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April 14, 2005

Santa Cruz County Sentinel


Cameron McCaul got his first bicycle at a toy store when he was 15 years old.

When he soared off of a jump one day and snapped his bicycle frame in half, he could have walked away from his new hobby, “but I was having so much fun, I had to get another bike,” recalled the Aptos High graduate.

Now, four years later, McCaul has climbed to the top level of a growing cycling sport called free riding. His skills will be on display this weekend at the 15th annual Sea Otter Classic, held today through Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey.

“Free riding is more focused on style and tricks like backflips, tailwhips and the Superman seat grab,” explained McCaul, 19, using the colorful names of the heart-stopping stunts that launch the riders high into the air to perform acrobatic moves.

“Having good style means having control of your bike. Good form means total precision, like in a figure skating contest. In free ride type of events, which include dirt jumping and slope style, judges award points. It’s not racing,” he said.

A sponsored professional athlete who travels internationally to compete, McCaul will be showcasing his talent closer to his Aptos home this weekend. Scores of Santa Cruz County residents of all skill levels will participate in the Sea Otter’s four-day bike festival, entering both mountain biking and road biking races and recreational rides. But only a handful of athletes, including the Santa Cruz County trio of McCaul, Jamie Goldman, 18, and Greg Watts, 17, have qualified for an automatic spot at the invitation-only SRAM Pro Dirt Jump competition on Saturday.

“Jumping is the fastest-growing part of mountain bike competition, and so many entries are expected for the dirt jump that this year the event has been extended in length from one to four days,” said Sea Otter spokeswoman Pamela Heisey.

On Saturday, the 10 hottest jumpers from today and Friday will earn a spot in the semifinals along with the 15 invited riders (including the Santa Cruz contingent). The semifinals will whittle the contenders down to the top 10 for Sunday’s final.

In addition to competing at Sea Otter’s dirt jump contest, McCaul, Watts and Goldman have spent days at the race site helping to shape the 1,000 cubic yards of dirt into a course from their designs and hands-on labor.

“We are just putting on the finishing touches,” said Watts of Soquel, whose brother, Andy, also competes in free riding. “We bring shovels and help shape the landings, and we have built the ramps.”

“The cool thing about Sea Otter is that it is the season kick-off event for everyone,” said McCaul, who began competing in downhill mountain bike events at age 15 at Sea Otter, then switched to free riding during the last couple of years. He also gets to hobnob with hundreds of vendors at the industry expo and meet with his sponsors, including Fox Racing and Trek bikes.

“It’s a hometown event,” said McCaul, who just returned from Puerto Rico and traveled to contests last year in Austria, British Columbia and Germany, among others.

“He’s very good at what he does, so I don’t get nervous about it,” said his father, Pat McCaul, who lets the teens jump their bikes into his swimming pool as a cushioned landing pad. “I think boredom is a terrible thing for teenagers, and I’m happy both of my boys are so focused on mountain biking.”

Cameron’s brother, Tyler, 15, is also an avid free rider.

“Having control of your bike is key,” Cameron McCaul said of free riding, a niche of mountain biking that features bikes with 26-inch wheels (the same as mountain bikes) and full suspension (shock absorbers in both the front and rear of the bike). “There are tons of obstacles, big drops, dirt jumps, wall rides and boxes to grind,” says McCaul of his passion for dirt jumping. “It’s such an adrenalin rush.”

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