Micayla Gatto On Women In Mountain Biking, Art, And What’s Next

Micayla raced the World Cup downhill circuit for nine years. It shows. Photo: Bruno Long

words :: Tannis Baradziej

You need to give a shit about Micayla Gatto. Really. Any serious mountain biker who hasn’t heard of her yet either needs to check their Internet connection or keep a keener eye on their local trails (unless they still think Saturdays are “ferda boys”).

A quick resume? Glad you asked. A former pro downhill mountain bike racer since the early 2000s, Micayla earned a host of National titles, podiums, enviable sponsors and, more recently, creative accolades. Teamed with the IFHT Films crew, she stole the show at the 2017 Crankworx Dirt Diaries with Ferda Girls, a parody of Kendrick Lamar’s song Humble in which Gatto raps about some of her experiences as a woman in a historically male-dominated sport. The video had more than 850,000 views on YouTube at press time and has become an anthem for female riders across the globe. Her next video project, Intersection, directed by Lacy Kemp, offers a look at mountain biking through Gatto’s artistic eyes and won the Best Mountain Sports Film Award at the 2017 Banff Mountain Film Fest.

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Artist, Musician, Athlete, Announcer. Micayla is officially a quadruple threat. Photo: Andrew Bradley

After recently shredding in India, Gatto will return home to the North Shore with just enough time to throw her gear into the washing machine, pack it up again, and jet off to Innsbruck, Austria to host the second stop of the 2018 Crankworx World Tour in mid-June. After that she has some guiding gigs, camps, filming, photos, Crankworx Whistler… “downtime” isn’t in Gatto’s lexicon.

With her serious talent behind bars, on camera, and with a paintbrush (Gatto’s art combines detailed line work with nature, colour and flow) this triple threat of a woman is inspiring shredders around the world to raise their own weapons-of-expression, tap into their own passions and get rad.

We managed to nab Micayla for a moment and get her to “sit down” for this interview.

Mountain Life: You’ve heard this one before… How do we get more women into mountain biking?

Micayla Gatto: I think it’s pretty simple: show more women riding bikes in the media, and the personalities behind the athletes, and I think you will inherently create a more welcoming and inspiring environment for women looking to get into the sport. I’m not a huge fan of the “pink it and shrink it” women-specific marketing schemes, because I feel that actually segregates us further from men in the industry instead of bringing us together as equals. There are so many women riding nowadays that we don’t need to be put on a pedestal or doused in pink to be a part of the community. Also broadening our views that women can sell non-women specific products is a huge step forwards. Women are more than capable of hanging with the boys, and highlighting that to the world—we are just normal girls who enjoy doing this particular sport. That, in my opinion, is the best way to get more women involved.

ML: You’ve managed to stay feminine-yet-badass in a still predominantly male-centric sport. How do you find that balance?

MG: I have to credit it to my parents. Gender division and the, “that’s for boys you can’t do that” attitude was never a topic of discussion. And I’m grateful for that. Growing up with an older brother, I was constantly trying to keep up and do everything he was doing—that’s just how it was. We also lived on a boat during the summers and the only other kid around was my big bro, so I didn’t know any different. I still loved playing with Barbies, wearing princess dresses and doing other typical “girly” things, but running around in a speedo scraping my knees, climbing trees, carving wood with my dad, and being the only girl in Boy Scouts was equally as accepted. I’m so grateful I got to be both and do it all growing up, and I think that’s where the confidence to be myself and get after whatever I’m passionate about comes from.

This is not the kind of pink Gatto has a problem with. Photo: Bruno Long

ML: That sounds like a healthy balance. What about as you got older, what gender-role restrictions or conflicts did you experience as you matured?

MG: Everything in Ferda Girls was based off of my own experiences growing up in the MTB industry. Back then there was still a very strong presence of “sex sells,” and using showgirls and pin-ups to sell products was fairly mainstream. I remember one company in particular that used actual porn stars to sell their products. Then later they used some of their own female athletes dressed in miniskirts and push-up bras to sell their products. I looked up to these women and their abilities on the bike, so naturally I was confused and conflicted, because I felt like to be accepted by my sponsors and taken seriously as an athlete I had to also be overtly sexy and hot.

It wasn’t just mountain biking and it still happens a lot in motorsports today. It’s definitely becoming less and less prevalent in the MTB industry, which is awesome, but it just breaks my heart when I see younger girls get lost or caught up in the pressure to sexualize themselves to gain more attention and recognition in the industry, rather than being recognized for their skills and strengths on and off the bike. That being said, there is no shame in being proud of who you are, your femininity, and presenting body-positivity to other women. It’s a super fine line that most female professional athletes struggle with, myself included.

ML: You stopped racing after 2014. How difficult was that decision? Did you have your next moves planned out?

MG: It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to decide. When I didn’t get re-signed to my World Cup team for 2015, it felt like my entire identity was ripped away. Racing was all I knew, and all I was known for, but a bad crash and a pretty severe concussion made me take a step back and really look at my life. I loved racing, but looking back at my last year I realized I was more there for my friends, and more concerned about whether they were feeling good about their race than I was about my own. It definitely became less about the race results for me and more about the social aspect of being there. I guess that’s when I realized I wanted to impact people in a different way. I want to inspire people, regardless of gender or background. I want to get people stoked on life and riding bikes, and I knew I wasn’t going to do that racing World Cups.

ML: It’s working! Ferda Girls was a landmark moment and to follow that up with a big award at Banff for Intersection is killer. Now you’re a big part of the Crankworx broadcast team. How is it going?

MG: It’s really exciting and also really nerve- wracking because I’ve never done it before. Being on TV and having to come up with relevant questions in a certain timeframe with an earpiece on and the producer directing me is crazy! I definitely have a newfound respect for everyone involved in live television. I know a lot of the riders personally so that is an advantage, but there was definitely some worry that people who don’t know me and my personality might be expecting a professional broadcaster… and they get me. I’m not afraid to do it; I just get nervous with how people will perceive it. Because I want to do the best job possible.

Photo: Marcus Riga

ML: Spoken like a true artist.

MG: That actually happened with Ferda Girls too. It’s just that feeling whenever you’re about to do something new; there is always that fear of the unknown. I was really nervous, because you’re putting yourself out there, but overall it was received really well and developed into something above and beyond what we ever could have expected. Now with this Crankworx gig, there’s just tens of thousands of people watching me do it, on live TV. So that adds a little pressure.

ML: Do you get nervous like that when you are riding?

MG: I used to. I used to rely on the guys I was riding with to tell me what I was capable of doing. Most of the time they’d give me great tips and support but I was being overly cautious. So this year, and I think this comes with experience, I just told myself that I wasn’t going to listen to anyone other than myself and I did some of the gnarliest things I’ve ever done on a bike and I came out fine. I still look for guidance and support sometimes, but being confident in my own abilities has really changed my riding.

ML: What’s next for Micayla Gatto?

MG: I have this year pretty much planned out, and am starting to get glimpses of projects and plans I’d like to make happen for next year, but nothing is set in stone yet. Two years ago, if you had told me I’d be one of the main reporters for the Crankworx World Tour I would’ve just laughed. I’m learning that anything can happen and new opportunities will constantly present themselves if you just keep developing and pushing the boundaries of your own skill, putting yourself out there, and keep creating what you want to be a part of. I have some lofty dreams of hosting my own Netflix series, and other projects like that, but in the meantime I’m just going to keep hustling, creating, and riding, and see where it all goes.