Graham Agassiz: No Rules – No Boundries
February 5th, 2011
Hailing from Kamloops, BC, the birthplace of the freeride movement, 20 year old Graham Agassiz is a rider who has started his career with a bang. In a sport where exposure is vital to success, Graham has hit the nail on the head featuring in three of the last big freeride movies to hit our screens, New World Disorder 10, Follow Me and Life Cycles. With a style reminiscent of big mountain snowboarders, Graham has carved out a niche that separates him from his peers. With modern freeriding captivated by the growth of slopestyle and dirt jumping, Graham is taking mountain biking back to the mountains with big lines, big moves and effortless style.
Watching Graham ride is an education in fluidity and imagination, using the geography to his own accord. It is this geography and natural lay of the land which separates Kamloops and indeed Canada from the rest of the world, giving birth to a riding style and athletes unique to its shores. Mountain biking is going trough a transitional stage from sub culture to popular culture and this change is happening in Canada and mainly in the province of British Columbia, more than it is anywhere else in the world. It is indeed worth noting that Richie Schley, Wade Simmons and Brett Tippie all come from Kamloops. These were some of the original pioneers of freeride, taking the sport away from the race scene and pushing it in a new and equally exciting and competitive direction, but the competitive nature was progression and constantly pushing the limits of what was considered possible on a mountain bike.
Kamloops has been a constant hotbed of talent since these early days of the sport, Matt Hunter, one of the most established ‘big mountain’ riders calls this place home and so does Kurt Sorge, another rider making waves as a regular in the big freeride movies.
Graham Agassiz is not just another Kamloops local taking BMX tricks to the back country on a mountain bike, Graham is taking a whole new style of riding to the place where this sport was born. Mountain biking isn’t BMX and it isn’t Moto, but we do share a common lineage and this is something which makes our sport unique and open to outside influences. But there is more to being a sponge of external ideas, as mountain biking grows in its popularity a style of its own will surface and indeed, the signs of such a change are visible today and riders like Graham are at the forefront.
Interview: Olly Forster
Photography: Cary Olson
Before mountain bikes, way back when you were knee high to a grasshopper, you raced BMX. How old were you when you got into BMX and how far did you go with it before mountain biking took over?
BMX was my original passion when I was a little guy; it was my dream to be just like Crue Jones in the movie “RAD”. I started racing when I was about 8 or 9 years old, at our local track. I worked so hard at it, and I quickly became one of the top riders at our local track. Soon I started travelling to other Provincial and National races. When I left racing BMX I was only 15 years old and 2nd in BC. But it just wasn’t for me anymore… That’s about the time I picked up my first mountain bike.
Have you always been an active person and did you see the possibility of a career in action sports when you were younger?
I have always been a super active person, even from a young age. In school I played volleyball, Basketball, cross country running, and of course was always riding my bike. I was always watching the X-Games or stuff like that, and from before I can even remember I’ve just always wanted to be a professional athlete of some sort.
What was it that first got you into mountain biking, you obviously enjoyed riding and jumping bikes, but what made you switch from BMX racing to freeride mountain biking, a more obvious route would have been BMX freestyle. What triggered the decision to big wheels and suspension?
The Mountains! There was only so much I could ride with my 20” bike, just jumps and some single track really. I think the first mountain bike film I ever watched was The Collective, and it completely changed the way I looked at riding. The things that they were doing on those kinds of bikes just completely blew me away, and I knew that this is what I wanted to start doing.
Growing up in Kamloops is only going to be a good thing for aspiring freeriders. How much does your path into freeride come from growing up in a place like Kamloops?
It all comes from growing up in Kamloops. I was so fortunate enough to ride with riders like Ian and Scott Duncan, Steve T, Matt Brooks, and Matt Hunter. I don’t know how it all started, but all these guys basically took me under their wing. They showed me all the trails and zones, and I just rode with these guys every day after school and on the weekends. One day Matt Hunter took me to Harper Mountain for the first time. I remember trying to fallow him down the trail watching every line he took and trying to do that same line. But it isn’t easy trying to follow him down any trail, even today, he’s soo fast!
You seem to favor riding your mountain bike in the mountains and hills away from the parks and dirt jumps. Do you think mountain biking struggles with it’s own identity with so many riders emulating BMX, that we don’t have a strong identity of our own?
I think it struggles for sure to find its true identity, but at the same time it shows that the bikes were riding with today can ride just about anything. There are so many different kinds of mountain bikes, for different disciplines and riding styles. Whether it be, dirt jumping, cross-country, park, down hill or freeride. To me mountain biking is in the mountains, freeriding. No rules no boundaries, just whatever your vision is, that’s freeriding.
Where do you see the sport going in the near future and what would it take to get freeride mountain biking up there with other action sports?
It all just takes time. Who knows right now where it’s really going to go in the future? Like all other sports though, it just takes time and it’s up to the riders really for what direction they want to take the sport.
Looking at the crowds at the Crankworx slopestyle finals was something reminiscent of an X-Games competition, do you think freeride would benefit from a connection with X-Games and is mountain biking ready for the mainstream?
I just don’t know how we would properly be able to showcase a mountain bike contest at say an X-Games competition. I’m guessing it would be a slopestyle event though, but for that you need a proper slope or mountain to build it on. Is it ready for mainstream, I don’t know, but it would benefit the sport for sure!
Your riding has been described as having a style similar to ‘snowboarding’, which I think is pretty obvious. Is this style something that comes from a snowboard background you have or do you just favour big sculpted lines and fluid moves?
I definitely have a pretty big snowboarding background, it’s still a huge passion of mine and I get a lot of visions and creative ideas from it. It’s sort of funny, when I’m snowboarding I think of biking, and when I’m biking, I think of snowboarding. I like building my lines as if I’m going to be doing them on my snowboard, and I build them the same way as well. That’s the beauty of Kamloops, the soil here is very clay like and comes out of the ground in big blocks, similar to blocks of snow. It makes digging lines that much easier and that much more unique from anywhere else. To me the Interior of BC, with the perfect rolling hills, is my backcountry snowboarding.
Do you think people often overlook snowboarding as an obvious source of inspiration with mountain biking and freeride, when BMX and Moto seem to take all the credit?
I think so for sure, I mean, if you watch big mountain riders such as Matt Hunter, Thomas Vanderham, and the Claw, there lines are soo similar to that of a skier or a snowboarder. When you’re watching Brandon Semenuk or Greg Watts, it’s more BMX. Everyone has their own unique style. In mountain biking its soo easy to relate to other sports such as snowboarding, skiing, BMX, or moto.
Do you still do a lot of digging and trail building now you’re a famous rider?
Of course, I think I have to build more than ever now! All my lines I hand build, and if I’m lucky I get a few friends to come some days and help too. “No dig, No ride.” I think the best part of doing what I do, is going out and scouting a line, building it, visioning what I want do… Then when the time comes and you nail your line, it is the best feeling ever!
We’ve brushed on X-Games and Crankworx, and obviously Rampage is a big deal in the sport too, but what kind of contests would you like to see?
More Rampage events, its super hard to find the right venues for it, but I think the sport needs it!
Your appearances in NWD 10, Follow Me and Life Cycles are all sweet sections, how did you get the break into the big time and what advice would you give aspiring riders who want to make a name for themselves?
I think having good shop support is key, and a perfect place to start. From there you need a whole lot of determination, and if you really want it you can do it. Just ride, ride and ride! And always have fun no matter what!
What are your favourite tricks and what are you working on?
My favourite tricks are spins, flips and whips. I’ve been working on this one trick for 2 years now secretly, and you’ll just have to wait and see it one day if I ever get it!
Do you think style is more important than tricks and variations?
When you first started out mountain biking, who did you look up to and who inspires you now?
Matt Hunter, The Claw, Jordie Lunn, Brett Tippie, Andreu Lacodeguy…
Kamloops must be rich in talented riders, what’s the scene like at the moment and who should we be keeping an eye out for in the future?
There is definitely so many young talented riders right now in Kamloops, it’s insane! 3 that come to mind right away are Luke Beers, Dylan Sherrard, and Ian Killick. Those 3 have been just killing it for years, but I think Ian Killick is one to watch out for sure He’s doing some gnarly things these days, and builds his own lines.
The geography of Kamloops is pretty unique, how does it compare to other places in the world you’ve ridden?
Its nothing like anywhere else, hardly any rocks or roots, just insanely fast and fluid trails, and the option to build any size jump you want on its rolling grassy hills.
Now you’re a pro you must get to a bit of travelling done collecting those stamps in the passport. Where has been your favourite destination and why?
So much travelling over the past few years, but my favourite place has got to be Chatel in France. The people, the food, the riding, I love it there!
Sponsors are key to any professional athlete, how important are your sponsors, as I understand you’re very close to Kona and it was always a dream to make the team?
My first mountain bike was Kona, and ever since then I have always dreamed of becoming a member of the Clump team. Now that I am riding for them, they have been the coolest company ever, it’s a family over there, and everyone is awesome! We have a great relationship going on.
Monster Energy must have been a good hook up as they only sponsor the top guys. How do you choose your sponsors and have you got any new ones going into 2011?
Monster was also another company I dreamed of riding for, and when they opportunity came to be apart of the Monster Army I jumped on it right away. There also some the raddest people I have ever met, and have given me great support! Some new sponsors into 2011 will be Bell helmets, 5 10 shoes, Kona clothing, Sensus grips, and Bicycle Rockers.
Okay, so its 2011 and the riding season will be here before you know it. What are your plans for the year ahead?
Well I’d like to shoot and film as much as I can and just do some of the main slopestyle events. I just want to have fun!
If you had to describe what freeriding was in your own words and what it is to you, what would you say?
Freeriding to me is escaping from the rest of the world, no rules, and no boundaries. Just out in the wilderness, ripping a DH lap, blasting some big air, railing a corner, slashing a chute, hi fiving my friends at the trails. Always just having the biggest smile on my face!
Away from riding your bike, what else do you like to do back home?
When I’m home which is rarely during the summer. I take the time to hang out with friends and family. Go float down the river; go to my cabin at the Shushwap.
What does the future hold for Graham Agassiz?
Living, loving Life
Thanks Graham and all the best with the year ahead from everyone at Factory Jackson, time for those shout outs!
Big shout out to my family and friends for the all the love and support.
Bicycle Café for always being there!
5 10 shoes
About the Photographer
My name is Cary Olson from Williams Lake, BC Canada. Graduated as a professional photographer from Focal Point Photography in Vancouver, BC.
I’m currently using Olympus gear, the shots were taken in Williams Lake as I was the photographer to a good friend filming a small video there. It was awesome to get to know the guys after a week of shooting and I’m really looking forward to shooting with Agassiz again in the summer.