Even though snowboarding has probably grown beyond what most of us anticipated, I think we still enjoy a pretty decent connection between snowboarders, no matter the skill level or background. Sure, random vacation shredder might not necessarily have much in common with you, but compared to any classic sport we're a pretty tight family. Normally, common ground ends at a jersey color or an affinity for beer.
Strange enough, the efforts to process snowboarding for mainstream digestion couldn't be further from a group effort. TTR, FIS, Grand Prix's, X Games, DEW Tour…Pro Boxing might be the only sport with an equally scattered media output and messy structures. And those guys aren't known for being especially good thinkers.
Not that I am a great advocate for mainstream digestion in the first place, but if we go for it, why not bundle the efforts under one roof, like the NBA, NFL, FIFA or any other pro association?
I spoke to Terje Haakonsen about how pro snowboarding might have changed and why the IOC is a bag of suck.
David Benedek ––
David Benedek: Looking back at the early days of your career, what do you feel is the most obvious difference with the pros of today?
Terje Haakonsen: As a rider…less freedom.
As in what's expected, you mean?
Well, obviously it's a lot more professional today. A sponsor wouldn’t demand that much, they wouldn't tell you what to do throughout the season. As long as you had certain kinds of media exposure and some okay [contest] results they wouldn't ask for more. Now, the competition is harder in general, even for companies and events. Everybody stepped it up from year-to-year so there's far less room for mistakes.
Do you think professionalisation always results in less freedom or is there a way around that?
Well, it all depends what kind of position you're in. I've just seen so many companies come and go. It's not easy to be a company. That's why there are stricter rules and less freedom; they expect more exposure, progression. But that's just part of the sports world. I mean, look at a soccer player. How many free days a year does he have? (laughs) And it's also how you pick your career, too. Some people accept to get paid less and have more freedom. I'd say I was just as professional in my mid 20's as I am now.
The structures just weren't?
Yeah, and also, you know, it's still a young sport today and there's millions of things to figure out. In general, I think actions sports rubbed off a lot on classic sports; they've learned so much from us. From copying the style of events to marketing athletes, even my lawyer who's been doing my contracts since the very beginning, he looked at my contracts as this new way of thinking that then got adapted to classic sports athletes as well.
Just leaving more room for personality?
Yes. You weren't owned as much by middle men or a company. So comparing it to regular sports…you can still have freedom and be professional. The competition is just a lot harder.
I think what's weird is that there's this sort of professional trap that's actually counterproductive. You have these killer athletes and personalities with all this potential but they are so busy delivering what is expected on a day-to-day basis that you kind of miss out on these opportunities to progress the whole sport. What I mean is that there's usually only a handful of people that can use that upward spiral of being free of daily expectations again but only once they've really proven themselves. Do you think it's possible to turn away from these delivery formulas and more towards exploration?
And make money off of it? (laughs)
Haha, I don't know.
Well, there's a lot of 100% soul guys out there that just ride for themselves and are just as good as a pro or even better, so that´s a choice each person has to make for themselves. You can't blame someone for making a living out of their lifestyle. There are only so many options in life. Where do you want to see it go?
Well, in general I think it's on a good track but I think a lot of pro snowboarding content seems really fabricated to me. It's more about feeding the consumer as opposed to having actual honest stories. With videos for instance, it's more about filling 40 minutes with riders of sponsoring companies as opposed to an honest interest in snowboarding and doing it for the sake of doing it. Do you know where I am heading with this?
Yeah, but I think that's already happening. Stories, feelings…My question is how much of that can you take? You know, when I've seen a documentary about lions, I probably won't see another one (laughs).
Haha, yeah. But maybe my thought comes more from the fact that I feel there could be a lot more diverse content already. I just think there's so much true radness that's honest and that people would appreciate. And if you look at what's available, you really only have the choice between comprehensive mainstream content like the X Games–or on the other side–to watch five hundred 1080's in a row and 5 freeride lines; and that's it. I am talking about that bridge in the middle.
I think it's really important to build that sports side of snowboarding first. With competition you have those feelings, expressions and stories to be told. When you look at a sports newspaper, it's all about results and that's their story. There are probably more snowboarders than hockey players but hockey's all over TV, because it's just like sports entertainment.
In that sports entertainment world, do you think snowboarding is portrayed fairly well?
Well, there's some bad stuff and some good stuff. I think it destroys a lot if people are involved that have no love for the sport and are more interested in banner positioning. The IOC is a good example. You know, they are supposed to do it for the love of all sports. If they love all sports, why do they have a ski federation organize snowboarding events? That's no love, that's not even logic. It's hilarious now with skateboarding being considered as a future Olympic sport. It has to be governed by the cycling federation because skateboards have wheels. (laughs)
You know how it works. It's just people giving each other blowjobs between federations. That's how those decisions are made.
Yeah, it's no secret that sports include a lot of politics.
Looking back at your Olympic boycott of '98, would you do the same now?
Yes, if you call it a boycott. I just decided not to go, and the media just helped me blow that up. I just said what I meant. I actually said that far before snowboarding was even sanctioned as an event. I just think our generation is more about individual performance than about your country getting a medal. When you look at the newspapers during the Olympics, it's hardly ever about the individuals. It's about how many medals every country has. And then we can go out to the bar and talk about how great our countries are. I think nationalism, with people traveling and having friends all over the world, in different generations, I think it's a really old school format by now.
Totally. Not that nationalist thinking ever made much sense, but nowadays it's really an incredibly backwardslooking concept. I don't think future generations will even be able to relate to that. I'm interested to see how that individual performance aspect develops. It's such a strong force throughout all of society. Although I think action sports has definitely been rubbing off on other sports in that regard.
Yeah, totally. Here in Norway I can see that already. Athletes on national teams of a lot of classic sports get really fed up with it because there are so many middle-men in these national structures. The athletes are the individuals with all the potential but they are being treated like just pieces of the puzzle. And in the end, just get a little slice of the cake while they deserve much more, they are the ones driving the whole thing. A good example are the biathletes: They used to be part of the FIS before and simply figured out they could do it a lot better than them so they started their own federation. If you're strong enough…if all snowboarders picked one federation and didn't act like sheep and just follow, we could do it. I don't see a reason why the World Snowboard Federation shouldn't be able to hold the qualifications to the Olympics. That's why I am saying, if you really have love for a sport and respect it, then why don't you just have the best people doing it and the people who really care about it. And it ruins a lot of the true snowboarding competitions, because every other year, FIS will force people to do their events if they want to qualify, and it's extremely confusing for the media. Like when FIS holds their "World Championships" in Korea, while in reality, the world's best riders are all at the Burton European Open. The mainstream needs clarity. They're like, "Should we write about the 'Worlds,' or should we write about the best riders? Fuck, we are not even going to write about it because it's such a circus." Where's the credibility?
You think that confusion is a major hold back in general?
Yeah, because it just takes that much longer to improve and also grow in size. Snowboarding has so much potential, but when there's 20 cooks in the kitchen like we have, it just messes it up.
Yeah, we just have to get 19 of those cooks over to the IOC's kitchen and we're fine. (laughs)
The funny thing is, every year a time comes when they contact me and ask whether my mind has changed but when I think about it now it pisses me off even more because there hasn't been any change.
Do you occasionally think you should have gone?
(Laughs) No. Hell no.
This interview is an excerpt from David's upcoming book, Current State: Snowboarding.
This content was originally published in the November 2009 issue.