I never thought about Nicolas Müller as someone particularly gutsy. Unique, definitely, but in such a natural, God-given way that it somehow keeps you from thinking there's any rational thought behind his riding. And to some extent, that's true. He could most definitely never snowboard with such supernatural ease if that wasn't 100% himself. What I sometimes do forget is how much courage it takes in the first place to leave all expectations behind in search of what it is you enjoy.
I spoke to Nicolas about how pro snowboarding has changed and how important it is to explore your own visions.
David Benedek ––
David Benedek: Nicolas, you're definitely one of the few people that have been leading the creative progression in the past ten years. Could you describe roughly how snowboarding has changed or where, in your eyes, it's arrived since you started?
Nicolas Müller: I think mainly the boundaries weren't as explored as today; it was all about bigger and further. That's obviously still the case, and I am sure there's great progress ahead of us, but in a certain way I feel snowboarding has redefined itself in the past years.
What do you mean, exactly?
You know, I've still been learning new tricks this past season and I am equally motivated for the future, but I feel there's been such a hype on obvious progression that it almost seemed to me as if snowboarding was [focused on] nothing but that. And I think people are catching on to it—a few years back it was still like, "Romain [De Marchi] is the best rider because he can switch his brain off and just send it." Now I think it's a lot more back to the roots again; progression isn't the only thing that counts.
So you feel today is a time of redefinition mainly?
Yes, in a general sense. I've been working on this "redirecting" for a while now, just for myself. What am I doing here? What is it for? Do I ride to please my team manager and to supply him with a list of shots with new board graphics? Or do I [ride to] explore my personal interpretation of snowboarding? That's what I mean by "back to the roots": no list of tricks, but simply going out and exploring.
You've always been one to do that, don't you think? In general it always struck me how few people dare to leave the beaten path.
That's something that currently occupies me a lot, not only in snowboarding, but generally in life, in society. As a child, you're still able to be truly free, but then, once you start going to school you're expected to learn, get good grades, and [find] a good job… That expectation [is] the essential part of what I am trying to say; it's about following what's expected as opposed to letting your intuition guide you. In a certain way you could say that you and I are already rebels, simply by having followed what we love. I'm just going to snowboard because that's my thing…and I won't let any of society's expectations get in the way of that. Believing in your intuition…that's the crucial point and I feel that's very important. And, in the same way, that exists in the snowboarding industry—as soon as you give up on your guts, you're dependent. A harsh example is Freddy (Kalbermatten): he's basically always done exactly what his team manager asked him to. And now, in tough times when budgets and teams are being cut down, it's suddenly the people who didn't obey the rules and simply followed their own thing that remain on the team.
It's strange, because I think it's so obvious how having the courage to follow your own ideas is almost always being rewarded, even if that might sound cheesy. In the worst case, you'll come back with a lesson that makes you stronger. Do you feel the industry has missed out on supporting such "out-of-the-box-thinking"?
Yes, definitely. But most of the people are trapped within that system themselves. For René [Hansen, Burton's former Global Director of Brand Marketing], his layoff was probably the best thing that could have happened to him personally. Same with Freddy—he was so caught up in filming a video part that he only considered days to be good when he got two or three shots in the bag; otherwise, they weren't. Going back to what I said before, it's basically all about following your intuition and not someone's expectations.
But that requires courage.
Yeah, absolutely. And I feel that things have been changing a bit for the better. It's not only about robots banging tricks, where everything is seen merely as a product and not as the result of personality. In my opinion, that's what naturally follows the "hype"—people start rediscovering the importance of content and personality. Freddy has all that, too, but he didn't embrace it and instead simply delivered what had been asked for. I think you can always tell how independent true innovators are…
…Or under amazing pressure for their ender-ender shot. [Laughs]
Haha, yeah. But when I'm watching Danny Davis, for example, I'm going nuts. The pure feeling that his riding conveys is so unbelievable. That's true progression and independence, and that's not limited to certain tricks or disciplines.
I totally agree. Speaking about disciplines, in an earlier interview, Jake [Burton] told me he was scared that parks would become these standardized training facilities. Do you see that, too?
Actually, I think it's only sad when people lose their motivation to ride because they don't see all of what's outside.
You mean because people only get exposed to jumps and parks?
Yes. You limit yourself that way; it's a little like, "That's snowboarding. Period." But actually, creativity and [especially] spontaneity are such a big part of it: What's approaching? How am I riding it? Snowboarding is such a free sport; anything goes. When I see the Swiss Olympic team in the park or pipe, and I'm jibbing around, riding things a little different, they are like, "Ah, that's the freak." But in fact, it's the exact opposite.
I think a lot has to do with reacting to what you encounter. As in, "I want to ride, ah, there's a jump, there's the inrun, that must be the way it's supposed to be ridden." No thinking required. How rad would it be if it wasn't obvious how a park was supposed to be ridden?
Yeah, totally. I mean, it's really rad how kids push the technical level in parks, but as I said, I think it sucks when people get demoralized because they can't identify with it any more. For instance, I can totally tell how older shredders can identify with my riding, purely because some of it is more human, in the spirit of "anybody can do it." I mean, looking at videos these days, the level of riding is definitely not human any more. [Laughs] Who are those guys, robots? Sometimes it strikes me how easy it is, really. I've run into people who stopped riding because they've lost their sponsors, while I really just follow my heart and get paid for having fun without even having to be gnarly or anything.
I recently read an interview with a designer who said that everything that's honest is interesting. I believe in that. If you have enthusiasm for what you're doing, then that'll be communicated, too.
It's up to the companies to hire people like that. Look at Mike Basich, for instance: the ultimate D.I.Y. guy and one of the realest shredders out there. You could do so much stuff with a guy like that, and marketing-wise, also. To me, that's Burton Global Team potential.
Then we're back at courage.
Yes, we simply need people in those positions [in the industry] who think and act more courageously.
This interview is an excerpt from David's upcoming book Current State: Snowboarding.
Current State: Snowboarding is a limited-edition book by David Benedek featuring some of the most influential individuals of the past two decades. It will be released in the fall of 2010. To reserve a copy and for more info, go to http://www.almostanything.com.
This content was originally published in SNOWBOARDER’s September 2009 issue.