Today they are two of the best riders in the world, yet growing up they learned how to jump and do tricks on some of the most random features. Emil learned to do his first 360 by jumping out of a ditch and when Martin started riding, Slopestyle didn’t even exist.
So, while it is easy to get sucked into the idea that you need airbags, foam pits and a huge jump park in order to learn, all it takes is one tiny jump, lots of repetition and a huge chunk of motivation.
1. You don't even need a jump to learn tricks
Today there are plenty of amazing facilities for jumping - just take a look at The Dome Adrenaline Zone in Gävle, Sweden, La Poma in Barcelona, Spain or A-line in Whistler Bike Park, Canada. These are dream destinations for anyone who likes jumps, and while you might be able to go there for a holiday or two not many people are lucky enough to have these types of facilities on their doorstep. It’s more likely they have a couple of dirt jumps down the road, a local skatepark or maybe, like in the case of Emil Johansson, you learn your first tricks by jumping out of a ditch onto a cycle path next to your house.
I mean, it wasn’t even a jump really, but it’s where I learnt my first no-hander and 360.
“There was this ditch next to a cycle path at home. Someone had built a tiny little take off in it so that you could jump out of the ditch onto the cycle path and I did it so many times. I mean, it wasn’t even a jump really, but it’s where I learnt my first no-hander and 360”, Emil Johansson remembers.
2. One small jump could take you all the way to Crankworx
Today he is one of the top Slopestyle riders in the world with three Crankworx Slopestyle wins to his name and a trick repertoire that is actually mind-blowing. He now has bigger jumps to ride at home as well as the Dome Adrenaline Zone a couple of hours away, but up until recently they didn’t exist and his main practice spot was a small-ish mulch jump at his local BMX hall.
A spot that in some ways could be described as a backbone to his career - it’s on this jump that he spent the better part of his three years in high school practicing tricks. Tricks that he would then take to the much bigger courses on the FMB Gold and Crankworx Slopestyle contests.
I must have been in there almost every day hitting it over and over and over again.
“When I went to high school and had no car this was the only jump we had to practice on. I must have been in there almost every day hitting it over and over and over again”, Emil says. But even when his career took off and better facilities opened up, he still used this small jump as a practice spot. “Before flying out to Crankworx in New Zealand in 2019 I put my last hours of practice on that jump”.
3. You've got to learn the basics
This small mulch jump in Falun is one that Martin Söderström also knows very well. It’s where he is currently teaching MTB students from the local high school and is the closest indoor spot where he can ride during winter. But he doesn’t mind because just like Emil, he is a firm believer that practicing one jump over and over is the best way to progress your jumping skills.
Nowadays a lot of people skip the basics of riding because they have so many amazing places to ride.
“Nowadays a lot of people skip the basics of riding because they have so many amazing places to ride. They don’t really take the time to learn the fundamentals: like how to bunny hop, manual or corner properly. They are so important for your overall bike control and are such good skills to transfer on to the trails. The best thing is that all you really need in order to learn them is a flat space like a car park or gravel area, so anyone can do it at any time of the year”, Martin explains.
The best thing is that all you really need in order to learn (the basics) is a flat space like a car park or gravel area, so anyone can do it at any time of the year.
5. Become more creative
And he knows what he is talking about. Growing up there wasn’t many spots around for Martin to ride and practice. In fact, Slopestyle didn’t even exist at the time. It was more about dirt jumps and street riding. Martin remembers: “You really had to use your fantasy and get creative. You’d go find natural lips and rocks in the forest to jump off, we’d spent hours upon hours jumping down stairs in town, and if you heard about someone dumping some dirt somewhere in the neighbourhood, you’d go quickly head over and try and shape it into somewhat of a jump”.
With a huge career behind him Martin’s become an icon in the world of mountain bikes, and it’s fair to say that he’s come a long way from learning to jump on small lumps in the woods.
6. Repetition is key
Both Martin and Emil agree that whilst big jump lines and parks are amazing fun, sticking to one jump can be better for progressing your skills. “When you’ve hit a jump 10 times you know exactly what speed you need in order to make it work and you can start to get comfortable in the air. Once you’ve done that, you can start to learn some tricks. Repetition is key and what better way to get it than to hit the same jump over and over”, Martin explains.
There are no shortcuts and secrets: it’s about consistency, repetition and putting in the hours.
Emil totally agrees: “A lot of people underestimate the quality you can get out of one single jump. There are no shortcuts and secrets: it’s about consistency, repetition and putting in the hours. And it takes time to learn the basics: so many people want to learn how to backflip before they know how to jump straight. I normally set myself a goal with my session, for example, “today I want to lean trick X”, and then that’s what I’ll do for the rest of the day.”
If anything Emil and Martin’s stories shows that you don’t need the best facilities to become a great rider. It’s more about what you make out of what you have.
“Just look at Sweden, apart from a couple of newly opened places we don’t have the biggest or best mountains or riding spots but we still have a great scene and some very talented riders. It’s easy to think that you need all these fancy spots - that the grass is greener on the other side - but it’s really about how much motivation you have and how many hours you put in”, Emil says.
So, next time you feel demoralised or unmotivated because you don’t have the biggest or best jumps nearby, remember that neither did Emil Johansson or Martin Söderström growing up. Instead, go out and find a small jump, or curb or even just a flat piece of ground and start practicing over and over and over again. You’re going to thank yourself next time you hit the trails.
Martin Söderström and Emil Johansson
See Martin Söderström and Emil Johansson put their style and excellency in focus at Järvsö, Sweden.