23/10/2009 | by Tom Copsey
This month’s interview needs no introduction. With a couple of World Titles to his name, Mathieu Crépel decided it was time to start mixing it up this season, focusing his time on securing video parts rather than chasing medals. Does he plan on ever returning to the contest scene? Read on to find out everything as Crépel, the French snowboard phenomenon, spills the beans.
First of all, I’d just like to say that we’re really happy to finally be featuring you in our magazine after so many years of chasing this interview!
Why is it you’re always so busy?
It’s not that I’m always that busy, but I could never get enough photos together. I guess I just didn’t have the skills [laughs]! No, but for most of my career I’ve been mainly focused on the contest side of snowboarding and never had enough time to go out and shoot photos. It was tricky.
And now, it seems, since the beginning of last season, you decided to concentrate on shooting video and photos, is that right?
Yeah, definitely. It was my choice to put contests to one side and spend all my time filming. It’s actually what I’d wanted to do the previous season, in 2007. But things didn’t quite work out as planned. It was a really bad year for snow. Plus it was my first year filming with Standard and as with every film crew, the first year is always a little difficult, especially in the US. But I think it’s normal you should have to go out and prove yourself. It’s a pretty competitive marketplace these days.
Everybody’s been saying that you have a killer part in Standard’s Aesthetica film. How did your season pan out?
I spent a fair bit of time working on my part, but it wasn’t the only thing I did. I competed in a few contests at the beginning of the season like the Air&Style and the X-Trail. With Standard, I think I filmed for two weeks in January, two weeks in February, ten days in March, the whole month of April and one week in May. So I wasn’t just doing that. When you’re filming, you need a little luck with the weather and snow conditions, how far up the film producers’ priority list you are and whether they decide to hook you up with the best trips. This year, I think I was one of Standard’s priorities, which was super important. If you haven’t got the support of the film crew you’re shooting with, it doesn’t matter how hard you ride, it will always be a struggle to pull something together.
Is a good video part as satisfying for you as winning a contest title?
Yeah, for sure. It’s just as, if not more, satisfying because it’s something you can hold on to. Something people will watch over and over again. A title, on the other hand, is something that’s just written down somewhere, more a memory you store away in your head. In 30 years’ time when I watch my video part again, the footage will no doubt bring back lots of fond memories.
In the video, you mention Mads Jonsson, Mark Landvik and Eric Jackson, saying it helps to find yourself among other riders who motivate and help each other. The atmosphere must be different to doing contests.
No, there’s no real competition between riders when you’re filming. When I mentioned those guys, it was in the context of a trip we did to Terrace where the backcountry riding is pretty heavy – heli trips and that kind of thing. And in that instance, the most important thing is the safety of every rider. One time, it snowed two metres in the space of 24 hours. We went riding one day and when we returned a day and a half later, everything had changed. The terrain just looked completely different, and it was super sketchy in every way. Our guides are there to reassure everyone, but this is when the group really bonds: everyone’s looking out for everyone. And in any case, we all know that if we work together, it’s something that will come through in the film.
Was there one rider in particular who impressed you in Standard’s crew of riders?
Yeah – Mark Landvik. In the backcountry, he spots features that you wouldn’t necessarily see, and he more or less stomps everything. I think he only did two or three trips with Standard and his part was done. The rest of the time he was filming with Travis Rice. He has a lot of big mountain experience. He was born in Alaska so he knows what he’s talking about! Mads is also impressive. He started concentrating on freeriding three or four years ago when he began filming with Standard. When he started out, he perhaps didn’t know exactly what he was doing but this year I saw him do some incredible stuff! Me bigging those guys up might not be something new, but it’s just that I learnt a huge amount riding with those guys. It was super interesting.
Moving on, you’re one of the few French riders to have turned heads abroad. Do you feel a certain pressure because of this?
No, not really. I don’t feel like I’m different to those who went before me. There might be fewer French riders on the international scene right now, but in the past there were always guys like Chastagnol, Babs or Droz who made a big impression abroad and in many ways opened up many more opportunities for others than I have up until now. I hope to be able to continue their great work and continue representing France abroad. But I don’t feel like I’ve been assigned some special mission.
I don’t know if you’re aware but you seem pretty at ease with the press, especially the French mainstream press in which you feature regularly. But your image within the snowboard industry doesn’t seem to have suffered for it. How do you explain that?
That’s cool to know. It is something that crosses my mind once in a while. The mainstream press in France do seem to enjoy interviewing me, but it’s not something I’ve gone out of my way to do compared to gaining coverage in the specialised press. The most important thing is to gain good overall visibility. I think the fact I started out by doing the French World Cup contests gave me more media coverage at the start. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have articles in the mainstream press. We shouldn’t shut ourselves in our own little snowboard world.
You gained a lot of media coverage during the Winter Olympics in Turin. Looking back, did you draw any lessons from those Games?
On a sporting level, the Games gave me a real goal to focus on. You know you’re going to have to train like a nutter to do anything. You have to make sacrifices. Obviously I never intended to be completely over halfpipe snowboarding, but if you want to be in with a chance at the Olympics then it’s a risk you have to run and probably why I’ve hardly done any pipe riding in the last year and a half. After the event, I was definitely disappointed with my result. I was well prepared but events simply didn’t go my way. Those are the challenges that come with contest riding. As far as the event itself went, I felt like I never really had time to get into it. It felt like we were kind of pushed to one side, I never felt like we were part of anything. But as an athlete, it is something I continue to dream about! And that’s why I’d love to go back and have another go at them!
So you’re officially ready to drop back in to the halfpipe this winter to start training for the next Olympics?
That’s right! They’re in just one year, so I’m going to have to get right back into it. I’d obviously like to come away from it with a good result, but above all I want to know I did everything I could in preparation for the event. I want to be able to turn the page as far as contest riding goes, knowing I gave everything I had.
And if the Mathieu Crépel of today came up against the Mathieu Crépel of February 2006, who do you think would come out on top?
I think it would be the Mathieu of 2006! But we’ll see at the end of the season. I know I have a large margin for progression in the halfpipe, and that’s one of the things that motivates me. If I thought that I was already close to full capacity, I wouldn’t be half as determined as I am.
I’d also wanted to ask you about the rivalry that the press made such a big deal of between you and Shaun White at the time. What was behind all that?
As is often the case with rivalries, the press loves to make a mountain out of a molehill. What was clear was the encounter was highly anticipated by everyone and he completely destroyed it. That’s all that matters!
You’re being a bit harsh on yourself there!
No, it was a question of circumstances that just didn’t go my way. In France and in Europe, the press compared me to him because we’re about the same age and started competing around the same time. But over the last couple of years, he’s taken it to the next level. As far as snowboarders go, he’s not the guy I admire the most. He’s an incredible competitor, he kills it in the pipe and slopestyle, but I wouldn’t say he’s a very creative rider. I’d much rather watch a Gigi Rüf mini-shred line or Nicolas Müller line in Alaska than a Shaun White halfpipe run. That doesn’t take away the huge amount of respect I have for him. To have had such successful careers in both snowboarding and skateboarding is incredible. Already at my level, I have a lot of marketing obligations so I can’t even imagine what it must be like for him. I don’t know how he does it. Maybe he has a secret twin stunt double!
Tell us a bit about your event. Last year, you developed your original Rendez-vous des Etoiles contest into a TTR contest, the MC Invitational, while maintaining its grassroots vibe. Were you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, from my perspective the event turned out nicely. Organising an event like that is totally different to what I’m used to doing as a rider, and I really enjoyed it. Despite snow conditions not being very good, the riders were happy and the feedback I had was mainly positive. I wanted to organise something that resembled me, and rang true with the Pyrenees, and something competitors would enjoy. I’d thought up the contest format a while back (ed. Tricks pulled out of a hat) because if you want to avoid the failings of contest snowboarding, it’s a format that allows riders to focus on style and variety. It’s a format that worked well for everyone, I think – the general public, the judges and the riders.
And what a final!
Yeah! Most of it was down to Arthur [Longo]. All because he went out the night before and got hammered so he wasn’t thinking straight the following morning!
So what’s the plan for this year?
The event isn’t going to happen this year, unfortunately. Taking into account my goals and timetable for this season, I won’t have the time. The whole thing takes a serious amount of time and I wouldn’t be happy just doing the same thing again. I want to have some time to think about its next stage of development. So I’m hoping we’ll be able to stage the contest again in 2010, with heaps of new stuff. Still with the idea of highlighting the potential of what you can do on a snowboard in the mountains, and that a rider should be able to tame any kind of terrain. That might sound a bit contradictory, especially when I’m just gearing up for a season in the halfpipe, but in a sense that’s exactly why I don’t want to lose sight of all the different aspects of snowboarding.
You started out at a very young age. How did you get to where you are today?
I must have strapped into my first snowboard when I was about six years old. My dad was a ski instructor in the winter resort of La Mongie in the Pyrenees, my mum looking after the kindergarten section, so I spent all my winters in the mountains since I was born. A friend of my dad sold these boards with ski bindings on them, and it’s on one of those boards that I carved my first turns in 1990 or 1991.
So how did you find yourself on that snow trip to Greenland at just 10 years old?
With a lot of luck! I did a fair bit of snowboarding, and there weren’t that many kids on a board back in those days, especially in the Pyrenees. My dad had just started working for Quiksilver and they had this idea of organising a trip over there. They thought it would be a cool idea to take a kid on the trip and that was it, really. I ended up going to Greenland with Serge Vitelli, Bertrand Denervaud, Mathieu Vincent, Jason Haines and Neil Drake. We spent three weeks there, and for me it was just incredible! The landscapes were so stunning, I rode all day. I think it was that trip that really got me into it. I thought to myself, “If this is what snowboarding is then I wouldn’t mind doing it for the rest of my life!”
After that, I started doing contests, then sports studies in Villars-de-Lans. I wasn’t necessarily the most talented out of my generation, among Morgan Lefaucheur, Tristan Picot, Gary Zebrowski, Sylvain Bourbousson, Caroline Béliard, Margot Rozies… there was a few of us! For me, coming from the Pyrenees, it was a super experience that taught me a lot in life.
Why did you get into the contest scene more than the others? Did you have something to prove coming from the Pyrenees?
Maybe a little. A bit like the Delerue brothers! You definitely have to make that extra effort when you’re from the Pyrenees. But Tristan’s accident was a huge shock to everyone. It changed a lot of things for all of us. We were all so close, and we were all 19 or 20 years old. It’s no doubt what brought us all together even if we all chose different paths subsequently. Tristan had started filming and had already achieved a super part with Absinthe, Sylvain was super motivated by the whole contest thing, Morgan would follow the same path, but I kept with it alongside Gary.
Today, many look up to you as a role model, especially for those who are into the contest scene. Is there any advice you’d give them?
I don’t think I have anything to tell them. They all seem to be doing pretty well! What’s for sure is that I was lucky enough to start out in a family environment where everyone was pretty much into it, snowboarding was in full bloom, and everything is a lot harder today.
So for this coming season, can we expect to see you back doing all the contests?
Yeah, I won’t necessarily be doing more than I have to. I particularly want to focus on my training in the halfpipe and work on new tricks. The Olympic selection process is this year, so I’ll at least have to do the minimum for my qualification. If it turns out I have to do the whole season, then I’ll do all the contests but if I can qualify with just three results, all the better! In any case that’s definitely my goal for the season.
And the TTR?
I’ll do a few too. But I think it’s a shame that they continue to take too many results in consideration for the title, despite the cancellation of the Air&Style this year (ed. 7 results this year, 8 results last year). I think it’s too many. The TTR wasn’t designed to be a big tour at the start: the idea was to allow riders enough time to shoot and at the same time do a few contests. If you want to have a serious go at anything on the TTR, you have to at least attend all the 5 and 6 star contests, which doesn’t leave much time for the rest. Seeing as I’d like to at least do some filming again this year, it looks like it’s going to be a tough one.
Speaking of contests, how do you intend to knuckle down with your halfpipe training after a year dedicated to backcountry riding?
Yeah, it’s not going to be easy. I spent a lot of time thinking it over in my head before committing. Right up until last summer I wasn’t sure I’d find the motivation.
Where exactly did you find that motivation?
I reminded myself how privileged I am to be able to chose what I want to do, to be able to make a living from my passion. So I’m just going to go balls out for one year, and after that they’ll still be heaps of great things to do. The last time I went to the Olympics, I was really motivated but left with a feeling of failure. If I had won, I’d no doubt be worried about not doing so well. Either way, it’s not over ’til it’s over!
Tell us a bit about your other passion: surfing. That goes back a while too.
Yeah, I started around the same time as snowboarding. We had a family holiday home in Hossegor. I’d do surf contests in the summer and snowboard contests in the winter.
What was it that pushed you towards snowboarding? Did you ever hesitate between the two?
No, not really. I love surfing but in my head I see myself as being from the mountains, like everyone else in my family. I never had to stop and think about it, it all happened pretty naturally. Plus, I’m lucky enough to be able to ride waves pretty much any given day I’m at home in Anglet, and I always try to put together a small two or three-week surf trip during the summer months. So I still get to do plenty of surfing.
You like to take an active role in Surfrider Foundation and Mountain Rider. Do they mean a lot to you?
It’s a vision and a state of mind. The guys that set up these associations are really passionate about what they do and want to spread the word: if we continue to live the way we live now, it could be the end of it for snowboarding and surfing. And of course they don’t stop there but go way beyond our sports. It won’t just be the end of surfing and snowboarding, but the end of mankind. I think the least I could do is give them my support seeing as how exposed we are to global warming.
Do you try to do something of the environments on a day-to-day basis, despite your busy timetable, planes etc?
I try to offset my carbon emissions wherever I can for my travels, and have been developing increasingly greener products with my sponsors. For next year, I’ve worked with Quiksilver to make my ‘Signature Series’ outerwear jacket out of recycled plastic bottles. These are things that I really want to work on more and more.
My parents, I can never thank them enough! My darling, my little sister, all my friends (they know who they are), my sponsors, and all the people who’ve helped me to have a dream life. TRISTAN RIP.
Years riding: 16
Home: Anglet, France
Stance: regular, +21; -6
Major titles: TTR world champ 2007, Big Air and Halfpipe world champ 2007
Sponsors: Quiksilver, Rossignol, Fiat, Domaine du Tourmalet, Orange