Twenty years after he first turned professional, the board sports industry is still treating snowboarding legend Todd Richards very well. “You caught me at a good time", he says via his ‘overhyped’ iPhone from his SoCal home. “I’m off to Fiji tomorrow with Quiksilver, can’t wait. It’s like a Quik family trip on a private island, and there are three amazing breaks to surf. Basically, I love the entire year for the few days!"
Photo: Nate Christenson
Small wonder the effervescent Richards is so chipper. It is a long, long way from his roots as an East Coast pipe rat, riding contests for fun and stoked on the ‘camaraderie’ of snowboarding in those early days. “I’d say that is definitely my main memory of those early years," he says when asked to pinpoint some defining early snowboarding memories. “If you even saw another good rider, it was so rare, especially at a resort that wasn’t your home. Things were so different back then. We were getting so bagged on by the ski industry that it made the snowboarding scene such a tightknit community."
When you speak to older pro riders about the early days of the industry, they tend to always mention this aspect of snowboarding’s past, this ‘us against them’ mentality that defined the identity of the sport. It seems quaint to a younger rider, used to seeing snowboard stars on everything from computer ads to cereal boxes, but back then, as Todd points out, “…Time magazine really did put snowboarding on the cover as the world’s worst new sport (laughs). How crazy is that?"
These formative years were also Todd Richards’ formative snowboarding years, and almost straight away he became a pro. Or, as he puts it, “I became a pro when I was 18, but it didn’t mean a lot back then. If you were 18 and competing, you were basically a pro." But since the time of his first paycheck in 1990, Richards has been pretty much at the forefront of the US scene.
It was the beginning of a faultless career that might have seen TR acclaimed as the greatest ever if it wasn’t for the fact that his nearest contemporary was one Terje Haakonsen. “My peers? Terje for sure, he was in there. Chris Roach. Noah Salasnek. Daniel Franck. And Ingemar (Backman), although it’s funny to think of him as a pipe guy these days. And Jeff Brushie, for sure. He rolled off in around 1997, but back then Brush was still the man to beat."
It was a golden period when the milestones came thick and fast: first pro model in 1993 (with Morrow snowboards), US Open titles in 1994 and 1997, countless World Cup wins and a spot on the first ever US Olympic team at Nagano in 1998 (not that he enjoyed the experience very much. ‘’Country versus country wasn’t what snowboarding was about back then," he explains). Today, Todd names his career highlights as those two US Open wins and, perhaps surprisingly, a second at the X Games Slopestyle in 2000.
“I worked my ass off for that. Until then I’d been seen as pretty much just a pipe guy. So I worked hard for that contest, and got second behind Kevin Jones. It is definitely one of the things I’m most stoked about."
It is a telling anecdote. After all, he didn’t even win. But Todd did always seem to be unfairly maligned as just a ‘pipe guy’ and it reveals something of the frustration he clearly felt at being pigeonholed in this way. It also reveals something about his motivation, and perhaps offers an explanation as to why his career has had such longevity. Two decades in this most fickle of professional sports – including recent appearances alongside the latest kids in the DC MTN Lab movies - is no mean feat.
Today’s TR seems as motivated as ever, and a look at his post pipe CV proves the points: Quiksilver rider (“I’ve been with them eight years, and as long as the support is there I’ll do it"), O-Matic owner (“We’re pumping – sold out of boards and still pushing"), X-Games TV commentator (“I made a joke that if I could make the same money talking as I do riding, I’d think about it – and they came through!") and budding surf semi pro (“the most therapeutic sport I can possible do. Plus it keeps me stoked for next winter"). He’s also a Cali family man with a wife and two kids he dotes on. Sounds like the good life, right?
“It is a good life. I try to look after my family, I still skate a ton, I work with my companies and I try to get things done. As long as I can continue the lifestyle and don’t live beyond my means, I’m happy where I am. I don’t want to aspire for more than I have. I’m happy with the way things are going now."