When Oakley invited me to the Austrian premiere of their 2014 movie Snowboarding for ME (go watch it NOW if you haven’t seen it yet!!) in Innsbruck, I was honestly mainly keen to watch the film. Working for a B2B magazine that is mostly interested in what’s going on behind the scenes of the industry rather than catering to the end-consumer, I was also not quite sure what to interview their invited team riders about… Until my editor suggested to talk about the current state of our sport – especially the Olympics, and ask the legend from back in the days who boycotted the very first installment of Snowboarding at the games back in 1998, Terje Haakonsen, and fellow Norwegian newcomer Stale Sandbech, who had just scored the Silver Medal at the very first appearance of Slopestyle at the Games, for their opinion.
Unfortunately, Terje was nowhere to be found when the interview was about to start, not even 10 minutes after, so former contest-kid turned snowboard-movie-star Eero Ettala filled in with some super interesting insights from this side of the sport. And after Terje did turn up in the end, this turned out to be the most discussed, complimented and probably also read interview I ever did. Not that there would have been much I could have done wrong, having three absolute legends chat about THE most controversial topic in snowboarding ever…
Here’s the full version of the interview, the (almost) unedited madness including all the chaos an interview with 3 people can bring, for your reading pleasure…
Snowboarding for Me is the title of your movie but where is snowboarding and the snowboard industry standing at at the moment?
Stale: There are so many sides of snowboarding, Eero & me are on two opposites. Sometimes I sneak into his side and film a bit and sometimes he does a contest but I feel like right now, on the contest side, we need to get united, get the World Snowboard Tour really good so that it’s the only tour to follow, push FIS out of the way, push everything else out of the way so that it’s easy to understand for the riders, the people and the media where to watch the very best riders & the champion is crowned.
We’re already trying to create a new system on the TTR and to make it better, easier to follow, better for media & the riders – let’s see how that goes, maybe this year a little bit but next season on point for sure.
What could brands do to help?
Stale: Brands at the same time as all the riders need to unite, the whole industry needs to unite and choose the cause you want to support. We got to figure out where, in which direction we want to push snowboarding on the contest scene.
So hopefully we’ll make it happen like it is in any other sport, there is one Tour for Surfing with the very best riders at every stop, so there is no confusion, no question about the best riders being there.
We need to get united, get the World Snowboard Tour really good and push FIS out of the way, so that it’s easy to understand for the riders, the people and the media where to watch the very best riders & the champion is crowned.
Do you think brands sponsoring certain events over others would help too?
Stale: Right now the budgets in the tour and the contest scene are super low, a lot of the riders who are top 20 in the wold can almost not even afford to travel to all the events and are working during the summer, it’s kinda hard for a lot of guys so hopefully, as well as making every event unique and creative so it’s more interesting to watch, so it’s not the same run every time – 3 jumps, 3 rails – more options so you don’t know what you’re going to see before you see it. Right now you can pretty much tell what run every rider is gonna do before the contest starts. Making that more interesting, making the whole package for TV, etc. more interesting, it will make things better for us. There is a lot of politics involved, that I don’t know about, but I know that it’s a lot more than just visualizing how it’s gonna be.
Eero: I definitely agree, it would make way more sense if in a slopestyle contest there were different lines that you can take, where you can actually use your imagination and your creativity in a different way because right now it’s exactly like Stale said: you watch other people’s run and then you’re gonna be like: “I’ll do the exact same run but I’ll add a 180 to the last trick and I’ll win.” Because it’s like that, you know exactly what you need to do to be able to win. So it’s not that interesting anymore.
Do you think it could also be a good approach to try and bring the two worlds you mentioned, filming & contests, closer together again?
Eero: There is a lot of riders who only film and would have no chance in the contest scene because the contest guys are so gnarly these days, they’re way too good. What happens when you film a video part is that when you’re filming let’s say a frontside 9, so you end up doing that trick once a year and that is the trick that ends up in the movie but these guys travel the world all the time and just do these trick over and over, like every day, so it’s different.
But it’s a natural progression from on to the other, too. When you’re young you’re doing more contests while you’re still making the podium and at some point when you realize it’s getting tough just making finals, because there will always be the next generation that is gonna ride bigger and better, so that’s when it’s time for a transition and to start filming, step out of that game and do something else, which is really good for your character too, because you get to do something else.
You can’t randomly start filming because no one is gonna know you, you kinda need to build up your name through the contest stuff and as soon as you start making podiums, you get recognised a lot more and then that’s a good time to start filming at some point.
I think all the guys that film now are the legends that used to do contests, that used to compete in the halfpipe and in slopestyle and now they’re just filming.
Stale: Also the scheduling, especially with the Olympics, it’s so hard to have time to film a video part. Also it takes a lot to film a part, those guys don’t necessarily have time to go practice the tricks and do all the contests. Some people, like me, try to do both, but my parts are then mostly park sessions, sunset, maybe one street shot and a couple in the backcountry if I’m lucky. But these guys get super creative, have tons of shots from the streets and the backcountry and there’s so much more work behind it than you know. That’s also something with the contest scene: if we could have the scheduling good, proper, so it actually works – this season it’s gonna be Air&Style in Innsbruck one weekend, then from there we have to go straight to the X Games in Aspen in the US and then we gotta go straight back to Laax for the BEO! The European contests should be closer together so we can do them all. It used to be like that but this year is gonna be super hard with jetlags, etc. If we could have those proper really good contests scheduled really good, there would be more time for us to ride in between contests and maybe do trips and film some more and do something else instead of just flying to the next one.
You’d be watching the trailers over and over again and then you’d be watching the movies till the next Fall so that was how you kinda never forgot about a movie
In the last couple of years, there were a lot of smaller crews coming up on the filming side as well, what do you think of that?
Eero: That is a good thing and a bad thing. The internet is overloaded with stuff right now so let’s say if Stale puts out something really radical, it’s still gonna get lost in it sort of, it’s gonna be alive for one day and then people are gonna forget about it. So I think there’s too much crap out there and I’m hoping that at some points it goes back to brands making their own full length videos. Amateur crews should be doing what they’re doing right and put their little edits out there but brands should concentrate on making big movies and keep that era alive. That is how we grew up: snowboarding was watching videos and if that’s gonna die I don’t know what….
Stale: Since all the videos came out in Fall, you were just waiting for Fall to watch these films, you had no chance to see what tricks were done all Winter until the Fall. You’d be watching the trailers over and over again and then you’d be watching the movies till the next Fall so that was how you kinda never forgot about a movie but now it’s so much all the time, every day, so that the movie production kinda died because no one is buying the movies anymore. Everything is for free on the internet, I guess that’s how the movie productions faded out… it’s internet’s faults! It’s good that you can watch it every day and see something new if you wanna do that but at the same time it’s sad that the whole hype around the movies faded out. This movie premiere tour is actually really good with lots of people showing up but there are also premieres where people don’t show up because they get it for free online the next day.
Is Social Media helping to get that hype back?
Stale: I feel like the hype around snowboarding is pretty big, after how the Olympics went, slopestyle was one of the most watched sports in the Olympics and it opened eyes for people who weren’t that much into snowboarding before. The hype is big now, it’s just how trends go up and down. Now people go buy plain clothes in the cheap stores, instead of logo stuff. And maybe also the products are that much better that people hold on to them for longer. Right now contest is the way to get it out to the mainstream.
Is it really? Triple corks are very far away from what I can relate to in snowboarding while the amazing feeling portrayed in a smile after a great tree run in a movie is a lot easier to understand…
Stale: That is true but to watch the movie, you gotta be interested in snowboarding. With contests you can just turn on the TV, flick through and accidentally see a contest, maybe you don’t know what it is but you might look at it and get into it. So getting the tour structured so it’s easier for the media to follow would help a lot with that and maybe also show some regular stuff, not just the triple corks. Maybe build more stories around it, have segments with normal riding, because the level is super high.
This is also to do with movies and internet edits: before, you normally saw new tricks in the Fall the year after, but now if somebody does a new trick you see it maybe the day after and then people are like “oh I gotta try that.”
We’re having a chat about the state of snowboarding and I thought there might be some stuff you wanna say?
Terje: I’m curious to hear what he says (pointing to Stale).
Stale: That’s too late I already told her.
We talked a lot about how contests should be structured in a different way and more united, I’m just not sure how we’re gonna do that?
Terje: That’s so simple. You just get all the best riders to just go to one contest, and not the other contests. Then there would be no other contests. That’s how they do it in other sports, it’s pretty basic.
Then why has it not happened in snowboarding?
Terje: Because they’re all a bunch of pussies. (Everyone laughing)
You need to ask the riders if they’re not interested in the environmental break downs, 20 people dying on a construction site, but are only concerned about their paycheck and having their face on a cereals box.
Is it that black and white?
Stale: I don’t have my face on cereal box (laughs) but it’s kinda like, as of right now, everyone was doing it and for me as one person to drop out wouldn’t mean anything really. When Terje dropped out, he was the king.
So we need a rider who is THE king again?
Stale: I guess it was that we aren’t united, if some people drop out others would think “now I get the chance to get on the podium”
Terje: Competitive skiers have more balls than contest snowboarders (referring to a World Cup that was cancelled due to riders‘ backing out)
Stale: I was there right after the freeskiers had dropped the event because everyone had dropped out because it was not possible for them to ride. For us there have been some times with really bad conditions where a lot of people wanted to drop out but there are always a couple of guys who are gonna do it anyway, it’s kinda how it’s been but what I want to see, what we all want to see is one Tour, see the World Snowboard Tour take over everything and block out FIS forever. That’s what we all want to see and maybe we haven’t had the balls to do it yet.
There have been some times with really bad conditions where a lot of people wanted to drop out but there are always a couple of guys who are gonna do it anyway
Was it a bigger sacrifice now than it was back then?
Terje: Snowboarding is being deluded by it, we almost had more prize money in the 90s than we have now.
Besides the contest side – what is the state of snowboarding right now?
Terje: It’s amazing – we have urban, we have backcountry, we have x games and olympics, we have riglets, small kids camps, splitboards – it’s pretty wide, so I think the state of snowboarding is doing alright.
So if we get the contests dialed we’re all good?
Terje: Yeah, Eero and me wanna kick back and watching snowboarding on prime time on Sundays, we wanna see all our guys there and we wanna see progression. We don’t wanna see those guys drive fancy cars and win big checks, right now they’re deluding the whole industry with what they’re doing.
Many riders seem to be going from contests to filming – is that somewhat of a natural progression?
Terje: Depends on how you see it. Freestyle competition is really acrobatic, a lot of people who get older can’t cope with the level but there are still other contests that older guys like to do. But a lot of people will do contests to get sponsors and then go filming. It is a way of progression but then look at Stale, he’s doing both and there’s cameras everywhere, so I think a lot of competition guys do both but some guys will do more projects.
Are you still keen on competing now or does it more feel like pressure?
Terje: I did the Arctic Challenge last year, if I play chess or ping pong whatever, I wanna win. There’s not much pressure that I feel, I don’t think I ever felt. Do you feel under pressure, Stale?
Stale: No, I didn’t feel too much until lately when things were going better because then people expect more. But I’ve always been pretty good in blocking that out, just doing my own thing.
What do you enjoy about the competition?
Stale: I don’t know, if’ve always been competitive, like Terje who just said he likes to win in anything he does, I’m the same, since I was a kid I always wanted to be the fastest at running, ice skating, etc. Also with snowboarding, when I do a contest I’m so focused I’m not really there, kinda like outside my mind, and I’m not scared, just go head first go for it. It’s nice to have a park with perfect conditions and also compete against other guys and the feeling when you’re doing good is the feeling your aiming for.
So what would the ideal contest scene be like?
Terje: There’s gonna be different kinds of contests, we’re gonna have freeriding contests, etc, but for halfpipe, slopestyle & boardercross they gotta make a better format. I don’t think there is one perfect format and I think it should be different when you go around the world. If the pipe is the same around the whole world, you’re gonna see the same run and that doesn’t make any sense for me and Eero watching it.
Eero: I don’t watch snowboard contests anymore because they are so boring.
Terje: If you look at surfing, there are different waves: one is a really heavy wave, one is more of a technical wave and in skateboarding you have a park that is that form, or that form, and then you have different winners and different styles, so maybe one contest will have a head to head, another one a jam session, you know, that keeps it interesting, for the riders and the people watching. Now people show up with their trick lists you know, as if they’re figure-skating. Figure-skating is a great sport, but that’s figure-skating. We’re freestyle snowboarding. You always know who wins before it starts because you can take the trick list, if you stomp that trick up the ante you can get third if you stick your run – and that’s not how it’s supposed to be, that’s not how or why we built Action Sports. It’s built on creativity and style and all those things, but we’re missing all those points with the current format. For the pipe, the format has been the same for I don’t know how many years, since the Olympics took over. You see that there is progression in the riding, but a lot of people wanna see different things and also doing 5 or 6 triple corks after each other is dangerous, people are dying.
If you just have one jump it’s really hard to separate and judge, so its gonna be a spin fest because that scores. I prefer the Big Air where you have a couple of rounds where you can do the 180, the corks and what ever. If you just change the format a little, you can make it a lot more interesting and still include all the trick spitters and maybe get more variation from everybody.
Judging based on variations of tricks, a different way to approach a jump, creative line…..
Don’t you think that’s gonna create a lot of…
Terje: Frustration? There already is a lot of frustration. But judging sport is always gonna be like that. It’s gonna be a problem from judging sports, figure-skating has the same problems (laughs). Style is a preference and then you have people decide, it’s like a jury, not all the time everybody agrees with the jury. It’s a good question but it is as it is. But I’m sure they can get a system that is better to separate people but to separate them from one run on one jump is definitely harder than if you get a more overall impression. But for snowboarding, you have to make people who don’t snowboard understand it too so you have to compromise, live TV…
Stale: …educate them well…
Terje: …put a lot of effort into the graphics, etc. to get that across to people, there are a lot of TV sports that are huge but that not a lot of people do because it’s interesting to watch and I think action sports is gonna get there if you give it a little more time. In Australia, where they teach action sports like skateboarding and surfing in school, grandmother knows what a McTwist is and who Kelly Slater is. Not right now but years ago, this is a national sport.
A lot of us are parents now, having kids, there’s a lot of grandpa snowboarders now too, so I think in 20 years it’s gonna be a lot different.
Let’s see whether he’ll be proved right – I dearly hope so! And in the mean time, here’s another shred flick gem to keep your eyes peeled for: Eero Ettala’s Ender documentary on his life standing sideways.