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Helgasons Interview - Eiki and Halldor Helgason talk Iceland, lobsters and being "stoked on nasty porn"

11:56 1st August 2012 by Tristan Kennedy @tris_kennedy
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Halldor and Eiki Helgason

Frode Sandbech

Interview by Ed Blomfield

If ever you thought snowboarding was selling itself down the competition river – that it’s become all about contest jocks, double corks and the Olympics – then Halldor and Eiki Helgason are cause for hope. Earlier this year, Halldor finished dead last in the X Games Big Air in Aspen, rounding off his unsuccessful week with second-to-last in the final of the Slopestyle. Not exactly Shaun White standards of competitive performance, and yet that same winter, Halldor signed a contract with Nike that places him amongst the highest paid snowboarders on the planet. Not quite Shaun money (hey, who is?!) but up there in the top five.

So if it ain’t gold medals they’re buying, what exactly are Nike getting for their cash? The answer – to anyone who’s followed the scene over the past three years – is obvious: they’re getting the coolest guy in snowboarding. Thanks to their website Helgasons.com, Halldor and his brother Eiki are a bonafide shred phenomenon. What started as a simple video blog aimed at documenting the day-to-day tomfoolery of two kids in Iceland has grown to attract millions of views and some 20,000 fans on Facebook. Off the back of its success, the siblings have started two new brands of their own – Lobster Snowboards and 7/9/13 Belts – launched a riding camp for schoolkids, and released their first full-length movie. In short, the Helgasons are the pin-up boys for snowboarding’s internet generation.

“Lobster was created a week before X Games. We had to find a name, do the graphics and the whole thing. We did it in like three days”

Anyone who’s actually driven the wild, empty road to the boys’ tiny hometown of Akureyri (and I am one of those few) might well ask: How the hell did they get here? How did two random kids from a sparsely populated island in the North Atlantic conquer the world? Does their laid-back exterior hide a pair of sharp business minds, or is it simply a matter of riding talent?

Halldor and Eiki Helgason with snowboards

Halldor’s in the right city for that t-shirt – James Bryant

To find out, I’ve come to the unlikely surroundings of Castleford’s Xscape, where the TSA snowboard store are hosting their annual Big Bang event. It’s a chance to test new boards on the slope and get some freestyle coaching, and as the UK distributor for Lobster Snowboards, the TSA have invited the Helgason bros along.
The sight of Eiki and Halldor lapping the slow button lift beneath the yellow lights of our familiar fridge is a little surreal, but for their part it doesn’t seem to phase them, and they spend the whole afternoon happily shredding the limited park with the Leeds locals. Johnny Russell, the first member of their UK Lobster team, leads the way, ollieing moguls and tearing up the rails. Even here, with little to test them, the Helgasons’ natural style stands out, and the pair of them look like life-sized caricatures – Halldor in his massively baggy pants, Eiki going for a tighter trouser steeze. With their matching long hair sticking out beneath oversized beanies, it’s easy to see why the Helgason ‘brand’ is so strong – you could almost imagine them as collectible figurines.

“I’ve been to a few snowdomes before,” says Halldor when we finally retreat to the staff kitchen of the TSA for our interview. “One in Japan, two in Amsterdam and one in Belgium. It’s so insane to watch the kids – I mean they’re sooo good!”

“The snow’s weird though,” chips in Eiki with his soft Viking accent. “I can’t say it’s slushy but it’s not icy, and it’s not powder. It’s something different.” What about dryslope? I ask. Have they ever tested their thumbs on dendix? “That shit looks so nasty!” Halldor laughs. “I wanna try it out just to try it out, but I’d be scared. Fuck, it looks sketchy.”

Halldor Helgason big air

Halldor gets a massive lob on – Cyril Mueller

It’s little wonder then that they’re impressed with the skills of Jamie Nicholls, who stepped up from the artificial slopes of Halifax and Leeds to join Halldor on the international Nike team. “Jamie is sick,” he says. “I’ve been riding those other indoor things with him, and he makes you feel bad because he’s so good. Like, stomping everything and sending it the whole day. He’s really good, and he’s a nice guy as well.”

There are obvious parallels to be drawn between Nicholls’ career and that of the Helgasons, whose own journey started in a limited and often sketchy backyard on the periphery of European snowboarding. Sure, Iceland gets more snow than Britain, but its peaks are akin to Scotland: low, treeless and wind-scoured, with just a handful of small lift operations. And with only 300,000 people in the whole country – the majority of whom live in the capital city – the snowboard scene up in the north is even smaller. It was an isolated and self-taught snowboarding education, breeding a unique approach to riding. “The scene is tiny,” explains Eiki. “We grew up riding street rails; now we’re actually more scared of park rails than street rails!” “Yeah, I always feel so scared on park rails,” says Halldor, “because you don’t make the set-up yourself, and I always feel like I’m gonna catch an edge.”

“We’ve always been stoked on nasty porn, since we were young. We’ve had this contest going on between us forever, to see who can find the nastiest video on the internet”

The Helgasons’ energy perhaps stems from being brought up in a large and sporty family – their elder brother Björgvin plays professional football for Iceland, while their baby bro Jóhann is “all into horse riding” – but for Halldor and Eiki, mainstream athletics never held any appeal. “The two of us were always the same. We hated team sports,” says Halldor now. “Like, if you did a bad job in soccer you got a bad vibe from the whole team. We never got into anything like that. Skateboarding and snowboarding was the way to go.” “I tried a lot of different sports,” adds Eiki. “I think handball was the worst. It’s a sport nobody plays.” And so the two of them spent the long northern winters getting creative on the quiet streets of Akureyri, perfecting technical tricks on street rails and building their own ghetto set-ups; summers were a similar story, only with longer days and four wheels, and their now trademark anarchic style was first showcased in an amateur movie called Óreiða, filmed when they were 16 and 12 respectively (check it out at whitelines.com/oreioa).

Eiki fakey

Eiki. Fakey. Over a lakey. – A poem. by Tristan Kennedy – OLAV STUBBERUD

By this point, the only proper jumps they’d ever seen were at the ‘Iceland Park Project’ (IPP), an annual glacier event put together by Scottish shaper Graham Macvoy. The Helgasons’ big break came when they enrolled at a dedicated snowboard school in Sweden. “That school is the sickest,” says Halldor. “You ride four days a week, and then you go to school three days a week. And when you go riding, there are coaches but they tell you to go cruise and do whatever you want. The park was too insane to be true. To actually see a park they shaped twice a day and was always perfect…” “ – We were always the first on the hill and the last to go home!” finishes Eiki.

It’s a familiar story of course – practice makes perfect – and by the time the brothers graduated they had blended all that creativity and enthusiasm with serious time on the hill. They were now accomplished freestylers – possibly the most outrageously gifted on the planet – but this was still no guarantee of pro success. After all, Scandinavian style robots are two-a-penny, and this pair didn’t even thrive in the usual Scandi realm of competition. What chance did they have of making an impression on America? The magic ingredient was provided by a Swedish filmer called Johannes Brenning, arguably the mastermind behind the whole Helgason phenomenon. “The first time I met him was at a contest in Oslo,” recalls Halldor. “I was really young, like 14 or 15, and I tried this backside lip on a down rail and knocked myself out. Eiki was laughing, I heard, but I don’t remember it. But Johannes was the guy who came and helped me out when I was laying there. I was so fucked.” That helping hand turned into an ongoing partnership when Johannes, who realised these two fun and spontaneous shredders were far more than just ‘robots’, offered to take over filming for their website. “Helgasons.com was pretty much Johannes’ idea, I have to say,” admits Halldor. “Well, we started our own blog thing, but we just put up random movies, like Youtube clips and all that stuff – even some good porn. But then he really wanted to do more of a video blog with us, so he came up with all that stuff. He’s the brains behind helgasons.com, for sure. He’s so creative and such a funny guy to hang around with. He’s sick.”

Halldor Helgason lake

Over a fjord. On a board. Oh Lord! – A poem by Ed Blomfield – FRODE SANDBECH

Johannes is a genius at making random pranks, parties and mini-shred sessions into comedy gold. Tuning into Helgasons.com is like Jackass without the masochism, and anyone who’s ridden in a tight crew will appreciate the fun vibe his edits convey. Chatting with the polite Eiki and Halldor, I’m struck by how modest they seem off screen, and I begin to wonder if it’s all a clever illusion; is Johannes some shadowy puppet-master, turning ordinary riding antics into a ‘brand’ or do the boys get a say of their own? “He brainstorms a lot of the content,” admits Eiki, “but we more do stuff on the spot. He brings ideas and we’re the ones who have to work with it. It’s a collaborative thing.”

“Our school was the sickest. You ride four days a week, and then you study three days a week. The coaches tell you to go cruise and do whatever you want”

The secret to the success of these bite-size video clips is that you feel like you’re hanging out with friends – which is exactly as Johannes and the Helgasons intended. “That was also the thing with the blog,” explains Halldor. “When we were younger watching all the Forum and TB movies, you only saw three minutes of all the riders. You had no idea what they were like as persons really. Every year you just waited for those three minutes. Now kids can actually see how we are; they get to learn more about us.” It’s a lesson in using the limitless space of the internet and, coupled with viral distribution across third party sites and social networks, it’s proved a powerful way to grow their fanbase.

Connecting with the kids, though, is something that just comes naturally to Eiki and Halldor – as I witness for myself as they ride the slope at Castleford and patiently pose for photographs. At heart, they’re still a pair of dirtbag kids themselves. “We know how it works,” says Halldor. “Like when we were younger if a pro snowboarder said hi to you, we were so stoked. We don’t look at ourselves as better than anyone else, we’re still just like everyone else. So when kids come up to you and are stoked on you, that means a lot to us.” The Helgasons’ debut film, Sexual Snowboarding, continues this theme of giving back. Directed by Johannes, it’s what Eiki calls “the opposite end to The Art of Flight” – a fast-paced ‘home-made’ mash-up of shredding and high-jinks that “every kid can relate to” and which is free to download. Even the running-time (it’s just 20-minutes) was planned with grassroots riders in mind. “We wanted it to be the ‘boot movie’,” explains Eiki, “like you put it on when you put your boots on, so it shouldn’t be too long.” Most original of all is the ‘open part’, in which regular snowboarders across the world were invited to contribute their amateur footage for a machine-gun two-minute section. “We got like 200 mails from random kids and that part turned out so sick!” Halldor bubbles. “There are kids in the movie who don’t even know it yet,” adds Eiki. “When we were young and filming we were like, ‘Man we’ve got footage that could be in those movies,’ but we had no way to do that.”

Halldor sequence shot

Halldor loves massive melons. FACT. – Frode Sandbech

Back home, of course, the boys have also piloted Camp Lobster, a spring coaching course for 13 to 16-year-olds that also features in the film. “It was actually our oldest brother’s idea,” says Eiki. “He wanted to do something for the kids. We were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We had no idea what went into it though.” “It was kind of a test this year to see if any of the kids would actually survive this thing!” jokes Halldor. “But we got really good feedback from all the kids and parents; everyone was super stoked on it. They slept in our old elementary school and we set up a bunch of skate features so they could go skate when they came back from the mountain.”

And now there is Lobster Snowboards, the ultimate expression of the Helgasons’ rebellious, youth-centric image. When Halldor’s contract expired with DC last year, it would have been easy for him to command a massive salary from one of the other major board brands, but he turned down all offers – reportedly telling Burton he’d rather quit snowboarding than ride for them. Why take the financial risk on a start-up? “We always wanted to be on the same team, to ride together as much as possible,” begins Eiki. “I guess Rome [Eiki’s former sponsor] didn’t really wanna sign me up,” continues Halldor with a knowing laugh, “and we got the sickest opportunity ever to start something up. Bataleon said they’d be down to help us out [using their factory], and fuck – that was too good to be true. It was the week before X Games. We had to find a name, do the graphics and the whole thing. And yeah, we did it in like three days.”

Halldor Helgason lobster

Frode Sandbech

As with the blog, the boys didn’t do it all alone, enlisting the creative mind of Johannes and the business nous of their close manager, Kristoffer Hansson, to help brainstorm ideas. It all began with the name. “We had like 50 names on a piece of paper,” says Kris, who’s joined us mid-interview. “Then we started taking all of them out until we had five, but they were a little bit try-hard, like ‘Roadkill’, ‘Wanted’, ‘Si Senor’…” Eiki takes up the tale: “A filmer in the US calls my car and my sled ‘The Red Lobster’ and ‘The Blue Lobster’. My girlfriend was like, ‘Just call it Lobster’. “When we heard that, Halldor and me started laughing for five minutes!” says Kris. “It was so perfect! recalls Halldor. “Then we figured out that if you take the ‘B’ and the ‘T’ out it spells ‘LOSER’ so that was even more perfect!”

“Eiki’s graphic had a black chick with a pig on her head – like an African woman with long tits – faded into a white woman. And it looked like she was pooping but it was actually black boobs falling down on churches”

The graphics came next, and they are classic Helgason: fun, skate-influenced and with a few darkly comic sexual overtones. The STD, for instance, features a girl getting her fingers bitten off by her own toothy privates (it was recently been banned from stores, creating plenty of welcome publicity for the brand) while their first ever t-shirts and stickers are emblazoned with an appeal to SHIT ON MY TITS. “We’ve always been stoked on nasty porn, since we were young,” explains Halldor openly. “We’ve had this contest going on between us forever, to see who can find the nastiest video on the internet.” Like ‘Two Girls One Cup’? I venture. “C’mon, that’s baby stuff!” mocks Eiki. “There’s way more heavier stuff on there.” Speaking of heavy, I ask them about a rumoured graphic that was so, well… graphic, that it never even made production. “That was me and this other guy, this crazy artist,” he says. “We went to this collective in Amsterdam and came up with it…” “It was a collage of nasty stuff,” giggles Halldor. “There was a black chick with a pig on her head – like an African woman with long tits – faded into a white woman. And it looked like she was pooping but it was actually black boobs falling down on churches… And there was a sun up there made of girls sucking cock. I was thinking: ‘This graphic is awesome but I’m probably gonna get banned from X Games – they actually won’t let me ride this board.’” And has anyone ever really shat on their tits, I ask? “Not yet,” says Halldor, “but I actually got an invitation. A pretty hot girl came up to me and said that I was allowed to shit on her tits, but it hasn’t gone down yet. It was a Tahoe girl, so I’m just waiting for the right diarrhoea to come along…”

Halldor Helgason 3/4 viewpoint shot

Frode Sandbech

As outrageous as all this sounds, it’s nothing but a reflection of the Helgasons’ status as children of the internet era. Raised on hardcore porn and instinctively fluent in online communication, their lifestyle mirrors that of young shreds everywhere. A marketing nerd would say they’ve captured the ‘zeitgeist’. Within weeks of its launch, Lobster was the name on everyone’s lips, having been promoted through little more than two riders, a laptop and a video camera. Encouraged, they’ve since moved into belts – again with their canny filmer pulling the strings. “That thing was actually Johannes’ idea,” says Halldor. “He said let’s make belts, ‘cos nobody makes belts and it’s just such an easy thing to do. And then we can have a sick team, ‘cos no one is sponsored by a belt company.” The brand name, 7/9/13, is the Icelandic phrase for ‘touch wood’, and their first product is a riff on the shoelace belts all the cool kids are wearing. Not that they are making tactical plays for world domination, it’s more that they enjoy the creative freedom and the challenge; financial rewards may come later, or not at all. “We’re just gonna see what happens,” shrugs Eiki. “That’s one of our things – we don’t wanna plan too far cos it sucks when they don’t go as you expected. If you don’t have any plans you never get bummed.” “It’s like at a contest,” adds Halldor. “I always expect to get last place, so if I don’t get last place I’m stoked.”

Eiki Helgason wall shot

That’s why Eiki’s mum went to Iceland. – Olay Stubberud

Ah yes, contests. With all these business and filming commitments (the boys have also shot full parts for the new Standard movie) I ask them if the competition scene matters much to them at all. “There are definitely some fun contests out there but I like just doing my own stuff with a camera,” admits Eiki. “I can do whatever I want, wherever I want.” “I like to do both,” says Halldor. “I try to do four big events every year, but I really don’t like trying the same tricks over and over again – I get so over it – so I’d rather go and try something new and bail, and get last place.” These aren’t empty words either. At the 2010 X Games Big Air, Halldor threw down a double cork that was so ridiculously perfect, even in slow motion, that it earned him a maximum possible score and the gold medal. It would have been tempting for any rider to repeat the party trick next year, but instead Halldor crashed trying something fresh, finishing in last place but cementing his reputation as the most exciting and unpredictable rider in the field. It was the same story at the 2011 Air & Style in Munich, where he spent the entire weekend attempting (unsuccessfully) to land a mind-boggling new signature move christened the ‘Lobster Flip’ – essentially a double rodeo with a japan grab. “I always looked up to riders who send it at contests and you don’t really know what they’re gonna be doing – like Travis Rice and Ulrik Badertscher,” he explains. “They don’t get top three every single time but it’s fun to watch.” And has he finally landed the Lobster Flip, I ask? “Not yet …” “… But it’s been super close,” Eiki interjects. “Fuck man! Yeah,” says Halldor wistfully. “We’ll see what happens. When the time is right it will hopefully go down.”

One thing’s for sure, when the Lobster Flip does go down it won’t be on an airbag at some private set-up. “You can still hurt yourself on an airbag, and that’s so not worth it,” he says. “I feel like if you have the trick figured out in your head then you might as well just send it off a jump, ‘cos then you might have a chance to actually land it.” How about snowboarding’s controversial march towards ever more gymnastic moves? Is he a fan of the triple cork? “I think it’s cool. I have nothing against it; new things are always gonna be coming into snowboarding but that doesn’t mean the old things are gonna die out.” But where does it all go from here, I wonder? Where is there still room for progression? “I think the size of the jumps has kinda reached its limit,” says Eiki, “the consequences of going bigger are too great. And there’s not a lot of rail tricks left to do, but you can do them on way sicker rails. Like taking moves from straight rails onto double downs and stuff like that.” As for Halldor, he takes the same relaxed attitude as he does to business and competition: “I don’t think it’s too good to think out the whole future of snowboarding; just see what happens. See where it goes.”

Halldor Helgason Air & Style Munich 2011

Halldor shits in the face of contests, probably on their tits too. – Frode Sandbech

At times, Halldor and Eiki Helgason seem surprised, if not embarrassed, by all the hype that now surrounds them. They are all too aware, for instance, that they’re by no means the ‘complete’ snowboarders. Halldor has a pathological aversion to the gym, and cites his Nike team-mate Gjermund Braaten as a far more consistent contest rider, while Eiki suggests he would “make a fool of myself” were he to be invited to compete alongside Travis Rice in his new natural terrain event. “I’m stoked on the guys riding those crazy lines, ‘cos I can’t really relate to that stuff,” agrees Halldor. “It’s insane.” At the end of the day, concludes Eiki, “We’re street kids.” But for all that, these are two outstandingly talented street kids, and it is their humbleness that has been their biggest strength. By sticking to what they’re good at and welcoming the help of other people – their manager, their filmer, even suggestions from a brother or girlfriend – they’ve created a stronger ‘Team Helgason’.

“We don’t look at ourselves as better than anyone, we’re still just like everyone else”

Helgasons. Drag lift.

James Bryant

Last year, we interviewed their fellow Scandi style monger Mikkel Bang, who told us he hated the intrusion of Facebook. Although that’s perfectly understandable, the Helgasons are the exact opposite: they’ve embraced the reality of being a modern pro and actually harnessed the social possibilities of the web for their own benefit. Like Mikkel, they’d rather prioritise filming than competition, but they realise that the days of the annual three-minute part are over. People want more personality from their snowboarders, and they’re happy to provide it.

While the media distribution has changed, though, in other ways there’s nothing new about the Helgasons’ appeal at all. Sexual Snowboarding and the dot com edits are essentially a throwback to the early 90s era of fast-paced videos full of chaos, drunken parties and gnarliness. Fans of the millennium-era Robot Food movies (and that includes Eiki and Halldor) might also see a familiar emphasis on friendship and good times. No surprise then that the kids are lapping it up. In this 100th issue of Whitelines, it’s reassuring to know that the formula for snowboarding success remains the same as ever: have FUN.

Halldor Helgason Seq

More off-the-wall weirdness from Halldor – Cyril Mueller

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