Experiencing Greece with projectDETOUR: An Austin Smith interview

To see the world is to open your eyes. Fortunately for those that love snowboarding, travel is inherent. Much of this planet experiences snow at some point during the year and Greece, of all places, is no exception. Set aside the visions of crystal clear water, the streets of Athens, and the many islands of this Mediterranean country and you will see that this is a mountainous nation with a small, but passionate snowboarding community. In the true philosophy of projectDETOUR, Austin Smith found himself there alongside DBK, Levi Luggen, Shayne Pospisil and an ever growing crew of Greeks that were proud to show them what their home had to offer. Snowboarding may have brought Austin to Greece, but it was the people, culture and of course food, that he will remember for the rest of his life.

In Vasilitsa we stayed at this hotel directly on the mountain. The whole crew of eight people stayed in one room. Some of us had to climb up a 12-foot ladder to get to our bed. That's where I snapped this photo of Austin.

Photo: DBK

How did you get involved with DBK and eventually going to Greece?
It started in Switzerland during the trip that Shayne [Pospisil] was talking about in the Alps. I went over there with Bryan Fox, Iikka Backstrom and Curtis Ciszek to this resort called Bosco-Gurin. It reminded me of Mt. Baker in the sense that you drive up this super long, windy road and you get to the end of the road way up in the mountains, there’s nothing there besides the little resort. We checked into our hotel and felt super remote, super out there, and who’s next door to us in the hotel? Shayne and DBK on one side, and Andreas Wiig, Craig McMorris and their whole crew on the other side. We said, “Man, we get all the way out here and we run into these assholes? [laughs]” So that was pretty funny.

I’ve known Shayne for a long time, but I had never met DBK. We were hanging out that week and the photographer that I was with, Cyril Müller, was the same photographer that was going to Greece with David. He was hyping up the trip the whole time we were together. I didn’t really have anything going on so I said, “Cyril, mind asking David if I can come?” Without really knowing the dude he asked him if I could come and David was psyched. I was psyched to go on that trip. He has turned out to be one of my favorite people in snowboarding and I think one of the people that’s more talented, in terms of being a snowboarder and what he does off his snowboard. The movies he edits, the whole production side that he runs. It’s quite impressive.

The amount of effort, time and energy that goes into filming your own part, to do that, film, and edit it all is pretty extraordinary.
Yeah, he’s a producer. So the whole time he’s thinking about tricks he wants to do, what features everyone wants to ride, and all of the random shots. He’s up late at night shooting timelapses, or the first one out in the morning filming dogs running around in the snow or whatever it is. But he’s always working.

What about when you were getting ready to go to Greece? What were your expectations about going there? Did you have any?
Bryan Fox went to Greece for snowboarding maybe eight years ago, other than that, I didn’t know there was snowboarding there. That’s the only reason that I knew there was any snow there. Like most people, I think of Greece and think of hot, tropical islands. Now after being there I just think about a lot of food.

What was your first impression when you arrived?
First impression was that it exceeded expectations, tenfold. We showed up and it was a sunny powder day. The terrain was so much better than what I thought we were getting into. I thought we were going to go there and it was going to be a Hyland Hills or something you find in Minnesota. But it was full on epic terrain, an awesome resort. There was great backcountry stuff, sidecountry access; it had it all.

How was the atmosphere at the resort? Were there a lot of snowboarders?
Yeah there were a lot of snowboarders. It’s a pretty small snowboard community there but they’re super passionate and so excited to have anyone come there for snowboarding because most people just go to Greece for the islands. I almost feel like it’s relative to Japan when it was going crazy there, in terms of the culture of people loving snowboarding; the community there really loves it, maybe more than anywhere I’ve ever been.

I was talking to Bryan and told him I was going to Greece, so I asked if he remembered where he went. He said, “Kind of, not really. If you said the name of the resort I might be able to remember.” He was pretty worthless, he didn’t really know. Right when I got to the resort, any person that I ran into said, “You’re Austin, you’re friends with Bryan! He came here years ago and went to this resort, that resort, he did this, he did that.” It was wild to see the impact that Bryan and Louie Fountain had on the people there. Pro snowboarders don’t go there that often, so when they do they’re pretty psyched and flock to them.

It’s pretty crazy that even after eight years they would still be super stoked on that and be able to bring it up like it was yesterday. Did they say how often pro riders go there?
They didn’t make it seem like it was a very regular thing at all. It was wild to see how many people remembered him and their whole trip. Even younger kids that were like 17 remembered his trip there, who were probably nine or ten at the time. It was cool to see.

What was the overall experience about being in Greece for you?
Food. Eating. Nonstop eating. I think culturally you’re not supposed to finish your food. So we would finish and they would think we were still hungry, then keep bringing more and more food. We would just get stuffed everywhere we went. I especially have a real issue with that type of eating; I’ll keep going until I explode. So it was bad for me. I got fat. That was the biggest thing outside of snowboarding, how much meat we ate. Nonstop meat, it was crazy.

Tell me about the people there.
Ronny, he was the best addition to our trip we could have asked for. They’re just a small community of snowboarders that are so passionate about it, so psyched, everywhere we went people wanted to help us out. They wanted to show us all of the local spots, so it was pretty cool to see a community that embraced outsiders like us. We felt pretty welcomed.

The Greeks love to make toasts. They celebrate anything, anytime. After a while you start to do the same thing. On this trip we did not snowboard a ton, but there was still a lot of smiling faces like this one from Ronny due to the occasional toast. Photo and caption: DBK

Do you think that’s what you’re going to remember most about the trip?
Yeah, definitely. And Gerasimis. He’s a badass. He owns a couple of snowboard shops there and he was the first one to bring any type of snowboard to Greece. He kind of runs things over there and everyone looks up to him.

The other interesting thing about Greece was how I had never seen so much Forum and Special Blend gear in one place — it kind of represents where they’re at a little bit. The lifts were a little dated, all of the gear was a little bit dated, but it didn’t really matter. People were as hyped as ever.

Was that refreshing?
Yeah. I grew up at Mt. Baker where no one had new stuff or the latest model; they had duct taped boots and gloves. We just live in such a consumer, disposable industry. It’s nice to see that people aren’t buying new stuff, maybe not because they don’t want to but because they can’t swing it right now. But they’re still psyched as ever to make it up to the mountains. People were snowboarding for all the right reasons.

What do you think about snowboarding right now?
We just got done with the Rat Race and I’m super pumped about it right now. I see all of my favorite people and had an amazing weekend snowboarding. But in the larger scheme of things it’s going through a bit of a funk where people are confused, brands are confused at what they want to invest in. Do contests matter? Do video parts matter? How are snowboard movies going to work? Where are people shopping for their snowboard gear? There is a lot to be figured out right now but once it all boils down it’s going to be better than ever. Going to Greece reinforced my thoughts on the importance of a local snowboard shop. That is kind of all they have and it’s all you need, it’s the foundation for any snowboard community.

You’re coming off of your own big project, Pathology, which was one of my favorites of this past year. How do you think that it was received?
I’m really happy and proud of how it came out. It went better than we could have ever expected. We won Video of the Year, something we weren’t anticipating. It is probably the lowest budget movie to ever win any type of award. But I think it’s what people want to see. It’s a bit more relatable than the big budget movies that are getting a bit out of touch. So this is just bringing it back a little. Just snowboarding with your friends. That’s all you need.

Every pro snowboarder’s job is to inspire others to go snowboarding. I think at a certain level of progression you lose that inspirational aspect and it becomes a stunt, like Evel Knievel or something. He was the hot shit, everyone wanted to watch it, they thought he was crazy, but no one wanted to do it. You didn’t have tons of little kids lining up to be the next Evel Knievel; he was just this crazy stuntman. With some movies and tricks that they’re doing in contests, people watch it and they’re blown away and impressed, but it doesn’t really inspire participation. It doesn’t make kids want to do it themselves. So with our movie we were trying to show what we enjoy doing most and hopefully it makes people want to go snowboarding.

I think projectDETOUR falls into that category as well, do you think there are some similarities there?
Yeah, I can’t speak for the other parts of projectDETOUR but Greece was focused on doing whatever sounded the best during that moment. I drove for the majority of the trip and if I saw a dirt road that looked interesting, we took it. We stopped to swim, stopped at vendors along the sides of the road, stopped at any cool scenery. One stop on the side of the road we saw a couple milk crates about 200 feet down this embankment, we stayed there for at least an hour trying to throw rocks in the crates. We really embraced the “detour” element of the project on this trip.

Being part of this project, how do you hope people will feel after they watch it?
I hope they have a new perspective on Greece and snowboarding in that country because I certainly do after going there. And that it makes people consider going places a little less traditional and to look outside the box for their next trip. I heard Albania has sweet mountains.

What is inspiring you right now?
I just got home from a three-month long rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, so I’ve been watching all things related to that. That’s been the most inspiring, just the idea of checking out and getting away from technology for a month straight. It was pretty epic. I’d like to do that through snowboarding a bit more. Just getting reconnected to the mountains and not being so tapped in.

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