Interview: Zeb Powell Is In The Driver’s Seat

Zeb Powell could arguably be the busiest man in snowboarding. Photoshoots, tours, video projects, covers, contests–you name it, and he is there. But no matter how much is on his plate, he always makes time for a quick chat. It is honestly one of my favorite things about him. On his rise to fame over the past few years, his riding keeps progressing but his attitude and values have remained the same. A humble, hardworking kid from the East Coast, Zeb is quickly moving from “along for the ride” to driving the ship. With the support of his sponsors like Burton, Red Bull, and Smith, Powell is giving time to what he deems important, and putting together a plan to give back and have fun along the way. Riding with kids that have never strapped in, mentoring other up-and-comers, helming tours to show snowboarding to communities he wants to see grow in the sport–Zeb is just getting started, and we can’t wait to see where he goes next. – Mark Clavin

Has this been your busiest year in snowboarding yet?
Maybe the most proactive year that I’ve had. It hasn’t just been like the sponsors want me to go here, I’m going here, it’s been more finding my own way within the industry and picking and choosing what I want to go to, catering to my career and what I like. I used to just pick the first trip that was sent to me, I guess, but now that is starting to change. 

Are you excited about all the new opportunities or is it a little overwhelming?
Overwhelming, stressful, but I think it’s worth it in the long run. I can’t wait to see where it all goes and the outcome. Of course it’s a lot to juggle, but it’s all worth it and in the end, I still get to snowboard. I still find a good amount of times fully riding for the soul. 

How does it feel to get three covers this past year (Method, Snowboard Mag, and Snowboarder’s Journal)?
Crazy. Yeah, I didn’t see that coming. I feel like I could get covers that I’m really, really stoked on as to the ones that I do have so far. But if you guys want to give me covers, I’m honored! 

Recently saw the Virgil Abloh collab. You had some stuff in the works with him, yeah? 
Yeah. It just came out, actually, with Burton. 

How’d that come about?
Well, for me, the Virgil thing, I remember…on Slide-In Tour like two years ago? With all of us. That was when I realized that he was following me, the night that COVID hit. I was looking into his stuff and it’s crazy how influential he is. We talked a little bit, and it was just sick that we kept up with each other and shit. I don’t know. We just started keeping up more and more, and he would send me shoes with my name written on them. I couldn’t believe he was sending me his Off-White shoe, personally. I think only Kylie Jenner got the shoes I had, like a year ago. But he died right before we were finishing up the Burton collab, or the direction for it. Luckily, we got his manifesto out. He wanted us to represent it and that was really special. We went to Colorado to do that, and it just felt really cool to be there. Just me and Brolin [Mawejje]. 

And you rode with Scotty Stevens for a Spot Check while you were out there. How was riding with him?
Honestly, he is one of my favorite people to ride with because he is so laid back and it kind of takes the pressure off. I have always been a huge fan of his. I don’t know–it’s like, you don’t get that feeling with a lot of riders.

And of course X Games. 
X Games was crazy. Yeah. A$AP gave me gold grills, I got fourth, and in the end it kind of felt like the people’s champ. Any person who knows me will tell you I really don’t give a fuck if I win or lose, but to have everyone in the comments backing me meant a lot. I was hyped for Marcus [Kleveland], too! That was dope.

What was some of your highlights from the Red Bull Slide-In Tour?
Mountain Creek was huge. All the stops were cool, but that was the second stop. Just culturally, to bring in people who don’t normally snowboard–but who are down from fashion, from basketball, from the music industry–to come in and come enjoy a weekend with us. You feel the culture come with that. It rained a good amount of the time, but that didn’t change anything. 

Who all showed up? 
Jaylen Brown’s [Boston Celtics player] crew was there. He couldn’t personally be there obviously because he’s in season, but his crew was really dope. A$AP Ferg’s stylist Kwasi Kessie came out again. We had Hoods to Woods there, too. The directors, Brian and Omar, came out. We had some people from Park Affair come out. We were all there riding and teaching/learning at the Hood to Woods clinic that we did the next day for Slide-In Tour. I don’t know, it just felt special. 

Any other moments?
Loon was really fun. We did a clinic there as well. It was kind of a perfect Loon day. It reminded me that Loon is probably my favorite mountain still–at least one of my favorite laps in the world. I don’t know, after COVID canceling stuff for the past two years, making an effort to interact and do clinics and actually give the the kids something to look forward to was so fun. I love it. 

Zeb Powell x Hoods to Woods at Mountain Creek, New Jersey. p: Brian Nevins/Red Bull Content Pool

This is where you want to see yourself going, doing more stuff like this.
Yeah. That’s definitely one of my things. It’s just sick to see the impact on the crew, even when it’s not the best conditions. Same thing with the Mystery Series that we just did.

What is up with the new Burton event? 
The Mystery Series that Burton’s doing, it’s going to keep evolving. We came together at the beginning of the season with the riders and Burton said they wanted to do some grassroots stops. One-day events at local mountains, bringing out the scene, riding with locals. There is more to come from it as it grows, but we did the first one at a tow rope park in Minnesota with Melanin in Motion. It is this organization that helps facilitate full sets of gear, snowboards, boots, bindings, pants, whatever, all for $15 at Theodore Wirth Park. We got to do the whole hang with the kids, teach them, have fun, just be around. There was a banked slalom, rails, and a hip session. It was a super cool trip and idea. 

How was the Mystery Tour stop?
I think it was kind of a new challenge for me, too. We did a Q&A for the Melanin in Motion organization the night before. Anyone and everyone who wanted could come out. A lot of the kids from the area came out with the parents. And yeah, Selema [Masekela] and I did a Q&A, which was a challenge for me because, I don’t know, being next to Selema who speaks 24/7 for a living, it was crazy to be talking with him, haha. I was getting as many questions from the young riders–it was just a new experience. I’ve never had to answer questions with that much seriousness in front of a whole crowd–young Black kids’ questions. There was this young girl who asked the question, “Being a young Black girl with no one to really look up to, how do I navigate pushing forward in snowboarding when I see no one who looks like me?” It kind of gave me chills just saying that again. But yeah, Selema spoke profoundly and it was crazy having his words come through, and then he handed me the mic and I was almost speechless. But then I thought of Gabby Maiden and talked about her for a second. I just started speaking from the heart. I think it came through, but it was a hard question, for sure. Talking about young Black men and women in this sport, it’s still a hard one for me because…I think the way I grew up… for Selema, he speaks 24/7 and I think he understands that one more. I think he had to go through it more than I did. I’ve never really suffered the adversity or discrimination to his extent, so, it’s a hard question for me.

I’ve never had to elaborate back to a young Black male or Black female about snowboarding and making it. So it was a huge learning experience, too, just realizing that those questions will come more and more and and I need to be informed. This will not be the last time I’ll be asked that question. I’m just figuring out that question, too. Right now, I think I’m more just looked up to as a sign that you can make it. I’ve never really asked that question. It’s just kind of like, I’m here, you can do it. 

We heard you had a bet going at the Mystery stop as well, yeah? 
Yeah, ha. If I wore all my shit, plus my goggles, I’d get Peter Cirilli’s first-class ticket on the flight home from the stop. I did the whole thing. Soaked, spring riding straight to the airport. When I got on the plane they were WET. I was squishing, not swishing.

zeb powell p: Peter Cirilli

Was it worth it?
Yes. 

Have you filmed any clips this year?
I filmed one clip and it was a bail clip. Definitely want to drop another part. I was supposed to be in Europe for three weeks with Jesse Augustinus filming, but the day before I flew out I cracked my sternum filming for Spotheads 3. 

You cracked your sternum this year?
Yeah. Crazy enough, it was almost a life-threatening, fatal fall. We went to the hospital just to make sure, because I was with photographer Gary Land and he said his friend did the same thing. Said he was okay, and then ended up being dead the next day because it punctured his heart.

How does it feel now?
I’m all good. I actually low-key cracked my sternum at X Games the first year. I think you filmed the clip. I did back five and then did a flip, but over-rotated and flopped. I didn’t really tell anyone, but I think I slightly cracked my sternum then. I would wake up in the mornings and stretch, and I could hear it and could feel a little sting. It wasn’t that bad, but this time I cracked it, and then could not move for two weeks. But now, with some certain movements, like when I go back and forth like this I can feel it.

What are you finishing your season out with?
The stars are all aligning for Planet Zebulon. I’m pretty much going to be filming for the episodes as much as possible. For the most part, I’ve kind of been gathering all the pieces kind of naturally but the videos are just a little bit of insight on where we are, what we’re doing, and stuff. Have a few more events and riding, Last Call, maybe the F1 race that Red Bull’s hosting. Looking forward to the summer. Going to try to take a step back and kind of switch gears for my career.

Oh yeah? In what way?
Just want to keep up with this last season, instead of just waiting for stuff to come to me, put a skeleton together for what I want to do. You’ll see, haha. 

Follow Zeb on Instagram to see what comes next! 

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