By Peter Ferrucci on June 11 2013
Kenny Smith: Show.No.Mercy.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hours is the minimum amount of practice time required to become an expert at most anything. That means 10,000 hours of patience, repetition, sacrifice, of complete and all consuming commitment to an activity that eventually comes to define the enthusiast. For Specialized team rider and Prince George's own, Kenny Smith, that would mean 10,000 hours of descending towering rock faces, jumping distances previously reserved for motorcycles, and generally navigating mountain bikes over, around, and through terrain most would describe as treacherous if not impassable. Moreover, it would also require summoning the fortitude to continue to push the envelope of what is possible on a bicycle even after recovering from injuries that would make most people consider a drastic change in their career path. For Kenny, defined by his aggressive and fearless riding style, there was only one option: get back on the bike and show no mercy.
Exactly how many hours, minutes, and seconds Kenny has invested in a career that is now seeing him ascend the list of the world's best freeriders is unknown, in any case, his investment continues to pay off as his prominence continues to grow. From what is now the Pidherny Recreation Site where he cut some of his first trails in Prince George to the sport's Mecca of Whistler to the slick rock of Virgin, Utah, site of Redbull's Rampage competition, Kenny has left his mark whether it be with a shovel or a bike. So much so that his sponsors including Specialized Bikes, SRAM, Rock Shox, Avid, and Truvativ, Spank Industries, Smith Optics, Cromag Bikes, and Fox MTB took notice and got behind him. Here is what he had to say about how far the Pidherny trail network has come since he and a few friends first started building there over 15 years ago as well as his journey from Prince George to Whistler and beyond:
You started building at Pidherny when you were 13 years old, now not only is it a recognized recreation area, but they have received nearly $80,000 to continue to develop the site:
Sweet! This is the first of heard that they had got money for Pidherny. Who's going to do it, who's going to do the digging? It'd be sick even to walk in the woods with them and help them flag it out.
What goes through your head when you realize something you started as a teenager has turned into such a massive success?
It's awesome. I think it's such a good thing for Prince George. I wonder if you can get someone locally to sponsor as far as getting the machinery to build excavator trails. People love them and the best part about excavator trails is most people can ride them. They're not like fall line trails full of roots, rocks, trenches, you can set grades so that that everyone is riding at a comfortable speed which can get people into the sport and help the sport grow. You'll see 80 year old dudes getting on a bike for the first time, or, little kids riding down the same trail and getting a taste for it. It would be awesome for a trail like that to happen in this town; more and more people are going to get into because it's fun right away which isn't always the case in a pretty extreme, pretty gnarly sport. It's like a groomer trail at a ski hill. You can definitely grow your skills on the groomer trails before you get into the real - (more difficult) - trails.
Many young, local riders look up to guys like you and Tyler Morland and hope to follow in your footsteps as they progress, what advice do you have for them as they get older and faster?
Go win something. (Laughing) It's a hard thing to break into. Obviously the easiest way to get in though is to win. Seriously though, you need to spend your own money and race and race and keep racing. You can be the best rider in the word, but, are you the best racer in the world? It's a head game. You need to get the experience, do every single race you can do and learn how to get your head in the right space when it counts. It doesn't matter if it's raining or you're sick or tired, it doesn't matter, your race run is the shot. It's not the fourth run on day two that's the best, it's the race run that counts. Getting exposure is something else people want to see, so, making web videos and getting shots. Go riding every single day and try really really hard at it.
For me, I needed to go to the bigger terrain and that was Whistler. Coming into the scene, I moved to Whistler and didn't have a name for myself at all. Me and Kevin Bartkowski moved there and showed up on beater bikes wearing Slayer t-shirts and cut-off jeans and just started riding. Everyone else had sick bikes and we looked like kids on welfare with hacked together bikes (Laughing). But we didn't care, we just rode every day, as much as we could and started progressing, always getting better. Before that, I rode every single day and I thought I was a good rider. When I got there and saw how many good riders were there I was like, "Holy shit, I suck." Well not suck, but, definitely not as good as some of those dudes. So you've got to be hungry. You have to be super dedicated to the sport and sacrifice a lot of stuff if you're really going to go far. Money is probably the biggest thing you're going to sacrifice. Racing is expensive. You can go to four races, have flat tires in two, break your derailleur in one, and crash in the fourth, and not get one race run in for all the money you've spent to go racing. Plus, the way bikes are now, you're fixing them in between every run if you're riding it hard. And you can't ride a bike that isn't shifting well and if you don't have any support, if you don't have a mechanic, you're fixing your bike or your dad or your buddy is. When I was young it was just, "I'm going to build the biggest shit I can dream up here." (Laughing). And it just spiraled up into really big stuff.
Building is something you've done a lot of since you left Prince George. You've built at Whistler, and at Red Bull Rampage, is there a favourite trail or line you've had a hand in creating?
Building, to me, was always such a cool part of mountain biking because it's not like you need to pour concrete like in a skate park, or, have your dad drive you to a motocross track, you can just go into the woods, look around and decide, "Let's ride here." It's crazy because the lines you didn't even know existed are there if you just look around.
There have been so many good ones but some mean more than others. Obviously, for me, the train gap(Featured in Second Base Films' From the Inside Out) has been a childhood pipedream so to pull that off last year meant a lot to me. There's another line just off the highway from Pemberton to Whistler where a 20 foot long rock cracked off big cliff and I'd always thought it would be sick to jump off the top, down to the rock below. I first saw it when I was 17 but every time we'd drive from Pemberton to Whistler we'd see it so yea, after 11 years you can imagine how bad I wanted to hit it. When Kyle Norbraten got asked to be in this movie he came down from PG and we built the line in two days, it's called the Rutherford Double Drop, it's the last line in From the Inside Out. It was gnarly at the time, and it's still gnarly. Once we'd built it, word started getting out about it so there were people asking, "Who built it?" After that line I started being mentioned in the sponsorship scene, I picked up my first deal that year. So that line was pretty iconic for me as far as building and getting a name for myself.
Building Rampage was pretty cool. It's cool to be a part of the progression of the sport even at the highest level. Rampage is pretty crazy. Some of those five foot drops are gnarlier than the bigger drops simply because of the fact that you first have to get to it, or, you can't see your landing, or, you're committed from way back up the hill. The guys on TV make it look sick, like they're out having a good time, but in reality it's a lot of calculation going on and a week of preparation just to put together one run. It takes days, in some cases, before you can ride your whole line from top to bottom because there could be five or six big hits on it that would be an achievement in themselves if you hit one of them on an average week. Then some dudes are throwing tricks in there and you're like, "You are gnarly, dude!"
What exactly goes through your head when you're dropping into something you've worked on for a week?
When I was younger it was all about trying to figure out what speed to hit something at. As I've gotten older, I started thinking of different ways to throw myself, like trying to incorporate a 20 foot rock face into a drop, instead of just a 20 foot drop and maybe have a double into that section to get to it and finding lines where you really have to commit yourself is something that I really like. I like going out in the woods and finding unique features and different style of lines that are challenging where you have to commit to ride it out. Finding that line, say down a 200ft bluff or something, is a science. And you have to work your ass off to build these lines, it's not like they just appear. Like the train gap, it took 80 hours to build. It's hard work. You get to know the line, you're constantly thinking about it, spending days there building, looking at it. In the end, when the film crew shows up you've spent so many hours looking at this thing, thinking about this thing, you know every little piece of the puzzle, and, that makes it way easier when it's time to hit it. But, you're still scared shitless because you're the guy guinea pigging it. Lately, things have gotten bigger, the consequences have gotten higher, and there's almost a bit of a death factor involved and you really just can't fuck it up, you have to ride it out, and it's sweet because I can still pull it off. (Laughing).
You suffered a pretty severe injury last year, breaking both ankles, in a sport like this one where putting yourself at hazard is merely party of the game, how do you recover from that mentally?
I'm still kinda dealing with it a bit. That was my first big injury in 5 years. I used to be plagued with injuries when I was younger because I had more balls than skill or I'd hit shit when conditions were bad. But I've gotten older and now I can look at something and think, this jump's not going anywhere, I can hit it tomorrow.
That line though, I nailed it. I hit it perfectly, just like I wanted to, a 10 or 12 foot drop into a chute with a little turn. But there was some soft stuff in the way from another line guys had been riding and, when I landed, I couldn't turn the bike like I wanted and right away it was like, "Fuck, I'm going over the bars." So I just tomahawked down an 80 foot cliff. As soon as I hit the dirt I knew that both my ankles were broken. I thought the bones were sticking out but they weren't so that was good. As I get older, it's harder to bounce back from injuries like that, at least that's what they tell me. I came back to PG to rehab and get away from biking. It's hard to live in Whistler when you're injured and there's really not much to do there when you're not riding. Since I've been back I've just been hitting the gym, ankle injuries aren't rocket science, you have to build the muscle back up around everything so I've been hitting it pretty hard, working out, and the ankles are feeling great. Getting back on the bike recently, they don't hurt at all either. You can't let an injury slow you down. It's all mental at that stage.