[Arthur soul surfing during a break from the contest merry-go-round. Photo: Matt Georges]
Arthur Longo is one of the rare breed of riders who are capable of going from filming a heavy backcountry freestyle part one year – see his part in Pirates Unique 8 – to making the cut for his country's Olympic team the next. He's beaten the contest circuit a bunch over the duration of his career, and ridden in the multitude of different tours and event formats, so we thought he'd be the perfect guy to shoot the shit with about competitive snowboarding...
Competitive snowboarding’s structure is currently fragmented. You have WST, FIS, Dew Tour, Air+Style tours… Which of these have you spent time on and of those which do you prefer?
I pretty much experienced all of them over the years. I think the Air+Style has always been up there because of its history and the big crowd in the arena. I like it when an event is made for the public and not only for the live stream – it really gives you some feelings we’re not familiar with as snowboarders. Also the people in Innsbruck are so passionate; it’s nice to see that. But at the end of the day any contest can be great when the set up – course and conditions – is right, and sometimes it even happens during a World Cup.
As a rider, are the differences really that strong between the tours?
Every contest – even if they seem to be somewhat classic – is different. On the WST tour at some point they really tried to be closer to the riders’ opinions and wishes. So of course there are differences like the amount of riders, the contest format and also the judging approach. What’s really different and kind of new is that it's become “normal" to have a coach and staff around you, which was concerning only World Cups a little while ago. The competitive vibes start to be felt at every single contest, whether it’s supposed to be a cool event or not –especially in halfpipe, which seems to be still different to slopestyle I feel. And regarding the setups: we would tend to think that some contests are better, but it's only in the way that there’s more or less money involved so they can do a nice big course, rather than something less perfect. But we keep seeing the same halfpipes and the same straight slopestyles when creative courses could be the best progression and challenge for snowboarding. But it doesn’t concern every contest, don’t get me wrong. I love to see new setups like the double pipe, Peace Park, the Arctic Challenge, all those funny banked slaloms… At bigger events the list of riders is usually way shorter, which is too selective sometimes, but also easier for us to share with the others and to feel part of a group.
Everyone talks about the craziness of the situation, but then no one can ever seem to pull together in a unified direction to effect change. Why do you think this is and can it be fixed?
It’s true that it became really messy at some point with the WST tour and the World Cups on the side that are for our selections to the Olympics. We all care and would like it to be more simple, but it’s difficult to individually take action. I feel that [as riders] we always try to do what’s good for us in the short term, because a season is short and that we always have to prove ourselves so we go to one event after another without having much control, just doing our best. It’s hard to harmonize all those contests mainly because of the FIS that want to hold on to snowboarding, but it will perhaps be easier if one day we manage to be independent. I feel that the only problem is the Olympics and its selection, other than that – even if the events are not part of a bigger structure – I don’t think it’s a problem. Independent contests are not a bad thing as long as they are cool for the riders to attend, and there will always be a natural selection of events to go to, or events to avoid. I think the biggest challenge is for the kids to have a good base so they would have an actual way to build up to better contests with a structure in place around them.
"Personally I start to get good when the rhythm is a bit intense and I’m usually really bad when I’ve been waiting one hour to take my run, it’s just more scary and less comfortable."
Three runs and done or jam session? Which side of the fence would you be on?
At some events we don’t even get three runs. I think that having three runs is already a really good thing – they allow us to make mistakes and take some risks, which is way harder with only two runs. That format is probably the best option for serious events; cameras are not missing anything of our runs and neither are the judges. But in a final with 12 people and almost as many girls it can get pretty long for the riders. That’s why a jam session, or just a quicker rotation and more runs (if the riders want to), would be great for us. Personally, I start to get good when the rhythm is a bit intense and I’m usually really bad when I’ve been waiting one hour to take my run – it’s just more scary and less comfortable. If we could find a good solution for the TV and the judging I would sign up for the jam session over anything else.
What’s the best contest you’ve ever entered?
There is not just one because they are not always nice for the same reasons. If you feel good riding a course and you end up on the podium it’s easy to think that it was a good contest. The Arctic Challenge has always been great because of the way they treat the riders and the way they make them responsible. We always decided as a group when is the best time to have a session, trying to make everyone feel comfortable. But the real best ones, even if it’s gonna sound stupid, are those at which you have fun; at which you share things with people you didn’t expect. And they are usually not the biggest ones with the most money involved, they’re the contests created by passionate people with the sole purpose of having a good time. Intercrew, Wängl Tängl, Rat Race… I feel that there are two categories of contests: the fun ones and the gnarly ones, and it’s of course not necessarily accurate to compare them. I remember last winter after the double pipe finals almost all the riders took some laps together in Aspen and it was probably the best time of the week for many of us. These things are rare and these things are what make a contest memorable.
What would be your dream contest setup? And is it possible to have a cool contest format that riders are stoked on which also appeals to a more mainstream audience?
Once again it depends on what type of event we’re talking about, but I feel that every contest could be awesome as long as the conditions are good. I love when it’s nice for the people to watch and I feel that it happens when there is always some action. Commercial breaks and long periods between runs are kinda annoying for the people watching, and for the riders. Therefore sessions would be nice – a period of time during which riders are riding as much as they want, doing technical things and also more basic stuff. It would be also harder to judge that, but usually at the end of a session you know who ripped or not. And what I like the most in snowboarding is its diversity so a dream contest would definitely have a course with more options than straight airs. About the mainstream audience, I don’t know. I feel that some contests out there are pretty big already. Do we really need to have them even more clear and classic for the people to understand?
Is there any one thing that you think that all contests could benefit from implementing?
What matters the most for me are the conditions of the course and the weather – you can be sure that a contest is only gonna be half-good if there is no speed, there's too much wind, or anything that prevents us from feeling good. Having a longer weather period could change the quality of the contest a lot, but it would also mean that we would have to dedicate more time somewhere just for one competition. But maybe it would be the good way of doing things: less in a rush, less contests in a season, but also more commitments.
"Contests for me are a constant update of the progression of snowboarding, they can inspire a lot of people and influence every one of us. But on the other hand they can also get so far from what people can relate to."
In what way do you think that contests are important for snowboarding?
In my experience, contests when I was a kid were a chance. I remember there was already some we didn’t like or complained about, but they were the best way to go to another resort, to meet new people and to watch the best riders. For most individuals it’s a good way to open up to something and to meet people that share the same passion. Unlike skateboarding, we’re doing something that we can’t do in front of our door so young kids need to have the chance to be part of a club or a structure, and at some point it also means attending small contests. As long as the kids don’t hate it I think it’s an awesome way to develop.
And when you grow up it becomes your decision to like it or not; to keep competing or not. That’s the beauty of snowboarding – it’s not competing or nothing, everyone has their own way to do it. Contests for me are a constant update of the progression of snowboarding, they can inspire a lot of people and influence every one of us. But on the other hand they can also get so far from what people can relate to and I don’t know how people feel about the gap between what they like to do on the slopes on the weekends and the endless spins they see on a screen. What I don’t like in snowboarding are standards and as long as we keep our sport a bit creative and constantly evolving I’ll be fine with competition. I wish everything wasn’t split in different categories the way it is with halfpipe, slopestyle, big air…
But back to the importance of contests for snowboarding. I think they are a good window for all the people that don’t know all the subtleties of our sport and I really do think they can motivate people to snowboard. There are sports I don’t know well that I really enjoy to watch in competition and they get me fired up to go out and do it. Also when I get kicked out of an event early I just love to go watch the finals. Contests are great! Sometimes…