[Cowboy style in Avoriaz. Photo: Matt Georges]
Darius Heristchian could very well be one of the nicest dudes in snowboarding. Always quick to laugh and quicker to listen, his good nature off the board was complimented by some serious skills when strapped in. He was also one of the most stylish riders of his generation, pioneering the art of holding grabs and tweaking technical tricks before it became the norm. As one of the riders at the forefront of the Geneva snowboard scene that made waves in the early 2000s, the eloquent ex-pro is well placed to talk about the evolution of snowboarding as well as how, despite frantic multi-corking progression, he still sees hope for the future. In short, Darius is the man. Read on...
When was the first time you saw a snowboard?
Wow… In 1985-6 I believe. It was in one of the first snowboard journals that came out, called Fun Sensation. I saw this and I was already skateboarding and I said “Wow, I have to try this out!" The first year I rented a board for the winter was in 88, and I had started the year before with a skate deck without trucks in my backyard.
When you got into snowboarding, did you just start going riding whenever you could?
The first year I was doing ‘backyard skateboard snowboarding’ [laughs] and the year after when we went on Christmas holidays I rented my first board. From this time, pretty young, I had access to the bus station in Geneva where you could go buy a ticket – all inclusive – for any resort next to Geneva. That’s how I managed to go as much as I could during weekends, as my parents weren’t skiing we didn’t have a mountain chalet or anything. That’s how I met many of the guys I rode with, like Joël Strecker, Romain de Marchi, all these guys. Those busses were the only opportunity you had if your parents were not full time skiers to go shred.
At some point you got sponsored. How did that happen?
It went almost the classical way from shop to national, to international. It starts from a shop deal – your local shop – it is usually not a full sponsorship, more some kind of discount on goods. If you shred with passion the guys from the scene will get to hear about you.
In Geneva we had Robert Etienne, a guy who’s pretty involved in the industry, and he used to have a shop called Wind Service in Geneva; he’s the guy who introduced skateboarding in town. He brought skateboarding and all these American influences you couldn’t find at the time – there was no internet, rarely any books in the book stores or newspapers – so his was the place that all kids who wanted this inspiration, this stuff we didn’t have. I was 11 years old and that’s where I’d meet all my friends. You don’t get to see that much anymore. So, yeah, Robert sponsored me first for Wind Service.
"I was 18 or 19 and went in my first ever real pro contest where I was riding against Marius Sommer, David Benedek and all these guys. I was just the nobody and all these guys were starting to be famous, basically."
How did things move on after that? Got flowed some kit and then did some contests?
Yeah, some contests. When you’re young… if kids want to know how to get sponsored it’s basically get into the scene, and at that time it was meeting at contests. I did a few amateur ones and was lucky – I won two in a row – so got a bit of attention. Arlette Jarvet came in and she was many times Swiss halfpipe champion and was working for Rossignol then. Well, she’s just an awesome girl, and she helped me with some boards for two years, and then I got a deal with Hammer and that’s how it started, basically. Started for real, you know?
Parallel to the board and clothing sponsors, there was the PULP 68 story. It was a small shop with the biggest heart and this was like the place where we’d all meet hang out, talk tricks and book sessions for weekend and holidays. Jim from Pulp had brought us the place and the mood to 'federate and believe in ourselves' way before freestyle clubs saw the light. In a city where no on would give a darn about snowboarding. (I remember asking my college for possibility to have flexible agenda to attend competitions. No, we only recognize Sports status for golf and soccer....)
I think the first time I remember seeing your name was one of the old Quik Cups. I don’t know if you were actually in this photo I remember seeing, but it was three Swiss kids I’d not heard of three-waying this hip. Maybe you, Jonas Emery and Romain. Was that right?
Yeah, Jonas, Romain, Jerome Strecker, the older brother of Joël, we would shred together and do some fireworks. Sometimes we would ride… I’m Goofy so I would ride the backside wall and they would hit the left hip.
Was that around the time you started getting a bit more support?
It was a bit before that that. The first move for me was when I completed highschool and I had Hammer as a sponsor – I just got boards – and I decided to go for a year of adventures, starting to work at summer camps. That’s where I started meeting many guys from the industry, getting coached by pros, and that was the second booster for me. I got to meet Carlos, at the time team manager for Hammer, and he took me with the team and said “Come to some pro contests," and they took me to Kaunertal Opening. I was 18 or 19 and went in my first ever real pro contest where I was riding against Marius Sommer, David Benedek and all these guys. I was just the nobody and all these guys were starting to be famous, basically.
Then Carlos switched to Nidecker and took me with him; that is when I signed for my Pro model. They had a team of Swiss legends (underground skate/surf/snowboarders) Norman Kerr, Dom Corti and Kooky Pham – they were good in every aspect of snowboarding, pipe, jibs and good freeriders. Pat Vermeulen was one of them and he was already into film and photography.
How did you do?
Yeah, I got second! [laughs]. That was another good move to get deeper in the system [laughs].
Another thing that I remember vividly is THAT corked backside 540 you did at Air+Style, maybe in 2001. Did it feel as good as it looked?
Yeah, it still does actually [laughs]. I had this trick really dialled. It was feeling really comfy because I was just popping it really fast and just slowing the spinning down as soon as I would have the grab. Then I would just have to let everything go and focus on the landing. It was one of the coolest feelings you could have, for sure.
Even though the riding of today is on a whole other level, I still don’t think I’ve seen a better one than that.
Cool, thanks! At the time as that trick was really special and kinda new, I thought every run I would got for one technical trick and keep the back 5 as a style trick, before they actually made it the rule. I did backside 7, backside 5, then Cab 7 cork, backside 5 – the new kids are probably laughing thinking you could be in finals doing these 7s [laughs]. And the final run I did the backside 5 too and went for a Cab 10, I just didn’t stomp it and that’s how [Stefan] Gimpl got first place. I got second.
"The new kids are probably laughing thinking you could be in finals doing these 7s [laughs]."
How about filming? Did you film many parts?
The first was Deep Freeze, my first ever year as a pro and one of my best video parts probably. Phil Tremsal made it. I filmed a few years with him [check Bed & Breakfast, a banger from 2000 in which Darius has the opener], did some occasional shooting with Brusti and Hostynek at Absinthe – never as a real featured rider, but I got some footage. I filmed with Mosberg for 1999 with Babs [Charlet] and [Michi] Albin, then we did some tiny projects with Nidecker and Pat Vermeulen who was filming Super 16, Super 8 movies. They were pretty cool films it was just there was no real distribution behind them. But, man, those were good times. I used to love contests but I didn’t see myself as a contest rider. I was doing well in contests but my thing was to work on moves and style. So for me filming and photography was cool and always an interesting, long term project. It was analog photography [then] and I used to film a lot on 16mm too, so it you couldn't see the result right there – you had to commit all year long, and you weren’t sure if your best trick was going to work out. It had something more precious. At the time it was more important. As kids, we’d wait 6 months to have the new movies! These days there’s always new content coming, more content, sometimes less valuable content. Lots of noise on the internet, I mean I’m not giving shit to the internet. It’s awesome that movies can travel so fast, it’s just it was more precious at that time because it was more rare.
Then you were pretty involved in producing Thermos in 2006. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I actually co-produced it, It came out of mine and Oliver’s minds and the riders I 'casted' loved the idea and committed for it. We though, and "what if we’d do the snowboarding version inspired The Endless Summer? The fact they believed in it made it the great thing it became.
In 2003 I had a pretty bad neck injury. I really injured my nerves doing a big whiplash and lost strength in many muscles, lost feeling in the fingers and it was a really tough 18-month process to recover. When I came back I’d lost most of my sponsors – I still had Nidecker behind me, but Quiksilver had let me down – so I was thinking 'should I be off for ever or do I want to get back in this?' I think that goes through the mind of anyone who’s been injured. But I thought ‘what have I got from snowboarding?’ It brought me lots of adventure and I wanted to give something back and share. Talking with friends and Olivier [Pictet], the Thermos filmer and editor, we thought “come on man, all these snowboard movies are amazing but they always look the same and it’s always about action action action". My parents don’t even know what my winter looks like. They think I’m still just going out having fun. Even though I was riding for Nidecker and there was all these guys working in the factory, I wasn’t really sure they understood what these ‘sponsored’ guys were doing. So we felt there was some shadow to uncover on what was the beauty of snowboarding besides the pure performance.
What Rip Curl would call The Search...
Exactly. This was our Search. We wanted to do our movie, do something special. I was still sponsored but lost most of my contracts, so I went back to these guys and said we have a project, it’s going to be something unique. A long term project, a documentary, something timeless we can share, and that shows what snowboarding is to us and what could be appealing to the masses. Get the people wanting to go to the mountains. I called my friends Thomas Brunner, Joël, Mathieu Crepel… guys I had more than just a riding relationship with. That’s what gave birth to Thermos. It was two years of filming, the idea was each rider would help us discover places they know or came from. Something to share together. Like a Thermos flask after a session.
"I'm not giving shit to the internet. It’s awesome that movies can travel so fast today, it’s just it was more precious [before] because it was more rare."
After that you got on Rip Curl?
Yeah, filmed for their Welcome Home movies, went on two Search trips which were pretty awesome. I think Thermos was my key to Rip Curl. They realised I was a guy who had the Search spirit and when we met I told them I wanted to get more involved in such projects and they were into these ideas too so we did the Rip Curl Himalaya Search, where we tried to build the highest jump ever. That didn’t work out but we did ride and enjoyed really special times in special places. The year after we went to Abkhazia, which was also really memorable. We were actually the first people to ride those slopes, with powder fields on one side and the Black Sea on the other. This place was desolated, after the conflict there was not much left there. Almost like a ghost country. Beautiful scenery, really nice people and, well, it’s a country that’s had to survive conflict.
[Do yourself a favour: Set aside an hour and give Thermos a watch. Full movie below.]
At some point you must have realised your career as a pro was starting to wind down.
I’d had many injuries but you still want to ride and live what you live, but there has to be a step after this. So I went back to studying, but was able to be pro for two more years while doing this, and after, reaching the end, you have to set other priorities. I was still trying to move on some projects, I wanted to visit Iran, but the trip got moved to another date when I was doing my exams and I had to cancel. You grow up and realise if you want to make things count after snowboarding you have to prepare, so I had to work on something else.
What did you study?
Economics. There was a bit of everything. A bit of marketing, and when you’re a snowboarder you’re in this system, so it was pretty interesting to see from the other side too. After graduating at first I kept on riding, did some coaching for a club in Geneva with really talented 11-15-year-olds. Then for a year and a half I worked for an internet startup, Mountain Days, so I was really still in the mountain field, and then an internship at Oakley and then last year I was back at Nidecker. doing the export management, so I took care of all distribution. As of November 1st I started working for GIRO as Snow Category manager EMEA.
What’s the biggest thing that’s changed from when you were coming up to now when a kid today is?
The sport’s got mature. When my generation stepped into snowboarding we were maybe the second or third generation. Snowboarding was an alternative lifestyle, it was a full package of life. That’s what made the scene so small and so tight. Now it’s getting more competitive, and less room for people. It’s probably hard to have such a solid scene together. Of course the level has gone up and the personal investment – training, support, everything has raised. Before you could party, ride hungover and maybe learn some new tricks, but now the level’s so high you really need to train. Also parents are now more willing to support their kids in snowboarding, because they’ve seen people make careers from it. When I was young there was just a blank page.
Is that good or bad?
It’s humanity, dude. Progression has some good and bad. It’s weird to see that the guys in the spotlight are below 20, even below 16, so often they don’t have a lot to share except their amazing riding ability. But they’re living in the moment, which is amazing. When I was young I often liked spending time with the older guys and learning from their experiences but today... it’s not a criticism, they’re so young and just focussing on what they’re able to focus on. But I have to give big thanks to Jasper Sanders at Quiksilver or Damien Giraud, who were older guys in the business but they had other lives, too, and they gave us so much from their other experiences. That’s what I wish for the young kids, for them to – despite the commitments they have – be able to find inspiration that will help them go to the next step afterwards. There’s not much room to be Travis Rice or Nicolas Müller – first because of their level of riding but also, sad to say, because of the market. There’s not much room for guys who would have this approach. I don’t think there’s good or bad, we have to see it coming and enjoy what comes and take more opportunity to share between the generations, because when I was in contests in 2008 I was checking birthdates, like ‘Man, are you born already?!’ [laughs]. They’re so young and you feel so old, but actually you have so many things you could share with them – not on tricks, but there’s all the other aspects and that’s what you get to see in big mountain riding. Of course you want that any kid that rides good has the chance to discover all the other aspects of snowboarding but that only happens to the ones who can last long enough to have this access.
Yeah, learning from the older generation is important here too I feel.
That’s where the industry shot itself in the foot, because when you’re approaching 30 you’re not bankable anymore. Nowadays some brands woke up and hire guys like Bryan Iguchi or other guys again and they realised that if you want to be a brand that is legit you need to have some guys who’ve been there and give legitimacy and have lots of knowledge. It’s just if you manage it from a bottom line point of view you’re going to think you need riders that are bankable, but I think we’re getting to a rebirth of the sport. People are enjoying carving, you see kids that do triples that post edits of them doing Vitteli turns, you know? Look at the guy who did that amazing turn to nollie McTwist... Alek Østreng. Does he know who Serge Vitteli is? Probably not, but he’s been taking something from snowboarding that existed 25, 30 years ago and he added this to modern snowboarding, so I think the future of snowboarding is super bright because now it’s matured enough to take inspiration from what was there. Maybe when we were young we were so focussed on wanting to be the new guys, beat the old guys, that for us the past was something you had to distance yourself from. There was a generation that maybe missed a link. A few years ago at Freestyle.CH I remember some guy asking the hot pros if they knew who Jamie Lynn was. Not many of them knew. Luckily for snowboarding Terje is still there, Jamie’s still there and these guys need to be there...
"Does Alek Østreng know who Serge Vitteli is? Probably not, but he’s been taking something that existed 25, 30 years ago and added this to modern snowboarding, so I think the future of snowboarding is super bright."
Cool. This has been really interesting. Any last words?
So there’s a little contest I organise. An amateur, fully open contest happening in Thyon, one of the first freestyle resorts we had in our area. Along with Champery-Les Crosets they were the first to move their ass and have a park. We owe a lot to these guys for working so hard so we could learn, so we’re doing a fun event called L’Entract – the intermission in English. So L’Entract is actually the intermission of the Gangs of Thyon contest that’s been going 10 years, and it’s a straight air-only contest. No spin to win, just straight airs, regular or switch. I love to see progression, single, double, triple, quadruple corks, I’m not against it at all, but another way is how can we progress if we take away the spins? What can you do? Style, straight airs, nollies… there’s so much you can come up with if you’re not thinking I need to win by superlatives. I don’t have the exact dates yet but will have them in a couple of weeks. On the Sunday we’ll have L’Entract so people can chill a little, we’ll invite older riders, legends, everyone can come and give some. We just want to have an event where the old guys are not scared to jump [laughs] and can ride with the young guys and meet and have an exchange.
I'd like to dedicate this interview to our Lost friend Philip Berclaz. He was an amazing fellow and was a photo contributor to Onboard and snow mags on the side of his job. He had passion and has followed and supported us during the two Thermos seasons. He witnessed lot of our evolution, always with great uronic humour, smart vision and a strong shovel hand and a good click of the shutter.
He passed away bit more than one year after the movie from Leukaemia. We miss you, Berklaz.