Cam Zink wins second Red Bull Rampage title
Under near-perfect conditions, both veterans and rookies went big, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with each run at Red Bull Rampage 2023.
‘Impossible’ isn’t a prominent part of the Red Bull Rampage vocabulary. A 60-foot gap over a menacing canyon with no room for failure? That’s possible. Jumping from a crumbling knife-edge ridgeline to another, all while avoiding consequential exposure? That goes at Rampage. Then there are all the tricks: 360s, backflips, tail whips, nac-nacs, and more on blind, consequential features. When we think we’ve seen it all, the riders imagine something bigger, wilder, and crazier. Twenty-two years after the first Red Bull Rampage rider dropped in, we’re still on the edge of our seats in anticipation of what’s to come next. For the 17th edition of freeride’s gnarliest and most prestigious event, the athletes carried on the legacy of redefining what’s possible.
The arena was familiar, previously home to the 2008-2013 and 2022 Rampages. The sprawling ridges and canyons are different chapters from freeride history. Moments include Kelly McGarry’s 72-foot canyon backflip in 2013, Cam Zink’s 360 from the Oakley Sender in 2010, Gee Atherton’s wall ride in 2008, and many, many more. Cam Zink added his name to this list again this year, winning his second Red Bull Rampage with a highly technical and committed line. Two other Rampage veterans joined him on the podium, Tom Van Steenbergen in second place and Carson Storch in third.
When the odds seem unbelievable, bet on Cam Zink
Cam Zink’s win didn’t come without a fight. The journey to the podium began last year when he envisioned hitting this line with his best friend, Kyle Strait. Having competed at this venue at past Rampages, the duo gravitated to the spot once home to the famous Oakley Icon Sender. For Zink, this feature contributed to some of his greatest Rampage successes: his tremendous 360 in 2010 and an equally enormous backflip in 2013. In 2022, however, he wanted to hit again without the seven-foot wooden ramp, making it a 63-foot step down from takeoff to landing. But then tragedy struck. Strait crashed during practice, breaking his back, which Zink watched in horror. Going into finals, Zink battled the emotional toll of his friend's crash and an injured foot, ultimately finishing in 10th.
This year, he sought redemption. Zink and Strait improved the line, fixing the problem spot in the middle, making the 63-foot step-down drop achievable. During practice, Zink aired the feature multiple times, riding with confidence. A big trick was only inevitable for finals. Dropping into his first run, the Rampage veteran systematically moved through the top of his line, looking strong and throwing tricks. But he didn’t have enough speed for his Evel Knievel 55-foot set-up jump and hit the landing short, ending his first run early. “It takes a lot for a line to line up, and after I cased that jump [on run 1], my jitters and nervousness switched to competitiveness. I was ready to go again and tackle my second run, and I knew the wind wouldn’t ruin this for me,” Zink reflects. He channeled that determination into his second run, showcasing the incredible wealth of experience he’s gleaned from years of competing on these precipitous cliffs. After hitting the “Grandfather drop,” a highly technical feature with cliffs on either side, Zink aired a flip nac. From there, he flawlessly linked his complex middle section to gather enough speed for his behemoth 63-foot step down. Once at the take-off, Zink pulled for the biggest step-down backflip of his life. The feat is a testament to the sport’s growth over the last decade, showing what’s achievable when athletes like Zink dare to go bigger and bolder.
I’ve put in a lot of work and feel fortunate to still push it at the 37—as the oldest to compete here.
But that’s not all; he finished the run with a whip nac and 360, ending with a bang and giant hugs from his family waiting at the bottom. Fans roared from the sidelines, and the mountain was electric. “I’m glad I reached for the stars and got the win. The original Oakley Sender was 10 years ago, and my last win was thirteen years ago… it was still the biggest step-down flip I’ve ever done, and here we are again. It’s still just as intimidating and scary. I’ve put in a lot of work and feel fortunate to still push it at the 37—as the oldest to compete here.”
Tom Van Steenbergen's comeback writes another chapter in Freeride
Tom Van Steenbergen’s second-place run was a comeback story two years in the making. At the 2021 Rampage, the Canadian over-rotated a backflip and crashed, breaking his left and right hip sockets into multiple pieces, a piece off the top of his femur, and a piece of his lower vertebrae. Many would never be able to walk again after such a crash, let alone compete at Red Bull Rampage again. But Van Steenbergen has never been like most people. Having competed at Rampage for over a decade, he’s made a name for himself for his bold tricks and enormous features. At the finals, we saw that version of Van Steenbergen in the start gate.
He kicked off his run with a caveman drop—a move he first brought into Rampage in 2017. The trick is incredibly dangerous, requiring the rider to jump and mount their bike mid-air. Van Steenbergen only had seconds to get to the pedals before flying into a near-vertical chute. After plugging straight into the course, Van Steenbergen aired a 360 and backflip on his flat drops, earning him 89 points to take second place. Despite its demanding technicality, the run was smooth and precise, emphasizing that Van Steenbergen was back. “Last year was really tough to come back after my big injury, and to come back and get 2nd behind Cam and share the podium with Carson is the best that it could have gone in my eyes,” explains Van Steenbergen.
Carson Storch gives a masterclass in 360s
Sharing the same line as Steenbergen, Storch trailed closely behind his friend in third place with a clean and solid run. Going into the event, Storch had two major goals: make his line faster and “spicier.” After flying into a steep big mountain chute, sending dust and dirt trailing behind him, Storch set up for his big drops. The American is a specialist at throwing giant 360s. He can rotate off drops ranging from 40 to 60 feet and land without the slightest head bobble. For his two big flat drops, he stomped two back-to-back 360s, reminding us of his spin prowess. He rounded out the rest of his line with some backflips and tables oozing with style and fist bumping and celebrating before he even crossed the finish line.
I’m speechless, though. It’s a special podium for me.
“The [run] was exactly what I wanted to do. It was a dream run: rowdy and wild,” Storch says with a big smile. When it was time to drop for his second, Storch felt content with what he had already achieved, opting to celebrate the ride down instead with Van Steenbergen. “At the end, I played the strategy game, and I didn’t think I could beat Zink or Steenbergen, and Tom felt the same way, so we said 'screw it' and party trained down to the bottom. That was almost scarier than the main run since I couldn’t see,” Storch laughs. “I’m speechless, though. It’s a special podium for me.”
The drama and excitement extended beyond the podium as the day was filled with big moments from all the riders. Bienvenido Aguado Alba stunned with a gigantic front flip over the 72-foot canyon cap, rightfully earning him not just the Best Trick award but The Kelly McGarry Spirit Award and People’s Choice awards. “I’ve been thinking about the front flip for the whole year. The required speed is so scary, which was the big challenge for pulling it off. And it worked—twice! Since 2019, when I made my rookie mistake, I’ve been working to get back here,” said Bienvenido Aguado Alba, who couldn’t contain his joy throughout the competition.
Emil Johansson won the Michelin Style Award for his fluidity, flow on the course, and unique trick combinations. Kyle Strait was the obvious choice for the Toughness Award, having redeemed himself on the feature that broke his back last year and ultimately putting down a solid Rampage run. And the Carvana Digger Award went to the team of local rider Reed Boggs.
The sky is the limit
Red Bull Rampage propels the sport to new heights because the riders don’t perceive limits but instead limitless potential. Much like the intrepid scientists and astronauts who dreamt of walking on the moon, these athletes envision where the sport’s headed and take it there on finals day. This year’s event embodied that fearless vision and creativity we’ve come to love over the last two decades.
And as the dust settles from finals, it’s only fitting to ask: what’s next?