The Kids Are Alright, Are Pros dropped too early?




What do you think when you see footage of Geoff Rowley, Andrew Reynolds, and Ozzie Wright? You would probably think of them as some of the most respected and loved riders in their chosen field and it’s unlikely that they would be dropped from their sponsors. Now let’s look at snowboarding, how many riders are there that remain full pro after 35 years old? Snowboarders in general are getting older from its youthful beginnings and wouldn’t it make sense to keep older and more legendary riders on the team to reflect that?

Here we speak to key industry people and elder riders and try to discover why snowboarders are finished by their mid 30’s and if this is down to the rider or the sponsor and if this should change.

Terje  Haakonsen doesn’t need much of an introduction, other than he is regarded as many to be the most influential snowboarder of all time. His career has spanned over 3 decades and he is still a pro today.

What is it about your snowboarding that keeps people entertained when other riders of a similar age have quit their pro careers?
I can’t answer that; you should ask the riders that quit! I just ride as hard as my body allows me to. I like riding and I mean I ride the terrain from the top to the bottom. I don’t just go straight and get kicked up in the air for a Kodak moment.

As you skate and surf too, can you tell us if snowboarding is harder on the body than the other two sports as you get older?
I think the slams you take when you crash on a skateboard are the hardest and it’s also very easy to break a body part. With snowboarding you go faster and bigger and you got all that power, combined with being strapped in means you just twist and torque your body in all directions. That wears the body down even when you’re fit for it. When you are strapless it’s more finesse, smoothness and you don’t hit 30 meters jump on a regular basis. You can of course break your neck or cut your Achilles on a fin, skate and snow is a downer and surfing is more like an upper for the body. I’m not a skate expert, but street skating has a lot more impact on the body than just transition riding. Just like groomers and snowparks are more taxing for your body more than powder.

Were you ever tempted to quit riding professionally when peers of a similar age hung up their professional boots?
I think being a pro actions sport athlete is one of the best jobs you can have, so I don’t think all the guys just quit because they wanted to.

Terje bringing his signature style to the water.
Photo: Richard Kotch

Sani Alibabic was a pro snowboarder for over 15 years before becoming the on snow Burton team manager and eventually the global Nike Snowboard TM. Whilst in those roles he would frequently ride contest set ups at a high level, earning himself the title of the best team manager in snowboarding. Sani terminated his pro contract early and he had this to say about the older generations in snowboarding.

You have been called the best team manager in snowboarding. Were you forced to quit a pro career or was that your decision?
I don’t know about that since I haven’t been a team manager since Nike got out of snowboarding, but I’ll take it! I was in the lucky position that I got to decide myself when to quit. At that time I still had an ongoing riding contract with Burton for another 1,5 years. At first when the Burton TM opportunity came up and Hasi, my Burton TM, asked me if I was interested in taking the job, I felt a bit offended by it as I thought I still had riding in me for a bit longer but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I was already 30 years old and I had been snowboarding for the past 15 years. After living the dream for such a long time it’s tough to make a call like that at the right time but damn it, I had a pretty good run and I didn’t have a plan B so in the end I was actually happy to get out on my own terms.

If Burton were to offer you another pro deal to make video parts would you take it?
Depends what kind of video part haha no, I’m always down to snowboard and I still enjoy hitting jumps, doing lines and all that but I don’t know if anyone would actually like to watch that in a video. I would also never wanna take up a spot over a young ripper who obviously deserves a video part more than I do.

Do the brands drop riders too soon and do you enjoy to watch videos of older riders?
I have always been a fan of snowboard videos. I just like to take my time to watch it and I appreciate it way more than all the daily social media clip porn. By the time my brain processed an Instagram video for example, I’m already looking at the next post. And let’s be honest, no one would ever scroll back an Instagram feed and rewatch a clip, simply because you don’t remember it anymore. It’s like with songs, sometimes you don’t like it at first but if you keep hearing it over and over and let it sink in, all of sudden you find it cool. It doesn’t mean I like the full album but certain songs just stand out and so are worth going back and listening to it again and again and again. Same thing with snowboard videos, I still enjoy watching just to name a few; Jamie Lynn in “The Garden”, Travis Parker in “Afterbang”, Gigi’s first ever video part in “Decade”, Benedek in “Lame”.. I still find it inspirational and it’s also snowboard history I like to reminiscence about. But kids these days wanna see new shit every single day and often don’t really want to bother with details! I believe this also why only a few riders currently make it to a “legends” status and get to be with a brand for longer than just a few seasons. They just don’t get the time anymore to build up a personality, style and a legacy to become a role model. You have to be killing it 24-7-365, and if you are not, people just forget about you – you lose value for the brand and they just go for the next hot kid who does a quad on a random park jump.
Skateboarding for some reason has it dialed.

Sani showing the young guns that he’s not past it. Photo: Erin Hogue

 

The term legend is thrown about a lot these days but it’s fair to say that Cheryl Maas is one of the best riders to have ever ridden. From landing the first double corks, appearing in multiple video parts and standing on the biggest podiums, there isn’t much Cheryl hasn’t accomplished. You would imagine her achievements would keep her sponsored for life but it appears that isn’t the case.

You are still competing at a pro level, at 32 years old have your sponsors ever told you that your time riding is up?
My sponsors have never told me that my riding time is up but they did say they turn down my sponsorship level because I’m getting older, which feels the same to me.

Have you ever been tempted to quit riding professionally due to your sponsors?
I gave quitting some thought about 2 seasons ago because people where telling me that it might be time to move on. So I start doing stunt school as way to have fun and bring in some money, I also looked at other work opportunities. I went out and rode like it was my last season and in the way that I wanted it. It turned out to be one of my better seasons because I really just had fun and that gave me good results and progression. After that I asked myself why would I quit? Do I want this or would I do it for others because it feels like it is the right thing to do? I don’t want to quit, I enjoy it too much, so I decided to work harder and enjoy it even more because I love it and I want to do it.

Is it harder to make money being a professional, as you get older?
It’s definitely harder to get sponsorship money as an older rider and having 2 kids. Marketing people just like to use up and comers, I feel like they offer something new and young. Sponsors forget about the people that actually have the money to buy their products and have liked snowboarding for a longer time. These people want to be inspired by someone they can relate to more. We all know an 18 year old is flexible and can do stunts, but to see a 30+ year old do it gives them inspiration to keep going, to never feel old and the young ones can see that there is a long time of joy still ahead of them and it’s not over after 25.

That tweak though. Cheryl fs 3 at The Laax Open.
Photo: Vernon Deck

David Benedek is responsible for some of the best-loved videos ever made with Afterbang, In short, 91 Words for Snow. Lame, Afterlame and the Red Bull Gap Session. He won the Snowboarder Rider of the Year award twice, Video part of the year and on the contest side he won the Nokia air and style and the 2003 Burton European Open. David surprised many when he made the decision to quit professional snowboarding at a time when he was still an incredibly popular rider. Here is what he had to say.

How old were you when you quit professional snowboarding and what made you quit being pro at your peak?
Phew, trying to remember that one. I think I was 29 or 30.

I don’t particularly think I was still at my peak but yeah, I’d like to think I didn’t quit because of an inability to keep up but rather because I was growing out of it more and more. I turned pro when I was 19 so I had been doing the same routine for about 10 years. And I think that’s what makes most people drop out at some point. It’s just an incredibly cyclical routine, in the places you go, the types of projects you get involved with. At least that’s what I felt like. I loved every minute of it but at some point I was just getting too curious to see what else was out there.

Do you think snowboarders are dropped from their sponsors when they reach a certain age and should they be allowed to ride longer?
I used to think there wasn’t enough will on the brand side to support older athletes but I think that has changed quite a lot in the past 10 years, looking at some of the older guys that are still around and being appreciated, from Guch to Jamie to some of the younger „old“ guys like Gigi and Nicolas. Overall, it might be more of cause and effect relationship between the lack of more mature snowboard-related media outlets which in turn leaves an audience beyond 30 years of age untapped, which again in turn makes those older athletes have less of a relevance. Compared to surfing where you have the surfer journals and more of a vivd beach and community life that older people stay a part of.

Do you ever think about making a comeback and filming a video part?
Haha. No, I don’t think I would have the patience. If you invited me for some pre-built backcountry jump thing, possibly carried me out there and made sure the conditions were alway epic, yeah, maybe 🙂

 

 

Lastly but by no means least, we have Jan Prokes who is the Snow Category Manager for Volcom Europe.
Volcom in our opinion are doing an amazing job of having young and legendary talent on the team. Bryan Iguchi, Jamie Lynn and Terje are all still on the team list and are heavily promoted. Jan had this to say.

Why do so many riders get dropped by brands when they get older and should this change?I could write books on this topic; is Steve Caballero too old for Vans? No, of course he isn’t and remains as popular as ever.

Snowboarding should look to our bigger brothers, skateboarding and surfing here. In short, it all comes down to staying relevant, finding your niche/strengths and exploiting them. There is definitely a place for riders like Bryan Iguchi, Jamie Lynn and Terje, today AND tomorrow, just like there was yesterday. Why? First of all, snowboarding isn’t a young activity anymore. Secondly, these guys are all over 40 and can still keep up with the best of kids half their age. Perhaps they aren’t in a park but they would in the backcountry for sure. Last but not least, their accrued expertise is something to be passed along to younger generations with their personality/style and diversity.

What do you think these riders still offer that younger riders can’t?
If you strip these guys free from all their sponsors products & logos, people will still radiate towards them, why?, their winning personalities, characters and the true joy in what they do.
They are tastemakers, not taste-followers and they have an audience way outside of strictly- snowboarding. Terje in his relentless anti IOC campaign, where time and time again he has been proven right, Jamie Lynn being a musician, painter/art director and now voice-over specialist and Guch being a spokesperson for rural living and artist, an ambassador for POW.

Volcom do a lot of marketing with the older generation of pros what do they offer that younger riders can’t?
This trio and their relationship with their sponsor(s), in this case Volcom, has always been a partnership and our relationship goes so much deeper than “A pays B X amount per year to wear logo and sticker on board/clothing” It is much more a two-way street, because these guys are proactively contributing with art/ideas and other intentions in how to truly partner with us.

Hopefully, old farts like myself, with kids and family, thinning hair and growing beer bellies can relate to these guys. Why? Cause they trigger a response, people can still throw a method or ride pow FAST at 40+ all it takes is the commitment to drag your ass out of the couch and get away from the screen.
I personally think we damaged snowboarding in the early 2000’s with too much cool/ and over the sw bs 900++ spin, too many helicopters etc. Surely there’s a reason why, The Side Hits Euphoria edit by Arthur Longo and Olivier resonated so well last winter, because it’s filmed exclusively inbounds at resorts, in everyday, average conditions and more people can relate to it. The older guys bring so much more to the table than skills alone, hell, they ARE the table!

Feel free to comment with your view on our facebook page here.
Index Photo Erin Hogue