How humble beginnings shaped Gigi Rüf into one of the best snowboarders ever
Gigi Rüf isn’t just a snowboarder.
While he has plied his trade there since he was a teenager, Gigi transcends description and definition. He is an artist whose name has become synonymous with a lifestyle, an icon whose career cannot be wholly defined by words, and a man whose ever changing views on the world inform his style and interpretation of snowboarding. I asked Gigi questions about a range of topics from snowboarding to fatherhood, and wanted to let you explore his words.
So, here is Gigi Rüf: In his words.
Read more stories like this on Dragon’s blog.
I am who I am. Can’t change that. I believe in my snowboarding and my experience with it. Probably, I am quite a fanatic.
I am so thankful to really have found something to shape my identity.
Everyone called me Gigi for as long as I can remember, except the teachers in school.
“Our mum didn’t ever tell us what to do, she supported us in everything we did or wanted to.”
I’m used to being called Gigi. It happens that I don’t listen; my real name somehow always needs a bit of extra attention, so the situations I am called by my real name are always too serious. I would hear my mother yelling Christian when something was wrong. My sister Bernadette, when she was little, pronounced my name Christian like Kiki, and so I was told I became Gigi.
Growing up in a mountain village it’s close to six months of winter, and that doesn’t include the long autumn which is actually my favorite time of the year. Not only because my birthday is in October, but it’s like time is slowing down. The lower angle of the sunlight during the day and the leaves falling brings the best out of me.
I skied first. There was no connection, just something that my friends did; there was no real drive towards training gates for me. But when it came to competing in school races, it showed I was on the looser end and wasn’t ever going to be good at skiing.
Cross-country skiing was something I could beat the older pupils in. I felt way more competitive in cross-country skiing. That’s where I wanted to kick their asses. One day I remember very detailed: Skiing around alone just speeding and I probably misjudged what I was doing, launching down a hill totally out of control, knocking the wind out of my chest—which got me panicking. I think that’s when I scared myself the first time. I was ten years old and glad my mum picked me up and brought me home.
It must have been the exact time my brother wanted to start snowboarding. My uncle from my mother’s side—who owns a sports boutique—came on an invitation from my mother. We sat with him in our kitchen table, and my brother must have begged my mother before about a snowboard, so my uncle brought over some brochures with snowboards that he was able to order. It was then my mother and myself first saw a snowboard. I sat there and looked at it. Either I was interested, or just wanted to get what my brother wanted.
Our mum didn’t ever tell us what to do, she supported us in everything we did or wanted to.
For my mother it was mainly about what was the best way to get my brother what he wanted, and my mother’s main concern was how to make it happen. Being the youngest, I always got the stuff passed down from my brothers.
I accepted a lot, knowing that it was expensive, and my mother wasn’t sure if it was something that we would put to good use for how much a complete setup cost. That’s when hard boot bindings were still common. My uncle said that we could rent, using the old ski boots to save money and see if it would catch on before buying everything that was new.
We picked up two rental boards from my uncle’s shop and went to the nearby hill; my brother took off without being able to stop, scaring the shit out of my mama. He was alright and got a good kick out of it. I was more reluctant because I felt how scared my mama got about my brother. He got the board because he really wanted to. His friends had all started and he got really into it, organizing this stuff himself, it showed how conservative my mother was with what she spent, knowing she had to treat all four of us equally.
I felt for my brother wanting to keep up with his friends who had gotten their own boards and were just seeming cooler with the stuff they had. I got my first magazine instead, which was mine. I was happy and could let my brother look at it, too. So I had something that was cool. It was the start of a fad. My brother, I have to give it to him. What his gear was not making up for in cool, he sure was the better rider, and every one of his friends wanted to ride with him. It was about catching the biggest air. At that time there were only a handful of snowboarders and it sure had an outlaw feeling to it. I wanted to share this new hobby with my brother and was really interested in snowboarding.
Our grandmother knitted us beanies that we chose out of the Burton catalog as a Christmas present. I still have that beanie.
I then rented a board halfway through that season until the shop I rented from offered my mum that same board for cheap. My brother organized soft bindings from a colleague and we would set it up together. I just used it with moon boots—those foamy ones.
“Everything was based on a strong DIY ethic with no morals.”
The best memory I had from snowboarding comes from when I first rode to school one morning. We got up earlier so we would have enough time to not get to school too late. We strapped in when it was dawn and we rode down the hill, having to jump down the small stonewall drops with barbed wire. Pretty much that was my first freeriding ever. The excitement of riding it with soft bindings was such a different experience—I think it resulted in the first high five with my brother and a cool story to tell my friends in school.
I took it further and also wore the baggy clothes and flannels. That’s how much my mother supported us, not forbidding anything because we were passionately living it.
The career wasn’t the goal, it was everything around it: The lifestyle, the idols, how to 360 and so on. It all was a mix of magazines, and later, videos. The positive side effect was that I never got into the party drinking and druggy scene. I invested everything into the creative side that the boardsport culture brings. Clothes, art and music. Everything was based on a strong DIY ethic with no morals.
Even when the tables turned and I became a product of snowboarding, I don’t really know what the hell I would have been If I didn’t snowboard. I was aspiring towards it, I think. At the base there is no other reason other than finding my talent and combining all my other aspirations into it.
My focus hasn’t changed, I see myself as quite enduring, although with my body it never came easy. At least that’s how it seems to me.
“I wanted to feel comfortable with the highest demands that natural terrain riding offers. Like being a wild animal on the snowboard. Like a singing bird.”
“I don’t care, I catch air,” is my favorite phrase. It’s hard on the body sometimes but when I saw the potential of riding in Alaska, it blew my mind; how scared I actually was. I wanted to feel comfortable with the highest demands that natural terrain riding offers. Like being a wild animal on the snowboard. Like a singing bird.
Evolution is what I cherish about life, I see myself not only as a product, but as playing an intricate role toward the industry. Can’t blame anyone as opportunity might just slumber beneath the next rock.
In hindsight I’ve overcome my own fears, and I look at my career in tears. I am a fortunate son.
9191 will probably always be the greatest gig in the sky. Personally, I think that season, all my dreams came full circle. Since the 9191 Veeco title, my actions weighed in more heavily than ever before towards the industry.
Obviously, respect is something you earn. I would like to freeride, underlining my actions with the help of a marketing budget to keep pushing the genre, but I see there is a limit to that love. Even though in most countries winters cover half of the year, “winter sport” is generally seen as recreational.
Snowboarding has become an Olympic [sport] and there is a weird power trip over it. What kills it and is totally absurd towards the sport on the Olympic subject, is the uniforms.
Snowboarding has done a good job at counting on unique characters to bring in connections to all boardsport lifestyles.
“I love the surface of snow and playing with the ease of transportation and how playful time can get within that matter. I like to move carefully towards oblivion.”
The industry is not only rewarding to good riders. Everyone has to work hard to make their dreams come true. All it takes is a clear vision; an objective. My career benefited from the marketing aspects that my sponsors attached to me, and mostly I felt like I was part of driving those concepts.
Making my own boards is an evolution from that—preparing for another role behind the curtain.
That intricate role I mentioned: entrepreneurship. To inspire and progress on the subject constantly. During my time and decision for my Nike deal in snowboarding, I consciously turned my back on the past; that dwelling on nostalgia, which I do love about the sport. All that dwelling on your dreams only encapsulates security, trying to relive, it has nothing to do with risk. Slash is the truest form of self-expression available for me—based on facts. I’ve got bigger roles to play behind the curtain but I know nothing will be handed to me, quite the contrary actually.
I like to think that friendship is opportunity to reach your goals. Happiness counts towards sensibilities.
On the demand of product involvement with my sponsors, be it design or just feedback, I feel there is something to demand from my end—I’d like to think that it simply doesn’t have to make sense all the time, as long as it is forward thinking and creates conflict in possibilities. That moment, that feeling of pushing it to the edge is the start from where compromises are made—adaptations—until it simmers down to the most that’s possible.
Artistry is cool but it doesn’t transpire into modern days progression. Working on cinematic quality output that emphasizes on detail of the environment that I ride in, transporting the inner self-experience along with the camaraderie it takes to make an adventure and to finally have tied the onlooker to it. It all is a scene we depend on. To live and strive, taking spontaneity into action is best showcased in a yearly outcome. That way I can make memories and break the illusion of it just being a dream. I don’t want to make it easy for myself to embark on a concept. The status quo of our sport depends on regularity and the only one I see still relevant after many seasons, is to try to deliver the video part of the year.
Being a parent means looking at life differently, in general. There is more happiness and appreciation. Not everyone understands the difference of must and have to; my kids certainly don’t have to snowboard.
I love the surface of snow and playing with the ease of transportation and how playful time can get within that matter. I like to move carefully towards oblivion.
Follow Gigi on Instagram
Follow Dragon on Instagram