Chapters

Against the Grain: Four fierce Individuals

words: Colin Whyte

In snowboarding, trends come and go like mercury. Trendy riders don’t tend to have much staying power. Our culture was built on real personalities with real guts (viz: Terje). True, it can be harder to see riders who eschew marketing formulae and forge their own paths, but their importance to the heritage and habits of our lifestyle and culture cannot be overstated.

In the signal-to-noise ratio of snowboarding in 2014-15, these cats are all signal.

How do you stay true to yourself when financial forces are trying to turn you into a one-dimensional rider, some one-trick pony? How do you align yourself with manufacturers and video outlets that will let you express yourself on your own terms — rather than turning you into a cliché? When is it time to look for a change because snowboarding has had all the life sucked out of it for you thanks to forces beyond your control? These were the kinds of thorny questions we tried to answer by getting with four of snowboarding’s fiercest individuals.

Against the Grain isn’t just the title of Bad Religion’s last good album; it’s a state of mind and way of being. The four we chose to profile here represent the full spectrum of modern snowboarding — freeriders to jibbers; Americans, a Euro, a Japanese legend — but what they have in common is a devotion to snowboarding as an individual pursuit and form of self-expression. Try to put them in a box and they’ll tail-press the lid shut. (Watch your fingers…) As it turns out, attitude without integrity is a slippery slope. Many of these pros have made mistakes that they have learned from and that you can learn from, too. (And, interestingly enough, several are owners of streetwear companies.) Their careers are their vehicles for self-expression and fulfillment and, for the most part, their journeys have not been without some serious bushwhacking along the way. It’s easy to get dropped by a sponsor or sidelined by recurring injuries only to walk away from snowboarding, that thing that was once yours. These shreds, however, could never walk away from snowboarding because they are snowboarding. They are it and it is them.

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Photo: Sean McCormick

FREDERIK KALBERMATTEN

FREDERIK KALBERMATTEN

SWISS PRECISION AGGRESSIVE NEUTRALITY

Fredi K typifies the modern European mountain man. Raised in the Swiss hamlet of Saas-Fee, he knew from a young age that snowboarding could go from hobby to life, and he pursued that dream with dedication. By
18, he was signed by Burton and spent 12 years rocking on their dime. Filming with Standard for six seasons helped solidify his name stateside (even if it remained tricky to spell) and, to this day, he remains most proud of his parts in Notice To Appear and Draw The Line as well as his 2013 full online part. He’s now 32, has a biz school diploma, is married, has visited more countries than most of us can name, rides for Lib Tech and rips harder than ever.

Kalbermatten’s riding is a unique mix of surgical precision and creativity. His Real Snow Backcountry part last year had him morphing glacial ice formations into his own private bowl session, turning poor snow providence into real-time progression. Most of the bio shots you see of Fredi project a stone-faced seriousness that masks the original, creative spirit underneath. He’s been a DJ for eons and plays shows in far-flung locales like Moscow. With his wife Nicole (née Jackson, as in John J and E-Jack’s sister …) and his good friend Nicolas Müller, Kalbermatten heads up the sustainable Swiss streetwear brand Atreebutes, presenting yet another outlet for his creativity and personal code of ethics. Read on and see why sticking to your guns is essential, even when you hail from a nation famous for its neutrality.

HAVE YOU EVER MADE A “CAREER MOVE” OR DONE SOMETHING IN SNOWBOARDING THAT MADE YOU FEEL UNEASY INSIDE — AND YET YOU DID IT ANYWAY?

The Olympics. I wanted to do it, I did all the contests, made the qualifiers and I went to Torino. But then, when I was there, it was such a different spirit from everything I grew up loving about snowboarding. It felt
weird. There were so many Swiss media people who don’t understand snowboarding at all. Maybe this is different in other countries because ski racing is so popular in Switzerland and I feel snowboarding still isn’t taken seriously. But not only here … I mean just look at how they represent the sport today. The photography is horrible and some of the filming too …

IF YOU COULD NAME THE MAJOR TURNING POINTS IN YOUR CAREER, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

Filming with Standard. Coming from Europe this really put my name on the map in the USA.

When I stopped doing contests. I dedicated all of my winter to making a solid video part instead. This is so much more fun than contests to me and something I am better at anyway.

Breaking with Burton. Now I am really happy because being on Lib is really cool. On a personal level it feels so much more family-like.

YOU WERE RIDING AND FILMING FOR A LONG TIME WITHOUT A BOARD SPONSOR, RIGHT? WHAT WAS THIS EXPERIENCE LIKE AFTER SO MANY YEARS ON THE “COMPANY DIME” AT BURTON?

Getting let go by Burton was a total shock, especially after I had just filmed opening part for Standard’s 2112, plus I have always delivered. I found myself in a totally new situation that I never expected. I was heartbroken and felt rejected, but I just came to a point where I realized that I get to decide what happens with my career and I got really creative, really stoked on snowboarding and more motivated than ever.

It was really fun to just do what I wanted to do. I was very productive because I had no one telling me where to go and when. Of course, I was lucky to have a good snow year at home because I didn’t have budget to chase the powder like I had before. But I just kept filming without any support, and in the end, it was one of my best filming seasons ever. I had great people to work with that came to Saas- Fee, different photographers and filmers and shredders that came to visit and ride with me. I got to hang out with my wife every day and in the end it was my favorite season of all my past 13 years.

DO YOU FEEL AS IF THERE ARE ANY MISCONCEPTIONS OUT THERE ABOUT WHO FREDI K. ACTUALLY IS, ESPECIALLY IN THE USA?

I feel pretty understood in the US. I mean, I have an American wife and I spent 13 years working for American brands. I filmed six years with Standard. I feel like I understand Americans. One place where I really didn’t feel understood in America was in the Real Snow contest last year. Based on the judging criteria we were given, and the feedback from people all over the industry, I just could not understand how I wasn’t in the top three. Was this politics, corruption, just another dumb contest or am I not as well understood as I think?

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR LONG-TERM CONTRIBUTION TO THE SPORT AND CULTURE TO BE?

I’m very pleased to be on Lib Tech and the way they value creativity and make room for it. They make really good product and I’m so stoked for what this is going to do for my own creativity, which I want to increase.

But when I think of my long-term contribution to the culture, I want it to be one of having meaningful connection with people along the way. It’s not just about the success I’ve had or the money I’ve made, I have good friends in this industry and I’ve been a good friend.

This goes along with the brand Nicolas and I have together, Atreebutes. I want to take care of the Earth and to take care of people in the way we make our clothes. You know we are all powerful people and we affect one another and I think it’s cool for people to be aware of that. And if snowboarding is a platform for that to grow from, that’s a good legacy.


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Photo: Andrew Miller

LAURA HADAR

LAURA HADAR

THE HAPPY HARDCORE

Laura Hadar, a.k.a Mama Hades, a.k.a ODH, has been pro since 2003 and she’s pretty much made a career out of sticking to her guns. The 29-year- old SLC resident describes her approach to her career in simple terms: “Snowboard hard around anyone in the industry. Live outside the box. Be different. Stand out. And be nice!” As hardcore as they come, she’s proud of bagging a second place at the Baker Banked Slalom and of her parts in such outlets as CAPiTA’s Defenders of Awesome and Peepshow’s Let’s Make Better Mistakes Tomorrow, but snowboarding is more than a “job” to ODH — it’s a way of life. Plus, she also co-owns a streetwear shop, FICE, that’s been holding it down since ‘08 and is looking to blow up the Internet in the near-future.

Mama Hades made her name in the streets and was part of that notorious nude-in-blankets old school shredding art film, but she’s really been pushing her abilities in the backcountry the last five seasons. The best part is that Hadar’s now linking up with legend Chris Roach and his company D-Day: “It’s just a board company that wants to support snowboarders who maybe aren’t playing the game, who have been lost in the cracks … [Roach] is kinda flying a flag for us saying, ‘Hey, fuck it! Let’s have snowboarders supporting snowboarders.’”

That’s what’s up …

HAVE YOU EVER MADE A “CAREER MOVE” THAT MADE YOU FEEL UNEASY INSIDE — AND YET YOU DID IT ANYWAY?

Hmm … I think any time that you leave a big company to take a chance on a smaller one it’s always a bit uneasy. But the reality is you only leave a big company because to them you are small, but to the small company you are big. Does that make any sense?

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT, IN THE LONG RUN, TO ALIGN YOURSELF WITH SPONSORS AND FILM COMPANIES THAT SHARE YOUR VALUES? AND WAS THERE EVER A TIME WHERE YOU MADE A BAD CALL IN THIS DEPARTMENT THAT LEFT YOU FEELING … DIRTY?

I think that’s a hard one. The thing is, your job is to be a marketing tool for the sponsors you ride for to sell product. So let’s say, for instance, one of my old sponsors: They had an ad campaign that was based around motorcycles and babes. They were not making me something I am not in that campaign but I laugh (and worry a little bit for future sponsors) when I see it now because it feels like such a lie. That’s not me at all! That’s just me playing a role in a photo shoot. So yeah, I felt kind dirty. But hey it was sexy too, so I dunno …

IF YOU COULD NAME THE MAJOR “TURNING POINTS” IN YOUR CAREER, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

I was riding head-to-toe Oakley since I was 15. I had some of the very first outerwear they ever made. Oakley supported my young ass, bringing me to contests, lining me up with photographers and really helping me get my foot in the door. Then when I was 19, Mikey LeBlanc hit me up to ride for Holden’s new women’s line. The Oakley T.M. flew out to SLC to get me to sign a new outerwear deal and I turned her down. I chose less money, less security to take a chance on something I really believed in. I think that was a huge step for me.

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Laura Hadar dropping a huge line in Haines, Alaska

Photo: Andrew Miller

WHAT’S WRONG WITH SOME OF THE YOUNG SHREDS COMING UP TODAY? WHAT KIND OF PUNK OR DIY OR GOD-ONLY-KNOWS INFLUENCE ARE THEY MISSING THAT YOU FEEL GLAD TO HAVE HAD WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?

I have no idea. [Laughs] It’s seriously so hard to keep up. This year I watched more contests than usual and it just feels like … hmmm, should have stuck with contests — I could be rich! Also, I think that it’s 2014; any time any large corporation can take advantage of anything they are going to. At least it supports a bunch of yuppie assholes doing their thing, ya know?

WHEN DID YOU START BECOMING SUCH A STORM-CHASING POWDER VICTIM? AND HOW HAS THAT SHIFT PLAYED OUT CAREER-WISE?

Yeah this is a good one. A couple of seasons back, maybe four or five by now, I told my team manager at the time that I really wanted to get more into the backcountry and eventually ride big lines and go to Alaska. He was pretty blunt in letting me know that this idea was a bad one: “People think it’s really easy to make that career transition and it’s not.” He was right about that. It’s been a really hard transition and it’s much harder to get work done in the backcountry than it is in the streets. But I fucking love it. It’s just a really cool lifestyle. I feel like it’s been such a personally gratifying transition. But on the other hand, I don’t know if it’s been great for my career. It’s just easier to market a kid in the streets to be honest. The truth is you will never know how gnarly big mountain riding is until you do it. I just think it’s less relatable to the young market, which is what most companies are concerned about. Maybe as the industry ages that will change — but I’m not holding my breath.

HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR NEXT FEW YEARS PLAYING OUT?

I will probably be working at FICE a lot more. I would like to blow that scene up on the Internet and possibly expand locations in the future. As far as the snow, all I know is that I have been snowboarding for the past 16 years and I will probably be snowboarding for the next 16 years. I would love to just keep progressing in the mountains. Maybe someday I can link up with a crew that would love to support that and help showcase it. But, until then, I’m just gonna get outside and have fun. No pressure.

ANY OTHER THOUGHTS ON THE NOTION OF REALLY OWNING YOUR OWN SNOWBOARDING LIFE?

Man, I think it’s just important to be you. Going against the grain is something you do, is something you are.


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Photo: Brandon Huttenlocher

KAZUHIRO KOKUBO

KAZUHIRO KOKUBO

TALK SOFTLY, CARRY BIG TRICKS

Drop the word “style” and the name “Kazu” won’t be far behind. The 25-year-old is not only Japan’s biggest snowboard export ever, he’s an example of keeping it real even as you’re drowning in successes. For a minute there, Kazu was most famous for “dressing like a snowboarder” and sagging his drawers while representing a rigid homeland at the 2010 Winter Olympics, causing all sorts of shit. He also bagged back-to-back US Open wins in the pipe in 2010-11 and in so doing, helped bring some excitement back to the dude tube with a deep-rooted style that is expressive, explosive and 100 percent uncontrived. He is also behind Stonp, a tough-to-define Japanese collective best defined by their tagline: “Stonp is not bound to anything, complete freedom.”

The Hokkaido local (who also lives in San Clemente, California) knows his way around deep powder, too, and shares an ability with the likes of Gigi, Nicolas Müller, DCP and a few others to turn buried features into buried treasure with freestyle prowess. He’s been a staple in Standard Films, Burton’s Standing Sideways, the way-underrated Seven Samurai flicks out of Japan and now the adidas “Welcome” series. Watching Kazu shred can remind you, faster than almost any other rider, why you love snowboarding. He oozes style and shows a fluency in his tricks, from the most tweaked old-school fundamentals to the most technical flips, that is beyond inspiring. He’s been pro for more than half his life, since he was 12, and has a wisdom beyond his years that epitomizes the notion of against the grain.

IN BROAD TERMS, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR APPROACH TO YOUR SNOWBOARDING CAREER?

My way! I have found sponsors that agree with the direction I’m going professionally and support me and my decisions. Money doesn’t decide who I ride for. I ride for companies with the same beliefs as me.

HAVE YOU EVER MADE A “CAREER MOVE” OR DONE SOMETHING IN SNOWBOARDING THAT MADE YOU FEEL UNEASY INSIDE — AND YET YOU DID IT ANYWAY?

There was one year where I felt this way all year long. It was painful and I would never want to snowboard like that ever again. Always listen to your heart and soul.

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Kazuhiro Kokubo airs one out in Hokkaido, Japan

Photo: Tsutomu Nakata

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT, IN THE LONG RUN, TO ALIGN YOURSELF WITH SPONSORS AND FILM COMPANIES THAT SHARE YOUR VALUES?

If it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t matter how much money they pay you. If you do not believe in the company and share the same ideas it will eat your soul.

IF YOU COULD NAME THE MAJOR “TURNING POINTS” IN YOUR CAREER, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

I don’t think there was just one major turning point, but many turns from the time I started riding, all of which made me the person I am today. Life changes every day and you have to turn to keep up. Success in life doesn’t come at the end of a straight line, it’s at the end of the curvy road.

YOU’RE KNOWN FOR MENTORING YOUNGER RIDERS FROM YOUR HOMELAND. WHO DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE “UNDER YOUR WING” AND WHAT KIND OF ADVICE DO YOU GIVE THEM, FROM RIDING STYLE TO BUSINESS DECISIONS?

Eiju and Ayumu Hirano, Kotaro Kamimura and all of the Stonp crew. I don’t give them advice on style. That is something they have to decide by themselves. Business? Work harder than everyone else.

YOU’VE PICKED UP A FEW NEW SPONSORS IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, NOTABLY CAPiTA AND ADIDAS. HOW DO THESE COMPANIES AND TEAMS INFLUENCE YOUR APPROACH TO SNOWBOARDING AND/OR YOUR STOKE FOR THE SPORT AND CULTURE?

All of my sponsors allow me to be myself. I do not have to be something that I am not. Too many pros now try to be who their sponsor wants them to be and not who they really are.

DO YOU HAVE ANY RIDERS, OTHER ATHLETES OR PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF SNOWBOARDING YOU ADMIRE WHEN IT COMES TO THE KIND OF CHOICES YOU MAKE IN YOUR CAREER AND LIFE?

Basketball player Tabuse Yuta and soccer player Keisuke Honda. These guys have accomplished something that not a lot of people have by leaving the island of Japan to become global athletes against the language barrier and cultural differences. The movie 42 — The Jackie Robinson Story was pretty sick and inspiring as well.


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Photo: Sean McCormick

JAKE WELCH

JAKE WELCH

TESTED & TRUE

When The Program (Forum, Special Blend, Foursquare) got its plug pulled in 2012, a number of the industry’s most talented riders were scattered like mental patients. Jake Welch was one of them, having ridden for Forum for eight years. A few days after he got that particular kick-in-the-nuts call, he and his wife, Gold medalist Torah Bright, separated. To say that the last few years of Welch’s life have been “challenging” would be like saying that “Obama has a few haters.”

But then you watch Pat Moore’s Blueprint webisode 4 from 2014 featuring his old buddy Jake and are immediately reminded why this sober SLC assassin was part of one of snowboarding’s premier teams from the age of 17 (Moore claims Welch was the most underrated rider at Forum.) The same power on display in Vacation and other Forum films is there in full force now, at 27, sponsors or not. The hairiest cranked methods over tangles of chain link and concrete are alive and well. Jake’s subtle style, deep abilities and balls for big features didn’t go anywhere as it turns out. Read on and find out why snowboarding is a natural cure for depression and how sponsorship is not the be-all and end-all for real shredders. (Jake has some cool stuff in the works, mind you …)

IN BROAD TERMS, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR APPROACH TO YOUR SNOWBOARDING CAREER?

Honestly, before I was sponsored I never thought about becoming a professional snowboarder. I just wanted to ride as much as possible because I loved it and I loved being on the mountain with my friends. I have always been hyper-critical of what I do, whether it is snowboarding or anything else, so I didn’t think that I was ever good enough to be paid to snowboard for a living. And even to this day I still don’t like watching my video parts because I see how many flaws are prevalent in my riding and how many other great snowboarders there are out there. I know there are so many good snowboarders that would kill to have the opportunity that I have had and that is one of my main motivators to keep improving. I am 100 percent grateful for every opportunity that has been presented to me and I don’t want to take it for granted.

IF YOU COULD NAME THE MAJOR “TURNING POINTS” IN YOUR CAREER, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

When I got the phone call that The Program was no longer a company [laughs]. But seriously, coming into the season when we were filming for Vacation I had some setbacks due to injuries a few years prior that created a mental block; it put a lot of doubt into my mind about my riding capabilities. I can remember the exact day when I had to make the conscious decision to put the past behind me and not worry about how I might get injured again or what people might think of my riding. Once I did that, I was able to just focus and really enjoy snowboarding like I did when I was a kid. And that is when I feel I started riding at my best.

YOU’VE HAD A HEAVY LAST FEW YEARS … HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE THE UPS AND DOWNS?

There have definitely been some ups and downs in my personal life and in my career, but who doesn’t [have those]? Everyone has their own trials that they need to overcome. As I said before, there were things that were holding me back in my career. I experienced injuries just like any other snowboarder and I also had to deal with a lack of self-confidence that kept me second-guessing everything that I was doing. I finally started feeling like I had overcome these issues and was heading towards what I wanted my career to be for so many years. That’s when things started to really change:

I got the phone call from Bryan Knox that Forum and Special Blend were being dissolved. I was devastated. To top it off, a couple days later my wife and I separated. I fell into the darkest hole [imaginable]. My whole life had been completely changed. A couple of the most important things to me in my life were no longer there. But like I said earlier, everyone has their own trials in this life and I have been able to learn and grow more than I ever thought I could. I am so grateful for the support of my family and friends to help me realize that I can love this life like I once did.

DID YOU EVER STOP RIDING DUE TO LACK OF SPONSORS OR DID YOU KEEP HITTING RESORTS, STREET FEATURES ETC?

After all that had just happened there was a part of me that wanted nothing to do with snowboarding — but it wasn’t because of the lack of sponsors. It was truly because I was depressed. One day I ended up forcing myself to get out and take some laps by myself at Brighton and it was then that I realized that snowboarding is a huge part of my life and it makes me happy. For me, it never has been or ever will be about sponsors. I will always snowboard regardless of my sponsor situation.

TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE VIDEO YOU JUST MADE WITH YOUR OLD BUDDY PAT?

Well, Pat is one of the most genuine and selfless dudes that I have been able to know. We have ridden together for eight years and he has been an amazing friend through thick and thin. At the start of this season he called me up and told me about the Red Bull web series and Volcom video projects he would be working on … and that he wanted me to go on a couple trips with him. I was excited but hesitant at the same time because it had been a while since I had last filmed … Pat told me that he needed someone to ride with to hit some big features to round off his rail part. It was a great time and I am super grateful [for] the opportunity.

ANY OTHER THOUGHTS ON “LIVING AGAINST THE GRAIN”?

In terms of being a snowboarder, my lifestyle choices have definitely gone against the grain. Being married at a young age and my religion made me an anomaly in the snowboarding world and I couldn’t imagine it differently.

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