Pia Kaipainen has words with the Swedish legend.
Photos: Jeff Curley.
Certain names in snowboarding will always belong to a league of their own. Most of them are those who have established their names into every snowboarding household back in the late 80’s / early 90’s. Johan Olofsson certainly belongs to that small group of people. Johan’s career has been closely followed over the years by media and snowboarders across the world and many are happy to see this man back in the game. Hailed as one of the most talented technical freestyle riders since the mid 90’s Johan has owned up that title with flying colors. After a few year’s break from his pro career, this big mountain expert with a living legend statue continues to do what he is most known for and on the side designs more functional riding gear for his sponsor The North Face and seeks for new challenges with noboarding…
1. Hej Johan! I’ve really enjoyed preparing for this interview; going through my stash of old Snowboarder & TWS mags from 95 – 96 and taking a trip back on the memory lane. Stellar days in snowboarding, those were. Do you ever do that, go back and reminisce on the early days of your career?
Every once in a while I look back to the days of snowboarding. Most of the time when I do that I’m home at my parents’ place going through old magazines and pictures that still lay there in the drawers… other than that I sometimes think of how things were just a bit easier when being younger, like 10 years ago. Now I keep getting back to the question of what I should do for the rest of my days. I keep fooling myself that I can step back from the mountains, but I really need to be in the snow playing with the elements of a winter landscape. Being a snowboard fanatic is great when you’re in the same group of people, but when you leave that bubble it’s kind of a strange position when you look into what people in the same age are doing, what their lives are like and so on… anyhow, let it be, I stick to my path and see where I end up..
2. Wise words– it’s a blessing to find your path in life. That has, for example, earned you some pretty impressive credentials like “a snowboard legend” to which you are referred to as on many pieces written about you. Also, the Onboard mag listed you as being the “6th Most Influential Male rider in the past 10 years” and when Snowboarder mag gave today’s top riders a chance to vote for the best 20 riders ever — you came in as 14th. That’s a tight legacy to leave behind in the history of snowboarding! How does that kinda recognition feel like?
It feels great for sure. I mean, I was just having fun, snowboarding my brains out. I never would have thought it got so much recognition while I was doing it. It’s great meeting people who got inspiration of films they’ve seen, etc. Also when I crashed my knee 2 times in a row and was out of any serious riding for 3 years I got great back up from friends and people in the sport. Though lots of people thought I never would get back to it as well… I took the time while injured as a break from the whole scene. 10 straight years of pro riding was, believe it or not, quite challenging after awhile.
3. Leaving the hype aside for a moment, what are the downsides of living a pro life? Unrealistic expectations from sponsors, pressure in filming situations, living under constant limelight and media attention — do they affect you at all and if so, is it any different compared to when you started your career?
Well, the time away from family and friends is difficult, as well as keeping up relationships. This is a big sacrifice that comes with the task. My career started really early and since then it´s been busy. I was back home for a few years during my knee injury and thought I’d quit my nomadic life… but I still had the urge for riding so perhaps this is the path that is chosen for me. So I will go with it and take it as it comes… perhaps I will find a balance as I grow older. The media connection can stress me out from time to time but that is also something that comes with the life I live… I try not to be affected by it but there will aways be expectations of me which also can be a good thing — reminding me that people want more of me and acting as a personal motivator. I’m grateful that I get to live this life, but when friends die in the mountains I always get frightened that I could be next… But thanks for all the motivation & support you all!
4. After those few years off the pro circles, you’re back with a new sponsor — The North Face. The company is known for its innovative products for true explorers and athletes pushing their limits in extreme conditions. Your love & dedication for big mountain riding must reflect this business relationship somehow?
Yes, I had the feeling that if the right set up occurred, I’d get back into it. The snowboard industry just didn’t seem too tempting at the time I was last riding as a pro. Since a couple of years before dropping out due to the knee crash I felt that the industry and myself were walking different directions. Freeriding didn’t get much space with the new urban style and pure cheese wedge Freestyle riding. Designing products was always a hard task since most people thought that Freeriding was all about eating granola bars and wearing tight clothing. While the true Freeride group of people were mostly older freestylers that moved on to challenges in the mountains instead of lining up in the parks or lift lines. So now, with The North Face it feels like there is a bigger possibility to make gear for riders that want the right stuff with the right size, cut and style.
5. What kinda projects do you have going on with The North Face right now?
I only just started riding for The North Face — so far I’ve been working on developing a pant and a jacket , but also there a lot of other gear that we work on with the whole team. This winter I dropped the bindings on my snowboard and started noboarding. This brought me lots of new motivation due to new challenges. With noboarding I’m going to start making a boot that will work for it. Also I’d like to make some more protective clothing that prevent cuts from the board while riding.
6. Did you feel that anything changed within yourself, as a rider, while you took a small break from professional snowboarding?
Yes, I got a break from the stress of always proving myself, riding with friends and talking things in my own tempo made me for sure apriciate riding again lots more. Also just realizing the freedom of being in mountains.
7. What does Alaska represent to you?
Stress, insane riding, end of the season and a shitload of crappy weather.
8. You have been riding with pioneers like Jeff Brushie, Craig Kelly, Bryan Iguchi, Peter Line … riders that have pushed the sport to where its at today. They must have motivated you when you were starting out your career. Now the tables have turned and you are the one kids look up to. What do you think about the new generation, laying down the law in snowboarding today? Any names you’d like to pick as the ones doing the pushing right now and do you follow the scene closely?
No doubt Travis Rice is pushing it right now, the guy charges pretty damm hard… Back in the days when I got to meet the Pro’s like above it was a big motivation. I had the fortune to ride a bunch with Terje; when he was just playing around it was a major motivator… If anything in specific I think watching Terje ride taught me to keep calm. Not to use so much power when executing tricks, etc. Today the progression of the sport is still pushing it and the guys are doing great. But personally, for me, it’s not so interesting anymore… these days it’s more about riding good terrain with friends who motivate you to go out. I was involved in the scene for quite some time so it got a bit too much after a while.
9. You must have attended hundreds of events and contests over the years. Do they hold any interest to you anymore?
I was never into competing, I never quite had the nerves for it: either I was too amped or not at all. Now with Freeriding or big mountain riding I like to keep it pure. I don’t want to bring the competition side into it because of a few reasons. One is that I don´t have to…
10. My first ever trip to abroad ski resort was by bus to Gällivare in the 80’s. All I recall is the pastel colored hotel. Tell us something about the place as you grew up there?
It´s a mining town in the north of Sweden, and it’s got a ski resort 5 mins away from town. I started snowboarding there in 88 with some friends. The seasons were long, but there was never anything made for snowboarding up there. Luckily there is some natural terrain that you can get freestylie on, and as soon as the snowboard movies came out we started to practice new tricks. And so the time passed – some people quit and some kept going… Me and a couple of friends started competing in the Swedish halfpipe tour. And from there on I left home and started my journey…
11. Every circle closes up sometime and it seems that for you this one did when you returned to Gällivare to be one of the powering engines behind “Thunderpark” project at the local resort where you originally started snowboarding. How has that journey been from day one and how’s the future of it looking like?
It´s over and done with, I like to go 100% with snowboarding and didn’t get the backup I needed so instead of wasting time, I quit. Anyhow, we built a sick super pipe in dirt so it’s ready to go whenever someone feels like doing it. Now I can say that at least that I did something for the riders back home that is growing up there right now.
12. Do you see yourself settling down to somewhere north, like Gällivare in the Arctic Circle — living in a big city somehow doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, so to speak. Am I totally wrong to think that?
Huh, big cities aren’t my thing for sure. I like to go and visit, check out clubs and new music etc. but I like my space, that’s for sure… Never easy being a restless soul though.
13. If you could choose any location/locations where to travel tomorrow, where would you find yourself at?
On a surf break in Indo!!
14. Quoting your interview March 1995 TWS issue: “After snowboarding, I want to get a big dog and move to the States”. This was the plan 13 years ago. Obviously you are not done with snowboarding, but has the plan remained the same…?
Hehe, perhaps not the States… I did move to Canada though and bought a big truck instead!