This shot is from the desk at Stratton Mountain where prizes were handed out for the 1997 US Open. I won the event and took home $5000.
Before talking about one of the biggest days in my snowboard career let me take you back and give you a little (probably a lot by the time I’m done writing) of my US Open history. Although I took part in the US Open in 1994, it was 1995 that was the big year. 1995 was my second season riding for Burton. When I was at the Open I heard they were about to run an event called the “Big Air” and though it was unfamiliar to me at the time it would become my snowboarding comfort zone.
The interesting part about the Big Air was that the registration staff was essentially allowing riders to campaign to be in the contest. I was told that riders could write an essay petitioning the registration panel to allow the rider entry to the contest. I was a small timer that had no real results beyond USASA contests but I would not be denied. I lit up and geeked out, channeling Jim Carrey, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
It was a scene straight out of “A Christmas Story” as I put pen to paper and composed my masterpiece. Point after point, tearing at the heart strings, drowning in logic, compelling and riveting, outlining my clearly undeniable destiny. A+++++++++++++. Ok so it might not have pulitzer worthy but I did pour my little snowboard heart out. I told them about how I was from the west coast and this was a rare chance for me to impress my east coast sponsor (Burton), how I was better at jumps so I had a better chance to make an impact on Burton, and a bunch of other scribblings that took up half a page. Somewhere along the line I put the correct words in and found myself cleared for entering the line up of the first ever US Open Big Air.
The way I remember it, the jump was barely two mounds of snow pushed up, a take off and a landing, and anything but big. To me it seemed about 20 feet but I believe it was approximately 42ft of gap. The take off was no more than a few feet high and the landing was about the same. It was a glorified boardercross jump in all honesty. As bas as all that sounds I couldn’t wait to hit it. Not a damn person in the world knew who I was there and I would keep it that way for two more years. Haha.
At that point Big Air was just a concept, an idea understood about as much as Alta understands snowboarding. Regardless of that we hit the jump a few times, drew a crowd, Kale Stephens flew off the side and tried to shrink the crowd by a few, and we started the ball rolling for a whole new area of competitive snowboarding. Jim Rippey got first, I got second, and Michelle Taggert got third. That’s right, a woman competed with the men, held her own, and got a podium spot.
The response was good enough that big air got a foot hold and stayed at the US Open. In 1996 the jump was huge (about 65ft cheese wedge) for it’s time. I believe I threw down something along the lines of a backside 540 but not much else and I didn’t place. I did catch the eye of Mike McIntyre, of Mack Dawg Productions, who asked me if I wanted to film with him when I got back to Tahoe (Mack Dawg Productions was the gold standard for freestyle snowboarding movies. I wore out movie after movie their productions in the VHS years.). That’s another story for another day but the point to see here is that this was just another dream coming true due to being part of the US Open.
1997! Finally the story about the picture above. Big air was a full fledged, fully respected event at this point. All the heavy hitters from the freestyle world were present. I felt like the bat boy getting to play in a real major league game. I was walking amongst giants while trying not to scrape my jaw as it was dragging on the ground. How did some kid from Eagle River, Alaska get to this point?
I was still an unknown and the thing I have found about anonymity is that its a freeroll; I couldn’t lose. If I go all out and fall then nobody knows me anyway so no big deal. There are no expectations on the unknown. Failure just maintains anonymity. But….but if I go all out and do well then there is a real story: Unknown wows crowd. If I go all out and stick everything then I will really make a splash. Well a splash was made. I WON!!!!!! Amongst the giants Peter Line and Jamie Lynn I WON!!!!!!!!!! Trick after trick was thrown, some landed, many crashed, as I did a backside 720 tail grab and a backflip 180 with a frontside grab and I WON!!!!!!!
I know, chill on the winning stuff already. I’m just trying to let you know how it felt. I really saw myself as just a kid that tried to snowboard as much as I could. This was all a dream to me, an honor to be a part of it and to ride with my heroes.
When the awards were held they lined us up on the top of the jump as people littered the flat between the take off and the landing and all down the landing. They handed us champagne and we did the spraying thing that people do on the podium. After that something happened that impacted me a great deal and really drove home how much people pay attention to athletes or public figures and what they do (and I wasn’t even a big deal like ball players or nascar drivers lol).
Those that know me well know that I don’t drink. I’ve never had a drink in my life. So as the bottles were sprayed and the foam cleared I poured out what was left in my bottle. After that I started doing interviews with media people on the edge of the landing. After about 15 minutes things died down and I was wrapping up. I noticed two kids making their way up the landing and they came over to me. They waited until they got a chance and said hi. As I said hi back the older of the two (maybe 17 or so) said he just wanted to tell me that he and his brother didn’t drink and they thought it was cool that I poured out the rest of the bottle rather than drinking it. They noticed that from the bottom of the jump and felt compelled to make their way up to tell me. That hit me hard and has always been a really amazing life moment for me.
Ok so I was freaking out about winning. I got other competitors to sign my bib and told them what an honor it was to ride with them. That’s when Jamie Lynn said “You earned it” and that’s when I had to change my underwear. I got props from Jamie twice in my life and for those that don’t understand what that meant to me it would be like Jordan telling you that you had a good jump shot. I’ll hold onto those moments like they are trophies. They’ll take center space on the mantle in my mind.
As I went to collect my prize I couldn’t believe it was cash and not a check. The cashier counted out 50 Benjamin’s and handed them over. I was officially baller. So I went out and did what any baller would do; I went to dinner, a celebration dinner. I drove down to McDonald’s and damned if I didn’t supersize that meal without even thinking about it twice. Then I went back to my room and just reveled in the moment. I counted the money a bunch of times. I am pretty sure I made it rain and in 1997 only dancing Indians made it rain not Lil Wayne. Then I arranged the bills all in the same direction and by face size. Then I did this
HAHAHA. I know, i’m a dork. I couldn’t help it. I had hours alone in my room before my flight early the next morning and I couldn’t get over what had just happened. It was my way of not letting the moment go. Another funny note was that I had to fly home with 5K in my pocket. I was sure everyone could tell I had it and was scheming to steal it. I kept my hand on it at all times to make sure I wasn’t pick pocketed and to ensure it didn’t fall out of my pocket. The most enjoyable anxiety I’ve ever had.
In 1999 I broke a rib overshooting the landing of the big air and in 2000 I got second in the event. More US Open stories another day. I’ve had an amazing unbelieveable experience with the event and will be forever grateful to have been a part of it.
The photo was taken by Alex Mertz, 2005 at Hilltop Ski Area.
This week we feature an odd creature. Gussias Shredorsus. If you don’t recognize him from his genus/species name then perhaps you will know him better as Gus Engle. If you’ve ever taken a biology class then you have probably had a bit of an introduction to evolution through the process of natural selection. If not then please allow me to butcher the concept in order to make a weak metaphor describing Gus.
The idea of evolution through natural selection is (and please understand I’m trying to make this as simple as possible rather than a detailed research project) that genes produce characteristics and those can be different among a species. The characteristics that work the best allow those that posses them to survive and most likely mate with others possessing those characteristics causing those characteristics to pass on through the population. Conversely those that don’t posses the characteristics that best allow for survival tend to take an early dirt nap. As this goes on then eventually all of the species end up with that trait. Google “Darwin’s Finches” for further explanation.
Snowboarding has always been an evolving animal. The skills have evolved, the trends in tricks change, the popular disciplines shift, and the fashions are about as safe as a kid in the shower with Jerry Sandusky. Gus also has evolved through the years from little grom, to baggy pants kid, to rail guy, to creative soap-dodging inspiration. Gus has figured out the parts of snowboarding that work for him and put a smile on his face and let those characteristics of his riding carry on while the other parts die off.
While most up and coming shredders try to figure out how to do a press like Joe Sexton or narrow their stance like Jed Anderson they seem to forget that snowboarding isn’t about being like others. I don’t think snowboarding is about not being like others either; it’s really just about being yourself. We will all find inspiration from others but a key part of snowboarding, or any other art form, is to use that inspiration to uncover our own vision. We should strive to uncover our own truth and by truth I mean seeing what is inside ourselves and releasing it. Release it not in hopes that everyone sees it and recognizes a rider for it but rather because releasing it is what frees us. Snowboarding is about freedom and making up your own rules, not caring what others think, and doing what makes you happy. If you can’t find any of those things in your riding then you are snowboarding for the wrong reasons and you should just get it over with and go buy some skis.
Gus has found his truth and his freedom in snowboarding the way he wants to. I haven’t always liked the tricks he does or the clothes he wears but I love that he has the desire to do those tricks and wear those clothes (and for the record, as well as Gus’s sensitive feelings, I do like most of the tricks he does). Snowboarding would be boring if everyone all did the same tricks and all looked the same. Snowboarding needs riders that aren’t afraid to follow their heart and snowboard on their own terms. Snowboarding needs Gus.
Now that i’ve written a novel about him, here is the short and sweet of what Gus had to say about the picture.
“Here you go Borgy:
This picture was taken by Alex Mertz back in 2005. I originally had planned to firecracker that 120 stair you can see in the photo. but due to my fear of death I decided to move the whole operation over to the to the oh-so-alluring stagnant swamp puddle and go surfing instead.”
Sorry about the lapse in posts over the last week. I’m in Colorado, visiting Kelly’s family and trying to snowboard a little bit. This is my first time back on the snow since slamming hard in the boardercross at Alyeska. The shoulder and ribs are holding up enough to allow me to ride but not enough to get busy.
Anyway, i thought I would share a picture from my first snowboard trip to Colorado. I have some others from the same trip that I will share later. The other shots carry other stories but lets explore this one for now. This Picture is of me at the 1993 USASA Nationals at Vail. I am on a Morrow race board with hard boots and plate bindings. Where to begin? Haha.
Let’s start with the race board. Most of the snowboarders out there probably don’t know what those are or can’t remember the last time they saw one. In 1993 the USASA events consisted of half pipe, slalom, and giant slalom. That’s right, two race events and one half pipe event. On top of that the Alaska region didn’t have as many competitors as other regions so riders had to qualify for an overall spot to nationals. That meant a rider’s points for half pipe and race events were totaled to determine who got the spot. I wanted to get that spot so I learned to ride a race board.
The problem with riding a race board was that it was 1993 and snowboarding was hitting its freestyle boon. It was jeans and flannels, chain wallets, nubbed boards ( sawing off the excess tip and tail to shorten the board), and it was jibbing. What is was not was hard boots and speed suits. Here in lies my personal struggle; being competitive, I wanted to win but i also wanted to keep it real and stick to my freestyle roots. The result is the outfit you see in the picture.
I wore blind jeans, Fishpaw mitts, a Plan B t-shirt that was a tall T before tall T’s existed, and my fresh Burton jacket. In my mind I was trying my best with a race board and hard boots while still keeping my street cred in the back pocket of my jeans next to my chain wallet. I remember how proud Bombeck and I felt as we patted each other on the back for not selling out like the seal skinned kooks in the speed suits. Naturally our fresh kits and street cred amounted to placings near the bottom of the results page. At the time we didn’t care much, we only cared about finding a rock to bonk or getting to the half pipe.
The next year I decided that if I was going to race then I better try to win so I found a speed suit and joined the ranks of the tighties. But for one year we kept it as real as we knew how to. Fast forward to present day USASA events and speed suits aren’t allowed any longer. I guess snowboarding imposed a speed suit prohibition in the name of all that is cool.
Just for your humor here is one more look at my kit that day.
This photo was taken around April of 2000 by Cory Grove. I’m not too sure what Cory is up to these days but I do know he is behind the Cobra Dogs phenomenon. He is also a great guy that i miss hanging out with at Hood. But enough about my bromances lost.
The picture is of the World Championships at Whistler Blackcomb. This is the one and only time I’ve ever ridden a resort in Canada. I didn’t do so well at the slope style but I was pumped for the big air. As a matter of fact i was so pumped up that I nearly popped during practice. The event staff opened up practice the night before the contest. Seeing as how this was about 13 years ago I am a tad fuzzy on the details but I’ll do my best to keep them straight.
This was a pretty amazing trip for me. First of all it was the spring. It may have been more towards the end of April because the season was pretty much done after this contest. There is always a bit of excitement about the end of the season. You know there isn’t going to be any more powder, just slush if you’re lucky, so it’s time to start enjoying the summer and getting on the skateboard. I got to skate the snake run I had seen ripped up in the Plan B videos as well as all the new park additions and they were all about a minute walk from the hotel and mountain.
This was also one of the first times that i really made an effort to be social rather than locking myself off into contest zone mode. I don’t drink and never have so typically I didn’t find a lot of joy in going out to the bars and living it up on contest nights. Whistler didn’t drive me to drink but the party environment there did inspire me to go to the Maxx Fish (the main club spot) and bust at least three moves, maybe four. There also may or may not have been a night at “The Boot” which is not a strip club but more of a bar with strip club tendencies.
Back to the hill. So practice, the night before the contest, started and this was a time where I was really in tune with my big air jumping. There were big air contests constantly and I got to hit a lot of them. I was excited to hit the jump and go through the bag of tricks. I liked to work my way up through the tricks, start with small stuff like a 180 or 360, then a 540, a 720, a 900, and flips. Well the drop in looked like it was far enough up the hill and there would be plenty of speed but looks can be deceiving. I can’t remember if it was my first or second hit but what matters is that I came up short. I believe it was a backside 180 and I landed about 5 feet short of the knuckle. Plenty of people come up short but i think it was because i was facing back up hill that I couldn’t compensate for it and everything was really compressed.
Coming up short was quite a shock to my legs and back but nothing was blown out or broken so all that was left was to complain. I called it a night after that and the hurt set in like a hipster feels when he realizes he’s not the first guy to grow a beard, wear a flannel, and part his hair. By the next morning I could barely walk. Really I’m not exaggerating; my whole body was viagra stiff. I started the Advil regimen and trying to soak in the tub every two hours. The contest wasn’t until night so I had all day to get back to riding and I needed every minute of it.
The contest finally got underway and it was a cirque du soleil show on snow. People painted silver, 6ft stilts, lights and fireworks shooting everywhere, and a dj spinning an obnoxious techno soundtrack for it all. It was a head to head format until riders got to the final 4. I warmed the muscles up and found a game face in the gift shop to put on. I ended up in the finals and landed two solid tricks to take second (backside 900 tail and switch 360 backflip; aka borgarial haha).
As you can see from the results Peter Line got first. This is twice that he squeaked past me for the win when it should have been my back pocket that the extra cash went into. Now before you go yelling about sour grapes and what not, just relax. Pete always took any chance he could, even to this day, to rub in any win he got over me (I still have a print of him that he signed saying “I beat you at MTV S&M HAHAHA”). He is a legend, an inspiration, and an innovator as well as an expert at talking shit. Haha. I am secure enough to be able to admit when he beat me and take the ribbing but it goes both ways. With that said, Pete, you can email me for my address to send the medals and check to. Hahaha.
This picture is of me, a very young 19 year old me. This is one of my first solo trips on my way to pro snowboardom. I just started riding for Burton that season and wanted to go to the US Open in Vermont. I had made friends with a couple of kids from New York state and they said I could stay with them for a bit and so the adventure began.
The kids were brothers named Jon and Matt Polhamus. I loved those guys. They were cool east coasters that were perceptive enough to know when people were getting out of line and savvy enough to dish up a serving of sarcastic comeuppance; just my type of guys. Anyway, when I went to visit them in Cornwall (Cornhole as they called it) NY, Matt was really into photography and took this picture. I thought we were just roaming the town so he could get some shots for school until the following summer when the picture was printed on a piece of poster board and sent to me as a postcard at Mt. Hood.
The thing I like so much about the photo is the focus on my eyes. I don’t like it because I have particularly beautiful eyes (unless you ask my mom), I like it because of the world that I saw through those eyes; those eyes at that moment in time.
Every so often I get a feeling of longing for those early days. I’m not talking about the days of being a pro, that’s fodder for another post completely. I’m talking about the tinge of sadness that clings to feelings of fondness, like the tail of a comet, when I think about the early years of snowboarding. Those early years of snowboarding, or anything pursued passionately in youth, are guided by blinders that deliver singular focus. I’m not even talking about when a goal is set forth like getting sponsored. I’m talking about the times when all that matters is getting on that board and making down the hill without falling. The times where if I were in the middle of a run then I wouldn’t notice a bomb going off next to the trail.
Those times on my board are invaluable because, like my first snowboard, they will never be made again. As I told Kelly, about the bit of sadness in my heart when thinking of those moments, she couldn’t understand how I could say that. “How can you not experience those moments again? You are always making new memories and having fun.” she said. It took a bit before I could explain it properly. I meant what i said but its not as bad as it sounds.
In those early years I would snowboard no matter what it was like outside. I was happy going off 3 foot high jumps and learning every possible grab I could figure out. The beauty was in the minutiae. But it wasn’t just the idea that my friends and I were new to the sport and had a lot to learn, it was that we didn’t know anything. I know those two things sound the same but they are worlds apart. I didn’t know what I was capable of, I didn’t know what the sport was capable of, I didn’t know what life had in store for me, I didn’t know how far I could take it. In things that I didn’t know laid a treasure; HOPE. In short, the whole world was possible simply because I didn’t know it wasn’t possible.
What I figured out is that those eyes saw hope through lenses clouded with innocence. The innocence came from not knowing anything about anything. The innocence came from not having a mortgage or electric bill. The innocence came from moving to Alaska and finding passion in something I had never seen or known about before leaving southern California. And the innocence was lost with each new step taken, each new barrier broken, and each new experience on the board.
I know it all sounds pretty dramatic but before you shake your head and put your face in your palm, let me try to clear it up a little more. I love snowboarding today. I love the abilities I’ve developed and the way I see and ride the mountain even if I do look like I need a lesson. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But I also realize that the way I looked at a run at Alyeska the first time I went down it is completely different than the way I look at it and think about it 20 some years later. I can never get that back. I can never see it through the same eyes as I once did and I miss that from time to time. As I explained to Kelly, my grandma died about 10 years ago and we were very close. I don’t spend all day every day dwelling on her passing but when I do think about it then I miss her very much. The early innocence of snowboarding is a parallel to that. Snowboarding makes me happy and brings me a ton of smiles but when I think about the first years of doing it I fondly miss what I saw from behind those blue eyes.
This week Preston Pollard is featured in this photo taken by Brian Adams in Alaska and printed in The Skateboard Mag.
Preston Pollard is more than a fine dressed young man. He is also the reigning Alaska State Tanning Champion. But putting the titles and glory aside Preston maybe the hardest working skater the state has ever seen. I don’t mean to take anything away from all the other kids on the grind but Preston is hustlin’ 24/7.
Some people see that I’m talking about a skater and immediately think hustlin’ has a negative connotation. That’s ok because skating was better when they hated us but that’s not what i’m talking about with Preston. I’ve skated with preston for about ten years and he has always been hyped on it. Not the ordinary hype that just getting on a board gives you, rather you could see that Preston genuinely loved it and would fight for every minute he could be on his board.
Being a skater, meaning that is basically your job, and being from AK mix like oil and water. A few have done it but the odds are really stacked against them. That wasn’t acceptable to Preston. As you will read in the story, he is persistent and dedicated to following his dreams. Preston has carved out a niche for himself by being positive, upbeat, and talented. He has managed to do all of this while setting a great example for kids and sharing his faith.
Here’s what Preston had to say about the photo: