We start off our new regular feature focussing on some of European snowboarding’s great and good by catching up with Austrian legend Thomas ‘Beckna’ Eberharter. From his early days as one of the founding members of the infamous Ästhetiker crew, to podiuming at the Air+Style, to his current enthusiasm for epic Zillertal landscape photography, Beckna certainly deserves your respect. And even today, he’s still got one of the best Methods in the game...
Interview: Joe Cavanagh
Hey Beckna, how’s it going. You ready to do this?
Yeah all good, mate. I’m just a little... not out of the scene obviously but my focus wasn’t really on the industry or anything in the last year-and-a-half or something. Obviously I was in there for 20 years when there were ‘brighter days’ industry-wise. I don’t have to tell you, print-wise with your magazines gone now it’s sad to see, but somehow I understand that things need to move on. Maybe for the better, I don’t know. If someone told me five years ago that people will make a career out of their Facebook or Instagram accounts I’d have been like “Whoa!" I didn’t see that coming, to be honest.
A lot’s changed, for sure. When did you start snowboarding?
I started in the winter of 88-89. In Zillertal.
Was there a good scene of riders there back then?
There were a few guys before me – not a whole lot – maybe not even a handful – but then us, our little crew, we had the ‘Broken Bones Company’ that we were called ourselves at the time. Just friends from school. We were the skate rats of the town, and it was all right there and snowboarding just came along and we were on it right away [laughs]. It wasn’t like these days; we still had to battle to have access to the lift and [snowboarding] wasn’t allowed everywhere at first. Obviously there was no park, no jumps, so we needed to make everything ourselves – we dug a pipe and it would take 10 people over a week to get sort of a ditch together [laughs]. But great times, I’d never want to miss them. Good times, for sure.
I have it here that you were first sponsored by ‘Steep and Deep’. Is that right?
Yeah. What favoured us here is certainly that the Hintertux glacier is around the corner. I used to go up there a lot and it used to be better up there, to be honest. This year, the glaciers are suffering. It’s so hot, I just watched it on webcam this morning and I was like ‘Jesus Christ, is that for real?’ If I remember back to how much snow there was in my childhood up there… pff… It’s hard to believe. But Steep and Deep was these guys who were very enthusiastic, experimenting with shapes and stuff. I think kinda forerunners, somehow. Anyway, I bumped into them and they kind of asked me if I wanted to try their boards. I remember I mounted it wrong from the get-go [laughs], but anyways I just got a few boards from them, I stuck with them and got a few things every year. We didn’t need a lot then, we just wanted to go riding [laughs]. It didn’t matter, there wasn’t such a big hype over your clothing or whatever, you just tried to be not completely frozen up. Or that your bindings didn’t fall apart, and you’d screw around, tune stuff in the time before the highbacks got cut down. But I hung around with these [Steep and Deep] guys a bunch, they were good riders so it was great to see these cats riding and you would always feed from them, because there was no Facebook video… we had to wait for Buyers’ Guides. This time of the year, I’d have been itching to get a Transworld or a Snowboarder... that was all time. You would literally sit over this mag for the whole month of September-October, basically [laughs].
If someone told me five years ago that people will make a career out of their Facebook or Instagram accounts I’d have been like “Whoa!" I didn’t see that coming, to be honest.
When your pro career wound down, you worked as the Vans Team Manager for quite a few years, right?
Yeah, I was riding for Vans before and I got signed when Vans was still independent, in 98 I think it was. The company grew quite quick and Peter Derricks, who was marketing manager at the time, we sort of had the same vision of how things should be run in the industry and so one day he asked if I would be interested in helping him out because he was so busy with all the other stuff that was exploding at that time. I was like, sure, it’s learning by doing and we’d never had a management as such, so for me it was a good chance to see the other side of the industry. See how everything works in terms of product development, budgets, sales, reps… the whole shebang.
Was your decision to stop doing that job because you weren’t down with the direction snowboarding was going in?
A little bit, for sure. Just the outlook of some of the kids these days… I don’t really get it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to bitch around here, but my main thing is that snowboarding’s such a cool thing, you know? Me living in Mayrhofen, I go a lot to the mountains [in summer] and very much look forward to the time I can strap in again and ride down these things. It’s like a magic carpet for me. But snowboarding is so diverse: people ride rails, indoor… I live in the mountains and it’s this toy for me that brings great joy, that gives me a time-out and let’s me forget about bills, work… It’s just something that you completely open yourself up to. When you’re a certain level in snowboarding you see trannies... it’s like a painting. If I see someone like [Steve] Gruber riding it’s like drawing on the mountain. A lot of people don’t do that anymore; they just see one more spin, and that’s not the art. Seeing a backside air by Jamie Lynn… you don’t need to go crazy technical all the time, snowboarding is so much more. So I’m not really backing the way it’s going at times, especially with the Olympics and stuff and seeing the decision where it’s going now to Beijing… I just think that’s wrong. We weren’t idolising, but Terje was always someone to look up to. His decisions... he was a guy who was standing for something, you know what I mean? I always admired that. Nowadays, there are so many young guys jumping for the bait, just to get a hundred quid or something to put a big sticker on their head without knowing what they market. Terje was always ahead of that.
Seeing a backside air by Jamie Lynn… you don’t need to go crazy technical all the time, snowboarding is so much more.
Out of the modern day riders, are there any you really enjoy watching? Guys who you think are on the right path?
Yeah, for sure! Obviously times have changed and these guys have to adapt, but if I look at Ståle for instance, he’s amazing. It’s ridiculous what these guys are able to do these days. Not in our wildest dreams would we have imagined what... say Sven Thorgren what I saw him do last year in Stubai in fall I was like ‘Jesus Christ, where should it go from there?!’ [laughs]. It’s heavy! It must be heavy on the body, it’s crazy. The size of the jumps, travelling over six, seven months, beating up your body, you need a certain someone to look out for you nowadays. You need a physio I guess. If you ride at that level it’s just going to beat you up after two or three years, for sure.
It’s for sure hard on the body, and one reason for trying to create a unified contest circuit with six main events is because six is enough for a rider’s body. That must be quite different to when, say, you were riding at the Air+Styles…
Again, Air+Style is happening in Innsbruck. That’s where the roots are, that’s where I think the contest should be. I see it in LA now with Shaun... pff, I don’t back it. Sorry. I can openly say that. Maybe it’s good for snowboarding, I don’t care really. I don’t like what a guy like Shaun is doing. He has so much that he needs to be thankful to snowboarding for, but I don’t think he’s paying his dues. That’s my personal opinion on it. The Air+Style back in the day was a happening. There was such a good crowd there that everybody understood what was going down. There was history, there were new tricks being made, I mean at one stage when Peter Line did a switch back 7 nobody even knew what he was doing. He was so far ahead. The year I got third, in 1998, Ingemar won with a switch backside 540 which was just… wow. And that jump was not easy at that time. Those were good times, but with the accident… I mean it was a great transition for Andrew [Hourmont] and stuff and I totally back it somehow, but personally I don’t. The latest ones I didn’t really enjoy watching. It’s more like robot riding for me. How many back 1080s with a Mute grab? Kinda lost the spirit a little bit in my opinion.
For me, to take the guys you mentioned earlier, people like Sven and Ståle now are trying to find that balance between the stylish and the progressive. It always takes time for the style aspect to catch up with progression.
Fully, but on the other hand I can tell you that those tricks don’t matter if it snows. And I at least enjoy riding powder. On any given pow day when there’s like 30-40 cm, which we all want to ride, there are no double corks. You don’t have that perfect trannie. Not even Sage [Kotsenburg] or very good riders, they don’t do triple corks in the pow on a natural takeoff. Travis [Rice] is a good example. He pushed very heavily in natural terrain. I’m definitely going to watch that new thing that he’s bringing out, whenever that is – I always enjoy little edits from him off windlips and stuff. So I think the contest riding is developing and you have all the rail stuff going on, and it’s very country-specific. I’m just a little confused and don’t really know what I should think about all this, but my personal opinion is, sometimes, it was better when they hated us, you know what I mean? [laughs].
Do you think snowboarding is becoming too inaccessible?
Perhaps, yes, if you’re a little kid these days and you see the level of those tricks, you might go ‘damn, it’s like gymnastics.’ But as I said, again, if you watch someone guinea pig a jump or a natural trannie and someone films it in perfect light or you take a picture of it, that’s what transports to the people. They say ‘Damn, that looks fun’. If you’re a tranny finder and just float down, that’s what the people like to see, I think. Not only heavy, heavy, tricks. Because then it gets boring. That’s just core stuff anyway, and the majority of the guys... especially talking about British guys coming to Mayrhofen in winter, how much time do they ride a year? 10 days max? It’s out of their league, basically, to do something like that. But they have a good time if they make a pow turn. I totally think people get bored of watching just heavy tricks at the moment.
I think there are a lot of people thinking that same. But at the same time I think an exciting thing will be to see when guys like Ståle and Sven start riding more pow and then they can transfer their abilities and increase their perception of terrain…
Of course, but it’s not like that hasn’t happened. You’ve got guys like Mark McMorris who joined the Ultranatural, but trust me these guys won’t shine from the first day on because they have to pay their dues. It’s tiring, it’s not a ride in the park, you know what I mean? It’s nature and you need the eye… Jake Blauvelt is doing a great thing, but again, these guys have big budgets to film the segments, fly to Alaska, and at the same time the industry’s suffering heavily – there’s cuts all around – so my personal take was I just wanted to get away from all of this because snowboarding is way too precious for me and someone, or a paycheck, could ruin that for me. I’d rather be independent in terms of receiving money for it, and just have my freedom again. Just go on the mountain and completely switch off. Do an ollie transfer along the cat track and that gives me a smile.
I’d rather be independent in terms of receiving money for snowboarding, and just have my freedom again. Just go on the mountain and completely switch off.
Do you ride with a crew in Zillertal at the moment?
My time is pretty limited but I try to go on the mountain every day it’s possible in the winter, even if it’s just for an hour. I’m pretty easy at adapting to a crew, if someone is smiling and cruising, I’m down [laughs]. Obviously if I have a free day I have a couple of guys I like to ride with: Gruber, Wolle (Nyvelt). Obviously I wouldn’t mind going out riding with Nicolas [Müller] for a day [laughs], and it’s not like he’d totally ruin us, it’s not like you quit as a pro and you’re gone. I’m still learning every time I go to the mountain. These days it’s more splitboarding, discovering new zones. It’s better for me to go out and do one run in a new zone than the 20th time at the same spot where it’s crowded. I’m just trying to get away from the crowds, for sure.
Enjoy things a bit more.
Yeah, you’re out in nature. What is there not to enjoy? As I said, it’s like a magic carpet. Sometimes you walk uphill for 2000m, it takes you four-and-a-half, five hours, you’re completely dripping in sweat, but then I’m back at the car in seven minutes. That’s ridiculous. It’s the best feeling in the world [laughs]. It’s not like you stop learning because you hit a certain age. I think that snowboarding also needs to include the older riders a bit more in the industry. I saw Bryan Iguchi got a contract last year, that was good to see, I see Jamie Lynn still travelling and enjoys riding… You go to Baker Banked Slalom for instance. That’s a happening. You can’t rock up there as a young gun and think you’re going to kill it, because you’re not gonna [laughs]. People are going to school you [laughs].
I guess you’re tight on time, so just one last thing. You have anyone in snowboarding you want to thank over the years?
I would definitely like to thank the whole Ästhetiker crew: mainly Friedl Kolar, Steve Gruber, Wolle Nyvelt, Gogo Gossner, Bernd Egger, Dieter Steinhardt, the guys I grew up with and we just had the best time in the world. We were there at the time snowboarding was just starting to become popular and all the companies jumped on the train because they wanted a piece of it marketing-wise and we were just there. Not with the mindset of becoming millionaires, but just to travel the world, see different places, find the best pow, and have a good time.
I feel we could talk a lot more. I’ll have to swing by for a beer in Mayrhofen this winter.
You’re always welcome, mate. Right next to the train station, I’ll be serving schnitzels and stuff [laughs].
I’m there. Thanks so much for your time Beckna.
Humble as ever, Beckna didn’t even mention that he’s quickly becoming something of a photographic bossman. If you want to check out some epic mountain porn, hit him with an Instagram follow on @becknaphoto or check www.facebook.com/Becknaphoto