“I wake up and think, ‘Sweet, let’s dig’”The 33-year-old trail builder from Rotorua has been clocking up long hours in the forest ahead of the first Crankworx mountain bike festival in New Zealand
Hurt, the Nine Inch Nails song famously covered by Johnny Cash, is a bleak, haunting dirge about drugs, depression and self-loathing: not the most obvious song to inspire a business venture. But one line in particular – “my empire of dirt” – jumped out at Adam King when he was looking for a catchy name for his mountain bike trail-building firm.
King and his cousin Chris Martin formed Empire Of Dirt in 2012 and last year they scored the biggest contract of their careers, building the trails for Crankworx Rotorua. First held in Whistler, Canada in 2004, Crankworx is one of the world’s biggest MTB festivals. From March 25-29, top international riders including Brandon Semenuk of Canada, Cam Zink of the USA and New Zealand’s Kelly McGarry and Brook Macdonald will put King’s trails to the test.
THE RED BULLETIN : What’s your earliest mountain biking memory?
ADAM KING: I was 12 years old and me and my mates heard about a new track in the Redwoods Forest. It was the first track in Rotorua and it was pretty raw. There were three jumps, and they were horrible, but we’d hang out all day trying to get air time.
When did you first pick up a shovel in a forest?
I went on a few working bees back when I was a grom: that’s what you did then. If you wanted something new to ride, you brought your shovel and dug it yourself. People take the forest for granted, but over the years hundreds of people have helped make it what it is. I’ve watched it grow from nothing to 150km of trail. Rotorua is a unique place. Our soil is the best in the world. I call it ‘gravy dirt’ because it’s so easy to work with.
Did you know anything about soil types or track building back then?
None of us did. It was the blind leading the blind. You’d kick a bit of dirt around, hit it, and see if you could make it around the corner without wiping out. If you didn’t, you went back, changed it and hit it again. It was all trial and error.
How did you become a professional trail builder?
I went to Whistler in 2007 on holiday. I loved it so much I went back the next year with my cousin Chris. We didn’t have jobs, but we got lucky. We got a five-week contract with a trail building crew and at the end of it they asked us to stay on. They called us ‘Kiwi savages’ because we worked so hard.
When did you start to think about starting your own business?
The experience in Whistler was second to none. If you were a muppet you could have pocketed the pay cheque and learned nothing, but I had a real passion for it. I learned about drainage and flow and how to build sustainable trails that last. We spent two years in Whistler until our work visas expired. I came home to Rotorua and worked as an engineer, but Chris and I kept talking about starting our own business. In 2012 we got a loan of $50,000 to buy a digger and went for it. The first year was pretty intense, but we’ve got eight people working for us now so it’s all worked out.
What is the process of building a mountain bike trail from scratch?
First, you want a block of land that reeks of trail. I love the start of a project when I’m scoping a line and thinking about what I can build from nothing. After that you work out your angles, mark your track and get digging. It’s hard work and long hours, but it’s all worth it when you get to ride a new trail.
Do you ride your trails every day?
Not every day, but near the end of a build I need to test the track and see how it rides. My bike is part of my toolbox. If I don’t like riding it, who else is going to like it?
What can the Crankworx riders expect from your trails?
I’ve tried to build tracks that will test the riders and wow the crowds. We’ve built the downhill, speed ’n’ style and pump tracks, and with Extra Mile, a trail building company from Queenstown, we made the slopestyle track. The downhill track is 2.5km long, a steep, gnarly, off-camber course with some big jumps.
How much do you enjoy what you do?
On a scale of one to 10, I’ll say nine. I wake up on a Monday morning and instead of thinking ‘Damn I have to go to work’ like most people do, usually I think, ‘Sweet, let’s go dig some dirt.’