Since the time they could walk, Lars and Axel Zeilberger have been on two wheels. The eight-year-old twins, who were named Pinkbike’s 2021 Groms of the Year, are regulars at the Whistler Bike Park, and for years, their mother, Teresa Wood, left the boys with a tongue-in-cheek directive before they dropped in.
“Don’t get better than mom!” she would joke.
When they were four, she thought she might have another four years before they surpassed her. They did it in just two.
“By the end of their sixth year, they were better than me in both tech and flow,” Wood recalls. “And then seven was a write-off. I can't even go down the trails they are going down; they just meet me at the bottom.”
The twins are the stars of Michael Sousa’s new documentary, Rascal², a 20-minute short that features plenty of footage of the boys ripping up the bike park and other local trails, as well as capturing their start in the sport from an impossibly young age.
Sousa is well positioned to tell this story as the twins’ bike coach, who has gotten to see their lightning-quick progress in real time. A regular mountain bike filmmaker, Sousa wanted to show a more intimate side of the grom scene in a town chock-a-block with precocious young athletes poised for big things.
“I think people understand the potential for young kids in this town, but I don’t know there’s ever been a film with kids this young and this in-depth on the filmmaking side,” Sousa says.
Featuring early footage of the boys as toddlers on their wooden run bikes, paired with clips from last summer of them hucking off jumps and tackling challenging lines, what’s remarkable beyond the jaw-dropping action shots is seeing the ways in which Lars and Axel both contrast and complement each other.
From the age of four, they were nicknamed “Tech” and “Flow” for their respective fortes: The larger Axel tends to gravitate more toward steep drops and technical terrain, while Lars has a knack for catching air and flowy runs.
And while they don’t deny how competitive they are, like any brothers, they also push each other to their absolute limits.
“When COVID hit and there was no coaching anymore, they coached each other and they both got better at the thing the other one excelled at,” Wood says. “Both of them had a talent in either tech or flow and when COVID happened, it levelled out because Axel would show Lars how to rock-roll or drop and Lars would show Axel how to jump, and they would follow each other through things.”
The boys differ in their approaches, too. Axel is a consummate risk-taker when it comes to steep rocks and big drops, whereas Lars tends to meticulously consider his run before giving into his drive to fly that sees him sending it on gaps, jumps and tricks.
Even from spending a short time with them, you can tell the twins have benefited from their parents’ guidance. Father Alfie Zeilberger comes from a family of successful bikers, and made a name for himself in the North Shore’s vibrant downhill scene “back when we didn’t wear helmets,” Wood says. Originally from Manitoba, Wood is a poet, and until recent years when she began taking lessons to keep up with her kids, something of a bike park amateur.
“All the enthusiasm and drive for biking comes from them. Not us,” Wood says. “All I’ve done is stand there biting my tongue when I wanted to say, ‘Don’t do it!’ and instead I tried to teach them to trust their bodies and only do what feels right. Sometimes I couldn’t even watch, and I’d video them instead, so I could hide behind the camera.”
For years now, it has proved a tall task even dragging the boys from the track. Early one winter morning, when the twins were four, Wood noticed Lars in the backyard shovelling snow, and asked what he was doing. His response? “I’m trying to bike.”
That obsession clearly hasn’t worn off yet.
“I mean, these guys would ride for eight hours and I'd have to force them to come eat pizza. And then I'd want them to come home and they'd say, ‘No,’ and we’d go back to the jump track,” she says.
Now that they are starring in their very own bike movie, just like their heroes Brandon Semenuk and Fabio Wibmer before them, Lars and Axel have another hill to conquer: public speaking.
When I ask them how they feel now that the premiere of Rascal² is fast approaching, they both express some pre-screening jitters.
“I’m a bit scared for, like, the questions. I’m not really the kind of guy who likes to talk that much in front of a big crowd,” Lars says.
“I feel amazing, and also kind of scared, too—because I'm presenting to quite a lot of people around the world, basically. I assume it's gonna be on YouTube and a lot of people can see it on YouTube. The whole world could see it,” Axel muses.
With all their pesky media obligations out of the way, the twins turn their attention back to their first love.
“Mom, can we go to the jump track now?” Axel asks.
Rascal² screens at the Whistler Racket Club Thursday, May 12 at 7 p.m. and again at 8:15 p.m. Doors at 6 p.m. Admission is by donation, and you can pre-register at eventbrite.ca.