After winning a national high school all-around title in 2008 and finishing second in 2009, Cameron Hopper-Craig’s rodeo career showed promise.
But the Battle Mountain, Nev., native and current McCall resident walked away from the sport after a semester at Central Wyoming College, opting to focus on a mixed martial arts future.
“I think it was more me. I was young and kind of stuck my head in my butt in a way,” he said.
It only took two years before Hopper-Craig, 24, got the itch again and started enrolling in amateur rodeos.
Returning to rodeo paid off as Hopper-Craig moved up to the professional circuit this year. And after a 79-point bareback ride Friday at the Snake River Stampede, he stands in a three-way tie for ninth place. The top 12 after Saturday’s matinee session advance to Saturday night’s finals.
Hopper-Craig competed in bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding in high school, allowing him to rack up enough points for an all-around title. He said he still competes in all three, but he focused on bareback riding because he said that is his most consistent event, even though he didn’t start riding bareback until he was 14.
He proved that when he returned to his first rodeo in Eagle in 2012 and took home the bareback title.
“It’s just like riding a bike,” Hopper-Craig said. “I started riding (rodeo) when I was 8, so it’s just second nature now.”
Focusing on bareback also comes down to a financial decision. Competing in three events requires three separate entry fees with no guarantee of a return.
“It’s just a good way to go broke in pro rodeo running three events,” he said. “Entry fees are expensive, and you’re traveling by yourself. Not very many people ride all three events, so you have to enter by yourself and travel by yourself. It gets real expensive.”
Hopper-Craig spent three years traveling the west for amateur rodeos throughout Idaho, Oregon and Washington. He moved up to the pro circuit this year and is already making a name for himself, entering the weekend 45th in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings.
He competed in Salinas, Calif., Thursday night, then enrolled in the Stampede and a rodeo in Spanish Fork, Utah, on Friday. He chose Nampa because he drew a tougher horse that could earn him a better score.
After a potential finals appearance Saturday, he’s off to Ogden, Utah, on Monday, back on the road he walked away from six years ago.
“I should have been this far along a long time ago,” he said. “It’s good to be climbing the standings only being pro rodeoing for this year, really. If it’s working, I might as well keep going, right?”
Bulls dominated Friday, knocking off the first 10 bull riders and 12-of-15 overall.
Caldwell’s Brady Portenier scored the first ride at 71. But Kurtis Turner of Washington, Utah, followed with an 81.5 ride, and Justin Anderson of Nephi, Utah, scored a 76.
Their scores knocked Portenier to 13th this week before Saturday’s matinee, one spot out of a finals berth.
The scariest moment came when Can’t Get Right bucked Zeb Lanham of Sweet in Gem County. Lanham was knocked unconscious and had to be carried out on a stretcher.
Matinee rodeo, noon: Children 12-and-under get in for free on an alcohol-free family day at Nampa’s Ford Idaho Center
Finals, 7:30 p.m.: The top 12 performers in all events this week compete for a Stampede title and $400,000 in prize money