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Last Call - Eliot Jackson Interview

MTB - Pinkbike Interview

Dan Severson / Pinkbike

It's been almost a year now since Eliot Jackson dropped the news on the mountain bike community that he would be retiring from downhill racing due to ongoing health problems. While the news came as a shock, it was with understanding that this was the best decision for him. While we may have lost one of the most naturally talented riders from the spotlight for now, we're still not quite ready to let him out of our sight. Breaking up is hard to do.

So, how's everything been going this year? How has your life changed since retiring from World Cup Downhill racing?
You know, at first it was pretty strange to not be training and riding every day, but I think the transition from professional athlete to normal dude went pretty smoothly if I do say so myself. Ha ha. There were definitely some times where I would wake up and be like, "Ugh, gym day" or "Wednesday? Time to head to the motocross track." The biggest challenge, I think, is finding other things to fill the gap racing left. I never really realized how much time it actually took up. It's what I would think about, dream about, do every day and also where my friends were. It's what dictated my diet and the places I was at during a certain point of the year.

I've been really enjoying myself lately, though. I got a part time job at Barnes and Noble to help me get my studio business off the ground. I've been taking a few classes at school, which is kinda weird because everyone there is like 2 years old, and it's been really nice to hang out with all my friends in California that I never got to see because I was always on the road.

Looking back, what do you miss most about racing World Cups?
Oh man, there is just so much! I love the traveling, seeing my friends, dancing at after parties, doing good, etc. But there's nothing quite like the first practice day. The anticipation has been building since Monday so by the time Thursday comes around you can't wait to get on the track and try all these things you've been thinking about. That first run that Bernard Kerr and I usually take is one of the funnest things I have ever done. Each of us is yelling and laughing about how we almost just died, someone inevitably cases some gap we've been eyeing up and that makes it even funnier. You find a rhythm through a few parts, which makes you yell about how amazing you feel, and this all usually happens before the first time we stop. It's just a full day of no pressure, loving life and riding with your friends.

What was your least favorite aspect of professional racing?
I think a lot of people would say training and my trainer, Jarrett Kolich, definitely kept me on my toes, but once I got used to feeling like I was going to die I guess it wasn't so bad. Ha ha. I would probably have to say airports. They are just so stupid, I don't even have a reason for it, I just hate them so much. Especially LAX. That and every race being a black hole in terms of internet.

How was Crankworx for you this year? Did it feel like a different experience from the past now that you don't have the pressure to perform?
It was really incredible. I've been going up there for so long now and even though I always have a great time, there is always that pressure to perform, mostly from myself, because I always feel great on my bike. This year was the complete opposite. I went about a week early, so I spent a few days riding and hanging out in Seattle before I got up to Whistler thanks to Kevin Walsh. I brought my golf clubs and I seriously didn't even ride for the first few days, I just relaxed and enjoyed all the other cool stuff that place has to offer. I had never even been to the lake since there was always riding to be done! It was great just being a spectator and cheering everyone on.

I'm a little bit bummed I didn't get to film another gaps video. I definitely found maybe 5 or 6 more that are pretty cool. There's always next year I guess!

Besides yourself, who has got the best whips in "The Biz"?
Well, everyone else is just so far behind it's hard to really say. Just kidding. So many people have good whips nowadays. If you look at the final 8 or 16 at the whip off it was just ridiculous. You can't go wrong with Bernardo, Blenki and Brendan. I saw some crazy pictures of Sorge and Vanderham this year and Bernard just risks everything so when he's on he's kind of unbeatable. I'm hyping up Bobby Langin Jr. for next year, word on the street is he's been at the Mulisha Compound in the foam pit.

Who have you been riding with lately?
I haven't really been riding a whole lot of downhill just because the trails close to me are so bad, or maybe I'm just that spoiled. Ha ha. If I do it's usually just with some of my local friends, Bobby Jr., Kristian Atkins and Mark Clemens. I still dirt jump a decent amount with my brother Andrew Jackson, Brett Auerbach and Jeremy Combs.

Are you still spending some time on the moto?
Yeah, more than anything actually. It's just so awesome! Put me in for A1, coach!

You recently competed in the Valparaiso Urban DH race in Chili. What's your thoughts on these types of races? Fun or fear?
Fear. Sooooo much fear. It was seriously the most terrifying, dangerous, crazy thing I have ever done on a bike. I have no idea how Marcelo goes as fast as he does on those things. It's insane. The race was amazing. The fans and location were incredible. I heard that Valparaiso is on the gnarlier side of things so maybe some of the others would have been a better introduction to urban.

Last year, you put out an amazing, yet super short edit from Green River, Utah. How was that trip? Can we expect to see any more footage from that?
Thanks! Yeah, that was definitely an experience. I have so much more respect for all the people that make lines and have the foresight to see some of the stuff they do out there. Vanderham is the biggest boss alive after seeing a few of his lines. We shot a lot of stuff but those were the bangers. I think if anything were to get put up now it would probably be a let down. It is pretty incredible how popular some of the photos got. John Reynolds and Craig Grant did a really great job filming and shooting the whole thing. The 4-5am wake up calls and hauling water from what felt like miles away is definitely not something I miss!

How do you like riding out in Utah?
It was really cool, but I'll take a chairlift with some loam and trees any day!

What are your thoughts on the madness that took place out at Rampage this year?
It's ridiculous! I don't understand what those guys are up to! McGarry and Zink are just wild. I've never been out there but I can only imagine how much bigger everything is in person.

How did Sea Otter go for you?
Ohhhhh Sea Otter. You know, I've had really good luck there every year until this year. I crashed harder there then I had the whole year before racing World Cups! I put my seat on too low and it buzzed my tire coming up the lip, and of course, someone just happened to be there with a super slo-mo camera. I don't think anyone believes me so I guess I'll have to make an edit of some of the things I seat bounce up in Whistler.

Is it true that you have a DH slipper coming out soon?
I didn't think the word was out yet, but, yes, it is true, we have a flat pedal version and a clip version. We're in talks with Five Ten to hopefully get some stealth rubber on them. We are having a little trouble with the clip version because the cleat tends to blow through the sole but we are working hard to get this fixed and get them out to the public.

What makes a good riding slipper?
The key is avoiding blowout, whether that's toe blowout, heel blowout, or just plain slipper blow up. It has taken me awhile but I feel I have found the perfect riding slipper with the Rite-Aid brand ones. They have good elasticity for those hard hits and look like the most comfortable thing you have ever seen. Unfortunately, I couldn't wear them on the shoot because I jumped down some stairs and they took a fatal toe blowout. It's okay though, I still believe in them.

Do you prefer riding flat pedals or clips?
Never in a million years would I have thought I would say this, but I prefer clips. It's really a totally different feeling on the bike. It makes it more fun to me. I don't have to worry about trying to keep my feet on and I can put the back end where I want it easier. I don't miss riding down Val di Sole with one heel barely hanging on the pedal when I was on flats! The only time I ride flats now is if I feel like I might need to bail or something (like on the step up in the video haha).

I understand you've been spending a lot of time in your music studio lately. Tell us about your setup and what goes on there.
Yeah, probably too much. I'm running Pro Tools, a C24, Barefoots, Purple Audio, etc. I record, mix and master local bands and lately I've been doing a little bit of sound for video. It's really really fun and it's cool watching someone's vision come together in such a short amount of time. Getting performances out of people is always interesting. I had one guy who came in and the first thing he did was take his shirt off, another person always sings with it completely dark in the room. Hey, if it makes them play/sing better then right on, I don't have to autotune and edit them for 20 hours! The performance always comes first.

I definitely enjoy mixing the most, it's just so interesting. At a certain point you begin to look at it in terms of the emotional impact a given change makes to the song. Should this song make me want to sing or dance? or both? Highlighting a rhythmic element can totally change the feel, even changing the volume of the different parts of a drum kit can have a drastic effect on the mood of the song. It's your job to help move the audience through the song. As a mixer you are manipulating so many variables throughout the course of the song but to the listener it's invisible. Fascinating!

Besides mixing other peoples songs, have you been playing much yourself? Any plans to release any of your personal stuff?
I just recently started playing a little again to knock the rust off. Ha ha. I think it's important for the engineer to be proficient at as many instruments as they can so that they are able to communicate effectively and understand what the musicians are trying to accomplish. I'm so busy working on other people's stuff I don't get much time to write anything nowadays. Over the years I have finished a few songs that are presentable. Maybe eventually I will have enough to put out an EP or something. Being in a band has never interested me so I'm in no hurry.

What music or bands inspire you?
I try to listen to everything. The only thing I really can't do is the popular classical composers and a lot of the rap that comes on the Top 40s. Both have their moments but in general they are terrible.

Lately I've been listening to 'Everything You Want' and 'Go' by Vertical Horizon and 'Opposites' by Biffy Clyro. Great sounding records those ones. I'd say in general I'm more into rock that's got some heaviness to it.

You seem to always have a smile on your face. What's the key to staying stoked?
I think I am just a happy guy! It probably doesn't hurt that most of the time people see me I'm in some beautiful place, riding my bike, with my friends. If I don't have a smile on my face something is wrong. Ha ha. I never really understood why people do things that make them miserable. That's crazy to me. Go and do something that makes you happy and laugh!

Which events can we expect to see you at in 2014?
Crankworx and Sea Otter. Same as it ever was!

What does the future have in store for you? Any chance of making a comeback somewhere down the line?
I'm not sure. Right now I'm just along for the ride and trying do whatever makes me happy. You know, I didn't stop racing because I couldn't ride a bike anymore, I stopped because I wanted to be on the podium and it was physically impossible for me to do that. I gave it everything I had but it was just so heartbreaking and frustrating to get top 10 splits and then by the end of the race be back in 30th. I think the main reason it came as a shock to a lot of people is because I didn't want to be that guy who says "Oh yeah, if I didn't have this or that I would be doing so much better." The top guys are out of control fast! It was more about me not being able to perform up to my own standards.

I would love to race again. If I did my focus would be a lot different than it was and it would take a pretty special, unique opportunity to let me do that. But hey, if that comes along I'll be all over it! Until then I will be recording and mixing music, dirt jumping and generally enjoying life.

Who's got your back? Who would you like to thank?
First, I would like to thank my Mom, Dad and brother for supporting me so much. Craig Glaspell at Troy Lee Designs for being the coolest guy ever and letting me be a part of such a great company. All the guys over at Yeti. Marcelo, Bernard, Ropelato, Micayla and Delfs for being such bosses. Bobby Jr. for teaching me how to whip. Ben, Marlene and Tanner for doing nothing. Jarrett for making me miserable. Dan for taking pictures of me. Everyone at Pinkbike, except Karl. Last but not least, I would like to thank Colie and Kelly for sewing up all my blown out slippers.
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