Words by Peter Lundström
We once had a guy like Jonas Gustafsson working here at Onboard: a ginger bastard, I mean. Since the chap in the Onboard office was the first red haired person I had ever got to know, I made the assumption that this was what they were all like. Blame him for my generalisations about the ‘rouge’ population, not me. I had heard things like they were supposed to be feisty and short tempered, but the insight I got at Onboard should have come with parental advisory stickers on it. I guess the carrot-headed girlfriend I once had doesn’t really count as a reference point either, since she only coloured her hair to match her hot-tempered and mad personality. A total stunning nutcase, she was. Although I’m not sure if a hair colour should excuse a certain type of behaviour. Anyway, there is always the exception that confirms the rule. Jonas Gustafsson is neither ill tempered nor mad in head.
Jonas’ dad has a massive ginger beard. He and Jonas’ mum, who luckily doesn’t have a massive ginger beard, lived out in the woods outside of Örebro, Sweden, which is where Jonas grew up. Their occupation involved some sort of instrument playing, be it as a music teacher or in a band. So quite naturally, due to a teenagers’ instinctive abhorrence to parental guidance, Jonas’ interest in playing an instrument during his downtime is nowadays miniscule. But it wasn’t easy in the beginning.
“When I was 5 years old, my parents asked me if I wanted to play the violin or the cello. Not if I wanted, but which one," says Jonas. His brother was already a fiddler, so he chose the cello. Twanging the strings of the colossal instrument ended when skateboarding came into the picture. “I remember what an awesome feeling of freedom it was to not have to go to any practice or stuff like that. Whenever I got the urge to go skate I could do so without having to care about any specific practice-schedule." Although all nice and dandy and very snowboard-esque in its free spirit essence, this can of course be seen as a slacker statement from a teenager who couldn’t handle taking orders or make any sort of commitment. Luckily, Jonas is not that type, and would soon prove this by making a huge commitment and moving over 1,000km north to a Hicksville village known as Vännäs. The reason for the move to the northern part of Sweden was in the name of snowboarding. When in early high school, a classmate told him about the snowboard school in Vännäs, a school as well as a village, it was the first time that he knew either existed. His application was soon filed, and a few months later his bags were packed.
Despite constantly being slandered by a number of its former students, this Swedish snowboard school actually generates and graduates soon-to-be international talents on an annual basis. Recent graduates that will soon blow up on an international level, or may have already by the time of print already, include the likes of Jonas Carlsson, Jonthan Nilsson, Tobias Karlsson as well as Jonas’ closest ally, Anton Gunnarsson. Regarding the aforementioned slander, Jonas admits that the conditions at the Vännäs park were all but epic, but it was also very hard not to progress while riding snowboards at least four days a week, plus the two you spend riding at the weekend. It was also a very good place to get to know the rest of the Swedish scene. This is also where the vulturous talent scouts hang around to pick up the up-and-comers before anyone else gets their filthy corporate hands on their young souls. Being a late bloomer has unfortunately put some sticks in the wheels for Jonas. Scouting around for all types of sponsors, the one question that always tripped him on the finish line was “What’s your age?" At 23, convincing team managers that you are the next big thing without having any previous published material is very, very hard. Companies who are clever enough to see that age is only a number and raw talent never goes past its sell-by date include Albin Snowboards, Sessions, SP, Dakine and Dragon. They will, hopefully hand-in-hand with Jonas, be laughing the whole way to the bank for many years to come.
Prior to this, his early skills on a board were mainly thanks to skating and having to ride a snow-sled since he couldn’t afford a proper snowboard. The scene in the usually snow-poor Örebro was at the time on an upswing thanks to the former Swedish pro-come-WE co-founder David Hedman. The local hill, Storstenshöjden, was fitted with a park and a pipe, and it was here that Jonas started to show the commitment that is needed for someone from a town where the snow seldom falls to make it big. “I remember this one time in Storstenshöjden. The pipe was slushy and it was pouring down rain. None of my mates wanted to tag along, so I had to take the bus up there on my own. My mum had made me a lunch box so I could spend the whole day there. I was hiking the pipe in rain-pants. In the afternoon, I had to eat my lunch under a tree to not get completely soaked. And then out for a few more hours in the pipe. It needs to be pretty frickin’ fun to endure that, but I guess snowboarding is just that."
When you ask someone to type down their life story on a couple of pages for a profile in Onboard Magazine, you always know what you are going to get. Usually it’s three pages filled with pink clouds, unicorns, rainbows and a lengthy description of the rider’s undying love for the sport and the extraordinary core-ness of their sponsors. Yawn. To really get the juice, you need someone else to fill in the tasty blanks of depraved debauchery and shameful endeavours. Enter Jonas Gustafsson’s brother.
Risking serious bodily harm, Fredrik, one of Jonas’ three brothers, agreed to give us the lowdown that we knew Jonas wouldn’t. “Jonas is very easily swayed to take on new challenges, and when he does, he doesn’t settle for the semi-professional gear," says Fredrik. “One of the early signs of this, apart from his snowboarding, was when he took up DJ-ing. It all started at the beginning of high school when he considered going to discos too dorky. But he still wanted to be around, so he reckoned that hanging around as the cool DJ would be OK. Jonas was stoked beyond belief and started borrowing mixers and gear, and eventually had a few gigs at local discos. He even built his own light-organ and wasn’t far off buying some real disco lights. Rather amusing when you think about how anti he is nowadays when it comes to listening to Euro disco. The disco DJ thing soon developed into hip-hop, and he bought a mixer and two turntables. He went on some DJ course, still stoked beyond belief. During this era, only the best brands were good enough, on the turntables as well as on his ghetto-fabulous FUBU-ish apparel." Quite amusing as well, when you look at how desperately he wants to distance himself from the ghetto thugged-out part of the sport. His interest in spinning Gang Starr vinyl and donning baggy pants eventually petered out.
Today Jonas doesn’t get hassled for wearing voluminous clothing, rather the opposite – mean-spirited nincompoops frequently bully him for donning jeans that supposedly look like tight thermal underpants. Snappy comebacks from him are always as unlikely as finding a republican at an environmentalist convention. Why? Because he’s a genuinely nice guy. Seriously. You know, the kind who is almost a bit too nice for his own good and risks getting bulldozed in an industry such as this. Not like ‘genuinely nice’ like some half-decent dude who is a cool chap most of the time but always forgets your birthday and calls you a selfish shit when you won’t lend him your most beloved belongings. No, he’s more of the type where the politeness and good manners are so overwhelming that it has you wondering “What’s his problem? There must be something wrong with that guy". But the truth is that if you have a problem with Jonas, you are the problem.
His quest to try and stand out from the rest of the dope hip-hop snowboard clones, apart from his dress code, has given him an approach to filming and shooting that is every photographer’s dream. He is not too cool for school and doesn’t hesitate to drop his punk rock image to get a different shot. The brainstorming sessions usually end with him having to brace himself and take it back a few notches. For instance, the initial ideas for the opening portrait in this profile all included fighting off deadly pandas, gay sailors and an army of naked mannequins. He settled for one that reflects his pacifist persona sprung from his parents’ early disapproval of him and his mischievous brothers playing war with toy guns. A shot depicting him standing alone and dumbstruck at the violent ice hockey game. A tad pretentious, but nevertheless very sincere.
Beneath all this niceness and RnR image lies work ethics that very few riders can hold a light next to. And although some might consider it being a tad behind schedule to be an upstart at 23, he will have the last laugh, because with as many original ideas that spring from his peculiar mind every day, he is bound to have a long and prosperous career.