Whether he's blasting down a mountain trail or performing a back flip, it could be said riding a mountain bicycle makes Cameron Zink feel like he's on top of the world.
"For sure. It's my favorite thing to do. That's why I keep doing it," Zink said, flashing a smile.
And on top of the world, or close to it, is where the 17-year-old from Carson City would like to end up, perhaps as soon as next year when he plans to ride in the junior men's division at the World Championships.
Zink had his first taste of international competition earlier this month at the MTB World Championships in Lugano, Switzerland, where he finished 36th in the junior men's downhill.
The trip was fun, although the Carson High School senior had hoped to do better in the competition.
"It was definitely a lot of fun, probably the best two weeks I've ever had," Zink said. "But I did pretty bad. I had a borrowed bike and that contributed to me falling a couple of times on my runs."
Zink encountered some misfortune when his bicycle was stolen two days before the contest in Lugano.
"It was a good bike I rode, but it was set up for somebody else, and I only had two runs on it before the race," Zink said.
That makes a world of difference to someone riding at top speeds of 40 mph on a technical mountain trail course.
"I'd had my bike since March and I hadn't ridden another bike in a downhill," he said.
Zink wound up 36th in the junior downhill final with a time of 5 minutes, 27.11 seconds on the course, 47.62 seconds behind the winning time posted by Samuel Hill of Australia.
"He's a natural phenomenon," Zink said of Hill. "He would have been third in pro race. He crashed and still finished 10 seconds ahead of the second junior."
Zink had fared better two days earlier when he placed 18th in 5:16.66 -- 27.07 behind the leader -- in the seeding run. Not bad, but still short of his expectations.
"This year, I was expecting probably top 10, if I did well," Zink said. "Two of my friends and teammates -- Duncan Riffle and Kyle Strait -- were fourth and fifth. I usually ride with them and keep up with them, so I feel I would have been right behind them or ahead of them."
Among the top highlights this year, Zink placed seventh at the Red Bull FreezRide in Whitefish, Mont., on Feb. 17. The event was won by German backflip specialist Timo Pritzel.
"That was my first pro jumping contest," he said.
Even though Zink is still waiting for a major sponsor, he has logged an estimated 10,000 miles for competition so far this year alone -- including trips to West Virginia, Vermont, Southern California and Idaho -- according to his father (and primary sponsor), Howard Zink.
The next stop is the Red Bull Bike Battle will be held on Sept. 27 at Boston's City Hall Plaza, an event billed as a "True urban freeriding experience."
"It'll be a street competition; they'll close downtown down and make a course through the streets," Zink said. "It's one of the first of its kind, like with jumps, handrails, grinds and stuff on mountain bikes. I guess there's a few thousand people show up to watch it and it will be shown on Fox Sports Net 2."
Zink likes to train in various locations, including mountain rides through Kings Canyon, the Pine Nuts and Northstar ski resort at Lake Tahoe. He feels comfortable with either downhill or trick riding. Both offer special challenges.
"I'm about equal in both," he said. "They're completely different in the guts aspect. Like downhill -- it's like being on a roller coast ... it's loud with the air going by your head -- you've just got to work on, 'All right, I'm going to let the brakes go a little more.' And then the jumping, you've got to have the guts to actually think of a new trick and then go for the trick and keep progressing. So it's a little easier to progress in the downhill, but they're equally scary."
College are also in his plans for Zink, who is bidding for a Millennium Scholarship with his B-grade average.
"I don't know exactly what I'm going to do," he said. "I want to go to Santa Cruz and just ride or go to college there, but I may end up going to UNR for a year or so."
Zink, who celebrates his 18th birthday next March, is shooting for a top-three finish at the 2004 World Championships in France.
"Next year, I want to be on the podium," he said.
Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal