Welcome to Roots, the section of the magazine in which we take the spotlight off the latest rippers and catch up with a few legends of the snowboarding world. These are the superstars that led the charge in the 90s glory years, who inspired the current generation and are now in the twilight of their careers as professional riders.
This month we interviewed long-serving Burton pro Dave Downing. As he stated in the intro to his first ever video part in TB3, Dave is someone who likes “to ride everything - the whole mountain.” That might sound a little cliché to some, but in an age when snowboarding is full of street rail, park or powder specialists it really does sum up his approach to the sport. Dave is a joy to watch on any terrain, combining a natural, fluid style (developed as an impressive surfer) with a willingness to adapt to the times. All in all his riding has never looked out of date – despite being on the scene for well over a decade.
Recently Dave has been slowing down his filming commitments and seems to be moving behind the scenes at Burton HQ. We got in touch to find out what this master of evolution has in stall for the future…
Hi Dave. How much are you still riding these days? I ride a lot during the winter, most of December through April. Then I might ride in New Zealand or something, for about a week in the summer.
Are you still working hard to learn new tricks, or is it more about having fun? I’m really working on my riding, but not necessarily tricks. I just want to be a good snowboarder, and to me that doesn’t just mean doing different tricks. I want to have lots of board control in all situations.
What was the last trick you learned? I’d say it was a handrail trick. I think it was a backside nose press to backside 270 out.
What’s the best snowboard video you’ve been a part of? I’d say TB4 or TB5, from Standard Films. The winters during those years were great, and it was just really natural. We didn’t have to build such huge jumps back then, we were more creative with what we were filming.
So do you think that snowboarding and film making are less creative these days? More formulaic? Yes, I do feel that most movies film the same kind of stuff year after year. I mean the freestyle riding is progressing - and the jumps and rails are bigger - but it’s still very similar. There’s just so much more to snowboarding than spinning though the air.
What are your plans for the future? To continue to snowboard, and to surf a lot. I have two kids now, so I’m pretty busy with them. I’m also working with Burton, Gravis, Anon, and Analog on some good behind-the-scenes stuff. Basically I’m gonna be getting more involved in the business side.
What exactly is your role in developing the Custom range - would you say it’s essentially the Dave Downing pro model? And how do you go about updating such a settled model now that equipment progression has slowed down? Yeah, I‘ve been developing the Customs since they came out. We’ve updated the shape and materials in that time but it’s still basically the same style of board - very versatile. We have some new young riders riding and working on the series this year, which helps keep things fresh - Heikki Sorsa, Mads Jonnsan, and Mason Aguirre.
There are a few snowboarders out there now that seem to view Burton as some kind of corporate bully, I guess because it’s so much bigger than the other brands. How do you feel about the way the company has grown over the years? It’s pretty easy to pick on the big guy. Burton is really non-corporate. Jake Burton Carpenter still owns it, and he’s extremely passionate about snowboarding and the sport. It’s not just about making money and sitting on the couch. He's pretty amped to make this sport better and get people into it. Burton is a just a big company in this little snowboard industry.
So if you’re getting more involved with the Burton side of things, are you no longer pursuing the pro riding side? I’m not really moving away from it, I’m just concentrating more on freeriding and natural terrain - riding for myself. I’m always going to be who I am, and I’m always going to be snowboarding, just less in front of the camera.
Can you tell us some more about your surfing background? Did surfing come before snowboarding? Yes, I started surfing when I was like, 11 years old - here in California. So I’ve been surfing for about 27 years. I really love surfing - I was actually trying to be a professional surfer when I was just out of high school but I wasn’t that good at it. I was working at a surf shop at that time, and that’s when I first started snowboarding. Things just fell into place really quick.
You’ve been riding a long time now but your style – on rails and in the backcountry - has always looked current. Is this something you’ve consciously developed (for instance by changing your stance and watching other riders) or are you just blessed with a timeless style? That’s a good question. I think I pick up some stuff from the younger riders with good style. And you’re right, I used to ride a 21 inch stance, then about two years ago I started riding a 22 inch stance; it just felt more stable. I use a little duck on my back foot for riding park and jibbing around because it’s easier to ride fakie. You just can’t turn as good. But I also think that surfing has a lot to do with how I ride. It helps me be creative - adapting to what’s coming up. It helps me read the mountain. When you surf, you’re constantly adapting to the wave. This helps with freeriding because it lets you ride with an open mind. When you’re in the park, or hitting a jump or rail over and over, you just think about the trick and that’s it. But when you’re freeriding you have to adapt to what’s coming up, just like in surfing.
If you could only ever surf OR snowboard for the rest of your life, which would you choose? If I could only choose one? It would be surf. I’ve been doing it longer and I just love it. Surfing is really a big part of me. And it doesn’t hurt when I do it!
How do you think snowboarding’s changed since you turned pro? Were things better back in the day? It’s still the same to me. Just that feeling when you’re at the top of a run and you buckle into your bindings. It's still the same feeling. Freestyle snowboarding has really progressed from when I started. The jumps are really big now, and kids are doing crazy handrails with hardly any snow around for miles. But then we’re still just standing up on sleds sliding down the mountain.
Who’s your favorite person to hang with on the hill? Kevin Jones is one of my all time favorite people to ride with. Just anyone who doesn’t take it to serious. Someone who just loves it.
Who’s the most talented snowboarder you’ve ever ridden with? Terje. He’s just a freak of nature. Even going riding with him at a ski resort, on normal runs, he just does the craziest things. He has such good board and edge control he can do pretty much anything he wants. He’s very good a making something good out of nothing. Which of the younger riders impress you most? Nicolas Müller is really impressive with his natural ability. Also DCP is starting to blow my mind when he rides natural terrain. He’s ripping.
It seems like snowboarding has really influenced skiing over the last few years, to the extent that kids on skis these days are all wearing the same baggy trousers and hitting rails etc. Do you think snowboarding will always retain a separate identity? Yes, I think snowboarding will always have its separate identity. Snowboarding has style. It’s hard to have style when you are holding poles in your hand.
Do you think there’s a link between art and snowboarding? I do think snowboarding is similar to art. It’s a creative outlet. And it’s easy to express yourself when you’re doing it.
Can snowboarding continue to progress? Yes, it can progress, and it will. Jumps will get bigger, people will spin more, and hopefully riders will take their freestyle skills into the natural terrain in the backcountry.
Did you watch the Olympics? What did you think of it? Yeah I watched it; it was pretty incredible what the riders were doing in the pipe. I’m really proud of Shaun. He was really ripping and had great style.
What’s the most memorable road trip you’ve ever been on? Italy ‘93. That’s when I met my wife Shannon [Dunn].
OK. A few quick questions. What’s the best song you’ve ever had accompany your section? The Hammerbox tune they used in the Best of TB Series DVD.
Favourite place to ride? Lake Tahoe, California, or up in Alaska
And where’s the best place you’ve ever been surfing? I’d have to say the Mentawi Islands in Indonesia. Being on a boat cruising around looking for perfect surf with a few friends… it’s very special
Strangest travel experience? Japan, every time I go there it’s just a trip.
Do you read much? Can you recommend a good book? Yes, The Bible
Who are your heroes? Jesus.
One trick left before you die, what would you pull? To ride with the flow like Craig Kelly.