Published in Whitelines Magazine Issue 92, November 2010
Article by Matt Barr
Sometime during the 1998 or 1999 Ski Show, myself, Ed Leigh, [Britsorganizer] Spencer Claridge and some others sat down to watch a copy of new Forum film, The Resistance. You could say it had quite an effect on us. By the end of the night, we were sitting in the Hand and Flower pub opposite Olympia wearing headbands and face masks fashioned from the sleeves we’d ripped off our t-shirts.
What can I say in our defence? Clearly, we were idiots. But we loved snowboarding, it was October, it had been a long, shit summer in which none of us could afford to go away, and that film made us almost insanely amped to go riding as soon as we could. Ripping our t-shirts to shreds seemed, at the time, the only sensible way of expressing this desire. Especially after about ten tequilas.
I hadn’t thought about this in years until I came to interview Bjorn Leines recently. Because Bjorn, as any good snowboard geek knows, isn’t just some old timer that is still inexplicably mixing it with the kids. Nope. Bjorn was in at the start. He was one of the Forum 8. And for snowboarders of my vintage (hell, for every snowboarder), that makes him Very Important.
Twelve years later, Bjorn himself can understand why that mythical team of riders had such an effect on people. “Those were the heydays for sure. For me and a lot of people, they were the good old days, probably the most progressive time in snowboarding that I remember. We were all super motivated and hungry to push each other in every way we could. And it showed. There was nothing fake about it. It was the first time a good group of guys were always riding together, and that team spirit really came through.”
Still, the truth is that for Bjorn, the Forum8 years were just one high point in a career that has pretty much seen it all – including shoelaces for bindings. Come again?
“Well I started riding back in the late 80’s,when I was 11 or 12 in Minnesota. I was really into skateboarding and my parents were into skiing. I started in my back hill – we used our skateboards and shoelaces for bindings.”
By autumn 1989, Bjorn had saved up enough to get himself a Burton Cruiser135, “and it was on. So I went shredding with my two brothers, up the back hill. It was like 50 feet tall, if that. We’d ride the same local resort, which takes ten seconds to get down. Then my parents brought us to Utah to ride powder, and it was like, ‘Woah’. We were hooked.”
From here, the story is a familiar one. The supportive Leines parents took their clan to the US Nationals when Bjorn was “15 or16”, and a fortuitous meeting with Bryan Iguchi led to a prized early sponsorship with Volcom (Bjorn is still sponsored by the brand 16 years later). “Then I rode for Hot Snowboards and Hammer snowboarders.
That was kinda funny. Then that led to Airwalk for a couple of years. And then, I got a call from Peter Line. I didn’t know him, and he said he wanted me to ride for this new team he was putting together. I was like, ‘Woah dude. For sure!’ So that was the start of Forum.”
At first, the new team seemed like any. But as more riders hopped on board, it soon became clear that this was going to be one special group of like-minded freestyle rippers. “At the start there was Duff [Chris Dufficy], Peter and myself. Then we got JP later that year. Then Devun, JJ, Wille and Malmi.”
The soon to be legendary eight were in place. What set the Forum team apart was both the gang mentality – successfully captured on screen and in print – and the insanely progressive riding the team soon became synonymous with. It was the kind of heady mix that caused idiots the world over to rip the sleeves off their t-shirts and paint their bindings green in tribute. At the time, the level of progression shown by the team each year seemed almost difficult to comprehend, and it’s good to hear that even some of the team were intimidated by it at times.
“Yeah, it had its effect on all of our skill levels. I was more of a transition rider, and getting thrown into the JP and JJ mix when they were hitting handrails was crazy. I mean, my first handrail was in a video, it was in an MDP [Mack Dawg Productions] video. And I was kinda clueless – like I didn’t dull my edges, and I was hitting gnarly rails. It was intense, for sure.”
And how long did the good years last?
“Well, I was on the team from ‘97 until I got on Rome in 2005. For a long time, it was all good. Devun was probably my favourite person to ride with. Going up to Canada, snowmobiling. It was awesome. It was when snowboarding was becoming mainstream and popular, and there was steady, steady growth.”
The change for Bjorn came when Forum was sold to Burton, around 2005. “I was a little turned off once Forum was sold to Burton. The company changed a lot. It lost that feeling of being rider and family driven, and connected. I saw that Rome had that going on, and was attracted to it. I sought them out and now I couldn’t be happier. They have the passion for snowboarding, and they’re innovating. That’s what I like.”
Speaking to Bjorn, two things quickly become clear. The first is that you’re dealing with a snowboarding lifer. That much becomes obvious when I ask him how he keeps up with what is, let’s face it, essentially a young man’s game. “Well I always trip out on guys that don’t snowboard any more, that used to be pros. To me, if I’m not sponsored, I’m still gonna snowboard my ass off ‘cos I love it. It’s part of who I am. Nothing really compares to that freedom feeling. You know, when you’re standing at the top of a line, the world just fades away, you know? That’s what I’m interested in. That freedom feeling.”
The second is that, with people such as this considered, thoughtful character in charge, the future of snowboarding – even snowboarding culture – is in safe hands. This is a tangible responsibility for Bjorn, and something that he sees as a big part of his role as somebody who has been around the sport for so long.
“I think it’s important for snowboarding to mature like surfing has – with respect to the athletes and forefathers and leaders of it. Look at Kelly [Slater] – the guy is still killing it. Look at skateboarding. I was watching Steve Caballero and Christian Hosoi back in ‘88, and they’re still crushing it today. They’re still killing it. There’s no reason why snowboarding can’t be the same.”
Roots seem to be important to Bjorn. It’s why he took his kids – two boys, aged 8 and 5 – on a six-week RV odyssey to Alaska two years ago. “I took them to Haines for a month and a half. The bummer was that it was the stormiest AK season in history. So we had a lot of rain, which was tough to take. But they were so stoked, they were a little bit younger then, and they loved everything about it – fishing, sightseeing, crabbing… We saw eagles and bears every day. I feel pretty fortunate to be able to take them with me.”
This could be something that was instilled during his upbringing in Minnesota (“It’s the kind of mentality where people look out for their neighbour, and people have a gnarly work ethic”), but after speaking to him I think it’s more likely a result of Bjorn’s realisation that snowboarding has given him so much that he owes it to put the same back. And, he explains, it helps him to stay motivated, even though he’s almost two decades older than some of the younger kids he’s now riding with.
“It’s a humbling thing for sure. The sport is so young, I almost feel like you have a responsibility to lead the next generation in the right direction. We’re getting ready to make another move, we’ve got new guys on the team who have things to learn, they’ll be staying at my house for as long as they want. We’re showing them the ropes. You’re passing it down. That’s so important.”