on the bike to the point where you feel so good you can actually do something new and bring that to the event, but that didn’t work out for me so much this year. But I still feel that it went pretty well, given how long I’d gone without even touching my downhill bike.

Can you talk a bit about the whole Rampage experience this year? Because you guys got super rained out, it was kind of a crazy lead-up to the event this time around.

Much more used to dealing with dusty slopes, Rampage organizers were instead caught in cyclical deluges of rain prior and during the event. Red Bull Content Pool photo.

Well luckily, this year we had more time to build, because it was a fresh site and they didn’t go in and dig a lot of stuff beforehand, which was pretty cool, so there was a lot of open area. But we had two flash floods, and we missed out on three days of digging because of it. That’s a lot of time–you could build half a line in three days.

But the year before we only even had three days to dig, total, so we were just finishing up lines before finals. As much as that sucked, the rain, it came at the right time; we had a little bit of digging and were just starting to cut lines in to the point where we’d water them and pack them down, and then the rain came, and we didn’t get to dig a day, but when we came back, we didn’t have to bring water up the hill, and we just had to pack it in, and we were done. Whatever was close to being finished, we had to take advantage of the moisture and finish.

Then, a couple days later when things were starting to dry out again, it flash-flooded again, and we were all worried about the lines being washed out, but we got back there and it was not bad at all, the dirt was in great shape, and the lines were done with plenty of time before finals.

How did you decide on the line you ended up doing at Rampage?

It was kind of, like, ‘Okay, we’ll get the serious part over at the top,’ which is why I rode right off that cliff. I liked my line because you didn’t slow down at all towards the finish line; you were going fast all the way through to the finish. I pretty much wanted to go top to bottom as fast as possible; I didn’t want to traverse, I wanted to drop straight in.

I saw a cool couple of lines at the top, and was psyched that they linked up, and found that lily pad feature a bit lower down. Down lower there was already a big step-down to a big jump at the bottom, and there wasn’t a lot of speed down there, and I wasn’t going to build anything bigger than the jump they built at the bottom. And that jump was big, it was trickable, and it was right at the bottom. So I just linked all those features up.

It wasn’t a line where I was getting really sketchy constantly, but there were lots of trickable areas, so I just thought that if there was some lack of technicality somewhere in the line, I could just make up for it by adding tricks and keeping my score up. I thought that line had a bit of everything.

Do you think having a faster line helped get you the Peeople’s Choice Award?

"Speed looks cool." So do huge cliff drops. Semenuk charging the top of his line. Red Bull Content Pool photo.

I’m not sure, but obviously speed looks cool. If you’re moving fast and you don’t have to stop at any point, it looks like you’re having fun and you’re out riding a trail. It’s interesting for me to watch someone ride down the trail when they’re pinned the whole time; it looks super awesome.

What was your feeling about how the contest went compared to other years?

I was actually pretty impressed with how it went this year. It’s pretty tough with the organizers sometimes, but this year they did qualifiers, and instead of ending with the one run due to the weather, and having that be the only run that counted for finals, they used the second weather window to run the second run, and they were willing to push finals if they had to. It gave all those guys in qualifiers a fair chance to get into finals.

In an unprecedented move, Rampage organizers still ran the second run of qualifiers despite a rain delay, and even pushed back finals an extra day to ensure the best conditions possible. Red Bull Content Pool photo.

The fact that they pushed finals­–I’m always impressed when organizers are willing to do something like that, because I know how badly they don’t want to do that. They pushed it a day to get good weather, and it was pretty much dead calm all day. It was probably the least amount of wind we’d seen in the entire two weeks we were there. So it ended up being perfect conditions for finals, with wet dirt and no wind. And it there was a bit of wind at the top and you didn’t want to drop, they gave you as much time as you wanted to wait. They really gave the riders a chance to have the perfect environment.

What other runs were you impressed by?

Man, everybody was riding so well, I thought. I mean, obviously the top guys, like Andreu, Zink, Straight, and Rheeder were all super good. But I was actually super impressed with a bunch of guys in the middle of the hill, like Brendan Fairclough and Jeff Herbertson. There were a couple of those guys who were shredding super hard.

So now what’s on the docket for your filming for unReal?

I mean, we have a couple of ideas right now, but I think the biggest thing is just location at this point and just committing to a time.

Well, first, tell me about Rad Company and how that went, making your own film.

It worked out pretty good; we didn’t have the biggest timeline to do it, but we had big expectations for sure, and I had a lot of ideas I wanted to lay out. But it was a lot to be an athlete and direct a film, and do a web series on top of that, it was a pretty insane year to get that all done, and made that all the more hectic.

But it was pretty cool to be able to go out and build all these one-off locations that I had been wanting to do, and to get a couple of my buddies and sick athletes out, and get creative with that whole freeride thing, and the new gear they [the filmers] wanted to use, too, and it ended up being a 45-minute film.

What was that experience like being the director for the first time? Because obviously, as an athlete, you get a taste of that being on the other side of the camera.

Semenuk jumped behind the other side of the lens as director for his first bike film, Rad Company. Red Bull Content Pool photo.

Yeah, I mean I’ve done some of it on a very small scale for other segments or web stuff, but it was basically herding cats for an entire year. You’re trying to build these locations, juggle builders, juggle athletes, dates, and trying to do contests and web series in between all this. It was pretty overwhelming, and I definitely don’t envy you guys [TGR] or any other filmers. Just juggling the logistics is a whole ‘nother job in and of itself.

It was still a really great experience for me, and obviously the first one’s going to be the toughest; I feel if I went to do that all over again, I’d be a lot better at it. So just having that experience has been huge for me.

Do you feel like it was hard to get in just time on the bike during that whole time?

I guess this past year, at least, wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have any big injuries–I think the longest I was off the bike was for three weeks–and I rode a ton, but this year I kind of knew that I wanted, or had, to do. It was really repetitive, almost. But the year before, I was injured, and I didn’t have a lot of time to ride my bike, and then the whole film thing came along, and I was helping building, and driving around and scouting locations, missing weeks of riding at a time.

And then this year, I didn’t have the time to just go out and explore and get creative; it was more like, “Okay, I have a week to do this, now I have to switch bikes and have ten days to get ready for this contest,” and I was constantly juggling bikes and making sure I was dialed with certain tricks.

And I was a part of over ten segments, so I had to be like, “These tricks are for this segment and these ones for this segment,” and I’d work on those tricks, do them, and then I wouldn’t go back to them again and would just start on a new list of tricks altogether. It was really scheduled.

With that in mind, your Joyride run was pretty frickin’ crazy, what was it like to get that trick list together?

I mean, once I finished the film, Joyride was the only thing I was really concerned about. I had a month before the first event I had to do, and then a month after that to get ready for Joyride, and obviously I wanted to be killing it at that first event, but I didn’t ride that well, and it was a crap event for me.

So that next month, I just committed to Joyride, and trying to get my body healthy again and figure out all those tricks I wanted to get in the winter but didn’t have time for. But I managed to figure it all out and started to feel really good on my bike, and had new tricks to do. And you don’t always get the chance to get a new trick ready for a contest.

And what was the clincher trick, the hardest one in that course, for you to dial?

Brandon dialed in the hardest trick of his Joyride line–the flip double-whip–more or less at the event. Talk about time management... Red Bull Content Pool photo.

I thought the start of the course was the hardest, because if you didn’t land in the same spot off the first drop every time, the speed would change. I’d do the backflip off the drop, not really know where I was going to land, and would have different braking every time going into that up ramp. And if you overshot or cased that up rump, you had to readjust again for that third hit.

And that was when I was trying to throw that flip double-whip, which was the hardest part of my run. I didn’t have a ton of time to practice that, and hadn’t really done them on a ton of different jumps, and I think I had done that trick once in the couple weeks before the event. I wasn’t doing them and landing them every day, and pretty much just practiced that trick only on the Joyride course.

What’s it like riding that course, which is like a stadium, with that many people in the crowd?

Red Bull Joyride finals–no pressure! Red Bull Content Pool photo.

It’s pretty stressful there. The crowds don’t’ really bother me, but the fact that it’s the hometown crowd; everywhere you go is someone you know. Most of my sponsors aren’t really at most of my events, but every single one of my sponsors was at Crankworx. All the people you want to put on a good show for are there.

What are you looking forward to with unReal now?

I’m psyched on it; the chance to get creative, that’s pretty much all I care about. It’s not just doing the same thing over and over. It’s a really cool idea, and it gets you stoked, gets you motivated, and makes you want to see it all come together.

Brandon Semenuk will star in TGR & Anthill Films' 2015 bike movie, unReal, which comes out next summer. For more information on the film, including other athletes, shoots, and behind-the-scenes sneak peaks, click here.

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