Real Talk: Spencer O’Brien



Boosting at Winter X-Games Photo: Sani Alibabic

Boosting at Winter X-Games
Photo: Sani Alibabic

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Spencer O’Brien has been at the top of her game for the past few seasons and one of the current pioneers of Snowboarding. Not only is she a dominant riding force, she is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she believes is right. Friendly, outspoken and a powerful rider, this combination has made her one of the most popular riders to date. Here, we chat to Spencer to find out what’s on her mind.

You were openly disappointed with your riding at Sochi but Canada as a nation were on your side and proud of you. Was the response more than you thought it would be? Would you consider yourself a celebrity in Canada now?
The support I received from not only friends and family but from the entire nation was overwhelming. It’s amazing how many people had my back and sent me messages of encouragement and support. I think that is the biggest difference between the Olympics and other events, the level of exposure is so much greater than I ever imagined. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a celebrity, as much exposure as the Olympics bring, it’s gone just as fast. 

Did you expect that Sochi would throw snowboarding into the public eye as much as it did?
I expected slopestyle to be well received and I think having two Americans win the gold medals helped to boost the attention on it. It’s amazing to see Sage and Jamie become household names and to see new stars emerging from our sport.

A lot of people were saying the Sochi course was too big and sketchy. Sage loved it and told everyone, Anna gasser told us she liked it too. What did you make of it and would you change anything about it?
The course was definitely big and by the end of the week it was a decent course. I don’t think it was up to the level of X- Games or Dew Tour, but SPT wasn’t building and it was the first time a slope style had ever been built on that run. For a group of builders who had never worked with each other prior to show up and build a slope in those conditions; it’s impressive what they pulled off. I really applaud those guys; they don’t get enough respect for what they make happen sometimes. My biggest complaint about the whole thing is that FIS had no one test the course and they wouldn’t allow any of the riders test it the day before official training started because it was considered an “unfair advantage”. Having a course tested prior to training saves the builders and the athletes a lot of hassle and unnecessary bitching…hence all the media reports about the course being too dangerous.

Would you trade your world snowboard championships medal for an Olympic Sochi medal?
That’s hard to say. My win at WSC was very hard earned and it is by far my favourite competitive moment for me. I don’t think I would trade it even though an Olympic medal would obviously be better for my career. I went through so much the past year to be able to compete at the Games, but just getting there wasn’t enough for me. At any event I strive to ride my best, to put down the best run possible on that course. I had a good practice, I felt confident going in and it just wasn’t my day. I can take bad judging or other people riding better than me, but when it’s all said and done and all I have at the other end was a bit of an off day, that’s been a hard pill for me to swallow. I hope I get another chance to compete at the Games so I can earn an Olympic medal the same way I earned my WSC title.

Winning! Spenver at the World Snowboard Champs

Winning! Spencer at the World Snowboard Champs

 

You are one of the forerunners pushing women’s snowboarding. We’ve noticed in the past seasons that the level is getting higher, how do these pushes come about and whom else do you think is pushing the sport?
The last few years have been so amazing to be apart of. Jamie has been so dominant for so long and competing against her has made me the snowboarder I am today. I hope that over the last 8 years I have done the same for her. I hope that when we’re both done, we left something the next generation can continue growing and building upon.

There is so much talent right now; Anna Gasser, Christy Prior, Miyabi Ontisuka, Chloe Kim, Brooke Voigt to name a few. For me I feel like Enni and Anna are going to have the biggest impact on the sport in the coming years. Enni has obviously proven herself as one of the best slope riders in the world, but she has so much more to offer then people have seen yet. Anna is the next big thing, she is the most talented girl I’ve ever met on a snowboard and I’m very excited to see where she takes our sport (no pressure girl haha!). Progression ebbs and flows and I think this is the beginning of a very exciting time for women’s slope.

Why do you think at many contests the women get less prize money than the men and do you think this is fair?  Do you think this will change in the future?
This is a big issue in our sport right now. For my entire career women received equal prize money at nearly every event. It was a set standard in our industry because of the hard work of the generation before me and women like Donna Carpenter, who made sure all the Burton Global Open events gave equal opportunity and equal prize money to women. At least at the top level, there was some standard of equality, which is so rare for women’s sports. Action sports are this new breed of sport though and we’re hitting the same courses as the men, getting to ride and share TV coverage with them. It really is an amazing thing in sport to see that kind of equality for women and it’s something I’m very proud to be a part of and why I fight so hard for us to continue on that path. In the past few years we’ve not only been getting less prize money at some events but have been getting dropped from events entirely. Arctic Challenge, The Shred Show, Total Fight, Ride Shakedown, Air and Style are all 6 or 5 star events that don’t include women anymore. Women’s snowboarding is the best it’s ever been so it’s hard to watch it take steps backwards. I hope the future of our sport includes a world tour that has equal opportunity for both sexes.

You got given a place the Nike team. Nike have been pushing riding with good events and the team seem to be stoked but still a few people are still against the brand in Snowboarding. Why do you think that is and what would you say to those people?
Nike is amazing; it’s been such a pleasure to ride for them the past 3 years. People love to hate, but at the end of the day this company is putting money back into our sport, which is what it needs to keep the core alive. Nike will always be a massive company, but they come from humble beginnings and they have assembled not only an incredible team of riders but also an amazing team of people who work in everything from product to team management and I think that’s what makes it work. They adapt and hire the right people to suit our industry and aren’t shoving it into a mold that maybe worked for running or football. 

Hyped on the Swoosh Photo: Sani Alibabic

Smiles for days
Photo: Sani Alibabic

You now have a deal with Apo that includes a pro model, for a few seasons you had no board deal, even though you were at the top of your game, why do more and more riders not have board deals?
The past 5 years haven’t been easy on our industry and it seems like hardgoods took the biggest hit. It’s a hard category to make money on and so board companies just don’t have the money they once did to have big teams. It took a while, but I’m stoked I waited it out for APO. They’ve been around since the beginning of snowboarding and they make great product. They let me have total freedom with my pro model and I’m so stoked on how it rides.

Would you rather film a well-respected video part or have a podium spot at the next Winter Olympics?
Both are goals of mine, but I don’t think I’d pick one over the other. I hope I can make both happen within my career.

Is there pressure on you to compete or do you have that natural competitive streak?
I have always been a competitive person, I thrive under pressure and I like the challenge of it. I want to keep competing because I still enjoy doing it and there’s still more I want to accomplish in it. That being said, there’s a lot I’d like to accomplish outside of competition as well, so we’ll see where the next few years take me.

You were raised in Canada, your dad is Irish and you have First Nations ancestry as well, all of these are strong cultures but which culture to you associate yourself with the most?
I guess I associate more with my First Nations heritage. My dad immigrated to Canada when he was twelve and I have never gone to visit Ireland, whereas I’m from a small village that is predominantly native and both of my sisters are traditional native artists. Both heritages make me up though so they’ll always be apart of who I am.

Have you ever been tempted to represent Ireland at the games using your Irish roots?
I’ve never been tempted to but my Dad really wanted me to go that route. Sorry pops, I’m a Canuck through and through.

What are your plans for when you finish riding professionally? Can you see yourself staying in the industry at some level?
I have no idea, I still feel like I’m 17 and have ages to figure it out…guess I should start working on that game plan.

 

Boosting off the X-Games cannon rail. Photo: Jeff paterson/ WST

Like a canonball on the X-Games canon rail.
Photo: Jeff paterson/ WST

Featured Image Danny Burrows dannyburrowsphotography.com
Other images supplied by The World Snowboard Tour