joe_distWhen summer camp is mentioned in conversation, most people tend to wax poetically about their long-past experiences. Stories of marshmallow roasts and campfire sing-a-longs abound. When they dig deep into the memory vaults, repressed recollections of bugs, weird counselors and food poisoning also surface. I have mixed emotions when I think of my camp experiences. My less than social young personality (ie: shy, introverted) may have had something to do with it, but more than that it was the fact I could be at home playing on my bike, instead of eating tainted camp food or playing war games in the woods.

Luckily now I have the chance to vindicate my camp experiences by coaching at the Summer Gravity Camps in Whistler every summer. These camps are a mountain bike kids dream. Hanging out with pro riders, staying far from parents in a hotel with buddies, and shredding the epicenter of the gravity-fed bike world, the Whistler Bike Park.

I have been coaching in Whistler for the last 5 years. It is a part of my summer I really look forward to. I enjoy seeing all my buddies, getting rad in the bike park, and soaking up the idyllic summer camp lifestyle. The SGC experience is cool, with all the pro coaches hanging out, but I have realized that it is the wide variety of kids, and their stories, that define this camp.

There was Hajime, from Japan, whose parents planted him on a plane and sent him over the Pacific Ocean with his bike. He spent his week at camp like it was the last 7 days on Earth, riding every run like his life depended on it, pedal to the metal, all with his quiet, samurai style. He appreciated every moment of his camp experience, just like Blake from pancake flat Manitoba, who had never ridden a real mountain in his life. Blake soaked up every run we attempted, and in a reckless style that belied his flatland upbringing.

George from Ontario rode with us in 2006. His parents told him that it was the last year they would pay for the camp. He spent the next two summers working at Tim Hortons to save up enough money to return to SGC. One hot afternoon in the middle of last week found us wrapping up the day, sending the exhausted campers back to the hotel for a refreshing jump in the pool. I looked over from my shaded seat to see George standing there expectantly with his bike, puppy-dog like, hoping for a coach to take him back up the mountain for more. I couldn’t refuse, and we went back up for some extra shredding. After all, this 16-year-old kid needed to get his money’s worth!

There was Johnny and Jordon, two buddies from California that have been coming to camp for the last few years. This year, with fresh drivers licenses they embarked on a two week road trip before camp, hitting all the famous DH and jump spots between their home and Whistler. Road trips are one of the ultimate expressions of youth, and these two Cali kids did it right. I was quite envious listening to their tales from the road. They kept up their road trip antics on the camp week too. On video day, as we set up to shoot on the jump-infested Dirt Merchant trail, I turned around to see Jordan turning his riding kit into short shorts and a muscle tee, and Johnny stuffing a fully inflated “companion” doll in his riding pack. They disappeared down the trail, airing past the bewildered videographer, rubber arms and legs waving wildly in the wind.

These wild youth, and many more that I have the pleasure of riding with every summer, give me much hope for the future of mountain biking. These are all kids who harbor true passions for riding, and will so for many years, influencing countless others. I feel truly lucky to play even a small part in developing their enthusiasm for a sport and lifestyle that brings so much happiness to anyone involved with it.