Taken from Whitlines Issue 93 December 2010
Interview: Ed Portraits: Frode Sandbech
I have to admit, I’m not the keenest dryslope rider in the UK. By the time Snowflex came along and made plastic a little less brutal, I’d already spent a few seasons in the French Alps and been spoiled to anything but the ‘real thing’. About seven years ago, though, I was freshly back from another winter and itching for a shred, so I ventured down to my local dryslope at Halifax. The windswept hill and its ramshackle drop-in ramp were practically empty, but as I lapped the button I was joined by a pint-sized 10-year-old hidden beneath a helmet. The kid was obviously keen as mustard, and threw himself off the solitary kicker time and time again.
It was only a few years later, after I got the job at Whitelines and began following the dryslope circuit more closely, that I realized this kid must have been Jamie Nicholls. By now the baby-faced boy from Yorkshire was winning every event going – even senior titles – and already people were talking about him as the future of UK snowboarding.
Ah yes, ‘The Chosen One’. It’s an unofficial title Jamie has had to live with for a long time. At the British Championships a few years ago, when Jamie was still just 14, I remember speaking to one of the organizers, Spencer Claridge, who was practically frothing over his potential. “He’s just frighteningly good, isn’t he?,” he remarked at the top of the slopestyle course. “ You look at him and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. He could be world class.”
I’d be down for the Olympics. The snowboarding would be cool, but I reckon everything around it would be so much fun as well”
So what makes Jamie so special? Well, for one thing his learning curve has been consistently steep – every year his bag of tricks just gets bigger and bigger, from 360s at ten to 720s at twelve to 1080 double corks at sixteen. Now that he’s grown a little and can generate the required speed, he’s more than comfortable on giant park kickers, while his style has become increasingly natural and lazy-looking. Jamie also has that cat-like ability to land on his feet which marks out the world’s best snowboarders, and perhaps most exciting of all he’s as technical on rails as he is on the jumps. This last skill makes him a dark horse at any slopestyle event, because while most pros play it safe over the jibs and save their best tricks for the booters, Jamie can pick up valuable extra points by casually laying waste to the rails.
The coolest thing about all this is that it’s a uniquely British mix. Thanks to the domes and a general lack of big mountains, we’ve been producing top class rail riders for years now, but most of them have flown under the international radar. Jamie, though, also happened to spend night after night, weekend after weekend, sessioning that lowly plastic kicker at Halifax dryslope, which became the foundation for his aerial prowess. In short, he took the apparent disadvantages of the UK shred and turned them into an advantage.
“It’s practice makes perfect,” says Jamie’s team manager at Nike 6.0, Jon Weaver. “Jamie will just practice a trick over, and over, and over again until he’s got it dialled. And with the Halifax kicker, it’s just like those Finnish kids honing their skills at [the icy and limited park in] Talma.”
Dedication and time on the board is one thing, but Jamie’s rise to stardom has been helped by getting the right kind of support from his parents and sponsors. In 2007, fellow Salomon rider David Benedek came over to Halifax to film an unlikely section with Jamie for his new movie, In Short (you can check out our behind-the-scenes video of the shoot at whitelines.com/in-short). Benedek later reported that at premieres in far off places like Japan and the USA, it was Nicholls’ 900 on dryslope that consistently had audiences whooping in awe.
All this adulation could swell a young man’s head, but thankfully Jamie remains a down-to-earth Yorkshire lad at heart, and the people around him – not least the other riders on the UK scene – do their bit to keep him grounded (when a video surfaced recently suggesting his usually broad northern accent had picked up a bit of an American twang, the ensuing Facebook piss-take was merciless!)
And now, at 17 and with the ink still drying on his driver’s license, Jamie is setting out to prove himself on the international stage – just as many of us hoped he would. He is gaining invites to some of the most prestigious comps around – including the BEO, Freeze and the European X-Games– and is riding daily alongside the best kids anywhere. Having climbed out of the comfortably small pond of UK snowboarding, then, and dived into an altogether bigger tank, it’s sink or swim time – and so far Jamie is not out of his depth. And he’s being watched proudly on this journey, not just by his ever- supportive mum and dad, but by the whole UK snowboard community. After all he might be growing up, but he’s still Our Kid.
It was high time we caught up with him for his first full-length WL interview.
How’s it going?
I’m good, I’m still recovering from Freeze.
You weren’t out on the piss though were you?
No but I did go out on the Saturday night – I was out till 3 o’clock. We were dancing with Romain de Marchi and JP Solberg – they were absolutely arseholed. It was so funny! Romain’s such a small person – he’s probably just as wide as he is tall. They ended up getting in a cab with Jeremy Sladen [TSA] and went off to this strip bar or something [laughs]
Can it be a bit funny when you’re out with these snowboarders on the piss and you don’t really drink?
I dunno, I think it’s funny. I mean I had one, and I felt pissed. I felt a little bit… weird.
Do you not drink because you want to stay fit then?
I just don’t drink ‘‘cos I don’t like it, I don’t like the taste of it. Why would I drink something that I don’t enjoy? And then it just turns me into some hyper kid. And I’m already hyper anyway, I mean look at me now!
When you put a British rider in a session that’s just for fun, everyone can ride really well. Nut putting that into a competition in Europe is quite hard”
So how was Freeze generally?
Ah it was awesome. Loved it.
Were you stoked on your results? [Jamie made it to the final of the international FIS big air and came seventh]
Yeah I was. I was just happy to get to the finals and experience it all for the first time. And ‘cos it was in my home country I kinda wanted to land, I didn’t wanna be the one who fell. So that’s why I played it safe on the last one [a 720]. I was gonna go for a cab 12 double cork but if I’d fallen I would’ve come tenth, and if I’d landed I would have come first.
What about the Battle of Britain then?
Ah, that was just terrible. I couldn’t get the speed and every time I took off, my edge dug into the kicker. If felt like my toestrap was catching. I think it just shows everyone else– when they do it that bad – how ghetto British riding can be sometimes. You go on Saturday [for the main event] and the kicker’s perfect and everyone seems to be able to do it properly, but on Friday you’ve got a drop in which is partly wood, and a kicker with hardly any snow on it, and no one’s able to do the tricks that they wanna do, y’know?
Is that the fault of the organizers then?
Yeah it’s the organizer’s fault, ‘cos everyone there knows that everyone who were riding can do much better. Even [winner] Billy Morgan said that he didn’t want to take off on an edge on that kicker, so he just did double backflips. It was just so soft on the takeoff, and muddy, and there were nails sticking out you had to jump over – it was horrible; I didn’t have fun, I didn’t want to be up there. But on the Saturday I wanted to be up there every run. It was awesome. I heard a rumour the FIS guys made a complaint that ‘it needs to be up to scratch tomorrow or we’re not running it.’ They were like, ‘Oh my god, how can you even send people down that drop in?’
Come the Saturday though, when there’s 14,000 people cheering for the Brit, that must have been a buzz?!
Yeah it was, definitely. The first run I landed a cab 10 double and the crowd went pretty mental. It was cool because everyone’s behind you then, and when it comes up on the screen and says ‘second’… that was amazing. I was pretty happy.
Are you used to comps like this now? Do you still get nervous?
In that competition at Freeze I was more nervous than being in the final at any of the other competitions abroad. Just because you’ve got a load of English people watching you – like, 14,000 people, and they’re all English and they’re all cheering for you – that makes you a bit more nervous. When you’re dropping in and you’ve got to wait for the TV, so that’s another two minutes, it just kicks in. [Shudders]. Definitely!
What’s it like riding alongside these top riders now?
I’ve been riding with Kevin Backstrom quite a lot now, because I’ve just recently signed for Nike 6.0, so I’ve been travelling round with him and Gjermund (Braaten) and Ethan [Morgan] and Peetu [Piiroinen] a lot. It’s changed definitely, from my first season.
Is it a different vibe riding with top Euros as opposed to British riders?
I feel when I ride with Seb Toots and Mark McMorris and the Nike 6.0 guys, they’re pushing it and I wanna try new stuff. They’re all doing double corks and you get a session going and you want to try new ones – you definitely learn a lot more. I think they have more motivation to push themselves.
Do you get any shit off people for your dryslope background?
No, no, they think it’s cool! They came over to Halifax dryslope recently and they couldn’t believe I actually rode that for the whole of my life. They were like, ‘As if! Is this even real?’ They were touching it and stuff! [laughs] It was pretty funny.
So they didn’t ride it?
No, I guess they were too scared!
Do you feel any greater need to prove yourself?
It’s just different hype, coming from dryslope and going on snow. Everyone’s amazed you can do 10’s or whatever. They’re like, ‘How’s he done that? He’s a dryslope kid.’ Cos most kids go to snowboard school now when they’re younger.
Do you think you’d have liked the chance to go to one of those schools? Do you think it would have helped you at all?
I dunno. I think coming from England it’s a bit weird. It wouldn’t be right. I guess if you’re in a country with mountains and snow and it’s on your doorstep it’s alright, but I think travelling round on your own when you’re 12 years old, far from home… I don’t think I could’ve done it. I quite liked being at home and going to school. But I never really knew much out of the UK when I was 11 or 12 so I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
I guess you’re living proof that you don’t have to have those schools anyway? You’ve shown that you can use dryslope and it’s just ‘practice makes perfect’.
Yeah. But it seems like it was lot different when I was younger ‘cos I was the only kid around – till Sparrow Knox came along. I think as soon as the domes opened a lot of kids started riding, and that’s been a great help to get people interested in it – ‘cos we need others interested in it to carry on.
The domes aren’t so good for kicker riding though are they? I think what’s been good with you is that you’ve had the airtime at Halifax and then gone down the dome and got the jibbing side down?
Yeah, and then combined the two when I’m abroad. But I think I kinda landed in the time of dryslope pretty well. It all kicked off 10 years ago when Snowflex came along after Dendex, and I was in that booming scene when the hype was around Snowflex and Halifax ski slope.
Do you feel dyslope’s dying then?
I feel it is dying, yeah. Because of the indoor. I think what would be perfect would be re-doing Halifax slope – relaying it, new lifts, new advertising, new everything. I feel like we need a new dryslope in England. But then I’m glad the indoor came along too, because it gave me the technique on snow. And I’m thankful that SNO!zone have given me sponsorship there and helped me out.
You never lose your dryslpe technique. You’ll never lose it. It’s like riding a bike”
Who do you look up to, on a UK level?
I’ve always looked up to Wayne Taylor. He helped me out so much when I was younger. Nowadays, it seems like a lot of parents get involved in kids snowboarding, and that seems like the wrong thing to do. I was lucky to have people to ride with – like Rick Barrow, Wayne Taylor, Stu Edwards, all those guys who used to ride dryslope – and that helped me a lot. I didn’t need my parents – I mean were there, but they never really got involved. They weren’t pushing me at all. I think that helps a lot, ‘cos if your parents are pushing you, you get disinterested and don’t enjoy it as much.
It feels like work you mean? There’s no joy in it?
Yeah. I look at kids when they’re getting pushed by their parents and I think, ‘God if that was me I would hate it!’ Let him go on and enjoy himself and have fun with his friends; let him get involved with other people riding in the dome his own age.
Does snowboarding ever feel like work to you now?
No, not really. When I’m off a snowboard it feels like work! Like at Freeze, snowboarding’s the enjoyment part, you get such a thrill. Then after you’re off the jump you’ve got photos to be taken and interviews to be done; I had five on Friday with T4 and stuff. That can feel like work. But then again it’s always a cool feeling to think ‘I’ve just had an interview with Channel 4’ or something! [laughs] Snowboarding though, it never feels like work. At all.
Did you have any international heroes when you were growing up? I hear you were a bit oblivious to stuff outside your little scene?
Yeah I was. The only people I’d really heard of were JP Walker and David Benedek and Romain de Marchi. I saw them in the vids, but I more looked up to guys at the Halifax ski slope – like Andy Nudds, he’s another rider from there who’s achieved good things.
How was it filming with David Benedek at your home slope?
It’s weird. If he was coming over now it’d be a bit more crazier, but I was only 13 or 14 and I didn’t realize how huge it was to be filming with David Benedek. I was just young and stupid! [laughs]
Were you aware of the international reaction at all to your dryslope riding?
No, I didn’t know how massive it would be afterwards – all the hype and that. I think that was when most of the international scene saw dryslope for the first time so they were like, ‘Oh my god that’s crazy.’
Do you still ride the Halifax kicker?
No, I haven’t rode Halifax kicker for a while. Me and Will Smith, and Andy Nudds, we’ll go up for a little rail session and get the gas pipe out and session that for two hours and then go home, but I stay away from the kicker now!
I dunno. I went up to the top of the drop-in ramp once and was like, ‘I’m gonna do it twice and head back to the rail again’ so I did a back 5 and a back 7 and then finished. I still have it though – I think! [laughs] If I went up with Will and Nuddsy and had a session I reckon I’d get everything back pretty quickly, because I think you never lose your dryslope technique. You’ll never lose it. It’s like riding a bike.
You used to ride it every night, right?
Yeah every single night after school I’d be up there riding that jump. I was fortunate though, because Wayne [Taylor] taught me how to ride a snowboard before getting me on the jump. So I actually learned to ride switch and normal before ever spinning off a kicker, and when it came to jumps it was easy to land tricks. That was the best way to learn, and it’s all thanks to Wayne.
When did you decide you wanted to do it for a living?
I think after the David Benedek film I realized it might be possible and I thought ‘Just go for it’. And ever since [my agent] Bob Klein came over to London and talked to me, it felt a bit more like I could actually get a living out of it.
Nowadays, it seems like a lot of parents get involved in kids snowboarding, and that seem like the wrong thing to do”
Why do you think you’ve managed to make it onto a European level, where the majority of British riders seem to struggle to break out?
[Thinks] I’ve always wondered… I mean… I think Halifax has helped me a lot with my landing technique and my takeoff technique – and I was very lucky to have that five minutes away from my house, riding every night. And having a good scene – a good crew of us – helped me a lot with getting the basic tricks down.
So do you think the technique’s basically the same between drylope and snow?
I think dryslope helps so much, because you’ve got to have a clean takeoff and landing. If you have any edge on landing you’re bound to slip away. If you can ride dryslope you can ride snow. But [getting back to the career question] ever since I went away and learned the back 10 double cork, everything else has seemed to come so much easier. I’m also spending a lot of time doing gym work, core strength, getting stronger… everything just seems to be coming together. At the moment I’m learning cab double 12’s, but I haven’t landed one yet.
What’s the process of learning a new trick like that?
I just love to experiment; I hate doing the same trick constantly. I want to try new tricks, new grabs, a different axis. Everyone thinks a back 10 double mute is the same as a back 10 double melon, but seriously it feels – and looks – so much different. It’s the same on rails. I just love trying new stuff.
Do you even know what the names of the rail tricks you’re doing now? Because it gets so tech doesn’t it?
Oh, I get so confused! I just try weird stuff, like pretzling out of the most hardest stuff you can do. It’s all about experimenting, and that’s what I love about snowboarding. Keep progressing, keep trying. And I’m never really scared of trying – I think the more you ride and the more you try, the better your board control gets and the more stuff you can learn.
Are you a fan of Torstein’s triple cork?
You know, I think it’s amazing to see that, but I think it’s gonna be a while before that ever gets consistent. I don’t think it’s gonna catch on the same as double corks. I mean, JP Walker did the first double cork how many years ago? 2003? So it’s took seven years, and only this last couple of seasons everyone’s started doing ‘em. It’s been a while, and I feel like it’ll be the same with the triple cork. The jumps have to be perfect, and I guess that jump in Folgefonna was the right time to try it.
It’s not all about the doubles and tech stuff though is it?
Oh, no way! Front 3 stale is a nice trick. And I like double tailgrabs, they’re good fun. Switch back ones – I love a switch back one. All them tricks I just have so much fun. You know when you go up and you have a day where you don’t do any tricks over a 720?
Yeah – that’s every day for me! [laughs] How are your methods?
They’re all right. I don’t do too many of them. I should’ve done one at Freeze, shouldn’t I? On my final jump. I reckon I’d have got props for doing that.
OK, so if methods are cool, what’s wack in snowboarding?
I don’t like it when people have all the tech tricks but they don’t have the basic tricks. It’s funny how someone can do a back 10 but they can’t even do a front three or a back one very good. You should still always have the basics down. And when some people try to ride skinny jeans riding jumps – it works for some people but not others, and that’s wack! [laughs]
Are there other guys in the UK you think have the talent to follow in your footsteps and break out?
I’d like to think Andy Nudds. I reckon he could. But then it seems like he doesn’t like the competitions as much in the European scene. It’s a hard question, ‘cos when you put a British rider in a session that’s just for fun, everyone can ride really well. You see Andy Nudds do front 10’s off his toes perfect, but putting that into a competition in Europe is quite hard. You’ve got to be able to switch it on when you want.
I’d like to achieve podium spots in big competitions, and I feel like the more competitions I’m doing, the closer I’m getting”
Billy Morgan maybe?
Yeah he’s definitely got the rotations and the flips and stuff. I mean…. anyone could if they really wanted to, you know? But that’s the thing – if you don’t want to then it’s hard.
What did the kids at school make of you snowboarding?
It’s funny you should ask actually. We’ve just had a new Tescos open up in our little village, and it’s pretty huge. I walked in last night for some stuff, and I saw all the girls who were at my school working on the tills! I haven’t seen them for so long, and it’s funny ‘cos I only started growing when I left school. I think my balls dropped after school! [laughs] So I went into Tescos and no one could hardly recognize me. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my god is that you Jamie?’ It always leads onto ‘Are you still snowboarding?’ and stuff. When I was at school no one really thought it was a huge deal. Everyone just called me the snowboarder kid and I was quite a loner.
So you were a bit of an outsider?
Yeah ‘cos I was always away. Like, I had friends but at my school everyone seemed to be in their own little group, and I was outside it. But I never wanted to be in the group becuase that’s where shit goes down; you get into trouble. I didn’t really wanna get into that sort of group so I stayed out of it.
That’s pretty sensible.
But I’ve always been sensible. I mean look at me now – I don’t even drink hardly. [laughs]
So it didn’t help with the ladies then? Your snowboarding?
At school definitely not. Maybe now. I reckon now it’d be quite easy [laughs] I’d just go up and start talking. When I was younger I was so shy and scared. And I looked so young for my age – now I’ve finally caught up and I actually look 17. It’s so much easier.
Plus there’s Facebook!
Plus with Facebook yeah, and typing talk.
What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever posted on Facebook?
Oh, I dunno. I’ve got some funny ones that people have fraped me – that I could’ve posted up but I hadn’t. Like when Gee Atherton put ‘Jamie is taking a really smelly shit right now’ and stuck it on my wall [laughs]
Can you remember life before the internet?
When I was younger I didn’t really have the internet. I had my Game Boy Color that I used to always play on. All that kinda stuff. I didn’t used to have a computer. It was all about the Game Boy and Mario.
Do you still watch a lot of DVDs?
No not really. I watch a lot of stuff on my computer now, from my hard drive.
Can you see a time when it’ll be all about online clips, like the Helgasons.com, rather than full length movies?
See, I haven’t watched a snowboard DVD in sooo long. I always watch them on my computer, or online videos. I’d rather go on Vimeo or summut. I’m getting quite bored of the full length movies. I’m quite liking the little videos people are putting up, ‘cos you wanna see more of them. Especially with the Helgasons. I love their videos, they’re so funny. And I’m into making little clips myself, like when I go to Halifax on the famous yellow gas pipe – making a funny little edit.
What are your ambitions then in snowboarding? Is it more shooting videos or on the competition side?
I think both. I’d like to achieve podium spots in big competitions, and I feel like the more competitions I’m doing, the closer I’m getting. If I just keep getting top ten then I feel like I’m doing well, and hopefully next year or even this season I’ll get a podium. That would be pretty huge for me.
Which comps are you going to this year?
Well I’m involved the TTR already, and I’ve just registered for the Dew Tour in Breckenridge so hopefully I’m doing that. And X-Games Europe too, I’m hopefully doing that. And I’m in the Rookie Air and Style this year as well.
Wow. If you win the Rookie Air and Style you’ll be invited to the big one next year.
Well, that would be hard. I think I’ll need to get that cab double 12 on lock. It’d be amazing though.
Do you think you might go to the Olympics if slopestyle’s included?
Yep. I’d be down for trying. It’s just good to say you’ve been to the Olympics, and experience it. Like, the snowboarding would be cool, but I reckon everything around it would be so much fun.
Right Jamie, that’s it. What you gonna do now then – go get some lunch?
I had scrambled eggs on toast just a bit ago, and then I had a triple chocolate trifle. So I dunno… I just got some new [Oakley] stuff sent from Scott McMorris – some new goggles and glasses and lenses and stuff. So I’m gonna go look at myself in the mirror! [laughs] No, not really. But that’s the sort of thing I might actually do, ‘cos I’m so random sometimes. Oh, and I’m gonna go buy my iPhone 4 today! I got some good money at the Freeze event so I’m gonna go buy my iPhone. I’m doing it!
Where you gonna get it?
Vodafone in Halifax. I’m gonna get myself on the bus and buy myself an iPhone. I dunno how I’m gonna get home, though – I might ring my mum and get her to pick me up, ‘cos I don’t wanna get the bus back from Halifax with a new iPhone 4.
I can sense a status update…
[laughs] Yeah! “Just got battered on the bus and got my iPhone stolen.” [laughs]
Favourite TV show ?
The Inbetweeners. Jay’s a legend. He talks so much crap it’s unbelievable.
Hmm, what is my favourite website? Facebook! [laughs]
A switch back one feels amazing.
It’s either between the strawberry, or the banana… or the apple, or the orange, or the pineapple… or…
Fruit salad then?
Fruit salad, yeah! [laughs]
Roast dinner, Yorkshire puddings and a Yorkshire tea.
I quite like blue.
That’s a hard one. Who’s the guy out of Inception? Leonardo di Caprio? Yeah, he’s good. And I quite like Megan Fox!
Nutella. And I like marmalade or raspberry jam on toast.
It’s official – marmalade is back in!
[laughs] Oh yeah, it’s back in fashion.
Salomon, Red Bull, Nike 6.0, SNO!zone, TSA, Wayne Taylor, Rick Barrow, Jon Weaver, Jeremy Sladen, my mum and dad and family, all my friends, Bob Klein. Phil Young, Sam Nelson, Bert Coneelly, James Fuller, Robbie Henderson, Scott McMorris. And just a shout-out to the whole UK scene for all their support I guess.