Originally published in the latest issue, 20.1, available in print here!
I was out of cigarettes on the knuckle of a jump a few years ago and just as I was about to leave, an older gentleman said I could bum a few if I would wait just a minute for a certain rider to hit the jump. I obliged, and a short time later a small kid with hair sticking out of his helmet went flying over me, cursing when he fell. I was offered a few more smokes if I would hang until he landed it, which I was going to anyway considering the kid went bigger than most of the grown adults that day…and it was my job. But why not cash in on a good deal? It was the equivalent of giving a waiter a tip every time he refilled your water glass. Not needed, but extremely appreciated. Two things have changed since that day: I no longer smoke, and Valentino Guseli’s dad, Rick, doesn’t hang out on knuckles anymore.
Snowboarding has only known Valentino for a few years, which makes sense because he is still pretty young, but his resume speaks to a much more seasoned rider. At just 18 years old, Val has held the world record for highest air, racked up plenty of podiums, and has achieved a feat no other snowboarder ever has: getting on the World Cup podium in halfpipe, slopestyle, and big air in the same season. Add in beating Shaun White in the pipe once, and most would say that’s a pretty successful career. But Valentino is just getting started. Looking for fame, a lifetime of snowboarding, and a girlfriend (at least at the time we spoke), we hit up Val between surfs this past summer to get a temp check on what is next for the Aussie boarder. – Mark Clavin
How was the surf today?
It was sick. Pumping actually. It’s called Josh’s. It’s a beach that is a three minute walk from my place. Its a bay on one side, there is lefts and rights, and there is a rip on the left as well on the right. A sick wave to have this close.
Where do you live now?
Dalmeny, New South Wales.
New South Wales is a state?
Yeah, there are five states in Australia.
Can you name them all?
Tasmania, New South Wales, Queensland…Victoria, South Australia, West Australia, Northern Territory, ACT. So, there are eight actually.
I looked it up online and it says there are six states.
Haha, yeah. Two are territories and not states. I don’t know what the difference is, though.
I definitely don’t. What was the historic thing you did last season?
I was told I was the first rider to podium in all three disciplines in a World Cup in the same season.
Trifecta. How does that feel?
Pretty cool. I was pretty hyped to do it. It was one of the milestones on the way to the goal that I have, which is to prove that it is possible to be competitive in all three.
So, this was part of the plan?
For sure, next would be to win them all though—not just podium. But the major goal is to win them all in the same Olympics, so this one was a good milestone on the way to that goal.
What’s the drive behind that?
I don’t know. I kind of realized it’s been this way for a while—a lot of people end up doing just one discipline like halfpipe or slope and it used to be more common for everyone to do everything. I want to bring that back because I have always believed to be a good snowboarder, you have to be able to ride every snow environment.
Backcountry, too. You looking to make a mark outside of the contest scene, as well?
Hell yeah. ASAP.
How much powder and out-of-resort riding have you done?
A little bit. We did a cheeky backcountry trip last year and we built a big hip, a couple fun little poppers, and a road gap. I really enjoyed it and I would love to do it a lot more.
And I’m guessing you eventually want to win Natural Selection, too?
You’re very competitive. Do you enjoy it?
For sure. I have done a lot of thinking about it and I don’t know where exactly the competitiveness has come from, but ever since I was really young I have always wanted to be the best in everything I do. Snowboarding is my biggest passion. My life revolves around it. And it always feels good to be closer to a goal than you were before. My dream is to be competitive, ride as long as I can, and make enough money to keep shredding, travel whenever and wherever I want to get good snow. And to do all that, I have to win and make good money for a bit.
Where does the chest pound come from?
Wolf of Wall Street. I have seen a few others doing it. It’s catching on. I started doing it ‘cause it was just funny, but it kind of works, haha.
You surf and skate, too. Would you ever want to go that competitive route?
Haha. Potentially surfing. I’ve done a few surf comps and they are always really fun. Skating, I don’t have the minerals for that.
How did you do in the surf comps?
My local ones I did alright. In the state, I made it to the fourth round. Surfed three heats and made it that far. Obviously wanted to go further, but I’ll take what I can get.
What’s your favorite discipline in snow?
I can’t choose one. That is another reason I am still doing them all. They are all really fun for different reasons. Halfpipe is super intense and a bit scary, but the most rewarding of the three; the feeling of getting to bottom after throwing massive tricks with no room for error and you are all good—it is incredible.
What about slope?
A little bit more laid back and mellow than pipe, it’s always fun getting to a new course and figuring out a run and doing it in the comp. The way it evolves over the few days and the differences in setups throughout the season. You are also at the top chilling with the homies more than halfpipe—everyone is a bit more to themselves at pipe. And then big air is all about the crowd and energy at the bottom—everyone’s frothing.
Why is everyone more to themselves in pipe compared to slope?
I think everyone is so focused on what they have to do and it is a bit more tense at the top. No straying minds. The room for error is so small.
You weren’t at slope in Olympics?
No, in the lead up I broke my arm, so I just wanted to make sure I made halfpipe. I planned on doing all three but after breaking it, I want to make sure I had enough tricks to be competing in the pipe.
How’d you break your arm?
Back double twelve to the deck on the pipe.
What are your thoughts on style in the halfpipe currently?
If you can put amplitude in there as part of style, then style is the biggest thing. It is all about speed and body position and the way you do stuff in the air. Snowboarding is art. That is just how it is.
What about judging in halfpipe?
It can be a little inconsistent, sometimes they judge the smooth style really well and sometimes they reward gnarly or tech stuff because they are showing how gnarly it is, but then they don’t score smooth as well even though it is just as technical. But it is kind of what we signed up for.
What about some riders you look up to in snowboarding?
Hiroto Ogiwara, Su Yiming, Marcus Kleveland, Ayumu Hirano, and Eero Ettala. Tiga’s style is insane, and the way he rides switch just looks like his normal stance which is the way I really want to ride like. Ming, he kind of started a whole new way of snowboarding—at least jumping. The tricks he normalized and the axis he normalized is really innovative.
Can you take that axis into the pipe?
It would be really cool if you could. I’m not sure you could though, because with a backside spin in the halfpipe, there are only a few ways you can do It.
How much science goes into your riding?
Definitely a little bit. A lot with halfpipe. But what is necessary in halfipipe, in general, is confidence. You basically just have to have big balls. There is a scientific way for you to ride better, but I don’t know what that formula would be, ha.
Who has the biggest balls in snowboarding then?
That is a great question. Halldor and Ayumu.
You also held the highest air out of pipe for a while. Now that Kaishu Hirano has it, are you wanting to take it back?
At some point. But it would be cool to do it at a comp. At the LAAX Open, Kaishu and I just had fun and tried to go as big as we could and wanted. I think those might have actually felt bigger, but as far as the record, it doesn’t really matter, I just want to go huge and froth people out.
Pretty intense on yourself?
Probably yeah, I reckon.
How’s the snowboarding scene in Australia?
All in all, it’s pretty quiet and pretty small. Everyone knows everyone. We have a few events here and there, like the Transfer Banked Slalom, and it’s always fun just getting together and going fast.
You big down there?
Not quite like Scotty James—you see his face on all the Red Bulls at the superstores. There are cutouts of him in a lot of places. I draw mustaches on them.
Would you ever move?
I don’t think I’d move. Ideally, I would have houses all over, like in Laax, maybe one in America somewhere.
How’s it being home for a month?
It is a little bit tough getting settled back in. You go for always chasing something to not, so if you don’t set a lot of goals while you’re resting, you feel a bit meaningless.
How long are you off for before the season starts?
Well, I just started the bag again two days ago, so I’m back in business. But until I ride snow again…probably two months, I think. So, like six weeks total.
You built your own airbag jump?
Haha, yeah. It’s basically to work on tricks more often when I am at home. A couple mates, my dad, grandfather, and I built a bag in my grandparents’ yard that I can practice on. It has a steeper and shorter run-in actually, but similar speed to a regular jump.
So realistically, you are already training again, ha.
So what are your goals during this downtime?
Get jacked. [Flexes on camera.] Perfect air reverses on my surfboard and get heaps of babes.
To eliminate all bad habits.
What bad habits?
I scroll Instagram too much. That is really the gnarly one. Maybe too much swiping, too.
How’s dating scene for an 18-year-old Olympian?
It’s okay. Nice!
Would be better if you won gold, probably?
Yeah. I have to wait three more years and by then I will be pretty old.
With no Olympics this year, what are you goals in snowboarding coming up?
I want to win all the comps I compete in, but there are also a lot of ticks I want to learn, and just my style in general.
What would the song be to your full part?
I would need a day to figure out the answer to that question.
You don’t have a day. Right now.
“The Real Thing” by Faith No More.
Any interests besides board sports?
I like the Aussie sports like rugby and AFL. I watch them every weekend. What else? I watch a little bit of motorsports. Moto GP and F1,
What is your favorite movie?
Double Decade and Standing Sideways. All nostalgic. I watched them on repeat from ages 4 to 9. Every time I went snowboarding.
When did you start snowboarding?
When I was 3. My dad got me into it. We have always just ridden together. It’s pretty crazy, honestly. He’s just always been there. I call him before comps and he is fully honest and gives me what I need to hear. He is not afraid to tell the truth. If I am doing something crap, I want to know I am doing something crap. He is a good asshole.
And you started competing at 6?
Yeah, my first was a race in Australia. I don’t know if you could count that, but me and my dad just got this bug from this guy at the lodge that we stayed at, like really bad stomach bug. I remember I was super sick the day of the race and I had a fruit salad before. I threw it all up and I was so weak that I actually fell over and got disqualified. I missed a gate, slipped over, and then eventually rode to the finish line crying, super devo’d.
Devastated. Sorry, we abbreviate everything.
Have you puked before a contest recently?
Do you still get nervous before contests?
Mostly just the first run. Unless you blow it and you only have one more chance left, then it is even worse. Ha, I guess I am definitely always nervous. Honestly, it’s a pretty terrible feeling. I do feel sick to my stomach pretty much the whole time I am up there, but the release of stress after stomping your run and the pressure is off is equal on the good side.
And you still sign up for extra disciplines instead of just one?
Yeah. I hate the feeling of being nervous, but love the feeling of doing well. More contests, more potential good feelings. Being uncomfortable means you are progressing.
What do you do to relax?
Breathe. I focus on my breathe, so you could say meditation. Sometimes I step away from the venue and just do group laps or fun laps to just clear my head. That helps.
You think you will have triples this year?
I did a few this year, but I guess it was a debate if it’s a triple or not? I don’t know, I guess they kind of spun out a bit.
Do you flip three times?
I reckon it feels like it. It’s a cab triple fourteen. I will find a video and send it to you.
Ha, I am the last person to judge that. How does it feel that people aren’t recognizing it as a triple?
I did one in Georgia at the World Champs, but the judges didn’t count it as a triple and I got second to Chae-un Lee by .5. That was a tough one.
[Watches the video] That looks like a triple to me.
If we are counting it, then that is the world’s first cab triple in competing. But yeah, second place was tough. It hurt for sure.
How was the Olympic experience? Everything you thought?
Yeah, it was super cool. It was a bummer we couldn’t hang with all the other teams, it was a bit annoying the Canadians were with Canadians, and Aussies with Aussies. Set up was really good and the halfpipe was perfect. Was happy to put down my stuff and finish in the top six.
And at 17.
I think I was 16, actually. It was pretty cool watching the most-winning snowboarder retire in the same final I was competing in, too. I was really happy to compete with Shaun White before he retired.
Did you ever beat him?
I beat him at the Dew Tour, haha.
Breaking the height record, your Olympic showing, standing on the podium in all three disciplines—what was most important to you?
That is a tough one. The record thing, I was very hyped with that. It was one of the things that got my name out there and I was happy to be known a bit. It is awesome frothing people out on going huge, trying to go big—so I’d say that is probably my favorite.
Why do you think the past season was long?
This was the first time I did all three disciplines at the top level.
Have you ever been burnt out?
Yeah, I have, but from way less than this Northern Hemisphere season. I rode way more this past season, but I am pretty adapted to always doing it and the more I do it now, the more I love it.
But you got a little bit injured at the end?
I did a switch back 1500 and compressed to my ankles and bruised them both in slope training. It was the first contest of World Champs and I bruised myself pretty hard. I had to recover, and then I got better, did halfpipe and didn’t do big air. Tried to nurse the injury.
Why did you go to World Champs over Dew Tour [they happened at the same time in 2023]?
World Champs is a benchmark event for Australia. The federation bases their funding off those results, so if you do well at World Champs you get more funding next season. Australia doesn’t give a crap about Dew Tour, ha. I just went so I could make a bit more money.
You going to get good funding?
We will see.