Red Bulletin UK 5/21



MAY 2021, £3.50





Meet the B-Boys

and B-Girls shaping

a new era for

British breaking

Pictured: B-Boy Sunni is putting the

UK scene back on the map

Ghetts on





Deep, dark &







© Jean Nouvel, Gilbert Lézénès, Pierre Soria et Architecture-Studio / Adagp, Paris, 2021

Editor’s letter





Pushing into unknown territory is rarely easy, as the subjects in

this month’s issue of The Red Bulletin demonstrate. But it’s how

each of them is managing to find true fulfilment.

Cover star Sunni is one of many UK breakers (page 30) with a

fresh take on what their scene can be. Together, they’re working

to make it a more athletic, artistic and accepting place, which is,

in turn, inspiring a whole new generation of dancers.

We meet cave explorers Klaus Thymann and Alessandro

Reato (page 42), who take us on a deep dive into their pitch-black

underwater world as they become the first in modern history

to enter a claustrophobically narrow waterway beneath the

Mexican jungle, on a mission to unearth ancient artefacts.

Then we follow the women of inaugural freeride event

Formation (page 56), who braved the unforgiving red-rock terrain

of Utah’s Zion National Park on two wheels to break new ground

– literally and metaphorically – for the female biking community.

And we sit down with Ghetts (page 66), who attributes his

current chart success to looking at himself in a new light.

Having shed his ego,

stopped conforming

to what he thought

others wanted to hear,

and brought honesty

to his music, the UK

rapper is finally

getting the recognition

he has long deserved.

We hope you enjoy

the issue.


In a career spanning almost

20 years, the British music

journalist has interviewed

everyone from Nas to Nile

Rodgers. “I’ve watched

Ghetts’ evolution firsthand,”

says Lavin, who met up with

the grime star again for this

issue. “Every time we speak,

his energy is electric. His

resilience and passion for

what he does is empowering

beyond words.” Page 66


Already a veteran of shooting

Red Bull Rampage, the US

photographer was excited

about shooting the first

Formation. “I knew many of

the riders [already], so it was

great to see them challenge

themselves in new ways,” says

Gore, who has shot for the

likes of National Geographic,

Patagonia and Arc’teryx. “The

way the women supported

each other brought a unique

vibe to the event.” Page 56

Catching a break: AJ the Cypher Cat performs a headspin for

photographer Gavin Bond at our cover feature shoot Page 30




May 2021

08 Gallery: dragon racing in the

deserts of Saudi Arabia; anythingbut-plain

sailing in the North

Atlantic; winter wakeboarding

in central Denmark

15 Great escape: electronic-pop trio

Flawes give everyday hassles the

elbow with their dream playlist

17 Global perspective: sick of staring

at your neighbour’s fence? See the

world instead with WindowSwap

18 Work out: the camper van that

thinks it’s an office – and has

a sunroof with a difference

20 Root cause: the photographer

and activist fighting widespread

deforestation in British Columbia

22 Solar system: Sunflower House

– the nature-inspired, carbonneutral

home with petal power


24 Tom Evans

Motivational talk from the army

man turned ultrarunner who is

happy to suffer for his sport

26 Hannah Reid

The London Grammar singer on

fame, confidence, and calling out

inequality in the music industry

28 Jill Wheatley

The Canadian adventurer whose

traumatic brain injury gave her

even more mountains to climb

30 Breaking

Meet the B-Girls and B-Boys

who are power-moving UK

breaking up the world rankings

– next stop, Olympic glory

42 Cave exploration

In caverns deep beneath the

Mexican jungle, two divers have

uncovered a hidden history

56 Formation

The women-only event changing

the landscape of MTB freeriding

66 Ghetts

Perseverance pays – just ask the

grime veteran whose hard yards

have finally come to fruition

73 Para-alpinism: all the challenge

of mountain climbing plus the

exhilaration of paragliding

78 The riding’s on the wall: Kriss Kyle

gets creative in the Welsh woods

80 Power trip: everything you need

to know about e-biking – from

what to ride to what to wear

89 Pod bod: train like an astronaut

92 Work mode: how to forge a

successful career as a gamer

93 Beat combo: the pocket synth

with retro fighting-game style

94 Essential dates for your calendar

98 Rally royalty: ‘Mr Dakar’ in action


Carving their own trail:

at MTB camp Formation

in Virgin, Utah, female

freeriders can push the

boundaries of their sport




with fire

Pareidolia is the name given to the

imagined perception of patterns,

objects or faces where they don’t

actually exist. Here we see Anton

Shibalov, Dmitrii Nikitin and Ivan

Tatarinov tracing the gumline of a

huge, slumbering dragon during this

January’s Dakar Rally. Or could it just

be the Russians tearing around Neom

– the site of a controversial megacitybuilding

project in Saudi Arabia –

in their Team Kamaz Master truck?

Whatever the truth of the matter,

French photographer Éric Vargiolu

was on hand to capture both beasts

for posterity. Instagram: @eric_vargiolu





Heavy blow

There’s nothing like a pleasant sail. And the

Vendée Globe – the iconic solo, non-stop,

round-the-world yacht race – is nothing like

a pleasant sail. Last November saw the 33

starters in the 2020/21 race battered by 90kph

gusts off the coast of Portugal. The L’Occitane

en Provence boat, skippered by Armel Tripon –

and photographed here by fellow Frenchman

Pierre Bouras – was among the most badly

damaged, necessitating a 560km detour for

repairs. “The sea was white; it was very brutal,”

said Tripon afterwards. “But it’s a real gift to

be able to live it and see this.” And to survive it,

no doubt. Instagram: @pierrebouras




Cold calling

Dragging your sorry carcass outdoors to train

on a dark, wet, icy winter’s morning is tough.

And yet, despite long months of piercing cold

and precious little sun or daylight, Denmark

is among the world’s most active nations. This

resilience is celebrated in the video We, The

Danes. Among those featured is wakeboarder

Robin Leroy Leonard, captured here on

set by Copenhagen-based photographer Esben

Zøllner Olesen as he glides across the Silkeborg

lakes in central Denmark. To watch the film,

head to








The indie-pop trio’s new EP

sees them caught in a

Reverie. Here are four songs

that transport them away

British electronic-pop band Flawes

– vocalist/keyboard player

Josh ‘JC’ Carruthers, drummer

Josh Hussey and guitarist Freddie

Edwards – formed in 2015. Later

the same year, their debut, Don’t

Wait For Me, was named a BBC

Music Introducing ‘Track of the

Week’ and reached number eight

on Spotify’s UK Viral 50 chart. By

the time debut album Highlights

dropped early last year, Flawes

were ready for a tour, but a world

in lockdown wasn’t, so they went

back into the studio. “Writing [new

EP] Reverie took us away from

this reality and gave us a positive

focus,” says JC. “Hopefully it

provides the same escapism and

positivity for the listener.” Here,

they share four songs that help

them escape daily life. Reverie

is out now;



Lupin Intrigue (2013)

JC: “I stumbled across this

track by the Icelandic singer/

songwriter a few years ago

and it’s my go-to for chilling

out. I just stick it on my

headphones at full blast and

get lost in my thoughts. The

arpeggiated synth, along with

the beautiful piano part that

escalates in the background,

traps you from the start. By

the time his vocal enters at 36

seconds, you should be well

on your way to a daydream.”

The Beatles

Sun King (1969)

FE: “There’s something really

hypnotic about this track on

Abbey Road. The soft, layered

vocals feel so soothing, almost

like a lullaby. The band were

experimenting a lot at this

stage; the guitar has a sitar-like

quality, and they sing in a crazy

combination of Spanish, Italian

and Portuguese towards the

end. I listened to the album

a lot when I was a kid, and this

song would always take me to

a different headspace.”

City and Colour

Day Old Hate (2005)

JH: “This song connected with

me the first time I heard it. I

find [singer/songwriter] Dallas

Green’s voice mesmerising –

soft yet powerful. I’ve listened

to it so much that it holds many

memories – it’s quite emotional

to listen to all the way through.

As soon as I press play, I find

myself in a daydream, looking

back over the last 10 years at the

good times and the bad. I even

got a tattoo of the album cover

on my back when I was 17.”

Sigur Rós

Starálfur (1999)

JC: “I’m a melody-over-lyrics

guy and [the Icelandic post-rock

band’s vocalist] Jónsi delivers

big-time on this song, One day

I’ll translate the lyrics to see

what I’ve been singing along to

all these years. But that might

spoil the fun, right? Perhaps the

reason this is such a great song

for daydreaming is just that:

your mind doesn’t get caught

up in the meaning of the lyrics,

so you can just drift away on

the melodies and harmonies.”






Positive outlook:

(clockwise from top left)

Tellaro, Italy; Chamonix,

France; Arizona, USA;

Grytting, Norway; Fayoum,

Egypt; Xishuangbanna,

China; Norola, Finland;

Fire Island, USA;

Edinburgh, Scotland



In April 2020, when most

of the world had entered

lockdown, husband-and-wife

Vaishnav Balasubramaniam

and Sonali Ranjit were stuck

in their cosy but cramped

Singapore flat, looking out of

the same window every day.

When they came across a

photo on Instagram showing

the beautiful view from a

friend’s Barcelona home,

the couple joked that they

should find a way to swap

windows. The two advertising

executives asked their friend

for a short video of his view,

and WindowSwap was born.

The online project

presents window views from

across the world, allowing

users to flick through

hundreds of different videos

uploaded by others. From

a small, chicken-filled back

garden in Kettering to rainy

side streets in Mumbai to a

balmy sunset on a Hawaiian

beach, a different scene is

selected at random each time

you click refresh. The website

transports you out of your

own space and gives you a

glimpse of another way of life.

“You see views of countries

that you don’t get in travel

magazines or generally in the

media,” says Ranjit. “Looking

through someone’s backyard

or side streets makes a place

come so much more alive.”

WindowSwap may have

been inspired by a desire

to escape lockdown, but

while designing the website

the pair realised that it could

serve as an escape from the

online world, too. “We didn’t

want to create those

dopamine-induced feelings

that TikTok gives, but rather

a calm space,” explains

Balasubramaniam. “We

debated whether to create

likes or a comment box to

connect people, but in the end

we decided to stick to a very

simple experience.”

The site instead serves as a

meditation throughout the day,

with no access to other users

or distractions from the video

itself. “It’s more like the early

internet,” he adds. “You’re just

there to have fun. No one’s

judging you, no one feels bad,

and you have nothing to prove.”

Since the launch of

WindowSwap, the couple have


Zoom with a view

What better way to allow your mind to wander than by staring

out of a window? How about letting it roam across the globe

certainly got their wish to see

more of the world – they have

now received more than 600

videos from every corner of

the globe. “One window that

got my attention [in particular]

shows the pyramids from

someone’s house; a view you

would never usually see,”

says Balasubramaniam. “The

pyramids are in the distance,

but at the bottom of the

screen you can see rows of

houses and alleyways. It’s

just amazing.”


Mine’s a Vanhattan:

quaff cocktails on

the roof if you’re not

driving – just don’t

forget the handbrake




Adventure in the front, office in the back

– this kitted-out camper is all business

Traditionally, if you wanted to

travel the world and experience

the freedom of life on the road,

you’d have to save up and leave

your job behind. But the events

of the past year have almost

certainly changed that for ever.

With people working remotely

and most meetings hosted

online, jobs that were once tied

to an office can now be done

from anywhere in the world.

In response to this, Japanese

car manufacturer Nissan has

designed a new type of camper

that is part van-life, part office

space, allowing you to combine

the most radical lifestyle with

a traditional nine-to-five job.

Controlled by a mobile app,

the camper’s retractable pod is

a pop-up office on wheels. Not

only does it fit a person, a desk,

a full-size screen and an

ergonomic chair (by esteemed

US furniture maker Herman

Miller), it also has a transparent

floor to gaze through between

emails and remind yourself

that you’re on a mountain trail

or beside a beach.

When the daily grind is over,

just hop outside, tap the app

to fold away your office until

morning, and head out for

a surf or a hike; inside the

camper’s glove box you’ll find

a ‘UV antibacterial lamp’

to disinfect your personal

possessions on your return.

Alternatively, climb up onto

the rooftop deck, which has its

own sunlounger and parasol,

for après-travail drinks.

According to research

by tech solutions firm MBO

Partners in 2018, 4.8 million

American workers at the time

described themselves as ‘digital

nomads’, and the number is

growing rapidly. “Many office

workers are having a variety

of issues working at home,”

says Nissan of its invention.

“[We want] to solve this by

giving them more choice of

where and how they work.”

The Office Pod is only a

concept at present – it was

unveiled at this year’s virtual

edition of the Tokyo Auto Salon

car show – but it’s based on

a modified version of Nissan’s

popular NV350 Urvan caravan

and is something the company

is serious about. “Hopefully

this is the start of a new era

where we can design our own

outdoor-based lifestyles,”

says Nissan, “and where we

can work from wherever

makes us feel happiest.”







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our elders

We take photos to capture cherished memories;

activist and photographer TJ Watt is using the

medium to save the planet’s ancient woodlands

TJ Watt’s latest photo series is a

story of two halves. In the first,

the nature photographer stands

beside the giant ancient cedars

of the Caycuse Valley in southern

Vancouver Island, Canada, on a

clear blue-skied day. The second

half tells a darker story. We see

Watt posing against the same

backdrop, but now the thousandyear-old

trees have been cut

down to their stumps.

The Canadian began his

Caycuse Before & After project

with one aim: to draw attention

to the deforestation of British

Columbia’s oldest trees. “You

can’t argue with what you’re

seeing,” says Watt. “[This is]

the destruction of one of the

grandest ecosystems on Earth.”

An environmental activist

and self-proclaimed “big tree

hunter”, Watt has been

recording the activity of the

logging industry in the Caycuse

Valley for the past year, finding

old-growth trees marked to be

cut and capturing them before

and after. “I had to measure

how far away I was from each

spot, record which lens I was

using, and GPS where each tree

was,” he says. “Then, when I


The unkindest cut:

Watt’s photo

project perfectly

illustrates the

devastation of the

old-growth forests


came back months later, I had a

GPS tracker showing where I’d

hiked.” The project has captured

worldwide attention. “The

photos hit home because what

you’re looking at is the loss of

trees upwards of a thousand

years old. When a forest like that

is cut down, it’s gone for ever.”

The harvesting of British

Columbia’s ancient forests is an

urgent environmental moment.

Less than 10 per cent of

Vancouver’s original old-growth

woodland is currently protected,

and an area of untouched forest

equivalent to more than 10,000

football fields is cut down each

year. A co-founder of non-profit

organisation Ancient Forest

Alliance, Watt is not only

documenting this devastation

but successfully fighting against

it. The alliance famously saved

another forest, Avatar Grove,

which was marked to be cut down

in 2010. “That area has become

an international old-growth

destination, with hundreds of

thousands of people visiting

every year,” says Watt. “The

community has shifted towards

a green economy based on bigtree

tourism. It shows that oldgrowth

forests are worth more

standing than they are on the

back of a logging truck.”

All hope is not lost for those

forests that do remain. In the

lead-up to last October’s local

election, the BC government

promised to implement a new

era of protection for the most

endangered old-growth trees.

Now the election has been

won, Watt is calling on everyone

moved by his photo series to

hold them accountable to their

pledge. “I encourage everyone

to write to and phone the

politicians in BC, regardless

of where you live. This is a

global issue and these are

some of the finest temperate

rainforests left on our planet.

Although we lost this forest,

we may be able to save many

others because of it.”;




the damage

The world did a pretty good job of looking after

itself before humans came along. Now, architects

are taking lessons from Mother Earth



1 3



1. Photovoltaic (solar) cells positioned at optimal angles; 2. Rotating roof;

3. Rainwater collection and reuse; 4. Wind power harnessed;

5. Edible gardens; 6. Elevated to prevent flooding; 7. Energy storage


“Nothing is invented, for it is

written in nature first,” said the

great Catalan architect Antoni

Gaudí, whose Modernisme

buildings – most famously the

Basílica de la Sagrada Família

in Barcelona – sprout from

the ground like bizarre, ornate

vegetation. The natural world

has long influenced building

design, dating back at least as

far as the Ancient Greeks; now,

Sydney-based architect Koichi

Takada has taken this one step

further, creating a house that’s

not only inspired by plants

but acts and moves like one.

Built in the fields of Umbria,

Italy, Sunflower House mimics

the behaviour of its namesake,

turning its face towards the

Sun to harness its rays. Rotating

around a central ‘stem’, its solar

panels produce up to 40 per cent

more energy than the static

equivalent. Unused energy is

stored or fed to the power grid;

all rainwater is collected, too.

“It’s a house powered by the

sun, collecting more power

than you need,” says Takada

of his creation, which was

commissioned by Bloomberg

Green, the US media group’s

division focusing on climatechange

news and solutions.

“You don’t pay bills, and you

can possibly sell your extra

energy back to the city.”

In addition to its solarenergy-harnessing


the design employs an ancient

and eco-friendly natural airconditioning

system invented

by the Romans. The Sun heats

a chimney, causing the air

inside it to rise. This, in turn,

draws air into cool clay pipes

buried below ground, lowering

it to the temperature of the

surrounding soil.

In December last year, the

United Nations reiterated its

mission to make the world

entirely carbon-neutral by

2050. Takada believes that

Sunflower House could be

the catalyst for a larger

architectural movement that

will help achieve this aim. “This

is an opportunity to reverse

climate change by designing

greener buildings,” says

Takada. “[The principle that]

‘form follows nature’ draws

on the lessons of the natural

world, creating innovative

designs that allow people to

reconnect with nature and,

ultimately, save our planet.”

Takada’s task is not an easy

one. The construction industry

currently accounts for almost

40 per cent of the world’s CO2

emissions, a statistic that has

risen steadily over the past few

decades. But he believes that

by studying natural solutions

around us, we can reverse the

damage already done. “In the

past, houses were designed

to be static, but Sunflower

House is dynamic, placing an

emphasis on performance,”

says Takada. “Countries have

committed to carbon neutrality

by 2050. This gives us just

30 years to restore what

humankind has destroyed

over the past 200.”



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Total Amount of Credit £8,261.07

Agreement Duration 37 Months

Purchase Fee † £10.00

36 Monthly Repayments of £119.00

Optional Final Repayment £5,526.00

Total Amount Payable £12,441.93

Interest Rate (Fixed) 7.21%

Representative APR 7.5% APR

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Tom Evans

Escaping the

comfort zone

The ultrarunner started his sporting career for a bet,

and discovered a love of pushing his limits that has

kept him moving ever since


Photography BEN LUMLEY

“My thought process can best be

described as ‘minimal’,” laughs Tom

Evans, describing his 2017 entry into

the six-day, 251km Marathon des

Sables, held annually in the Sahara

Desert. As well as being possibly the

toughest race on the planet, it also

happened to be Evans’ first. “I knew

it was the hardest race out there,

and I thought there was no point in

doing the easy ones,” he says. “I’d

jump straight in at the deep end.”

Though he lacked any formal

training, Evans’ self-belief carried

him to an unbelievable third place

– the fastest time run by any

European in the race’s history – and,

naturally, skyrocketed him into the

world of professional ultrarunning.

“I was always sporty,” explains the

29-year-old. “I represented England

at rugby, hockey and athletics

events while at school. Looking

back, I wasn’t necessarily the best,

but I always tried the hardest. After

school, I realised I didn’t want to

go to university, so at 18 I joined

the army. I’d always felt I had

something to prove, and in the

army an easy way to do that was

by keeping fit. The army is an

endurance-based organisation,

which suited me really well.”

After the Marathon des Sables,

Evans capped off a successful streak

by winning the 101km CCC race at

the 2018 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.

The following year, he left the army

to pursue running full-time, and he

hasn’t looked back. Next on his

schedule is Red Bull’s official charity

partner event the Wings for Life

World Run on May 9 – a unique

race with no finish line, in which

runners compete against a ‘catcher

car’ until it overtakes them. This

year’s participants will still compete

at the same time, but – due to

COVID-19 restrictions – they’ll run

against a virtual car, via an app.

It’ll be different from Evans’ past

experiences at the annual event,

but he’s a master of adaptability.

Currently holed up in Loughborough

with his fiancée, professional

triathlete Sophie Coldwell, he’s

keeping busy by switching snowy

trails for road running and has even

smashed the Three Peaks challenge

on a treadmill. Here’s how Evans

keeps pushing forward…

the red bulletin: You came

third in the Marathon des Sables

after entering for a bet. How?

tom evans: My friends did [the race]

in 2016 and finished in the top 300.

I thought I could do better, and over

a few beers they bet me I couldn’t. I

signed up the next morning. There’s

a lot of crossover with the military,

because you’re sleeping outside

under the stars and pushing yourself

to your limits every day. Through

running the race, I discovered this

ability to suffer for a very long time

in the heat. Two years later, I left

the army to become a full-time

professional athlete.

Ultrarunning is one of the most

punishing sports. Is it all down

to this natural ability?

No, I train very hard and I get used

to suffering. I know in any race

there will come a point when I’ll

want to stop. When I get there it’s

like, ‘Right, I knew it was going

to happen, so now’s the time to

embrace it, but also know that the

minute after you stop, it’s going

to stop hurting.’ I think I can

withstand a lot, but I want to know

how long I can actually keep feeling

uncomfortable for.

Many people struggled to find

focus during lockdown. What kept

you motivated?

It’s very easy to keep a habit once

you have it, but it’s very difficult

to start the habit in the first place.

I think people go from never

running at all to loving it. Then

there’s the other side of that: as

soon as you do stop something like

running, it’s very difficult to start

again. So, for me, it’s about keeping

as much consistency as possible.

I always set mid-term and long-term

goals – I’m very goals-based. Having

gone from boarding school to the

military, I like knowing what I’m

doing. Typically I drive to the Peak

District or Snowdon or the Lake

District, where there are phenomenal

trails, but I wasn’t able to do that

in lockdown. So I started running

from my door instead. Road running

suits me well, because it’s easier to

collect data on your run. You don’t

have to pigeonhole yourself into

a certain distance or event. I run

because I love running, and it’s a

brilliant thing to be able to do.

What’s your plan for the Wings

for Life World Run?

Because it’s a charity event, my goal

is to raise as much awareness for

spinal cord research as I possibly

can by putting in a performance that

people talk about. It’s going to be a

long, uncomfortable run, which is

my sweet spot. I think the best way

people can physically prepare is to

go on the website and play around

with speeds; look at how far you

can get [while] running at a certain

pace. Because it’s on the app, you

can challenge your friends virtually,

which keeps the competition alive.

Join this year’s Wings For Life World

Run at


“I train very

hard and

I get used to



Hannah Reid

Speaking truth

to power

British trio London Grammar’s ethereal pop songs have

been streamed more than a billion times, but it’s only

now that their lead singer has truly found her voice


Photography WILL REID

was disappointing and made me feel

like, “Wow, the world has not moved

on in the way I thought it had.”

Do you think the #MeToo

movement has had a lasting effect

on the music industry?

It made people self-reflect in the

same way that Black Lives Matter

has. Even really good men I worked

with would be like, “I just didn’t

realise that women felt this way.”

It’s been the biggest step forward.

Hannah Reid, best known as the

vocalist of indie-pop trio London

Grammar, casually reveals a major

lockdown achievement as she chats

from her West London home. “One

positive is that instead of going

out on the road, we’ve carried our

creative process on,” says the

31-year-old singer, “so we’ve been

writing loads and working on

a fourth album.”

This is surprising news given that

the long-awaited third album by the

band – Reid, alongside guitarist Dan

Rothman and drummer/keyboard

player Dominic Major – only gets its

release this month. A collection of

deftly woven, Balearic-flavoured

pop tracks, Californian Soul tackles

toxic misogyny, the death of the

American Dream, and Reid’s own

personal growth. It demonstrates

a newfound confidence she says is

down to age, experience, and the

influence of a new generation of

inspirational female artists.

the red bulletin: You found

fame at quite a young age. How

has that affected you?

hannah reid: We were signed

when we were 21, and it’s definitely

changed me as a person. The music

industry is a very tough landscape.

It’s completely male-dominated, and

it was a little bit of a shock. Also,

when you experience success you’re

suddenly opened up to this world

of other people’s opinions. You can

lose your own sense of identity a bit.

But I feel like on this third album

I’ve managed to get that back. I’ve

changed a lot as a person, and there

was just a different energy in what

I was writing, and in the music. It’s

kind of upbeat for us, but the lyrics

are quite dark in places and a bit

more aggressive.

Has confidence come with age?

On the first record, I was actually

really lost and very vulnerable, like

a lot of young people are at that

age. As you get older, the things that

you experience change you, and,

yeah, I found a different kind of

confidence. Whereas on the second

record maybe I was hiding behind

a bit of a veil of poetry, [on this

record] I was just like, “I’m going

to say whatever I want to say.”

Have you consciously taken

on more of a leadership role

in the band?

In terms of dealing with the

industry, yes. If people don’t respect

me as a leader, they won’t respect

me at all. Because I’ve had such

difficulty sometimes being the only

female in the room, I was like, “If

you guys support me in that

way, I don’t think people can take

advantage of us.” It’s an industry

where you do have to have quite

strong boundaries and a thick skin.

It’s a constant battle.

You’ve mentioned that you see the

new album as a feminist record…

It’s definitely in the lyrics. I did have

quite profound experiences being

a woman in the music industry and

then realising that when I came

home from being on tour and spoke

to my girlfriends about it, they were

all having the same experiences. It

Do you find inspiration in other

female artists?

I love any art that’s made by women

and is about being empowered.

The younger generation of female

artists who are leading the way,

like Arlo Parks and Billie Eilish –

women who are quite a lot younger

than me – have helped me. You can

see it in them having control over

their careers and saying everything

they want to say.

What was it that you wanted

to say with this record that

you couldn’t before?

There are some songs where I’m

speaking about those sexual politics

or dynamics that go on between

men and women, with men still

holding that baton of power.

There’s more personal stuff that’s

just about me losing myself in that

environment and regaining a sense

of who I was. I think I just wanted

to say “Fuck you”, really.

Given your newfound

confidence, would you ever

be tempted to go solo?

There’s just a magic between us

three [in the band] that I really

cherish. No matter how the music

changes or evolves from record to

record, we’ve also evolved so much

as a trio. It’s so fascinating to be

a part of that. I do have a wish to

maybe write a really obscure,

tragic country record that probably

no one would listen to. But that’s

a long way off.

London Grammar’s album Californian

Soil is out on April 16 on Ministry Of



“I’ve had

difficulty being

the only

female in the



Jill Wheatley



When the Canadian suffered a severe traumatic brain

injury in 2014, what spelt an end to life as she knew it

also marked the start of a new adventure



Jill Wheatley doesn’t like the word

‘accident’. Instead, she describes the

moment her life was altered for ever

as “when serendipity changed my

trail”. It was 2014, and she was

teaching sports science at a school

just outside Munich when, during

a lesson, she was hit on the head by

a baseball. Her skull fractured, her

brain suffered swelling and bleeding,

and damage to her optic nerves left

her with just 30-per-cent vision – her

right eye would never open again.

In an instant, Wheatley, still in her

early thirties, was transformed from

an independent “adventurous spirit”

to the survivor of a traumatic brain

injury (TBI), which also triggered

a rare eating disorder that saw her

weight plummet dangerously.

It would be more than two years

before Ontario-born Wheatley left

hospital to find that her life – her job,

home, and German residency – no

longer existed. Before “serendipity”

intervened, Wheatley had spent

every minute outdoors, so, despite

her injuries and with nothing more

to lose, she set off to ice-climb, ski

and mountain-run her way around

the world’s most spectacular

massifs, from the Eiger Ultra Trail

in the Alps to Nepal’s Annapurna.

She has documented her journey

in a blog, Mountains of My Mind.

Last November, after months of

lockdown in Kathmandu, Wheatley

was about to climb the iconic Ama

Dablam when she learned that her

father had unexpectedly passed

away. “I honestly feel like my life

experience prepared me for it, and I

was more accepting of relinquishing

control,” she says. “There was nothing

I could do. There was a strange

sensation my dad was with me, that

he could see. It gave me strength.”

She climbed on and made it to

the summit…

the red bulletin: What was it

about mountains that called to you?

jill wheatley: I’ve always been

drawn to mountains and the

outdoors. I felt like no matter what

mountain, it couldn’t challenge me

the way those 26 months in hospital

did. Once, when I was really sick in

Colorado, a doctor came to introduce

himself. I was pulling my tubes out

and doing everything a patient

shouldn’t do. He said, “I understand

you like mountains. These are your

lifelines. If you’re on an expedition,

you’re on a team. We are your team

who’ll help get you to your Everest.”

Two years ago, the first time I saw

Everest, his words came back to me.

No one climbs a mountain alone.

How much of a challenge is travel

on your global expeditions?

In Canada and the US, there’s an

assumption that every adult can

drive. Why am I not running more in

the Canadian Rockies? Because it’s

really hard to access if you’re visually

impaired. It’s not like in Switzerland

where you can hop on a train and it

takes you door to door. That was

disheartening at first. However, I

think the places I choose now reflect

that. I learned that Chamonix, for

example, is great because I can base

myself somewhere, and if I’m there

a month I can do 30 different trails.

Other than your loss of vision,

how does your TBI affect you?

You can see the scars from my

physical falls, but you don’t see the

cognitive function. I have no depth

perception, so I fall; I pour my water

and miss the cup. Not every day,

but often. Balance, coordination,

concentration – all of those things

needed training. Sometimes I need

to remind myself that it is a lot. Still,

in my mind I’m not being gracious to

myself, I want no excuses. However,

it doesn’t matter what pace I go.

That’s not what’s important. I’m here

when I wasn’t expected to survive,

and look at what I’ve chosen to do.

What now helps you deal with

difficult moments?

Impermanence. I was introduced to

Vipassana, a type of meditation that

starts with 10 days of silence. The

root of it is basically that everything

is constantly changing. I allowed

myself to think deeper into that,

shift my perspective, and recognise

that actually I’m a very good example

of impermanence. I don’t even like

the word ‘recovery’, because to me

that means going back to something,

and I don’t want to go back to the

person I was before. I feel like the

lessons I’ve learned from my TBI are

more than I ever would without it.

The power of perspective is the most

significant lesson; that shift from

what I’ve lost to what I’ve gained.

Adversity doesn’t look the same to

everyone. It might not be a TBI or

vision loss, but every human can

connect to adversity, to vulnerability,

to being open and authentic.

How does it feel to have reached

a summit?

Honestly, I feel gratitude. I get

goosebumps every time I talk about

it. I look at a picture of me on a

summit, and in the other half of my

brain I’m lying in a hospital bed in

Colorado hoping that I don’t wake

up. I’m so thankful that these people

didn’t give up on me. On top of

a summit, it’s me standing there,

but it’s so many other people who

have got me there.



doesn’t look

the same to





Almost half a century

after breaking

burst onto the streets

of the Bronx, meet

the UK B-Boys and

B-Girls helping

reinvent, reinvigorate

and reimagine their

scene for a new era

Words RUTH McLEOD and


Photography GAVIN BOND

B-Girl Vanessa

The 29-year-old Portuguese-born

breaker won the 2019 Red Bull

BC One Cypher UK final with

a victory over Leeds’ RaWGina.

As well as competing, she’s

committed to teaching and

promoting up-and-coming B-Girls



The world of competitive

breaking usually involves spot-lit, sweat-drenched

battles in packed-out venues for hyped-up crowds.

But on a Sunday evening in early March, thanks

to lockdown, B-Girl Vanessa Marina is performing

to the world via her mobile phone, in a small hired

studio in Hackney Wick, east London.

The Portuguese-born 29-year-old is competing

live against Argentina-based B-Girl Carito for a

place in the final in Texas, and, despite the unusually

subdued backdrop, her energy is characteristically

high. Vanessa’s feet shift rhythmically and instinctively

as she moves fluidly between freezes, footwork and

spins to a salsa-infused hip-hop soundtrack, seemingly

propelled as much by her self-confidence as by her

athletic ability, honed through hours of practice.

“When we dance, it shows our personality,” she

says. “It shows character. Someone shy can become

their true self. Breaking is a language everyone

around the world can understand, and a battle is

a conversation. The person who goes first asks a

question; the person who battles next gives the

answer. No two movements will ever be the same.”

It’s this marriage of artistic interpretation and

gymnastic skill that makes breakdancing – or

breaking, as it’s known in the scene – a unique

proposition. Part art, part sport, breaking was

conceived on the streets of New York in the 1970s,

but has since spread around the world. More

recently, its growing popularity has resulted in its

– controversial for some – inclusion in the 2024

Paris Olympics. An unlikely alliance of objectors

has arisen following news of breaking’s Games

debut, comprising both traditional sportspeople

sceptical of its credentials, and old-school breaking

purists afraid that mainstream exposure might

dilute the culture. But, for a fresh generation of

UK breakers keen to push the boundaries of their

scene, it’s just the latest step in a journey that was

already well underway. These B-Boys and B-Girls

are athletes, artists, activists and adventurers,

using their art form to express themselves to an

ever-expanding audience.

“It’s great to have new platforms and

opportunities,” says Vanessa, who, at 18, moved

from Lisbon to London to pursue a breaking career

and has since helped to evolve the UK B-Girl scene.

“The breaking scene is now thriving in London and

across the UK. Scenes have to evolve; nothing stands

still. As these new opportunities are born, we must

embrace them and what they can do for the culture

and our future. If we stand still, the scene will die”

Though it was born in the Bronx, where breaking

battles and cyphers – freestyle battles fought in

the centre of a circle of B-Boys and B-Girls – were

used for everything from self-expression to settling

scores and unifying neighbourhoods, breaking

has decades-old roots in the UK, too. Over the

course of UK breaking history, London has been

home to prestigious battles such as the UK B-Boy

AJ the

Cypher Cat

Breaking is in the

blood of this 19-yearold

– his father and

uncles were part of

the scene back in

the ’80s. AJ – real

name Aijion Brown

– reached last year’s

BC One Cypher UK

semi-finals and now

he has his eye on the

chance to represent

Team GB at the 2024

Paris Olympics


“As soon as I won

my first battle,

aged eight, I told

my dad that one

day I’d compete

at BC One”

AJ the Cypher Cat


B-Girl Nat

Natasha Lee’s

passion for breaking

has taken her around

the world, but her

B-Girl career was

almost cut short

after she suffered

a spinal injury.

Thanks to sheer

perseverance and

dedicated training,

however, the Hong

Kong-born breaker

has bounced back

stronger than ever

“I started breaking

with a class at King’s

College. “I thought,

‘Why not push myself

to do something I’ve

never done before?’”

B-Girl Nat

Championships, which not only made newspaper

headlines and sold out Brixton Academy numerous

times but helped keep the national scene alive.

Small breaking hubs have long existed across the

country, from Swindon to Aberdeen, and current

Red Bull BC One Cypher UK champions RaWGina

and Kid Karam are from Leeds and Derby

respectively. In an internet age when it’s as easy

for a B-Girl from Taunton to throw up her hardest

moves online for the world to see as for a B-Boy

in rural Kazakhstan, top breakers are not only indemand

internationally for battles, performances

and judging panels, but have the chance to pass on

their skills to a new generation hungry to learn.

“The UK scene is still a bit chaotic; it’s going

through a transitional phase right now,” says

25-year-old Bristol B-Boy and contemporary artist

Izaak Brandt. “But it’s the least divided it ever has

been. Some of the older generations in the UK have

a fixed idea of what breaking should be – that it

should be raw and people shouldn’t get on, that it

should be extremely exclusive – but I think younger

generations feel a longing to connect and get on

with other members of their generation. And,

thanks to the internet, there’s been more dialogue

between them, which has created more unity. We’re

starting to see people coming together.”

When dedicating yourself to a scene that

demands practice time, often leads to injury

and offers little financial reward, passion

and resilience are key. Izaak got into B-Boying at

the age of 11 after seeing Sunni Brummitt, also 11,

perform at an event in Bristol. “I immediately

wanted to get involved,” says Izaak. “Breaking lives

within the realm of [both] sport and art. It’s a real

intersection between both worlds and merges them

perfectly, harmoniously. That appealed to me. Sunni

has been one of my closest friends ever since.”

Izaak and Sunni perfectly embody each end of

the spectrum of possibilities within breaking: Izaak’s

wild artistic experimentation at one end and the

fierce athleticism of Sunni – famed for his impossiblelooking

headspins and explosive creativity in battle

– at the other. With multiple world championship

performances to his name, a contract as a Red Bull

BC One All Star, and a reputation as one of the best

B-Boys the UK has produced, Sunni is a poster boy

for British breaking and has helped to put it back on

the world map. “I had very few [UK breakers] to look

up to,” says Sunni, who began breaking alongside

climbing and playing football as a child in south-west

England. “So, when I did my come-up, anything going

good for me was a bonus. We’ve got a big underdog

situation in the UK that we’ve kind of adopted and

accepted and embraced. I might have got us some

recognition, but we still have a long way to go.”

Breakers such as Sunni aren’t wary of their sport

being professionalised in the push for progress on

the global competitive stage. In common with many

other elite breakers, the 26-year-old already trains

like a top-tier gymnast – six hours per day, five days

per week – and is quick to dismiss those reluctant to

see breaking grow in mainstream popularity. “There

are people who are 40 and used to be B-Boys and

that’s what makes them cool and ‘hip hop’,” says

Sunni, who’s in the process of moving back to Bristol

after a stint living in Holland. “If they see B-Boys

competing in tights on the telly, they’re not going to

feel so cool. But that’s not the point of it; when they

were those kids breaking on the street, if someone

had said, ‘Do you want a dance studio, a nutritionist,

a sports therapist?’, you know they’d all have said

yeah. They were out there because of necessity, not

a personal choice. People get that confused.”

But in this uniquely artistic sport, where there’s

no universal regulation or regimentation, what may

need to change in the shift towards the mainstream

is how battles are judged. Currently, breakers attempt

to wow crowds and win over judges with their own

unique style, whether that’s about power moves

(explosive manoeuvres such as headspins, flips and

gravity-defying athletics) or top rock – upright

footwork that requires a mixture of coordination,

flexibility, rhythm, and out-of-this-world musicality.

Winners and losers are decided by a panel of judges

who weigh up elements from tricks to character

and creativity to decide who becomes the champion

– and right now there’s no template for this.

“This is why we’re right in the middle between an

art form and a professional sport,” says Sunni, who

before the pandemic would be battling, performing

and judging in a different country every week, to the

thunderous applause of fans in packed-out arenas.

“It’s subjective. What you look for as a judge depends

on the event and where you are. When I go to China,

they teach breaking in dance schools where 500

pupils might be taught by one tutor and do the exact

same rounds, with the same vocabulary, so you have

to judge that in a certain way. Then you go to France

and the scene seems to be split into either full-onstyle

character cats or the no personality tricks and

power breakers [one who focuses on power moves].

So it’s about being educated to know what to judge

on, rather than having a standard set of criteria.”

For most breakers, competitions represent the

quickest route to recognition. Presently, the pinnacle

of battle success in the global breaking scene is


Izaak Brandt

A multidisciplinary

artist as well as a

breaker, Izaak has

given up battling and

instead represents

and promotes the

sport through various

creative mediums.

The 25-year-old

hopes increased

exposure will help

make the breaking

scene more inclusive

and open-minded

Break Breaking dance

“It’s a fantastic time

right now; I believe

entering the

mainstream will only

enrich breaking”

Izaak Brandt



B-Boy Sunni

The poster boy of

British breaking,

Sunni Brummitt

moved from Malaysia

to the UK as a child

and began breaking at

the age of 10, joining

his first crew, Toy

Soldiers, soon after.

In 2019, 14 years and

many battle victories

later, he became the

first UK breaker to

make the Red Bull

BC One All Stars team

seminal international event Red Bull BC One,

which began back in 2004. Annual national

qualifiers feed through to the highly anticipated

world final, which Sunni has reached three times

and has been held everywhere from Tokyo and

Mumbai to this year’s upcoming event in Gdansk,

Poland. The final, which sees the best 16 B-Boys and

B-Girls go head-to-head, is watched live or online by

most of the world’s breaking population, helping to

inspire the next generation of breakers to aim high.

“If you’re going to train, you should train to win

everything,” says 19-year-old Wolverhampton

breaker Aijion Brown, aka AJ the Cypher Cat – a

name inspired by his love of battling. “As soon as

I won my first battle, aged eight, I told my dad that

one day I’d compete at BC One.” AJ’s education

came from his B-Boy father Pablo’s DVDs, and also

from his dad’s cousins – both were keen breakers

during the UK’s first wave, back in the 80s. As a way

of paying his respects, AJ offers free breaking classes

during the college/school summer holidays. “The

breaking scene in Wolverhampton is literally me and

a couple of others!” he laughs. “Though there’s more

of a family vibe in the UK, it’s also competitive. I train

even harder, because I’m in two generations; I’m in

Sunni’s generation as the youngest, and there’s also a

whole generation under me, trying to take me out.”

In 2019, AJ was selected to compete at BC One

for the first time as a wildcard and managed to reach

the semi-finals. “Now I want multiple BC One titles,”

he says. “I’ve always loved to battle. When I can beat

Sunni, I’ll know I’m at the top in the UK. Then I can

focus on reaching the worldwide level of breaking.”

Though battling is the most visible side of the

breaking scene, for most it’s the physical embodiment

of something that runs deeper. “When I dance, I feel

proud,” says Sunni. “My goal with my dance isn’t

validation; it’s that I’m good enough so that it can be

my ticket to whatever I want, whether that’s work,

respect, or being able to really express myself

properly. I get worried about B-Boys when they go

on a winning streak but then lose and disappear.

For me, [competitive] breaking is like playing chess:

when I lose a game, I get pissed off, but it’s like,

‘Let’s start another match.’ Battling ain’t that deep

– it’s the nature of the game. If you can learn how

to lose, you actually win so much more.”

In contrast to his battle-ready childhood friend,

artist Izaak is taking breaking in a different direction,

pushing to change preconceptions about the scene

in unexpected settings. “My decision not to pursue

the battle direction was a lack of interest,” he says.

“After being heavily involved in the battle scene for

a few years, I realised my creative energy could be

used more effectively in other areas. I’ve taken

breaking into other mediums: drawing, conceptual

performance, animation, publications, painting,

fashion, choreography, and now sculpture. It’s an

ongoing exploration for me. There need to be way

more touchpoints for people to connect with breaking,

and I believe that’s one of my jobs – to proliferate

“Suffering losses is

the nature of the game.

If you can learn how

to lose, you actually win

so much more”

B-Boy Sunni

breaking into spaces people may have not seen it

before, so that it’s not just battling that’s visible.

It’s a fantastic time right now; I believe entering the

mainstream will only enrich the culture. It’s important

to have people of all genders, sexualities and walks

of life in the discourse of breaking so it can be a

more open-minded place. But it’s a long process.”

One area that has been slow to change in

breaking, both in the UK and worldwide, is

gender equality. Women are still a distinct

minority in what can be a hyper-masculine scene.

“As a woman in breaking, you have to work twice

as hard for half the recognition,” says Vanessa.

“We are making progress, but, because it’s a maledominated

scene, girls are doubtful they’ll be

heard, so they don’t vocalise their opinions. That

needs to change. I’ve experienced unfair situations

like guys being given a good floor on the main

stage while our B-Girl battle was on a rusty floor,

or when we got paid less than the guys, or they

didn’t want to pay us at all. I couldn’t be quiet –

it caused a revolution in me.”

Vanessa is now part of B-Girl Sessions, a womanonly

group seeking to promote female breakers and

give them a place to come together. She also hosts

workout sessions for B-Girls around the world,

who Vanessa says have often learned breaking from

men rather than focusing on the specific abilities of

their own bodies. “I’m trying to give the girls more

of a voice,” she says. “The women in this scene are

here because they have something to say. I have

something to say. B-Girls continue to be so strong

in this scene, because it’s a marathon for us, not

a sprint. But it is changing. BC One was the biggest

platform to include girls four years ago, and I’ve

seen the changes made since then. Suddenly, girls

saw it was possible to reach this stage and be seen,

be heard. And the call for gender parity at the 2024

Olympics could have even bigger consequences.”

London B-Girl Roxane Hackwood, aka Zana, who

has been competing internationally since 2010, has

witnessed firsthand the evolution of the B-Girl scene

in the UK. “When I first started, B-Girls all dressed

the same and pretty much moved the same,” she

says, “whereas now you get girls who dance supergirly

or are total powerheads etc. There’s so much

scope within it. Initially, I hid my background in

capoeira so it didn’t look like I was taking an easy


“When I first started,

B-Girls all dressed

the same and pretty

much moved the

same. Now, there’s

so much scope”

B-Girl Zana



route. And I’ve always preferred power moves, but

I was influenced away from them by coaches and

other breakers who told me they would take too

long to master. Now, there’s so much inspiration to

draw upon to help you find your own voice, so I can

integrate capoeira into my dance, and the flavour

of it is coming through. Power will come next. I’ve

learned to double down on the things I like.”

B-Girl Zana

London breaker Roxane Hackwood has more

than a decade of international competition

experience. Her distinctive style, which

incorporates elements of the Brazilian

martial art capoeira, won her a place in the

final eight at last year’s BC One Cypher UK

Classes such as those offered by Sunni, AJ

and Vanessa are bringing new breakers into

the fold who might otherwise have missed

the opportunity. “Most breakers you meet started

out in the scene, but I started with a class at King’s

College of all places!” says London-based, Hong

Kong-born Natasha Lee, aka B-Girl Nat. “I thought,

‘Why not push myself to do something I’ve never

done before?’” After getting hooked on breaking,

the adventure-hungry 29-year-old travelled to

Taiwan and linked up with B-Boys and B-Girls there,

then journeyed on to Australia to do the same. But

just as her skills were catching up with her passion,

a devastating spinal injury almost stopped her in

her tracks. Doctors told her to forget breaking and

move on, but, after some recovery time, Nat

redoubled her focus on training and came back to

the UK stronger and with a newfound fire. Last year

she made her UK cypher debut, and she’s now

training with UK breaking pioneer and coach DJ

Renegade, who has helped set up Breaking GB,

an IOC-approved training collective, to support

those who are determined to get to the Olympics.

That the UK scene is at this point today is testament

to these breakers’ ability to evolve.

“It’s important to respect the founders and the

work that’s come before us, because we’re building

upon that,” says Zana. “But, with breaking, the

idea should be that each new generation brings a

different flavour to it. If that’s bringing new music,

new styles, a new platform, we have to let it evolve.

It has to happen in order for [up-and-coming

breakers] to feel engaged and form an attachment

to it – the new generation doesn’t have a connection

to Kool Herc or Grandmaster Flash any more.”

Back in Hackney Wick, Vanessa has completed

the last of her three final rounds and watches her

phone screen as she catches her breath, awaiting

the judges’ decisions. All three vote in her favour.

She beams at the camera. “It was totally different

to battle online,” she says. “Also, I’d gone one year

without battling while I just worked on my

breaking, so it was a good comeback. Each round

I won just made me more sure of my skills, and by

the time I came to the final I knew there was no

other option but to win! It’s thanks to the motto

I had when not battling last year: ‘You have to be

ready so you don’t have to get ready.’”

Sounds like good advice for a scene on the verge

of its big break.

Watch the B-Girls and B-Boys in battle on the Red Bull

BC One YouTube channel;




Exploring narrow,

unmapped underwater

caves deep in the

Mexican jungle is

fraught with danger.

But, for two of the

world’s most intrepid

cave divers, what

they discover in

these unexplored

passageways can be

truly life-changing




Thymann enters the water of the cave –

coloured yellow near the surface by

tannic acid from recent rainfall – with

his camera, watching closely for any

sign that the underwater housing is

leaking. A video light illuminates the

path ahead, along with a light on his

helmet, which he calls his ‘third hand’


Cave exploration

Klaus Thymann is 300m inside an

underwater cave in Mexico, 10m below

dense jungle, navigating a constricted

passageway that’s barely bigger than he

is – around 60cm from floor to ceiling.

The Danish-born photographer and cave

diver is shooting what are likely to be

prehistoric human bones, so he has had

to adopt a plank position with his arms

outstretched, using his lungs to control

his level in the water; if any part of him

touches any surface, he could destroy

these artefacts by disturbing silt that

could also leave him with zero visibility.

Under this intense pressure, Thymann

– who estimates he has spent several

hundred hours in caves like these during

his career – is the most stressed he’s ever

been on a dive. But he knows that if he’s

unable to stay calm, he’ll get through

his supply of air too quickly and there’s

a high chance he could drown.

This is cave diving at its most extreme.

Cave exploration is a better description,

since most of the routes Thymann and his

diving partner Alessandro Reato survey

have not yet been mapped, making the

pair the first humans in modern history

to lay eyes on whatever awaits them

around the next dark corner. “Your body

screams panic in these situations,” says

Thymann. “You are underwater, in

darkness, in a confined space, so stress

levels are high. But your survival depends

on your being calm. You have to develop

the skills to subdue that intuitive fear.”

Squeezing expertly through spaces

small enough to make most wince, these

underwater explorers are willing to go

where most can’t or won’t, carrying with

them all the equipment they need to

avert disaster if something goes wrong

– and things often do. “It’s not really a

question of if, but when, something will

go wrong, meaning you just have to be

prepared for it,” says Thymann. “There

is no dive buddy. I frequently squeeze

through gaps so small I have to tilt my

head sideways, and in that position

another diver can’t get to you.

“When it comes to kit, we have at

least two of almost everything. Two is

one, one is none, as we say. Packing and

preparation are done with military

precision, as even a little thing can be

what saves the day. I don’t like risks. I work

methodically and don’t deviate from my

protocol – that’s how I justify doing this.

I plan, I prepare, and then of course I’ve

had extensive professional training and

Top left: you can’t see it from the

air, but beneath the dense jungle

there’s access to the underwater

caves. Above: they may be filled

with air, but the dive tanks weigh

more than 10kg each, meaning

they’re ferried to site one by one


Locating the cave

“We start out with our porter

Jesus walking in front of the 4x4,

chopping at vegetation with his

machete, but at some point the

road and jungle merge, so we get

out and walk. Alex’s Italian arms

get excited as he talks, disturbing a

hornets’ nest. We run, but still get

stung. We’re heading for the GPS

coordinates that mark the position

of a cenote – our access point

to the underwater river system.

We find cenotes from our Mayan

contacts; from seeing on a map

where the water should go; from

diving and seeing light above; and

from others who have told Alex

they’ve found a hole in the jungle.”


Time travel

“I’ve been cave diving for

less than 10 years, but I’ve

dived all my life. I remember

freediving as a kid, going down

with a net to catch octopus

in the Mediterranean. I like the

challenge of cave diving;

I like doing things that are

complicated and haven’t been

done before. Once I enter

the rabbit hole, I just want to

go further into it. Diving

the underwater rivers feels

like entering a time capsule;

time doesn’t exist, as there

are no outside factors to

disturb you – no daylight, no

noise, just the sound of your

breathing. As we swim through

the water, we enter an

ancient time, experiencing

what no one has for hundreds

and thousands of years.

However, diving is also very

much about time – you have

to keep track of it to survive

and know your limitations.”


Cave exploration


cave-diving isn’t

for everyone

– it takes


to a new level”

have built up experience. It helps that my

personality is uber-rational, so I generally

solve issues well under pressure – be that

on a mountain, inside a glacier, deep

underwater, or on the edge of a volcano.”

During a varied career as a journalist,

photographer and explorer, London-based

Thymann, 46, has trekked new routes to

explore the glaciers of Uganda and Congo;

was the first person to scuba-dive the

world’s clearest lake, New Zealand’s Blue

Lake; and has led expeditions to mountains

on six continents, all with the aim of

furthering knowledge and awareness of the

climate crisis. And this mission, he says,

is similarly important: “It’s an expedition

with a purpose, and that’s what I find

interesting. I need that purpose. All of the

peaks have been summited, so now you

get things being done in multiples – the

Three Peaks Challenge or whatever – an

artificial goal in order to set a new record.

I have a lot of respect for people who are

able to do it, but there is no benefit to the

world in the 100th person standing on top

of a mountain. I’m trying to come back

with something that benefits science and

helps us make informed choices about

how we behave on this planet.”

It was in Mexico – Reato’s current home

– that Thymann first met the Italian cave

diver and former army cartographer,

through friends, in 2016. The pair soon

realised they shared a love of mapping

and heading off the beaten track; Reato

had explored more than 70km of the

country’s caves. “I have a similar appetite

to Alex in terms of going places where

others don’t,” says Thymann. “Even most

people who enjoy cave diving won’t crawl

down a piece of rope into a hole in the

jungle they can barely squeeze through

after walking for miles through dense

jungle. But we like the parts that are still

really wild, and to get to that frontier you

must engage with nature differently.

Exploration cave-diving certainly isn’t for

everyone – our sort of cave diving takes

claustrophobia to a new level. With Alex,

I feel that I’ve found a partner in crime.”

So, when Reato contacted Thymann

last year to tell him about his discovery

of this ancient skeleton, the Dane was

all in. “In this case, if it wasn’t the bones

and the fascinating insights into the past

they might give us, it could be for an

environmental purpose, like trying to

map underground rivers to help protect

them,” says Thymann. “The caves here in

Mexico are unique; they’re the world’s

largest underground system and we need

to preserve them – for the habitat, for

the reef, for what it provides, and just

because it’s a huge archaeological site.”

Using calculations based on historic

water levels, they know the bones could

Above left: Thymann – providing

the only light in the pitch-black

cave – follows the navigational line.

The scenery changes constantly:

“Two kicks of your fins and you’re

somewhere that looks totally

different.” Right: Reato readies his

mask for diving


Cave exploration

Thymann squeezes through a

tight gap, disturbing silt that

affects visibility. In spaces

this small, he has to crawl.

Opposite: Reato leads the

dive deep into the cave. “The

only thing we leave behind is

bubbles,” says Thymann

Lining the route

“Exploration of the

underwater caves on the

Yucatán only began in the

1980s. Back then, mostly

American cave-divers would

use single-engine aircraft

to fly over the jungle, trying

to spot cenotes from the

air, and would throw

something down to mark the

spot. Then they’d walk

through the jungle to find the

marker. Nowadays we have

drones and GPS, but no

technology has been created

that can overcome the

complexity of mapping

underwater. The main

method of navigation is still

the same: a continuous

line of nylon string from the

open water all the way to

wherever we’re going in the

cave. When caves are

explored, the line is left

underwater with arrows

pointing towards the exit at

any intersection. Every

cave diver knows how to

navigate in total blindness

by holding onto the line

and feeling the arrows.”


Cave exploration

“There’s a sense

of awe about the

find… it makes

you humble”

be more than 9,000 years old, which

would make them some of the oldest ever

discovered in the country. And the race

was on to document the find and collect

a sample for analysis, guaranteeing the

bones official protection from looters

who plunder sites such as these.

“We knew we had to keep the exact

location of the bones to ourselves,” says

Thymann. “What has happened in the

past is there’s been an archaeological

find, but then you can’t surround it in

barbed wire, and when people have come

back it’s gone. To me, it’s such a weird

thing. I don’t understand it. Even though

it’s probably a very small minority doing

the looting, they pose a disproportionately

big risk. It happens all over the world;

there’s a black market for artefacts. So we

knew we had to be careful – and quick.”

Thymann doesn’t drink at all for at

least a week before a dive. He exercises

every day and sticks to a healthy diet –

extra pounds do nothing for your ability

to inch through cramped spaces. “For

weeks, I prepared from my base in Europe.

For an expedition, I bring more than

100 items. I keep things in working order,

but I still test it all before heading out.

Alex sent me a sketch of the area with

the bones and we discussed approaches.

We have defined roles: Alex leads the

exploration, and I document it and

create the material the archaeologists

and scientists need.”

When Thymann arrived in Tulum to

meet Reato and head into the jungle, he

was – as always – prepared for anything.

But, no matter how many times he

ventures into the depths of the Yucatán

underwater caves, it never becomes

routine. “Before heading into the cave,

I felt a mixture of extreme excitement

but also disbelief,” Thymann says. “I was

thinking, ‘These are prehistoric human

bones and this is insanely special.’ There

is awe around it. It makes you humble

in a way. You’re just looking at a tiny

piece of a very big puzzle. And that’s

a very healthy way of looking at things

sometimes. It reminds you that your

little life is not so significant.”;

Kit list

Preparation is key,

and a mission of this

kind requires 44kg

of vital equipment

1. Two independent

tanks with a regulator

and pressure

gauge attached

2. Fins. Thymann

uses normal fins,

which are slightly

longer and heavier

than cave fins and

help counterbalance

the weight of his


3. Wetsuit. He has

a 5mm suit, hood,

3mm vest, and boots

4. Secondary dive

light (first back-up),

which is attached

to his helmet with

a bungee cord

5. Helmet, which

is customised

to hold lights

6. BCD (buoyancy

control device) with

two bladders – the

second is a back-up

7. Primary light,

attached to a

battery with a cable

8. Video lights

9. Line markers,

used for navigation.

Thymann’s are

bespoke, circular


markers, so on wellused

lines he can

feel which are his

10. Third light

(second back-up)

11. Dive pouch,

which holds tools

and spare parts, reels

and a spare mask

for deeper dives

12. Camera housing

with dome and


13. Underwater


14. Dive mask

15. Bottom timer,

which displays depth

and time (back-up

to dive computer)

16. Housing for

a small compact

camera (mainly


17. Surface marker,

which can be inflated

at the surface entry

point with a line

attached or, once

submerged, float

camera housing to

the surface quickly

in case of an issue

18. Primary reel

19. Dive computer

20. Wrist slate, used

for navigation

21. Bigger slate and

pencil (with wrist

strap), used for

advanced notes



6 7








10 11










Fully equipped

“When cave diving, everything’s

complicated. Communication

underwater is complicated,

because you can’t talk, so you

use sign language. But then, a lot

of time in caves you can’t see,

either, so you communicate with

light signals. Then, if we’re doing

something that involves a fairly

complex task, we use a slate that

we can write on with a pencil.

Cave diving in itself is taxing; the

basics you have to monitor are

time, depth, gas consumption,

and navigation. Then adding

something else complex,

like doing photogrammetry

[surveying and mapping] or

photography underwater, is

extremely difficult. I have

to know where every piece of

kit is, by feel, so I can reach

it in zero visibility if I need to,

and know how to instantly

unclip and untangle it. For

instance, my pencil has a

bungee cord that sits around

my wrist like a bracelet. If I’m

writing, that’s a tool I might

need for the recalculation of

gases, and for navigation too,

so that pencil is insanely

important. But then I do have

a spare pencil in my pouch.

And I carry a knife to sharpen

it underwater if I need to.”


Slow and steady

“Having swum hundreds of

metres into the cave, I’m in

an appendix part of the cave,

hovering above prehistoric

bones. The space is so tight

there’s less than an elbow’s

length between the dome on

my underwater-camera

housing and skull parts

including loose teeth that

lie beneath the fine-grained

silt. Any wrong move will

disturb this archaeological

site and cause damage. It’ll

also cause a silt cloud to rise,

creating zero visibility, which

is a really bad scenario.

There’s so little room I can’t

even swim, so I’m planking,

stretching out my body, arms

and legs. I’m being positioned

by Alex, who’s holding me by

the ankles and manoeuvring

me around. To navigate, I

signal using my hands – index

finger forward and Alex slowly

pushes me forward. As I try

to remain zen in this cavediving

yoga position, Alex

hits the top of my leg. We’ve

rehearsed this and I know

what to do. I release a tiny

bit of air from my lungs

and descend about 5cm,

just enough to avoid a lowhanging

part of the cave roof.

Every small movement here

is a feat in itself. We move

a few centimetres at a time,

across an imaginary grid,

to document everything.

I check my pressure gauges

constantly to ensure I’m not

using too much air and that

I can still get out of here. The

whole operation takes 70

minutes. I shoot about 500

images of the area where the

skull is, which will be put into

a photogrammetry model so

scientists can navigate the

cave on a computer screen.”

Cave exploration

Bubbles created by the divers

accumulate and merge at the roof

of the cave. Here, it’s essential

they don’t come into contact with

the porous cast rock that

surrounds them; even a small

impact will cause damage


Cave exploration

Reato lays down a

fresh navigational line

from his exploration

reel in this unexplored

cave and ties it off to

a stalagmite

Off the chart

“Mapping is a big part of what

I do. Whether it’s mapping

glaciers or new trekking routes

in Uganda, I try to map out new

terrain, both in a conceptual

and very straightforwardly

practical manner, and these

underground river systems

are one of the only places on

the planet that haven’t been

mapped. That makes it very

exciting. There are many risks –

the equipment can fail, the cave

can collapse, you can have a

heart attack underwater, or get

lost in a cloud of silt – but the

reality is that most deaths while

cave diving happen due to

navigational errors. Cave diving

follows a tried-and-tested

method of having a string to

follow out, but the caves are

not simple one-lane roads –

they’re more like distorted

spider webs. One wrong turn

can lead you further away

from the open water, and at

some point you run out of air.”

Thymann uses UV

light to assess damage

to the bones. Below:

close to an intact

jawbone lies a molar

with good potential

for DNA extraction

Body of evidence

“There are a lot of indications

that this is a prehistoric

skeleton. For now, that’s

based on the historic water

levels and the current water

depth. By combining the two

measurements, you can see

what’s realistic. The depth of

the site is 10m, which means

that the last time the caves

were dry in this area was

between 8,000 and 10,000

thousand years ago. And it’s

totally unreasonable to think

somebody could have died

and floated into these caves

against the current. So it

makes these bones potentially

some of the oldest human

remains to be found in Mexico.

But that will depend on the

exact date. The water-level

calculations indicate the

youngest the bones should

be, but of course there’s

nothing to say these bones

couldn’t have been here for

a significant period before

the water level rose. For now,

having completed this

part of the mission, we head

out and surface. It’s a

success, and we have all the

material we need to file

permits with the Mexican

authorities that allow us to

take a sample for analysis.

The DNA can reveal

fascinating insights into our

ancestors, and underline the

huge archaeological value

of these river systems.”




How the women of


transformed freeride

mountain biking for ever



Rocks off: Hannah

Bergemann drops

into the top of

her line at the firstever

Formation in

October 2019



Trailblazers: Micayla Gatto (right) takes a break to compare notes with Vaea Verbeeck

The sun had just begun to rise near Virgin,

Utah, when American rider Hannah

Bergemann began to climb. Shouldering

her 16kg downhill bike, Bergemann

walked steadily up a narrow desert

ridgeline. When she reached the top, she

looked down the line that she and her

dig crew had patiently carved out of the

red desert sand, peeling back layers of

prehistoric stone. If Bergemann felt any

nerves, she didn’t show them.

She began to ride. With precision,

Bergemann followed the narrow track

unwinding along the canyon wall as the

landscape blurred beneath her wheels.

She hit her first jump, flying over the

gap. The ground dropped into wide-open

air beneath her. Then came a series of

ledges, a staircase made for giants,

formed out of rock layers, none of them

laid straight. A steep chute sent her

hurtling downwards until, at last,

Bergemann arrived at a final jump. She

soared over the gap cleanly, her bike’s

suspension compressing under the force

of the landing.

Bergemann had come to Virgin for

Red Bull Formation, a freeride camp for

women. The groundbreaking October

2019 event brought together six of the

world’s best freeride mountain bikers and

gave them the opportunity to ride in the

storied Utah terrain, made famous by

the almost exclusively male bike event

Red Bull Rampage, a notoriously testing

invitation-only contest that’s now one of

the biggest on the global calendar.

After five days in the desert, no longer

could anyone say that women lacked

the skills to ride Utah’s intense and

unforgiving terrain. These riders had

transformed the landscape of women’s



After three dig days,

the women had

created three very

different lines

In the swing: Vero Sandler digs her line

in the desert sun of Virgin, Utah

Track star: Sandler shows

her classic style as she

charges down the mountain


mountain biking; they had created the

foundations for women’s freeride to fly.

“It gave me confidence to start from

a blank slate on the mountain and make

it into something rideable that pushed my

limits,” says Bergemann. “There hasn’t

been a lot of space for women to pursue

freeride – I feel like this is the start.”

Formation’s roots go back to 2017,

when Rebecca Rusch travelled to

Rampage as a guest. A decorated

endurance mountain biker, Rusch had

never seen the iconic event in person.

She stood in awe of the riding skills on

display, but couldn’t help wondering

why no women were competing. She

began to ask questions. “I was the pot

stirrer,” she says.

Rusch learned that Rampage had

never specifically excluded women, but

This was the riders’

first chance

to collaborate to

push the boundaries

of their sport

none had ever qualified. “I felt like I had

to be the one to push. I was not a freeride

athlete, so it wasn’t like I was out for

myself,” she says. “I had no skin in the

game; it was just the right thing to do.”

With that push, the conversation about

where women fit into the Rampage

picture began in earnest. “There were

some hard conversations,” Rusch recalls.

The next year, a crew of Red Bull athletes,

female gravity riders and Rampage

veterans gathered around a table to

discuss the idea of a women’s event in

Virgin. Should women be added to

Rampage? Should there be a separate

event? No one knew exactly what equality

and inclusion for women looked like in

the context of Rampage.

“I think people just could not picture

what it would look like for a woman to

ride [Rampage],” recalls Katie Holden,

a now-retired American downhill pro

who was at the table that night. “It’s just

this dude environment. It’s hardcore

and it’s gnarly.”

Holden had her own history with

Rampage. Like many female riders,

Holden had started her career as a racer,

but it had never felt like the right fit.

When the offer to partner with women’s

cycling brand Liv came along in 2013, she

jumped at the chance to do something

new. She became a brand ambassador

and built a portfolio of travel, filming,

clinic events, and freeriding. Holden’s

new role also opened the way to chase

her dream of qualifying for Rampage.

“There wasn’t a path to Rampage for

women, because it had never been done

before,” she says. “I just tried to spend

a lot of time out there and be a sponge

and learn as much as I possibly could.”

After spending several years digging

at Rampage and riding the terrain in

Virgin, Holden put all her chips on the

table. Together with a videographer

and photographer, Holden went to the

desert to make a movie she hoped would

score her an invite to Rampage. “I put

everything into it,” she says. Her attempt

ended quickly, though, when she crashed

and tore her calf muscle. Two years of

injuries followed, while the level of riding

at Rampage rose exponentially. “It was

really emotional,” she says. “I realised

that dream wasn’t going to come true.”

Even as Rusch began asking questions,

Holden still felt the sting of regret. “I had

wanted to be the girl who made Rampage,”

she says. At the same time, she had begun


Route-one cycling: British World Cup rider Tahnée Seagrave takes the path of least resistance



“A lot of people

didn’t believe

in Formation

until Formation

came to be”

Katie Holden

to come to terms with what had gone

wrong for her. In retrospect, she could see

that although she came close to reaching

the heights required to compete at

Rampage, she didn’t have the perfect

skill set to do it. And she saw that her

approach had isolated her in crucial ways.

So, when the chance came to design

a women’s event in Virgin, Holden was all

in. Here was a way to put her experience

to work and build a space for women to

succeed. “I don’t like to say that I failed,

because I don’t really believe in failure,

but my experience was a stepping-stone

for Formation,” she says. On a drive to her

mother’s house on Whidbey Island from

her home in Bellingham, Washington,

Holden pulled over to sketch the outlines

of a women’s freeride camp. By the time

she arrived, she knew: Formation was on.

When New Zealander Vinny

Armstrong stepped off the

plane in Las Vegas, she’d never

seen the desert. “It feels like

a different planet,” she says. Known for

her stylish airs, at the time Armstrong

stood at a crossroads in her career.

“I was really tossing up whether I was

going to keep trying to be a World Cup

racer or do a freeride career,” she says.

The six riders invited to Formation

came from diverse corners of the

mountain biking world, but most shared

a background in World Cup downhill

racing. As Holden considered riders, she

felt the experience of learning World Cup

tracks and dealing with the pressures of

racing would help them navigate the

steep challenges posed by riding in Virgin.

Holden also felt the need to prove that

women could handle riding the area’s

unforgiving terrain. She wanted to set

them up for success. “A lot of people

didn’t believe in Formation before

Formation came to be,” she says. “So I felt

like we had to make it perfect in order for

people to jump on the train.”

The sandstone walls of the canyons

around Virgin are marked with tracks and

jump lines that riders have built over

time. During its 12-year history, Rampage

has used several sites in the area, and the

remnants of many features remain. “It

was exciting just to see all that in front of

my eyes,” says Veronique Sandler, a New

Zealand-born rider now based in south

Wales, who focuses on filming. She

recognised a number of the jumps from

seeing them in Instagram clips posted by

Utah-based riders such as Jaxson Riddle

and Ethan Nell.

British World Cup racer Tahnée

Seagrave and Canadian riders Micayla

Gatto and Vaea Verbeeck completed the

group of six, and, on the first day, the

women headed to one of the original

Rampage sites to acclimatise to the

terrain. “Just getting used to the exposure,

there are times when your brain goes,

‘No, that’s not even something I’m going

to try,’” says Verbeeck, who won the

overall title at the Crankworx series in

2019. Riding in the desert, some of them

for the first time, the group tested the

traction and braking points as they began

to uncover the desert’s secrets. “It takes

a bit to get used to it, because you still

get heaps of grip, even while sliding and

drifting everywhere,” says Armstrong.

“It’s just so sick.”

The first day also let the women

reconnect. All six riders knew one another

from past events, but typically they spent

their time competing against each other.

From the start, Holden envisioned

Formation as a collaborative effort to

raise the level of the sport. The women

embraced the concept. “We were legit

standing next to each other, discussing

everything together, brainstorming

together, trying to make it work together

– for each other,” says Verbeeck.

The next day, the women and their

crews headed to the 2015 Rampage site

and began digging the lines they planned

to ride. An often under-appreciated

element of Rampage is the skill required

to dig tracks and features into the walls

of the canyons. “One of the hardest parts

is seeing raw terrain and being able to

visualise how to turn it into something

you want to ride,” says Bergemann.

Both Bergemann and Sandler spend

hours digging at home, but working in

the desert was different. “I do a lot of

digging, but it’s so different out there,”

says Sandler. “[New Zealand rider]

Casey Brown was injured, unfortunately,

but she’s done digging at Rampage

before and she had tons of tips for us.”

Joining the six riders – and underlining

the fact that the desire to push women’s

freeride transcends not only bike

specialisms but sports – came supporters

including freeride fans Michelle Parker,

a big-mountain skier, and Puerto Rican

motocross racer Tarah Gieger.

After three dig days, the women

had created three very different lines.

Bergemann and Gatto went big with

exposed, high-consequence features.

Bergemann and her dig team built a long,

steep track with multiple drops and gap

jumps. With help from Rusch, Parker and

Gieger, Gatto sculpted a fast chute down

the narrow spine of a ridgeline. Her line

included two blind step downs.



Dream team: the athletes, dig crews, organisers and mentors whose combined efforts made Formation a reality celebrate the breakthrough event

Across the canyon face, Sandler,

Verbeeck, Armstrong and Seagrave

collaborated on a flowing track they

dubbed the ‘party line’. These riders

sought space to show their style and

throw a few tricks into the mix. “At first,

it was like, ‘This looks crazy!’” says

Verbeeck. “But by the time we rode it

we didn’t know how easy it would feel.”

Their line included a series of drops,

an arcing berm (a narrow raised shelf),

and a jump line at the end.

“Every line showed each rider’s

personality, and that’s what I really

love about freeride,” says Brown, who

competed in Proving Grounds, a Rampage

qualifying event, in 2019 and attended

Formation in a supporting role, due to

a broken collarbone. “It’s an art form

rather than just a race.”

As the first of two riding days began,

Bergemann set an early standard. Her line

was done; she was ready. “I was super

stoked and eager to get on my bike after

several days of digging and thinking

about riding,” she says. As the other

women prepped in the parking lot,

Bergemann soared over the gap of her

final jump. Seeing Bergemann ride,

California native Parker, who was present

to mentor the riders, recalls thinking,

“Oh, it’s so on now.”

For Holden, the moment felt like

validation. “It gives me chills just thinking

“I was frickin’

blown away by the

talent and the skill

of these women”

Rebecca Rusch


In five days,

the women had


the landscape

of women’s

mountain biking

Gatto blaster: the Canadian dug a

challenging line at Formation with a

fast chute down the narrow spine of

a ridgeline, and two blind step downs



about it,” she says. “It was the first riding

day and there was so much tension. All

of a sudden, we all saw Hannah grease

the gnarliest line. It really set the tone

for the whole thing.”

But learning to ride the steep terrain

had its challenges. Like her peers at

Formation, Gatto had raced World Cup

downhill. In 2014, a severe concussion

put her racing career on hold, and she

redirected her energy to filming,

bikepacking and hitting big jumps in her

spare time. “I was just feeling like I want

to ride big chutes and big ridgelines,”

she says. “It was always this pipe dream

to go and see Rampage and ride out

there.” Formation offered a chance to

chase that dream.

Gatto built a vertigo-inspiring line

with steep drop-offs on either side. It

included a heavy double drop. Making

the first drop meant sending her bike

flying off the edge of the cliff line. As she

committed to the drop, Gatto could not

see the landing, which sat far below her

with its edges falling away into a steep

canyon. If she missed her narrow landing

patch, she would plummet into the

canyon below. “It’s just so scary, that fear

of crashing, because if you crash, you’re

done,” Gatto says. She ended up skipping

the first big drop.

Across the canyon face, Armstrong

wrestled with a similar dilemma. As she

rolled up to one of the drops on the party

line, all she could see was sky. “I couldn’t

see the landing until my front wheel was

nearly in the air,” she says. After almost

missing the landing spot on her first run,

Armstrong began setting out small rocks

to guide her, like the lights on a runaway.

Each evening at Formation, the riders

and support crew gathered for a series of

round-table discussions. One night, they

talked about fear. “I learned a lot about

how the other girls deal with fear and the

processes they go through,” says Sandler.

The sessions proved intense. As she has

thought about future editions of the

event, Holden has wondered how she

might preserve this knowledge sharing

while giving the riders more downtime.

The insights into managing fear have

had lasting value. “All these emotions we

feel [when] pushing boundaries, we’re

all doing similar things,” says Gatto, who

found inspiration in Parker. When she

prepares to ski a big line in Alaska, Parker

channels the confident voice in her head.

“I named my confident person Chad,”

says Gatto. “Every time I went to try

something, I could hear the girls yelling,

‘Go Chad!’” Since Formation, Gatto has

continued to hone the mental side of

her game. She wants to ensure that next

time she’s ready to hit every big drop.

All six riders knew

each other, but

they typically just

competed against

each other

One vision: 2019 Crankworx winner Verbeeck (right) hailed the team spirit at Formation

For women’s freeride, Formation was just

a beginning. “I’m super excited to go back,

because we know we can definitely trust

the terrain more and go a bit harder,”

says Verbeeck. Both Parker and Rusch are

eager to repeat their roles as diggers and

mentors, too, while Holden is already

jotting ideas in her notebooks as she

drives around Bellingham.

“I was frickin’ blown away by the talent

and the skill of these women,” says Rusch.

“Seeing it up close was really inspiring for

me. I want to go back so much.”

The riders all say they’re ready for

more chances to lift their freeride

progression. Brown, for example, values

the pressure that competitive events put

on her to hit new features, but she’d love

to see more events that share Formation’s

non-competitive nature. “I think a lot of

women [give up] the sport because they

feel that the only places to participate at a

higher level are contests and not everyone

is made for that,” says Brown. She’s

hoping to see more space for women at

freeride events such as the Fest Series.

Already Formation has changed the

career trajectories of some of the women.

“Even in the past year, the industry has

invested in women in a way they haven’t

before,” says Holden. Shortly after,

Formation, Bergemann and Sandler

received invitations to travel to India with

action-sports filmmakers Teton Gravity

Research and ride in their high-profile

project Accomplice. Bergemann now has

sponsorship support from Red Bull and

Transition Bikes to chase her freeride

dream. Armstrong says new doors have

swung open for her, too, and she’s shifted

her focus from racing to freeride.

After the COVID gap year, planning is

underway for Formation 2021 to happen

later this year. Though she may tinker

with the details, Holden expects the event

to look similar to the 2019 edition, with

a mix of digging, riding, and round-table

discussions. She remains committed to

keeping Formation non-competitive.

Holden has found a deep satisfaction

in bringing her own experience with

Rampage full circle and showing the

world just what women riders can do.

“I just have this full-body high from

knowing that women can ride there,

and that people believe and know

women can ride there now,” says Holden.

“To see a collective of women look good

out there – once people could see that,

it just changed everything.”




East London rapper

GHETTS has been

putting in the work

for almost two

decades, and now

finally it’s paying

off. Here, he talks

about fighting

conformity, the

power of self-belief,

and how ditching

his ego was the key

to success


Photography ADAMA JALLOH

Future’s bright: Ghetts’

moving third album,

Conflict of Interest, is

an early contender for

‘Best of 2021’ lists



Playing the long game isn’t for everyone. But, for Ghetts,

patience and determination have been key components of

a career built to last. Our first taste of the British rapper’s

raw, whip-smart wordplay and magnetic charm came in 2005,

when – under the name Ghetto – he guested on the track

Typical Me by Kano, a fellow member of east London collective

NASTY Crew. That 42-second introduction signalled the

arrival of a grime heavyweight in the making – even if it was

to be a slow and steady ascent to prominence.

Born in Plaistow, east London, Ghetts – real name Justin

Clarke – began taking his career as a rapper seriously soon

after being released from prison for a series of minor car-crime

offences in 2003. His debut mixtape, 2000 & Life, was released

at the tail end of 2005, followed two years later by his second,

the acclaimed Ghetto Gospel. Packed with big ideas and diverse

subject matter, conceptually the mixtape was ahead of its time

in the grime world and highlighted the depth and range of the

then 22-year-old artist. Known as the MC’s MC, for years Ghetts

stood by and watched as a number of his grime contemporaries

broke into the mainstream and were lauded as the leaders of

the new and exciting cultural uprising he was helping to create.

But finally the agile wordsmith is enjoying his own moment

in the sun. Ghetts has been nominated for awards – including

a place on the Best Contemporary Song shortlist at the Ivor

Novellos for Black Rose, a rousing celebration of the strength

and beauty of Black men and women – and has worked with

artists such as Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Emeli Sandé; he can

also count the likes of Drake and Kanye West as fans. Then,

earlier this year, he scored a first UK top five hit with his

critically acclaimed third album, Conflict of Interest.

Although this path has been longer for Ghetts than for

others, he says that the journey has taught him lessons on

what true success means. According to the now 36-year-old,

humbling himself and choosing to be thankful has contributed

to him making the best music of his entire career and, in turn,

is the reason why he’s now earning the acclaim he so

desperately hungered for.

the red bulletin: Compared with

many other artists, your success

has been a long time coming…

ghetts: It really has. And it’s been a bit

overwhelming, if I’m honest. For a long

time, I felt like my back was against the

wall when it came to making music and

putting it out, like I had to constantly

prove so many people wrong. Whereas

recently it’s been the opposite; I’m now

at a place where I’m having to prove

people right – but that’s not a bad thing.

Why do you think people are

connecting with you more now than

they did before?

I think my songwriting is the best it’s

ever been. I’m at a point where I feel

like I’m becoming more of a wellrounded

artist. As a lyricist, you can

sometimes go overboard and just rap

a bunch of bars, but you’ve got to know

when to put your foot on the brake

and when to take it off. That was

something I had to teach myself. I don’t

think I would be having the success

I am now if I hadn’t got rid of my ego.

Was that hard to do?

At times, yeah. But there’s no room for

ego when you’re trying to be great. I can

definitely say I find it easier to do within

music than in real life. When you’re

having an argument with your partner

and you swear you’re in the right, it’s

harder to say, “You know what, babe?

I’m in the wrong.” But it shouldn’t be

that way. Removing your ego from both

work settings and reality settings is really

important – at least for me.

What made you want to get rid of it?

I started to see things that I don’t like

about other people creeping into myself.

There was a time when I was super


“I don’t think I’d be having the success I am

now if I hadn’t got rid of my ego. There’s no room

for ego when you’re trying to be great”


Dropping knowledge:

Ghetts’ redemptive life

and career experiences

make him a powerful

role model for kids

growing up today

“I’d tell my

younger self you

gotta be grateful

for every step

you take”


ungrateful. I couldn’t see all the

opportunities and blessings I had. I was

looking at everyone else’s life and

couldn’t see what was going on in my

own. I was always thinking that what

I had wasn’t enough.

When you were released from prison

in 2003, having served time as a

juvenile, what was it that prevented

you from going back?

It was the support I had from my

family while I was in there; it acts as

a deterrent. Some of the worst things

we do in our lives happen because we

feel like no one cares. It’s an

overwhelming feeling. A lot of people

commit suicide because they feel like

nobody gives a shit. So when you feel

like somebody cares, it can act as a

deterrent and it can really help you

through some of the hardest times in

your life. That’s why in the video for

Proud Family [released as a single last

December] I included the scene when

young Justin leaves prison and is

greeted by his mum. There’s a lot of

layered thinking in it.

On that same track, you rap: “I’ve

been who I see all these youngers

becoming.” Knowing what you know

now, what advice would you give

your younger self?

I’d point out the opportunities. I’d tell

myself you gotta be grateful for every

step you take, whether big or small.

Every bit of progression is amazing and

should be celebrated. I’d tell myself to

be thankful and to look at how far

I’ve come. I want [today’s young people]

to know that although I might not have

ever been in as deep as them, I still

understand what it is they’re going

through. I know to them I sound like

the OG who’s lecturing them about

staying on the straight and narrow, but

I’ve seen enough to know that 99.9 per

cent of the time the street life only ends

one of two ways: death or jail.

Would you say your days in prison

were some of your darkest?

They weren’t great, but they weren’t my

darkest. My darkest days were when

“We’re all

humans, and on

a day-to-day

basis most of us

are conflicted”

I made [2008 mixtape] Freedom of

Speech. I really wasn’t in a good place

when I put that project together.

In what way?

It was around that same time I was

struggling to see my blessings and it was

beginning to bleed into my music. If you

listen to Ghetto Gospel, which came out

[the year] before, I stepped out of my

comfort zone and created something

with a lot of depth in it. But the feedback

I was getting at the time wasn’t what I

wanted to hear. So I decided to conform

to the underground with Freedom of

Speech. I felt like people would

understand that better.

That’s unusual. It’s not often you

hear about artists conforming to

the underground…

Way more people conform to an

underground sound than they do a

mainstream one, trust me. It’s because

they’re scared to be who they really

are outside of what they’re perceived to

be, especially if it’s working for them.

It can’t have been easy putting the

demands of the listener ahead of

your own creative needs…

It wasn’t. It made me feel really

conflicted, and that’s what eventually

led to the title of my [latest] album,

Conflict of Interest. I got halfway through

making it and realised I was a very

conflicted human being. I had a real

self-aware moment where I decided

I couldn’t risk not including all the

qualities that make me who I am. I

wasn’t going to present just one side of

myself. We’re all humans, and on a dayto-day

basis most of us are conflicted.

I just so happen to be capturing some

of these moments on record, so it’s my

job to make the public understand it,

even if sometimes it sounds like we’re

contradicting ourselves.

Have there been times where you’ve

felt pressure to conform to the

mainstream, too, as you’ve watched

your peers experience huge success?

Yeah, I used to have that feeling all the

time. These days, everyone’s screaming

culture, culture, culture. But I remember

very clearly a time when it was less about

culture and more about looking for that

hit, something made specifically to be

played on radio or at a festival. One of

my old managers used to say stuff like

that to me. Like, “We need to get in the

studio with this person or that person.”

But I never went through with it. I didn’t

feel like I needed to.

Where did you get that self-belief?

Every step I take seems impossible to the

people around me, but because I’ve made

so many of them already I know the next

step’s a real possibility. I prayed for the

person I am today. I was in a prison cell,

telling the inmates that the person I am

now was who I was gonna be. Very few

people believed me. I was telling the

governor that I’d never be coming back

to jail, but he hears that every day. It

doesn’t mean anything to him – they’re

just words. So I look at every step like that

very first one. Everything is possible to me.

Have you had to make sacrifices to

get where you are now? If so, what has

been the biggest?

My time. I never have enough of it to do

other things. I spoke to someone recently

who I hadn’t seen in a while and I was

really apologetic about it. He was like,

“Nah, it’s fine. I understand that you’ve

been busy.” I thought to myself, “That’s

not really an excuse, because tomorrow’s

never promised.” Time is moving so

fast, and because I’m so focused on one

area I keep sacrificing it. I’m always

questioning whether or not my career

is important enough for me to continue

sacrificing my time.

And is it?

That’s hard to answer. I know what I

want in life. I know what I want for my

kids, and what I’ve got to do to achieve

it. But at the same time it’s breaking

bonds that could be made stronger. It’s

a tricky one, but I’m gonna continue to

work on it and work on myself.

Ghetts will be touring the UK this

November. For tickets, go to



Enhance, equip, and experience your best life



Mont Blanc,

France-Italy border




“The route down

would normally be

arduous and risky,

crossing glaciers and

rock walls, but I’m not

making the descent

on foot – I’m flying it”

Calum Muskett, climber

and mountain guide

Snow crunches underfoot as

I make the final few steps

along the narrow snow ridge

leading to the summit of

Mont Blanc, the highest peak

in western Europe. Cloud shrouds the

French side of the mountain as a chill

breeze freezes my eyelashes. It’s 7am

on September 1, 2019, and the region’s

regular summer paragliding ban has just

been lifted. A wave of nausea hits me

as I unpack my bag – I feel physically

beaten by the effort to reach the summit.

More than 3,500m below me lies the

Chamonix Valley. From here, the route

down Mont Blanc would normally be

long, arduous and risky, crossing glaciers

and rock walls, but I won’t be making the

descent on foot – I’m going to fly it.

I’ve been climbing mountains ever

since 2006, when I served an

apprenticeship on the crags and cliffs

of my native North Wales. These days,

as a professional climber and mountain

guide, I follow the seasons, dividing

my time between the mountains of

Snowdonia and the Giffre Valley in the

French Alps. Two years ago, I learned

to paraglide, which opened up new

horizons for me. An ascent of Mont Blanc

would normally take three days and

involve two cable cars and a train ride;

now I can leave Chamonix in the early

hours, climb the mountain, and be back

down for a second breakfast.

There’s something liberating about

flying – there’s that release of pressure

from committing a launch where you

have to get everything just right, feet

dangling improbably over the abyss as

you cheat evolution and soar with the

birds. After 10 minutes of untangling

frost-covered lines and laying out my

canopy, I’m away, swooping down to

Rock steady: on the crux pitch of Incroyable

Italy in the cool morning air, thankful

that I don’t have to walk any further,

and ready for my morning cappuccino

pick-me-up in the café that sits next

to the landing field.

Para-alpinism, as it is known in

France, is becoming an increasingly

popular pastime. As the name

suggests, this is a combination of

paragliding and alpine mountaineering,

and the European Alps – with their

limited flight restrictions and excellent

infrastructure – are particularly well

geared towards the pursuit. The

concept isn’t new – pioneers such

as the Frenchman Jean-Marc Boivin

were launching off many of the

world’s highest summits some four





to go


Chamonix Valley

Nearest airport:



Six cable car



More than

4,000m, with

11 main summits

in the Mont

Blanc massif

Seasonal info:

The massif is

restricted in July

and August




Peak time: Muskett ascends a snow ridge to reach the Eccles bivouac hut in the early morning

Super fly guy: the Welshman commits to launch his paraglider at 4,000m

decades ago. This early era of the

sport culminated in Boivin’s successful

flight off Everest in 1988; since then,

the technology of – and interest in –

paragliding has shifted towards crosscountry

flying, where the performance

of wings has been orientated towards

improving the glide ratio and lift of

canopies. The current cross-country

world record stands at a straight

distance of 564km, set by three Brazilian

pilots in 2016, while the highest flight

ever recorded was established that same

year by Frenchman Antoine Girard, who

soared above Broad Peak in Pakistan

at an astonishing 8,157m.

The early pioneers of para-alpinism

would shoulder huge packs weighing in

excess of 12kg (that’s without factoring

in any of the mountaineering equipment

required), making climb-and-fly missions

impractical, to say the least. Recent

improvements in technology have

provided new canopy types consisting

of just a single ‘mono-skin’ layer rather

than the conventional double layering

system with air cells. These new wings

weigh as little as 1kg, pack into a midsized

stuff sack, and have an ultra-light

sit-harness. This step-change in

technology has given the sport a new

lease of life. But fast and light paraalpinism

is just one strand of the sport;

the real appeal for me is what you can

achieve when you introduce technical

climbing, where conventional descents

by abseiling and down-climbing can be

both lengthy and dangerous.

It’s September 2020 and, together

with my friends Paul and Jake, I’m back




Soar point: (above) Muskett flies above the heavily crevassed Glacier du Brouillard;

(below) approaching the landing field in the Val Veny, Italy

on Mont Blanc. We’re attempting a

second ascent of the mountain’s hardest

rock climb – a route known as Incroyable,

on the Pilier Rouge du Brouillard, an

imposing granite monolith that starts at

4,000m. The sun is out and the weather

is baking hot. Snow melting on the

slopes above and below us expose a

vertiginous red rock face, which we

manoeuvre up using our fingertips. After

a successful day’s climbing, we make it

to the tiny tin shack of the Eccles refuge

and a viable take-off on a hanging

section of glacier near the hut.

The position is awe-inspiring, and the

ever-steepening convex snow slope is

perfect for a take-off – or it would be if

the entire slope wasn’t still frozen. Paul

and Jake are standing on a hacked-out

snow ledge 30m to my side. It will be

Paul’s first flight under the command of

Jake on an ultra-light single-skin tandem

wing. What a place for a first flight.


is becoming an


popular pastime”

Wearing crampons to give myself

purchase on the snow, I make my

committing run to launch the glider.

The light fabric quickly and easily rises

above my head, and as the leading edge

touches the sun a warm valley breeze

inflates the canopy and gently lifts me

off my feet. Looking back, I see Jake and

Paul safely take off with whoops of joy

as they settle beneath their wing.

It’s shared experiences like these

that make para-alpinism such an

incredible sport. The descent was once

the boring part of the day, but now it’s

something to look forward to. As we

touch down in the valley, conveniently

close to that café, it’s time to plan our

next adventure.

Calum Muskett is a professional climber,

mountain guide, and ambassador for

Rab, Scarpa and Petzl. He provides

bespoke mountaineering and ski courses





Canyon’s Torque:ON

takes the eMTB to the

next level. Below:

changing its lightweight

battery is a breeze



he electric mountain bike

has opened up a world of

possibilities for riders who

want to push themselves

and their machine to the

limit. However, the constantly

evolving technology has come

with caveats – battery life has

been the biggest drawback,

restricting range and time spent

on the trails – while designs have

generally stuck to the safer end

of the spectrum. Until now, that is.

Canyon is a pioneer of eMTB

design, and the Torque:ON is the

latest in its extensive off-road

range to get the ‘ON’ treatment.

Based on the big mountain model

of the same name, the result is a

gravity-hungry rig that will gobble

up the hardest bike-park lines or

backcountry trails, run after run.

Powering the Torque:ON is

Shimano’s latest EP8 motor. The

unit’s 500 peak watts and 85Nm

of torque act as your own personal

uplift. Press the toptube-integrated

:ON button, select a support

mode (Eco, Trail or Boost) on the

handlebar-mounted switch and

get ready for 25kph of fun.

Gone are the days of slapping

a battery where there’s room, and

Canyon has designed the entire

frame’s geometry around a

lightweight 504Wh downtubeintegrated

pack. Its positioning

keeps the centre of gravity low

and adds stability over rocky or

root-strewn sections of trail. If

you do manage to burn through

its 100km range in one session,

swapping it for another is a cinch.

Plus, with a discounted second

battery on offer with every

purchase, having back-up in your

daypack just got more affordable.

Of course, all this power means

little if the package it’s housed in

isn’t up to scratch. Fortunately,

Canyon knows a thing or two

about constructing bombproof

bikes. The frame is made from

a super-durable alloy that can

withstand huge drops and rough

landings, while features such as

oversized bearings and integrated

chainring protection mean that

your investment will ride like

new, season after season.

Finished with 180mm of front

suspension, 175mm of fade-free

rear suspension, and playful

27.5in wheels, this freeridefriendly

eMTB is as happy in

the air as it is blasting its way

down tight, technical tracks.

eMTB just got extreme.

For more info on the Torque:ON

range, head to



How Canyon’s latest range puts

the extreme in eMTB


was 13 the first time

I did a wall ride,” says

Kriss Kyle. “I was

scared – you’re going

so fast you hope your tyres grip,

or it’ll hurt. But it gripped,

whipped me round and spat me

out. I’m still chasing that feeling.”

The trick has become one of his

signature moves, as seen in the

film Kriss Kyle’s Kaleidoscope

(2015). In his new movie, Out of

Season, the 29-year-old BMX

ace enters the Welsh woodlands

to perform the manoeuvre on a

far heavier vehicle – a mountain

bike. “This has been four years

in the making,” he says. “I’ve

always wanted to build a curved

wall ride in the woods.” Here’s

how Kyle, ramp builder George

Eccleston and the film’s director

Matty Lambert achieved this…

The vision

“I’m always thinking, ‘What’s

next?’” says Kyle. “I thought

I’d like to do a 270° [wall ride],

where I’m going into the wall

then sweeping under it on the

way out without hitting my

head. As long as I can picture it

in my head, I know I can do it.”

The plan

“Kriss often just has a rough

idea in his head and we try to

find a spot that works,” says

Eccleston. “We picked a point

amid these three trees to get

the lateral side-to-side stiffness.

We needed trees on a slope that

allowed [the wall] to be 1.5m

off the ground at the entry

point, but 2m on the other side

so he could exit beneath it.”

The build

“The shape was pre-cut in the

workshop, then assembled on

site in two days,” says Eccleston.

“We used plywood rings made

from birch – it’s flexible yet

durable, so we use it on indoor

skate builds – and larch slats

to provide strength and grip.”

The test

“I was nervous as I wouldn’t get

to go on it before it was built,”

says Kyle, “so it was a case of

stepping into the unknown.”

Eccleston says they were


How to...


Land a wall ride

Bike supremo Kriss Kyle reveals the art of creating this incredible move


Degrees of perfection

“The upper circle is 4.2m in diameter, but the lower

circle is only 4m as it has a backward lean of 5°,”

says Eccleston. “That means if it’s wet on the shoot

Kriss can hit the wall slower with more control and grip.

If it was vertical, he’d slide straight down it.”

Gripping stuff: BMX

ace Kriss Kyle does

the rounds on his wall

in the Welsh woods

prepared to make alterations

on set: “On the first few goes,

we had to watch for wobbles

when Kriss hit it at a certain

point. Where that happened,

we added extra timber braces.”

The moment

“We had two angles to film: one

from behind, showing Kriss

going into the wall ride, then

a drone moving down from the

tree canopy,” says Lambert.

“You want to see him from

a riding perspective – to see

how hard it is – but it should

also look beautiful. It’s quite

awkward entering the curved

wall, and the viewer can see

how thin the gap is. As he hits

the wall, he kind of disappears.”

Watch Out of Season from

April 15 at





Charge ahead

Gone are the days of electric mountain bikes being labelled

as cheating, lazy, or even dull. With professional riders

such as Matt Jones and Tahnée Seagrave already jumping

on board, it’s time to join the e-revolution...

MARIN’s slogan, etched

into the rims, is ‘Made for

fun’. Thanks to the motor,

it’s enjoyable going uphill,

but with a full suspension

this bike is clearly built for

maximum pleasure

on a fast descent.

The trail tamer: Marin Alpine Trail E2

Mountain biking was born in the hills of Marin County, California, in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

Among its innovators was Marin Bikes, which, for 35 years, has put its prototypes through their paces

on those original tough and gnarly trails. So, when the company claims the Alpine Trail E2 is its “most

capable eMTB to date”, that’s no small boast. Based on the non-electric Alpine Trail model, the E2

adds extra zip to a much-loved all-mountain platform with a 250W Shimano STEPS EP8 motor, which

flattens steep climbs at the flick of a button. A removable protective plate over the frame-integrated

battery adds peace of mind should you end up in the rough stuff.





Rider #1: The modest mountain man

Not everyone wants to look like a circus tent on two wheels.

This is off-road gear for the unassuming rider who wants to

stay low-key while trusting that his kit can deliver

Left to right, from top: LEATT MTB 2.0 water-resistant and windproof

jacket with magnetic hood system for fixing to a helmet,;

MET HELMETS Bluegrass Rogue Core MIPS helmet,;

DAKINE Sentinel bike gloves,; GUSSET S2 pedals, made

from precision-engineered 6061 alloy,;

ARCADE BELTS Midnighter adventure belt,; STANCE

Athletic Crew Staple socks,, GIRO Roust Long-sleeve

MTB jersey,; LEATT 2.0 Flat shoes,; TSG Trailz

shorts,; OSPREY Savu 2 two-litre biking lumbar pack,; ENDURA Singletrack Lite Knee Pads II,; EXPOSURE LIGHTS Flex eMTB light with an output

of up to 3,300 lumens, and RedEye-E light,




Rider #2: The woodland warrior

For the female trail rider wanting to blend into the backcountry

but still stand out for her skills, here’s a full set of kit that’s all

about function and less about frills

Left to right, from top: SPECIALIZED Ambush Comp helmet with ANGI

crash sensor,; ENDURA Hummvee Lite Icon gloves,; LEZYNE Tool Insert Kit multitool,;

ADIDAS Five Ten Freerider Primeblue 2021 MTB shoes,;

SIXSIXONE Radia goggles,; DMR BIKES Pedal spanner,; SPECIALIZED Techno MTB Tall socks,;

CHROME Storm Salute Commute jacket,;

SIXSIXONE DBO elbow pads,; DAKINE Drafter 14L Bike

Hydration backpack,; SPECIALIZED Andorra Air Longsleeve

jersey,; SCOTT SPORTS Trail Contessa Sign

Women’s shorts with padding,; DMR BIKES V11

pedals,; SIXSIXONE DBO knee pads,




The slender steed:

Specialized S-Works

Turbo Levo SL

One common – and misinformed –

belief about eMTBs is that they’re

on the chunky side. Your honour,

the defence submits the Turbo

Levo SL… Despite packing a motor

and battery into its trim physique,

it weighs just 17.35kg – lighter

than some of the portlier

pedal-powered mountain bikes.

The US manufacturer’s focus

was on creating an e-bike that

handles exactly like a regular one

rather than a bulky, battery-assisted

stereotype. It achieves this by

combining a ridiculously

light-yet-strong carbon-fibre frame

with some of the slickest

components, engineering a

responsive and reactive ride that

will have you forgetting it’s carrying

a motor at all. It might not be

the most powerful e-ride around,

but that’s also not what it’s all

about. This bike will make you feel

like you’re having a good day – that

feeling that comes when the

climbs are a breeze and you have the

energy to do an extra lap of your

regular loop – every time you saddle


To get the most out of

this eMTB, download


Control smartphone app,

which allows you to tune

the power levels, log rides

with Strava, and keep an

eye on how much battery

life is left. Better still,

input the distance you’ll

be covering and the app

will adjust your power

usage throughout your

journey to ensure you

have enough juice in the

battery to get home.


The Turbo Levo SL is lighter than some of

the portlier pedal-powered mountain bikes




The downhill demon:

Canyon Torque:ON

An electric mountain bike is a serious investment,

so, understandably, the thought of throwing it –

and you – down a cliff face could prompt you to

search for tamer trails. The Torque:ON eliminates

these concerns courtesy of a bombproof build.

This bike has passed the same strength and

impact tests as Canyon’s UCI Downhill World

Cup-winning rigs – the first of the German bike

brand’s eMTBs to do so – meaning it will pick

itself up and dust itself down, hit after hit, even

if you struggle to. But being built like a tank

doesn’t mean it has to handle like one. The

Torque:ON has been designed with agility at its

core. Canyon has managed this by integrating

a smaller, switchable battery, saving weight

without sacrificing any of the fun. Whether you’re

tearing down technical descents, stomping juicy

jump lines, or even when flying through the air,

it feels amazingly weighted.

The Torque:ON has

passed the same

rigorous tests

as Canyon’s UCI

Downhill World

Cup-winning rigs

Boasting 85Nm of power,

the Torque:ON is aptly

named, but just as much

attention has gone into

making it a joy to handle.

The lighter 504Wh battery

improves its centre of

gravity, and smaller 27.5in

wheels make it more

reactive on those tight

trails. Deep front and rear

suspension gives plenty of

traction, and its gravityfocused

frame geometry

has been designed with

fast descents in mind.





Rider #3: The technicolour trail-rider

For the female rider who isn’t shy about showing off, don’t

be afraid to dial up the brightness. And if you’re dialling up

the difficulty too, go for the full-face helmet option

Left to right, from top: CINELLI Slime socks, designed by Ana Benaroya,; POC Kortal Race MIPS helmet,; ENDURA

MT500 Thermal Long-sleeve Jersey II top,;

SIXSIXONE Raji gloves,; 100% Trajecta full-face helmet

and Accuri2 moto/MTB goggles,; NUKEPROOF Neutron

EVO (Electron EVO) flat pedals,; MONS ROYALE Stratos

Shift bra and Redwood Enduro VT high V-neck tee,;

SCOTT SPORTS Soldier 2 elbow guards,; LEZYNE

Pocket Drive HV compact high-volume bike hand pump, ride.lezyne.

com; NUKEPROOF Nirvana shorts,; LEATT 3.0 Flat

shoes,; ARCADE BELTS Ranger adventure belt, arcadebelts.

com; SCOTT SPORTS Grenade EVO Zip knee guards,




Rider #4: The firestarter

Go bright or go home. A fiery colour scheme for the advanced

male rider cruising bike parks or the toughest alpine trails

Left to right, from top: ENDURA MT500 Full-face helmet, endurasport.

com; DAKINE Agent O/O Bike knee pads,; MONS ROYALE

Tarn Freeride Long-sleeve Wind Jersey top,; HT

COMPONENTS PA03A pedals,; POC Kortal Race

MIPS helmet,; GIRO HRC+ Merino wool cycling

socks,; BELL Descender MTB goggles, bellbikehelmets.; ZÉFAL Z Hydro XC hydration backpack,; LEATT

MTB 3.0 shorts,; DRAGON Ridge X sunglasses,; LEZYNE Micro Floor Drive Digital HVG

portable pump and Tubeless tyre repair kit,;

ARCADE BELTS Ranger adventure belt,;

ENDURA Hummvee Lite Icon gloves,; RIDE

CONCEPTS Men’s Powerline shoes,




The souped-up steal:

GT Force GT-E Current

Founded in 1979, GT Bicycles cut its teeth in the pioneering days

of BMX, but the brand has come a long way since the era of

mullet haircuts, foam crossbar pads and mag wheels, and its

current mountain-bike range is renowned for balancing

top-of-the-line tech with pocket-friendly prices. The GT-E Current

is the “performance-enhancing” version of its all-mountain,

full-suspension Force rides, with the race-ready aluminium frame

ever-so-slightly beefed up to seamlessly incorporate the

battery and Shimano STEPS motor. Strategically mixing high-end

components – made by the likes of SunTour and X-Fusion –

with own-branded parts means you get a ride that doesn’t cost

the earth, but can grow with you and your newfound passion

for pinning pumptracks and shredding singletrack. This is

a no-nonsense introduction to the world of e-mountain biking.

EFI – or ‘electronic fun

injection’ – is the

technical term that

GT has coined for this

electric-powered addition

to its full-suspension line

of mountain bikes. As

Belgian downhill enduro

pro, GT ambassador and

Red Bull athlete Martin

Maes likes to refer to it,

this bike’s 29in wheels,

150mm of suspension

travel and aggressive race

geometry make it a very

personal chair lift.


The GT-E Current doesn’t cost

the earth, but can grow with your

passion for pumptracks


Energetic by nature. Your Energy Bikes.



Before becoming the

leading expert on

astronaut health and

fitness at the German

Aerospace Center in Cologne

in 2009, Professor Jörn

Rittweger conducted research

into a seemingly unconnected

subject. “Bed-rest studies,”

says the scientist. “Subjects

lay in bed for 60 days or

longer and we’d test training,

nutrition and electrical

stimulation. It simulates a lot

of what happens to astronauts

in space, and ultimately it led

to me getting this job.”

Going into space is

extremely hazardous to health.

With no protective atmosphere

or magnetic field, exposure to

radiation is increased. “On the

ISS, [radiation is] 300 times

higher than on Earth. On the

Moon, it’s 600 times higher.”

But the biggest factor – one

that relates most closely to

the professor’s bed studies

– is gravity, or the lack of it.

“Gravity is perhaps the

strongest environmental

stimulus since the start of

our evolutionary journey.

Our bodies have developed

mechanisms to ensure our

brains receive enough blood

when we’re upright.”

In zero gravity, however, up

and down don’t exist. “Within

hours, astronauts discharge

about a litre of urine to get rid

of the blood they’re no longer

storing in their legs,” Rittweger

says. “Low gravity also knocks

the ear’s balance system off,

causing nausea. It takes days

for the body to suppress this

‘space adaptation syndrome’;

astronauts learn to keep their

head still and not turn quickly.”

As the head of the centre’s

muscle and bone metabolism

department, Rittweger’s

prime focus is clear. “Of the

almost 500 muscles in our

body, almost half support

standing, walking or running,

and muscles only grow and

develop strength when they

meet resistance,” he explains.

With the lack of gravity on the

ISS, astronauts aren’t pulled

to the ground; there’s no


Striving for a celestial body

How does an astronaut maintain an out-of-this-world physique? Here’s the rocket science…

resistance, and muscle

atrophy sets in.” The human

body, he says, renews around

one to two per cent of its

muscle mass per day, but in

space (or long periods of bed

rest) it’s shed rather than

gained. And the same happens

to your bones: “Leg bones

lose about one per cent of

their mass per month.”

The solution isn’t simply

sending astronauts into orbit

bulked up. “We channel

calcium through our kidneys.

If an astronaut increases bone

mass before a trip, they’ll lose

more [calcium], which can lead

to kidney stones. You don’t

want that to happen in space.”

There’s also the effect on

metabolism: astronauts have

higher rates of adult-onset

diabetes, meaning an increase

in their blood sugar. Blood-fat

levels increase, too, and there

is a danger of atherosclerosis

Above: Professor Jörn

Rittweger of the German

Aerospace Center; top:

European Space Agency

astronaut Samantha

Cristoforetti in training


astronauts return

to Earth in much

better shape”

[plaque build-up on artery

walls that can cause blood

clots, strokes or heart failure].”

These changes may not

cause immediate problems

while the astronaut is in

space, but they become a real

issue once back on Earth.

“There are doctors for that,”

says Rittweger, “but it would

make Mars missions tricky.

They could last up to two-anda-half

years, and medical care

is hard to come by on Mars.”

This is why Rittweger and

his team have created a

comprehensive workout that

can be done in space.

The right stuff

“It’s not easy to recreate the

important stimulus for our

three largest muscle groups

– the back extensors, glutes

and leg muscles – which

account for a third of our body

mass,” says Rittweger. This




has led much experimentation.

“In the 1970s, the Russians

relied on chest expanders;

their elasticity generates

resistance. Endurance sports

were also popular that decade

– that’s why we still see the

exercise bike and treadmill on

the space station. But cycling

in space isn’t straightforward

– there isn’t the force to keep

you in the saddle, and it takes

practice to control your upperbody

inertia. Astronauts have

to be locked to the pedals.

It’s more for variety than

muscle gain and will probably

be culled soon.”

Practicality isn’t the only

downside to endurance

training. “You also need

shockproofing. It would be

a disaster if the vibrations

damaged the space station.

You can’t just drill a lug into

the ISS wall, attach a rubber

band, and start practising

jumps.” As such, spring-based

or even robotic dampers are

used. “But experts agree that

we should now rely on

resistance training instead.”

These days, gym junkies on

the ISS mainly use a system

known as ARED (Advanced

Resistive Exercise Device),

which uses vacuum tubes and

flywheel cables to simulate

free-weight exercises such as

squats and deadlifts. “Two

hours a day, six days a week,

as a rule,” says Rittweger.

“In the past, fitness was the

first thing to bite the dust if

time was short. Russian and

American doctors have

gushed about how astronauts

now return to Earth in much

better shape.”

Exercising in space is also

crucial for mental wellbeing:

“Physical exertion generates

messenger substances in

your muscles such as

interleukin-6 or BDNF [brainderived

neurotrophic factor].

The former sets the energy

“Using an exercise

bike in space isn’t


To fitness and beyond

Isolation and cabin fever are standard for an

astronaut, but a recent problem for many of us

on Earth. These three exercises from European

Space Agency fitness expert Nora Petersen will

help you stay fit when space is an issue…

The rolling cucumber

Target areas: core and body control

Lie face down, legs and arms stretched out, with

only your belly touching the floor. Roll onto your

back, then onto your belly again, with your limbs

outstretched. Adjust reps according to fitness.

Squats with weights

Target areas: legs and core/back

Place a barbell on your shoulders and bend your

knees, keeping your back straight, knees behind

your heels, and maintaining body tension. Adjust

the weight and reps to your fitness level.

Rowing leant forward

Target areas: back and shoulders

Lift the dumbbell, keeping your back straight as

if doing a dead lift. Raise it to your chest while in

a forward-leaning position. Keep your elbows

close to your body. As with the squats, adjust

the weight and reps to your level of fitness.

balance between the liver and

fatty tissue, and we need the

latter for the brain. Isolation

and a lack of movement

change its internal structures

responsible for learning and

behaviour. That can lead to

listlessness, irritation, and

lapses in concentration.

Sport on the space station

can reduce stress. Ernest

Shackleton was aware of this.”

Rittweger’s reference to

the legendary Arctic explorer,

much like his studies into

bed rest, are highly pertinent

to space travel. “Polar

expeditions are some of the

most challenging mankind

has ever undertaken, and

most have gone wrong,” he

explains. “Shackleton brought

back all of his expedition

members alive. We know from

his accounts that even in the

harshest conditions they

went out for an hour’s exercise

each day. That’s probably

what saved them.”

One giant leap

The professor’s team are

always looking for ways of

improving astronaut fitness,

and the latest involves

jumping. “It exercises the

entire extensor and flexor

chain in the back and legs.

We attach the astronaut to a

slide that allows freedom of

movement but prevents them

whacking against the wall. If

all goes to plan, we’ll try it

on parabolic flights here on

Earth in about two years, and

on the space station soon

after.” Crucially, it needs to be

enjoyable: “Imagine being on

a flight to Mars and having to

find the motivation to work

out every morning.”

But no matter how

astronaut fitness systems

evolve, there’s one side

effect that is unlikely to be

eradicated. “Sweat,” says

Rittweger. “It’s more

unpleasant than on Earth

because it doesn’t roll down

your body. And there’s no

post-workout shower, either.

You have to clean yourself

with Wet Wipes.”







The next issue is out on Tuesday 11 May with London Evening Standard.

Also available across the UK at airports, universities, and selected supermarkets and retail stores.









Playing video games

for a living isn’t something

a careers advisor would

recommend. For that

advice, you need a proven

esports superstar

Right now, students across

the world are studying for a

big test, but not the kind you’d

expect. Red Bull Campus

Clutch is a global esports

tournament for universityaged

players competing in

VALORANT, a tactical teambased

first-person shooter.

Before it had even launched

last year, the first livestreamed

playtest broke the

record for the most hours

of a single game watched in

a day (34 million, with 1.7

million concurrent spectators

at one point). It has grown

into one of the biggest

esports, drawing star players

from rival games such as

Fortnite and Overwatch.

Campus Clutch

competitors might not be

in the same league, but the

winning teams from each

country will play off in May’s

world final for a prize of

€20,000 and a state-of-theart

gaming hub for their

campus. It might also

kickstart a lucrative career

they hadn’t previously studied

for – pro esports athlete.

Jacob ‘pyth’ Mourujärvi

(pictured, right) could teach

them a thing or two. The

27-year-old Swede, part

of the elite G2 Esports team,

is one of the world’s best

VALORANT players, but nine

years ago he was studying IT

at school. “I had no career

ideas, but I enjoyed working

with computers,” he says.

He was playing the newly

released Counter-Strike: Global

Offensive at the time when

some fellow players asked him

to join a team. “Now I work

with computers every day.”

Here are some valuable

lessons pyth learned on his

unorthodox career path…

Focus your passion

When he left education at 18,

Mourujärvi was playing CS:GO

for 15 hours a day. “Sleeping

at 8am, waking at 5pm and

“There are

no shortcuts

– you have

to build your

way up”

Sharp shooters: VALORANT

characters Phoenix (left) and Jett

grinding again,” he recalls.

“But when I knew there could

be a career in it, I changed my

routine and began thinking

like a pro. I also stopped shittalking.

I’ve been a nice guy

for 14 years now.”

Play to your strengths

Pyth is a master of ‘clutch’ play

– the ability to turn a game

around in the final seconds –

which he proved this February

when G2 won the first Red Bull

Home Grounds competition,

and earlier in his career when

he singlehandedly defeated

rivals Ninjas in Pyjamas in a

2014 four-against-one CS:GO

match. Two years later, he

was playing for them. “Prove

yourself and people will see

you,” he says. “But there are

no shortcuts – you have to

build your way up. And have

fun or you’ll get nowhere.”

Exit your comfort zone

In 2015, pyth explored

uncharted territory, helping

to build new Canadian CS:GO

team Luminosity Gaming.

“I was teamless and wanted

to prove myself,” he says.

“I learned a lot. Before, I was

just shooting and focused

on good stats; I didn’t talk

a lot. But I became a better

team player, more open and

honest.” This successful move

inspired another one when

he left CS:GO. “I was caught

in a bad cycle with teams

I didn’t believe in. I thought,

‘I’m going to gamble at being

one of VALORANT’s best

players.’ It was a challenge

and it was awesome.”

Avoid toxicity

“The people who hate on you

are the loudest,” says pyth.

“Playing CS:GO, I was abused

on Twitter and got death

threats mid-game. I practised

some focusing exercises, but

then forgot to do them.” He

turned to training software to

shut out stress – “I’d practise

shooting ranges in [training

program] AimLab, with music

on to get good vibes” – but

the answer lay in a change

of scene. “VALORANT has

one of the most supportive

fanbases,” he says, adding

that good workmates are also

vital. “In G2, we’re friends in

and out of the game.”

Look ahead

At 27, Mourujärvi is an esports

veteran. But he’s confident

that when his competitive

time is up, his career won’t be.

“I still want to work in esports,

maybe as a coach. A lot of

players just practise their aim

every day, but they need to

understand teamwork and

strategy. You can’t just have

the same players in the team.

It’s like how [Premier League

football team] Liverpool

became better when they

bought [defender] Virgil

van Dijk. He’s not an official

captain, but he brought

leadership and confidence

that fed into the team. That’s

a good quality to have.”

VALORANT is on Microsoft


Check out the latest Red Bull

Campus Clutch heats at Follow pyth at





Cover your tracks:

you can also buy

a silicon skin

(pictured far left)

to protect your

Pocket Operator



Beat it up

Don’t be fooled by the

toy-like looks – this mini synth

packs a Dragon Punch

Modular synthesisers – electronic

musical instruments that can be linked

to sample, create and manipulate

sounds – have been around since the

1950s, when they were as big as a

fridge. Street Fighter II, released in

1991, was the first fighting video game

to sport ‘combos’ – strings of combat

moves. Teenage Engineering is a brain

trust of Swedish engineers who make

cool, retro-styled music gear, and this

is their love letter to all of the above.

Their Pocket Operator synths are a

masterclass in stripped-down design:

a circuit board with a flipstand, two

AAA batteries, and a pair of 3.5mm

jacks on the back. On the front is a grid

of buttons, two knobs and a mic to

create 16 sequences of 16 sounds to

record a 256-step tune or perform an

impressive live set. Each device has its

own sound – rhythm, robot, office –

represented by vintage Nintendo-style

graphics on the LCD display. Connect

them together and you have a digital

orchestra. And now you can add SFII’s

classic ‘Shoryuken’ samples to that

knockout combo.





April onwards


As spectator events return, it’s set

to be a glorious summer, and with

the new normal comes new sports.

Kicking off on July 21, this 100-ball

pro cricket series serves up 68 men

and women’s matches across a whole

month, with the biggest names

taking to the crease, including Ben

Stokes (below) captaining Leeds’

Northern Superchargers. Priority

tickets went on sale on April 7, with

general sales starting April 21.

Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, London,

Manchester, Nottingham and





“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff,”

veteran Nat Geo lensman Jim Richardson once said. Wise words, as anyone who has

contributed to global photography contest Red Bull Illume can attest. This biennial

showcase attracts some of the most incredible action-sports and adventure moments

captured on film (59,551 images were entered in 2019) then takes them on a world tour

(pictured: the 2020 tour stop in Vancouver). Now, 2021’s Image Quest has begun. The

submission deadline is July 31, with winners announced in November.


April onwards


When it comes to slopestyle MTB,

Brett Rheeder is perhaps the

greatest there is. The 28-year-old

Canadian has four slopestyle world

titles, an X-Games gold medal and

seven Crankworx victories, but in

2018 he faced one of his toughestever

seasons, struggling with a longterm

knee injury. Spectators often

only see the performance on the

day, but this film, following Rheeder

through that tumultuous year, is a

candid look at the pains an athlete

endures for their craft.





April onwards




April to late June


If there’s one good thing to emerge

from social distancing, it’s the

revival of the drive-in cinema. But

banish throwback images of Grease

from your mind; The Luna Cinema

delivers state-of-the-art outdoor

screens, in-car digital sound and

click-and-collect food-and-drink

service. Among the films being

shown are Wonder Woman 1984 –

one of the first chances to see it on

a big screen since its December

release – Pixar’s Onward, Joker

and, of course, Grease. Venues

across the UK;

Travis Rice dreams big. The 38-yearold

snowboarder burst onto the

competitive scene at the age of 18,

with no sponsor, by dropping a

gargantuan backside rodeo over a

36m gap at a place called Mammoth

Mountain. But his biggest dream was

to launch the ultimate backcountry

freestyle competition in his hometown.

This February, Jackson Hole, Wyoming,

saw 24 of the best snowboarders

battle across 16 acres of mountain –

and, of course, Mother Nature served

up large, tipping 1.2m of deep powder

on day two. Check out the weekend’s

mightiest moments.




April to late May



Pre-lockdown, you had escape

rooms, immersive theatre, and

murder mysteries. Now, the latest

must-have group experience is

the online sleuthing show: a blend

of live performance, interactive

role-play, team puzzle-solving

and taut thriller, played through

your computer. Having launched

last October with an initial sell-out

three-week run, the show has now

extended bookings until at least

late May.


April onwards


It’s helpful, though not essential, to understand Spanish to gain the most enjoyment

from this contest – for a start, you’d already know that the name means ‘Battle of the

Roosters’. The world’s biggest freestyle rap competition draws thousands of spectators

from across Latin America to witness the crema de crema of Spanish-speaking MCs

spitting rhymes. At least, it would most years. For 2020, an audience-free, greenscreen

arena was built in the Dominican Republic, so contestants battle amid virtual

deserts and mountains. The backdrops are fake, but the lyrics are real.






The Red

Bulletin is

published in six

countries. This is the

cover of our French

edition for May, which

features the stunning

skate photography of

New Zealand-born

lensman Jake Darwen

For more stories

beyond the ordinary,

go to:

The Red Bulletin UK.

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Action highlight

Done and dusted

After his 14th victory in the world’s most legendary rally raid, French driver Stéphane

Peterhansel (pictured here during stage three this January) could officially change

his name to ‘Mr Dakar’. But then, it’s probably not worth the passport hassle, what

with all the international travel he has to do. Africa, South America, Saudi Arabia...

the 55-year-old has conquered them all at Dakar. See him in action at

The next

issue of


is out on

May 11



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