Portrait & Interview // Ed Blomfield
After a week’s worth of video parts, lizard flips and tributes, Sparrow Knox needs little introduction. Time for a proper sit down and a chat. Only – in classic Sparrow style – it wasn’t that easy. Since filming with us in London for our aptly-titled Nomads series, he has disappeared off around the world in search of some of lesser-known mountains.
We finally pinned him down to a small cabin in the Kashmir, where it was 2 in the morning local time and he had to whisper over skype in case he should wake up the 10 other people crammed in the room. With a massive delay on the line and Sparrow quite possibly high on some medicinal marijuana, what follows is our typically surreal conversation...
Hey Sparrow, how’s it going?
I’ve bruised my arse so bad. I snapped my board on this rail twice - the second time I smacked my arse so hard… Oh my god when you see the slam you’re gonna laugh. I tell you what I’ll send you a screenshot of it right now… [sniggers while he watches video and takes a screengrab] Yes! That’ll do…
Jesus! That looks nasty!
It’s all good. I’m icing it. But before you know it you’re going to bed and it’s freezing cold and you’ve got wet trousers.
Have you got a spare board?
Yeah but I snapped that the same day doing the exact same trick.
Shit, so what are you gonna ride?
I brought a third one knowing that would happen.
So you’re in Kashmir, right. What's this year's project all about?
Niels Schack proposed the idea that we try and make our own video project rather than filming for someone else. So he’s done all the groundwork pulling together a crew, making a filmer happen, journalists, photographers. And we’re exploring to lesser known places and spreading snowboarding there so people who’ve never done it before can do it. Like, we were teaching these kids in the street the other day, it was amazing! There were like 30 kids next to this sketchy wallride Niels was doing, and we brought a few boards out and they were riding this icy track with stones everywhere, one after another – they were loving it!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen so far?
There’s monkeys here! Plenty of monkeys. I saw this baby one trying to learn how to climb and it nearly fell down and they got really scared... [drifts off]
There’s this place called Raja’s, and they do the best food. And they sell weed too… [giggles] But it’s such good food out here. There’s dudes selling tea on the street.
Are there soldiers out there?
Yeah there’s a lot of guys with guns cos it’s so close to the Pakistani border. We arrived at Srinigar airport and getting from there to the resort there were army checkpoints and all this craziness. We got to the final checkpoint before it starts going up the mountain, and there’s soldiers everywhere – dudes with guns, loads of people, pretty hectic, lot of beeping – and this dude comes up to me like “Yo you wanna buy some hash?" And we’re filming at this point and I’m like “Nah, not round here man" and he’s like “You don’t want to buy some hash?" And we’re like “Ah fuck it, why not". This is at the military base, pretty much [laughs]. So funny. And for every one person going up you’re only allowed to take 13 beers, but you can bribe the security so but you can take as much as you like, you just give 'em 50 rupees.
Where you going next?
For our first journey we went to Turkey, we’ve been in India the past two weeks, and in four days we’re going to go to Almaty in Kazakhstan in search of some sshhhnowboarding, hey.
Bob Burnquist, definitely. As a kid he was one of those dudes who ripped the vert so hard. And he did this one trick that was like half cab blunt, and then half cab back in the other way, it’s incredible. I think he’s a gee. I mean I don’t know the dude but his skateboarding’s incredible.
Favourite skate part?
Tony Hawk’s ‘Sync’, with the doubles. As a kid watching him on the telly, Tony Hawk would just rip, so to see a video part like that was cool.
What's the best place to buy fruit in London?
Depends how well you know the fruit guy. Every fruit guy’s getting it roughly the same bulk buying, but you need to know the guy. My guy’s alright, he’s a reliable source. En route to Lidl - box of mangoes for a pound. Twelve mangoes, for one pound. Man I could do with some mangoes out here…
What are you eating out there?
My dream mix. If I could die and wake up in a pond, or like in desert land, it’d be the curries we’ve been eating at Raja’s place. Butter paneer massala, pakora… Ah the dhal out here’s so good! I fell asleep before dinner and the guy’s didn’t wake me up, I was like “I’m coming out to eat the monkey eggs."
We call ‘em monkey eggs [giggles, drifts off, no further explanation]... Have you heard about the mega mix?
You mean the famous fruit and nut mix? Yeah, what’s your recipe?
I actually drew a man, and every part of him was a different part of the megamix. I think he consisted of bananas, coconut, Oreos, Kit Kat, cashews, almonds, raisins, dried apricots and a biscuit dust, occasionally.
Name, age & occupation of all your fam?
Alright... [rapidly] So you got Ben then Josh then Tom then Sparrow then Maddie then Ty then Betty. Ben’s the oldest (boy), Betty’s the youngest (girl); I’m somewhere in the middle. You’ve got Ben who works with Josh making some crazy mad videos, Tom who skateboards, sometimes he gets filmed by Ben and Josh for some crazy mad videos, myself – I dunno what I’m doing, but I like to do some snowboarding sometimes, so I go snowboarding – or skateboarding with Tom, and then go back home to see Ben and Josh, who are probably at home with Maddie Ty and Betty. And Mum and Dad are just about to eat some food together. Loooovely! [laughs]
How did you start riding?
My mum’s parents live in Scotland, and If we ever went up to visit they’d take us to the dryslope at Hillend. It’s pretty cheap – you could hire a board and have a pass for £13 a month as a kid, which is nothing when you think about it. So they’d drop us off with a packed lunch and we’d just ride all day. And then a competition came to town, which was the AIM series at the time [run by Brits organiser Stu Brass]. Then my mum gets hit in the face by a football, and it was Stu who kicked the football. We were like “What the fuuuck?" And he’s hooking us up with mad t-shirts and shit, and he said if we went to the next competition it’d be free. It was only down the road in Castleford, so we were like “Yeah let’s do it. If there’s four of us doing it to try out it’s worth a shot, and it’s a lot of fun." So we would just drive round to these competitions with everyone… I dunno, it’s funny how comps make you start, just cos it gets everyone together shredding. Siiiiick…
So you’re not shy of comps. Did the Team GB thing ever appeal?
Nah man I love competitions so much. Team GB? Everyone involved is sound as f**k. I’m sure if I’d have done a few things differently I’d have been doing that. I dunno, it is what it is, we all have fun riding so everyone’s doing it for the same reason. I do love a competition though.
What do you like about them?
You just get hyped. It makes you willing to try something, just as a spur of the moment thing. I’ll try something way more outrageous than I normally would knowing that if you win, you’ll be stoked, if you get some money, you’ll be stoked, and if you don’t land it hopefully you’re gonna get up and try it again then you’ll be stoked.
You and Jamie Nicholls came up together as groms, right, before kind of taking different directions?
Yeah man Nicholls hooked it up good, he used to give me his old board and boots and bindings, I’d scran off his stuff, and we’d always ride at these contests as kids. He’s just taken a more direct and successful route to this established role as a snowboarder, and I’ve kind of dithered and dallied around trying a few different things, but mainly just not being good enough to do what he does, so just cruising at your own altitude you know what I mean?
You dropped off the radar for a couple of years - what happened?
When I was about 16 I lost the motivation for a while. Living in London you’ve gotta get a bus, a tube, a train, a cab just to go snowboarding, which can be a ball ache. You need someone to just call you up and go ‘Yo book a flight here, we’ll figure out the rest later’ so that’s what Niels did this year.
How did you end up hanging with Niels?
He’s just taken me under his wing really, since we were about 13 years old when we met at the Burton European Open. I was going up to Avoriaz, he’d hook up accommodation and lift pass, and eventually we got free food from this burger restaurant. I’d go in there like “ca va!" and he’d gimme a burger and we’d represent them - stickers on our boards - and that was sick cos it kept me snowboarding. Get a cheap flight out to Geneva, two kids, having our own apartment, perfect.
What do you like about riding with him?
Cruising with him is so fun. We can both be in the shittiest mood together, both pissed off, but we’ll still be laughing. The Onboard Send Off Sessions last year wouldn’t have been the same without him. Sending it every night, ahh yeeeeah… [laughs]
Skip to 3 mins:
Favourite place to snowboard?
That’s a very good question. I would say it used to be Morzine/Avoriaz, cos Niels was there. Now he’s moved to Canada I’d say my favourite place to snowboard is anywhere that you can make happen – that you can have an eye for. It doesn’t matter what country it’s in.
Favourite snowboard part?
There’s only really been one video part ever that I really cared about and that was Eero Ettala in Follow Me Around. That was sick… [drifts off, starts singing the tune]
Favourite trick. Gap to arse? Heehee.
Gap to arse? I mean I like it, I dunno if it’s my favourite. Front 3 indy, definitely. You can just hold it forever. [drifts off again, clearly imagining it] Oh my god...
I love all animals, but I’m gonna go with elephants. Elephants are nice.
I thought you might choose a monkey...
I was thinking monkeys but they’re actually cheeky little shits. We were giving them food the other day and they’d just snatch it out your hand and scratch it.
What's your full name?
I’ll write it down for you now… Reuben Tobias Tchalla Sparrow Knox
What’s your favourite TV show?
Penguins of Madagascar
Will you always live in London?
Who knows? The family, skateparks and parties are a perfect reason to never leave.
Best/worst subject at school?
French I really enjoyed, then trying to put what I’d attempted to learn into action when visiting Niels in Avoriaz. I still can't speak the language though!
What would be your worst nightmare?
What’s the worst day's riding you've ever had?
When I was really young, the first time I’d ever snowboarded on a real mountain with the family. Laax is is big hill and I took a wrong turn and ended up in a town miles over from our place, asking a dude on a horse for some directions. I arrived home in the dark, scared but happy to be in the warmth with cosy people.
What do you do when you're injured and can't ride or skate?
What's better about riding rails on a snowboard than a skateboard?
I suck on both so i don't really know the answer [laughs] Having just a plank of wood beneath and some chill clothes is nicer than having boots, bindings and clunky kit.
Are kickers onto rails lame? Some skaters seem to think so.
You see me building a four-and-a-half foot kicker for a seven-stair rail [laughs]. It’s all up to the person.
Would you ever be into trying a triple cork?
I’d be down!
What would your luxury item be on a desert island?
You're on a desert island Sparrow, coconut's a given, surely?! OK... You've been around TV a lot – how's set building for Rude Tube? Any weird stuff you've had to do?
Ahh yeeeeeah. I’ve had so many good times working on shows. I had to fill in for a few character extras. First was Chewbacca and he – well, me but in the suit – had to come out of a prop fridge. So I’m under the lights in the studio, and inside a Chewbacca outfit, inside an airtight fridge, HOT. [laughs] Wait there’s more, the fridge wasn't big enough for me to fully stand, I’d say it was a good 15 minute mini squat! [laughs]. I’ve also played a morph suit ping-pong ball man, a penguin ,and a reindeer in a bikini...
Have you met any famous people? What were they like?
I know Super Hans from Peep Show, he’s a legend. Other than that the Coco Pops dude came and stayed at my house for a couple of weeks, rinsed all the milk. [laughs]
Right, what are you doing tomorrow?
I’ve got a line set up and another half built, hopefully it works!
What will you be doing in 30 years time?
Family, kids, friends.