Slopestyle rider Darren Berrecloth knows he’s pushing the limits at the ripe old age of 32. While competing against kids half his age, the Parksville-raised daredevil has been known to do 360-degree flips high in the air while spinning the rear end of his bike.
He didn’t enter the sport in the era of foam pits, which cushion falls when jumps don’t turn out quite as they were intended. No, Berrecloth landed in the dirt. And he’s suffered a string of injuries over the past three years, including a broken back, a herniated disc, and, most recently, a broken big toe.
In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, where he was accompanied by a friend, Nanaimo-based downhill racer Stevie Smith, Berrecloth attributed his staying power to his training regimen.
“When I was younger, I did barely anything,” he admitted. “In the last six to eight years, I’ve really increased my time in the gym, doing a ton of dietary training.”
He’s sponsored by several companies, including Red Bull and Avena Originals, a purveyor of natural health products. So does this mean Berrecloth is a vegan?
“No, I just try to eat the meat I kill,” he responded coolly.
Then Berrecloth laughed as he described his grocery-shopping habits. One of his rules is to avoid the inside aisles, which are home to processed foods made with genetically modified corn. That’s because he believes these products will destroy his body. Instead, he eats organically grown and gluten-free food found in the outer aisles.
Three weeks after he shattered the toe, Berrecloth said, he was back on the bike, shredding hard. He proudly declared that he could survive crashes, despite the injury.
“It just shows you the difference with the right supplements, the right nutrition,” he stated. “Also, the biggest thing for injuries is keeping your heart rate up. If you put good stuff in your body, you’ve got to have the blood flow to get all the good stuff to the different areas.”
Fitness and nutrition keep him in the hypercompetitive world of slopestyle at an age when others would call it quits. One of his competitors, Anthony Messere, made the podium at the 2011 Red Bull Joyride in Whistler when he was only 15 years old.
Smith is no youngster himself in the mountain-biking world. At the age of 24, he’s won the Canadian Open downhill competition three consecutive times at Crankworx in Whistler. But in his last World Cup event, Smith suffered two fractures to his talus bone, which is the upper part of the ankle.
It has put an end to his season at the peak of his career. The injury won’t require surgery, but it will keep Smith out of this year’s Crankworx downhill at Whistler, which takes place on Sunday (August 17).
Smith said that when he entered competitions as a teenager, he didn’t worry much about fitness. But in recent years, he’s been spending a lot of time in the gym, working on his cardiovascular training and developing explosive power as a rider.
“Everybody thinks you don’t really have to be fit or an athlete to be a downhill racer,” he stated. “But to actually race [at locations] across the world and have all the pressure, you have just got to perform absolutely perfect in that three-minute race. And all the money that goes into it can be a lot of stress. There’s a lot of mental training.”
Downhill riders can last into their 40s, Smith said, provided they look after themselves. As an example, he cited Steve Peat, who still reaches the top 10 in World Cup races.
Both Smith and Berrecloth acknowledged that they’re meticulous in assessing risks, which is something they didn’t pay as much attention to when they were teenagers.
“You need to know your limits,” Smith said.
Berrecloth echoed that point. “Yes, if you don’t know your limits, you’re going to find out real quick.”
Asked if he feels fear when he’s doing jumps, Berrecloth replied: “Absolutely. If you don’t have fear, you’re not smart.”
At that point, the Straight informed Berrecloth that some scientists believe that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, thought to guide decision-making, doesn’t fully mature in males until they’re 25 years old.
“I definitely would agree with a lot of that statement: your brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re 25ish,” he said. “For me, probably it was around 21, 22 when I started to look at things differently, mainly from personal experience.”
So does he worry about the younger riders in his sport? “Sometimes, yeah, because a lot of kids go above their own ability.”
Berrecloth conceded that even older riders sometimes push themselves too hard. It’s the nature of the business.
“But at the same time,” he added, “it’s a lot more calculated, whereas some of these young kids can barely ride the bike and they’re trying to do a trick on that jump.”