This is the story of Emil Johansson, a 17-year-old rider from Trollhättan, Sweden that has worked really hard to prove that he can be at the top of the Slopestyle game.
EARLY YEARS — How Emil started riding and mastered his skills in Sweden and at La Poma Bikepark.
Emil grew up playing handball and ice hockey in Trollhättan, Sweden.
Eventually, he got more interested in bikes and bought his first Dirt Jump bike: “I remember piling up plywood boards and pallets on the street to build small ramps.” One day, he heard that there was a spot near his hometown that had a few jumps, so he went there: “I met a lot of people that shared the same passion about bikes like me, and since that day, I felt that all I wanted to do was ride bikes.”
I had nowhere else to go ride, nowhere to progress.
By the age of 11, Emil quit playing ice hockey in order to be able to ride more frequently, and as his passion for dirt jumping grew, he ended up quitting handball too. “It was 2011 and I wanted to spend all my free time on my bike.”
The place where he used to go ride the most was Camp Active, an indoor skatepark one hour away from his place, he explains: “It had a foam pit and a resi where I learned all the basics and progressed my riding skills.” Although, during the winter of 2014/15, Camp Active closed its doors for bikes. “It was a big disappointment for me. I had nowhere else to go ride, nowhere to progress.” he says.
After giving it some thought, he did something that he had never expected to do, move to Falun.
Our fingers freeze and our eyes are in tears all the time due to the cold air. We can’t even water the track or the landing because it would freeze the dirt.
There is a school in Falun where they have Slopestyle as part of the program. The place where they ride is basically an indoor BMX track that has a mulch jump with two different wood kickers in the middle of it. Winters are very harsh for riding. “Temperatures are below zero and we have to ride with at least 3 layers of clothes because we don’t have heathers inside the facility. Our fingers freeze and our eyes are in tears all the time due to the cold air. We can’t even water the track or the landing because it would freeze the dirt. It isn’t actually a good place to ride, but it is the only one around, and it is good enough if you just practice hard every day.” he admits.
This is one of the main reasons why Emil have been going to La Poma Bikepark in Barcelona, Spain for the last couple of years: “It is the best place to practice and progress for any dirt jumper. Besides the heavy winds, the weather is usually good, warm and sunny. There are dirt jump lines like nowhere else.” he notes.
BREAKING INTO THE SCENE — A look at Emil’s 2016 contest season.
Last year, it was the first time that Emil was able to travel and get to contests: “In April, I tried to get invited to Rocket Air but they didn’t let me in.” he explains. After not getting invited, he focused on trying to qualify for 26TRIX, and this time it worked out, he got the confirmation to compete.
Emil explains: “Everything was new for me — I had never jumped a set of jumps that big before. Practice was just hectic.” After a few tries, he managed to put a few runs together which were very satisfying for him, but all of a sudden, he had a bit of bad luck: “I crashed on a berm and although it wasn’t very bad, it left me thinking if I was going to be able to compete and perform at my highest level. I just crossed my fingers and hoped to have what it took to qualify.”
To his surprise, he pre-qualified 1st, and later that day, he qualified 5th.
It was in that moment, when I finally knew that all the hard work and mental preparation that I had went through paid off.
Due to the heavy rains, finals were canceled. Emil finished 5th overall and got a wildcard for Prime Line: “That was fucking huge for me.” he adds.
It was in that moment when he finally knew that all the hard work and mental preparation that he had gone through paid off: “I felt that I was doing something right.”
Prime Line was a Diamond event, but that didn’t seem to worry Emil: “I didn’t have any pressure on doing good or getting into the finals, I just went there and rode for fun. It was the first time that I rode a step-down and jumps that big, but I slowly got more comfortable riding and tricking the course during practice. Everything started to link up to what I wanted to do in my runs.”
Emil qualified 14th and ended up 5th overall after a really good second run. He admits that “It was such an inexplicable feeling.”
I sprained my ankle. It was very swollen. That wasn’t how I expected to be before flying to the USA for such a big and important trip.
After that, he realized that he could actually do well against some of the top riders, so he focused on the next big Gold event in Colorado, USA: “I wanted to see how well I could do and also see if I could get a wildcard for Red Bull Joyride.”
Three days before leaving to Colorado, he did a show in Norway where he injured his ankle: “I sprained my ankle and it was very swollen. That wasn’t how I expected to be before flying to the USA for such a big and important event like that one.” However, he still jumped on a plane.
Once in Colorado, he qualified last, and that meant that he was going to be the first rider to drop into the finals.
Things didn’t work out for me. I crashed on the third feature and hit my ribs really bad.
On finals day, it was very windy, so the organization decided to start the competition as soon as the wind calmed down: “I was all warmed up and super ready to ride.” He did his first run and scored 82 points, but he had no clue in what place he was standing after that, so he decided to try to make his run better by changing and adding some new tricks.
But things didn’t work out for him… “I crashed on the third feature and hit my ribs really bad. I couldn’t watch anyone ride or know what was going on because I was standing at the top of the course. I just thought that my run wasn’t going to be good enough to qualify for Joyride.”
Once again, he was proven wrong to himself. He ended up 3rd and got the wildcard for Joyride: “The feeling of getting 3rd was huge, but it wasn’t even close to the feeling of knowing that I had actually achieved a life goal: ride at Joyride.”
The Joyride course was big, very big for Emil: “After scaring myself many times during practice, I started to feel comfortable. Everything was going smooth until I cased the first hip and beat my head. I skipped practice the next day because I felt too sore to ride and my bike was broken. I had cracked my rear rim and that meant that the chances for me to ride were very low.”
Until Reece Wallace put him in touch with Industry Nine: “They hooked me up with a set of wheels and if it wouldn’t have been for them, I couldn’t have ridden at all.”
I was so happy to get to the bottom in one piece.
The most important day of the year arrived. He was standing at the top of the course waiting for the wind to die because, at the time, only one rider had made it to the bottom. The wind died for a minute and Emil dropped in. The rest is history: “I was so happy to get to the bottom in one piece. I finished 4th and I am very happy with that result.”
The last contest of the season for Emil was the Happy Ride Weekend at La Poma Bikepark. The wind was again a negative factor for all the riders, but qualification went down. Although Emil hadn’t done a lot of runs, he won Best Run and Best Trick.
“I can’t be more stoked to have finished 7th overall on the Diamond series of the FMB world tour on my first year competing.” he says.
RISK & REWARD — The signing of the C3 Project + Emil’s custom Trek Ticket S.
Emil has been riding the Ticket S for a couple of weeks now and this is what he says: “I am very pumped to be riding the Ticket S. It has always been the slope bike of my dreams and it feels really good. I run my Pike DJ fork at 180 PSI’s with 2 tokens and the Monarch RL at the maximum air pressure. My bar is 735mm wide and my stem is 31mm short, which this combination helps me spin and catch the bar faster.”
When he got the opportunity to choose a custom color for his new frame, he wanted to have something that looked dark, but not as dark as solid black: “I got bored of having black frames. I chose this kind of dark grey finish with roasted gold/dark brown bits that combine perfectly with my hubs.”
Emil on the C3 Project: “I can’t even explain how happy I am to be on the best Freeride team in the world. Last season was a blast and I can’t wait for the 2017 season to start. I will try to do my best at every contest and see how far I can go.”
Emil’s first contest appearance will be at the Crankworx Rotorua Slopestyle on April 2nd and will be competing at select Gold and Diamond events of the FMB world tour throughout the season.
This feature was made possible with the support from Trek.
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Photos by Héctor Saura.
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