Samantha Soriano had her eye on Teton Gravity Research (TGR) movies. Making it into one of the high-energy sports films was an aspiration the Littleton local wrote down in her journal years ago. It was a bucket-list goal, she says—something she hoped to eventually achieve through her freeride mountain biking.
But for the first few years of her professional career, she was focused on racing above all else. She wanted to be just like her idol: Tahnée Seagrave, the professional British downhill racer.
“I wanted to be the American version of her,” Soriano says. “[All of my] time was consumed by training. And [I was] always thinking, ‘OK, next race, next race, next race.’”
Soriano started riding professionally at the age of 16. Now she’s 21, and over those five short years she’s competed in just about every style the sport has to offer. At Columbine High School she raced BMX. When that got old, she switched to cross-country enduro racing, competing in long rides over mountainous trails. Then she fell in love with downhill racing because it combined her BMX skills with mountain biking.
After a shoulder surgery in 2019, though, Soriano was feeling burned out on the racing circuit. She’d competed around the world, with some of the best racers on the planet and it was wearing her out.
“When you’re at a race, you’re like, go, go, go for four days. You’ve got trackwork and you’ve got practice and you’ve got qualifying and then finals day,” she says. “Turning pro when I was 16 was amazing . . . But it was really hard. Being that young, I fried myself.”
So she switched gears. She started freeride mountain biking, focusing her energy on making content with her sponsors, and building a social media presence around her riding. It was a choice that’s paying off for the young up-and-coming rider.
One day last year, she answered a phone call from a number she didn’t recognize. It was TGR. The extreme sports media company was making a new film called Esperanto, named after a language created by a Polish-Jewish doctor in 1887. Esperanto (the language) was meant to break down barriers between cultures, and allow people from any background or age group to communicate and express themselves—not unlike mountain biking, the film posits.
TGR was reaching out to Soriano because they wanted her to ride for a segment in the film.
“I was kind of dumbfounded. I was like, ‘No way. This is a prank. Like, you’re not asking me to do this,’” she recalls. But it wasn’t a prank. They were asking Soriano to do it.
“This whole thing feels super surreal,” she says.
Before she could even wrap her head around the opportunity, she was out in the Utah desert, surrounded by cameras and a film crew, shredding with more professional female riders than she’d ever ridden with before.
Esperanto is shot all around the world. From Spain to Ecuador, Zambia, Japan, Jackson Hole, and, of course, Utah—where Soriano was ripping freeride trails alongside Chelsea Kimball, Blake Hansen, Brook Anderson, Hannah Bergemann, and Sophie Gregory for their segment. It was an enriching experience, Soriano says. Not just because she was riding beside women older and younger than her (Sophie Gregory is just 11-years-old), and not just because they were in such an iconic mountain biking mecca, but because they were all learning from one another, inspiring each other, speaking a common dialect.
“[Mountain] biking for us is a universal language,” Soriano says. A universal language that everyone who watches Esperanto can understand without sharing a single thing in common—the language of stoke.
The film opens with a gut-turning freeride segment in the Catalonia region of Spain, with Andreu Lacondeguy alongside Kurt Sorge, and Brage Vestavik charging through forests and launching off of massive jumps. Next, Esperanto takes us to Ecuador to follow Rene Arevalo, Johny Salido, Carson Storch, and Nico Vink as they assault ancient trails in the Andes Mountains. Then to Japan, for some of Tomomi Nishikubo’s masterful urban freeriding. Then to Zambia, then to Jackson Hole, and eventually coming full circle back to Spain. Each and every segment is an onslaught of mind-bending freeride fearlessness, with some of the biggest names in the sport.
Soriano’s segment (between Zambia and Japan) was shot in southern Utah in a place called Virgin, where she and the other female freeriders put their skills on full display.
“When you think of freeride [mountain biking], you think of Utah,” Soriano says. “In particular, you think of Virgin, Utah.”
With its red rock mesas, formations, chutes, hills, ridges, gullies and cliffs, Virgin is a playground for freeride mountain bikers. But it’s not for the faint of heart. The steepness of the trails, the height of the cliff drops, the gnarly rock features and the size of the jumps are all extreme.
None of that was new to Soriano. But the film crew and process of making a movie was.
“When you’re filming, you have so many opportunities to get things right,” she says. “I think filming is a lot more enjoyable because you can mess up and be like, ‘OK, I can try again’ . . . It’s way less scary to ride in front of a camera than a clock.”
They shot on location for 10 days, Soriano says; crushing ridges, sending kickers, throwing no-handers, bar-turning and moto-whipping their bikes over the jaw-dropping scenery.
The best part for Soriano, though, wasn’t necessarily the world-class terrain. It was simply riding with women whose ages spanned a decade in either direction of her’s, and helping each other grow as riders with every single run.
“Just being able to ride with a group of very talented girls and also having the opportunity to help [each other] conquer fears—I think that was for sure my favorite part of the whole entire week,” she says. “Having a group of people that resonated with you [so much] better than anyone else just feels really good.”
Soriano says it was bizarre watching herself on screen at the premiere of Esperanto in Denver last month.
“I had accomplished one of my goals that [I’d had] for many years,” she says. “Honestly, it was pretty emotional.”
While she was signing posters after the show, a young girl came up to get her signature. Soriano says nobody really knows anything about her yet, but this aspiring freeride biker did—and she was a big fan. Soriano realized at that moment that she was becoming what she’d once lionized. Just as she’d aspired to become the American version of Tahnée Seagrave, she’s now inspiring younger female riders to become their generation’s Sam Soriano.
“I am now kind of creating a path for myself. People are looking up to me,” she says. “That was just so surreal . . . I definitely have cried over this, like, happy tears.”
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Esperanto will go on tour across the Front Range starting Aug. 4. Attendance is free. Visit: tetongravity.com for dates and locations where you can drop in and see the film for yourself. Links to free premiers of the film at select Nissan dealerships can be found here: https://tour.tetongravity.com/nissan/