Bearclaw Invitational Report

Words Seb Kemp
Photos Malcolm Mclaws
Date Nov 30, 2001

Whilst the pajama pinners were getting loose at the World Cup and teams of super downhillers were lapping out at the Enduro Des Nations in France, another competition of a very different kind was happening on Vancouver Island. An American was crowded the years fastest and the fastest American ever, and a team made up of French fasties took the title of world’s fastest team to go up down, up down, repeat. But in Mount Washington a trio of Canadians stood above all nationalities, with one taking the title of Best At Doing Things And Stuff In The Air When Propelled There By A Big Wheeled Bicycle. 

The Bearclaw Invitational is regarded by slopestylers as one of, if not the best competition on the circuit. Participants seem to enjoy the course, how the contest is run, and that doing well there really holds prestige within and around the fraternity of freeriders.

After a two year hiatus Darren Berrecloth and Mount Washington Bike Park brought the contest back but added even more flavor to it. The course was totally fresh and was weaved in amongst a small strip of forest between the ski runs rather than out in the dusty, wind blown open. The contest was also Gold ranked FMB contest so points for the overall title were at stake. 

It was a little last minute to head over to the island, but Dan Barham, Hannah Barnes, and myself decided that we could kill a flock of birds with one stone if we bit the bullet and hit the ferry from Vancouver at sparrow’s fart on Friday morning. We aren’t exactly the target demographic for spectating at slopestyle events, but we figured why the hell not if we could combine it with a spot of riding in Cumberland and potentially score a heap of cover shot worthy photographs.  

Well, that was the plan. What happened was that Dan and I got sucked into the island time vortex and just went into work slumber, and Hannah found us to be so stupid that she just sat back and watched us wheel ourselves into a cycle of cynicism and procrastination. Then we found that the Patch Big Store was hours of costume related fun, then we went back for more coffee at the Wandering Moose and then when we fianlly got riding we tried to make a rad omelette but ended up scrambling it. So we went out for a few drinks, but we didn’t quite manage to get a full belly because a synth didgeridoo player made us all throw up, then when we did manage to get up for a dawn shoot the next day I blew it by realizing I am getting old and sensible. Then we had a pretty average breakfast which somehow made us get to the Bearclaw event later than planned. By which I mean we turned up just as it was starting. So we wondered around trying to get a grasp of what was going on but the allure of the beer tent drew us and that pretty much rolled us into sometime the next morning when we all woke up feeling like someone had replaced our brains with a monkey playing the steel drums. All the time Hannah stood back, shook her head and gave us disapproving looks that made us feel even more useless than we already felt, or indeed, are. 

The only things to come out of the weekend was that I had two ideas for rubbish imaginary TV shows (Crushing Dan Barham where each episode I attempt to crush Dan’s creative spirit by putting him in horrible work situtations and I Can’t Believe You Are a Pro where I challenge Danny Macaskill to a game of H.O.R.S.E. but get crushed, obviously) and we did pay just enough attention to the contest to bring you a caption based essay.

Eric Lawrenuk has had some injuries this year that have hampered his performances but what he does do he does very stylishly. What we see here is a very nicely pushed and held Nac-Nac off the Bonar log. Yes, I spelt it Bonar instead of Boner. That’s how it was spelt somewhere else. I forget where and I have no idea why, but let us all take a minute to make sure that we all know boner should be spelt B.O.N.E.R. Lawrenuk finished 12th.

Can you guess what it is yet? One time NSMB Air Apprentice winner Justin Wyper came out with the usual do or die style that makes him so popular to have around. If he isn’t in action then he is in traction. On his first run (it was best run of two and no super final) he front flipped the boner log cleanly and rode away. The crowd loved it and for a moment I thought some of them had woken from their stupor. 10th place finish for Wyper.

Cam Zink wanted to hold onto the FMB overall title again this year and he has been coming out to the comps with all guns blazing. He was fiercely focused on his second run after not so perfect first run and we can only imagine what madness he had in store but unfortunately a bobble meant he couldn’t finish his second run and ended up 15th on the day and stays in second place to Semenuk who claimed the FMB overall title.

Kurt Sorge and Graham Agassiz both rode bigger bikes than most. They certainly can handle them too. Graham Agassiz had a fall before finals so was out of the contest but Kurt Sorge threw down with the big bouncy bikes like it wasn’t holding him back. 8th place at the end of it all.

Broken back, pneumonia, lung infection, building the course, the sponsor obligations of being the biggest name in freeride, and trying to fend off the young guns has meant Berrecloth has more than his fair share of excuses not to do well at his own comp. However, that’s not how he rolls and he put together some great runs and was one of the few riders who looked comfortable on the whole course. The course was fast, tight and big from top to bottom. A few people remarked how much smaller it was than say Joyride but actually it had the same amount of features in it as Joyride it was just that Berrecloth had packed them all in tight when he was building the course. You had to be a good bike handler and not just a trick rat to excel at this course. Hence why we saw the names of the sprayers and computer game riders further down the results. Berrecloth finished third.

No one else spun this feature. It was a narrow skinny that turned right before the end and so keeping enough momentum and poise to spin off it must have taken a lot of skill. Berrecloth is still leading the charge in many respects. He is the greatest freerider of all time and it wouldn’t be unfair if this whole feature was made up of photos just of his runs.

Anthony Messere. What is there to say about him that hasn’t already been said? Well quite a lot really. All that has been said is that he is fifteen years old and he is a phenom. I know phenom is a very real word, and totally appropriate to describe him, but I just wish we could all find another word. For one, it has mainly being Brad Ewan that has used this term and it just makes me think Brad can’t say more than two syllables. Why not go the whole hog and call him a phenomenon? Well because that would take too long and would get in the way of tasteless sponsor call outs. Yes, I know his job is to support the event sponsors but in my opinion the way he so unsubtly does so actually puts people off. Consumers – of which we are all – aren’t stupid and we hate having things rammed down our throats and ears. What Brad attempts is the equivalent of giving anyone within ear shot a WWF style chair to the back of the head. It is so fake and forced that no one believes it. If I had never been to an event where Brad commentates before then I would wonder what kind of ghastly, nasty, supermarket sweep I had walked into. Oh yeah, Anthony Messere, he goes flipping high. Second place with all sorts of very dialed big tricks pulled at altitude.

Brandon Semenuk almost got robbed. After round one the judges had totaled up the scores and he was only in fourth place. Someone reminded them that his run was stacked (and flawless? I missed the landing of the last jump but I heard me may or may not have slipped a pedal on the double whip) so they scribbled out the score and made up a new number and put him at the top. As you can imagine, this rogue judging created a lot of discussion between the athletes and the intermission got stretched out so long that many spectators simply got bored and went home. This was a shame but it was good that the judges and riders all came to the agreement that Brandon’s first run was worthy of the place it got. 

So Brandon took home the contest victory and the FMB overall title. Maybe now he can retire from bikes and just go rally racing full time. He makes mountain biking look way too easy anyway. However, we need people like Brandon in mountain biking. Whereas some riders can do a lot of big tricks, not many, if any, can make them look as good as Brandon. One of my favorite tricks was the bar spin to late table on the hip. So nicely executed that the late table was better than most straight tables. He was also going three on and three off the wooden sky platform, but one of them was switch but both of them were so tidy that I don’t know which was switch and which one was regular.

After the main event there was a high jump contest which looked like it was going to be a funny spectacle so we ordered another round of beers and got to giggling. The high jump took place on the quarter/flat banks at the end of the course and had gone untested before the event, so for the first five minutes we were treated to a display of bike throwing, tumbles and heavy cases as riders attempted to adapt to the very steep transition. We didn’t think anyone was going to make it past the first marker but soon the cream rose to the top and we had a high jumping battle between Semenuk, the Claw, Sorge, McCaul and, of course, the jumping flea, Anthony Messere. Sorge again impressed by going very, very high despite having the disability of a 7 incher that sucked a lot out of the tranny. 

In the end Messere boosted higher than anyone and even attempted to raise his own level but couldn’t with the one attempt he was given. By then everyone was ready for leaving the course and getting on with the partying.

The next day was a horrid blur of beer haziness and rather than ride we decided to go for a round of Adventure Golf in Parksville. We sucked at that too and barely made it around the course so we conceded defeat and headed back to the mainland. We might not have achieved all which we had expected but who cares? It’s the island, who doesn’t like finding the smallest excuse to get over to the island? Even if we blew it at least we were blowing it with a good backdrop.


Thanks to Pelle Gustavs of Sooke Moutain Cycle for this edit of the event!


It’s great to see the Bearclaw Invitational back on the map, especially with such a gnarly course. Like what Seb had to say? Didn’t? Express yourself here…

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