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The North Shore of Vancouver, B.C. is a place brought to life by light and shadow. The global spotlight of mountain biking has been set on the shore for years, illuminating it on the worlds stage, but the shadows are where the secrets lay. Caleb Holonko was born and raised in North Vancouver, and has seen the trails here twist, move, appear, and vanish for decades. “Currently I live a 5-minute drive away from where I grew up. It’s in a different neighborhood, but its close. There was a bus that would take you up to the top of Mountain Highway, then from there you would just push up the Mt. Fromme Road. Things were pretty sleepy up there at that point. It was after the golden age of North Shore Extreme and before the construction of flow trails like Bobsled that really brought the masses.”

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Progress can be attached to the notion of abandoning the past, moving on to greater, new ideas. For Caleb, his idea of progress is attached to reimagination. The trails here have inspired people globally and are forever bonded to the idea of “Freeride” we share as cyclists. When you spend time surrounded by the people who made this place what it is, your mind is liable to run wild. “I wasn’t old enough to experience the Dangerous Dan/ Digger era. My discovery of all that stuff came from the videos.  I remember seeing Seasons and NWD 8 at a sleepover, a couple of my friends had all the old bike movies. Seeing Geoff Gulevich, Thomas Vanderham and Wade Simmons in those movies was huge for me. I recognized them from seeing them around the trails, so I began to understand that there was something special going on here. ”

toonie drop
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Caleb, like many other Canadian kids had a large chunk of his youth defined by hockey. From the ages of 10-20 he was at the rink, every day. Early, late or both, Caleb would spend time on and off the road playing games, but he wouldn’t allow for it to disrupt the dig/ride ritual. Eventually, when push came to shove, he closed the door on hockey when he was offered a scholarship to an American university with one caveat: No biking. With Hockey out of the picture, his riding and building was able to truly flourish. “I would have liked to played college hockey to see where it would have gone, but alternatively I would have missed out on so many of the things that I experienced by staying here. It is weird, it was this enormous part of my life that suddenly was just done one day. It was hard though, I never identified myself as a hockey player, I always thought of myself as a mountain biker that played hockey. Missing hockey was not an option as far as my parents were concerned, but I refused to miss riding and digging. There were times when my parents would pick me up from digging sometimes and just take me straight to the rink. It got to a point where I would leave my suit in the car and just swap into it on the drive to the rink, absolutely filthy from digging.”

boogie nights hip
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The ethos woven into Caleb’s attitude toward creation is a simple one that is often echoed throughout the sport: No Dig, No Ride. Vancouver’s Bridge Jumps are an iconic spot, but there was a price to be paid for admission in the form of sweat. There weren’t many spots to dirt jump in North Vancouver, so the motivation was high to get involved. From there it expanded to trails, wood, and eventually led to working with the North Shore Mountain Bike Association as a paid trail builder at the age of 21. Through this work and his affiliation with Kona Bikes Caleb secured the permit from the Disctrict of North Vancouver to revamp and build up “Boogie Nights”, an alternate ending to the legendary North Shore trail “Boogieman”. A legal jump trail was something that the North Shore was lacking. “I started riding dirt jumps and skateparks as I got older. The first time I met Gully he actually gave me a ride home from the skatepark because I got a flat. He had been filming for the movie Alchemy that day, which turned out to be an inspirational for me. Riding Bridge jumps really shaped my mindset surrounding building and riding.”

turning corners
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For Caleb, the trails and stunts of the shore don’t necessarily need to change. He chooses to use them differently. Through time the forests here have been the stage to multiple generations of riders, leading to multiple heydays coming and going, each one a familiar yet elevated. Caleb is at the forefront the new crop of riders populating the shore, putting a contemporary spin on the aged infrastructure. Depending on the situation, riding and old feature in a new way can be more impactful that riding a brand new, never-seen feature. “When you film spots that someone else has filmed, you have to make it your own. Straight-airing Toonie drop is gnarly in its own right, but it’s been done before. It’s a bit played out, even though it’s crazy. Everybody remembers these old classic features, but it totally has a different impact when you re-imagine them. Building new stuff is cool, but it lacks the context people need to be wow’ed. The mindset is so different now than when it was when those features were built. They deserve to be re-imagined.”

caleb dbl exposure

Photos by Margus Riga & words by Peter Matthews