Roots - Josh Dirksen

Carving a Niche

Photo: Colin Wiseman

Roots – Josh Dirksen

From Whitelines 116

Since his early days riding Mt Bachelor and throughout the years spend doing halfpipe comps and video parts, Josh Dirksen was always a soul surfer at heart. Now almost 40, he's able to dedicate all of his time to exploring the backcountry - although he retains a soft spot for good old piste.

A turn can tell you a lot about a snowboarder. Sure, it’s not the first thing that jumps out in most snowboard media—often an afterthought, in fact, unless it involves some kind of do or die situation on a heavy Alaskan line—but break snowboarding down to its fundamentals and there’s that turn, right there at the bottom of the metaphorical rider’s food pyramid. The fruits and vegetables to the cab nine-ing sugary sweets.

“I definitely love hard-pack,” Josh Dirksen says. “I love the idea of turning on a snowboard. Being able to pick the cleanest line through any and all snow conditions is what I strive for and appreciate most in snowboarding these days. Turning is something you could work your whole life on and still not have it mastered.”

Undoubtedly a whole grained idea.

The 37-year-old Dirksen has what many consider one of the best turns in the business—just watch him power through a heelside arc, front hand skimming the snow and you will agree—but he’s also experienced his fair share of air time. When Dirksen first broke onto the scene two decades ago it was as a halfpipe rider. He even competed in the X Games, following in the footsteps of Todd Richards on the Morrow Snowboards program. But that was never really Dirksen’s true calling. Hailing from a small town by the name of Crestwell, Oregon in the northwestern United States, his first snow-based experiences were on cross-country skis. A naturally gifted athlete and the son of a physical education teacher, he got on a skateboard at the age of nine or ten, and a snowboard at age 13. He was sponsored by the time he was fourteen and rode contests because that’s just what snowboarders did in the early 90s.

“There are so many different ways to inspire people, which is the ultimate goal for a pro snowboarder, isn’t it?”

“When I first became a professional snowboarder, I focused on riding halfpipe contests,” Dirksen says. “At the time, it was the biggest aspect of freestyle snowboarding, and the part that I could really relate to personally. I grew up skating ramps, and it just made sense. It also connected me with the lifestyle and people who made snowboarding their job. Early on, I was lucky enough to get help from Todd Richards and Trevor Graves. Todd got me riding for Morrow snowboards and showed me what it meant to be a pro shredder. And Graves was a photographer who taught me that it wasn’t just about trying to prove yourself in contests. Richards was an incredible all-around pro snowboarder in every aspect, which was what everyone wanted to be: an all-around rider.”

Indeed, there was always more than the pursuit of podiums driving Dirksen’s riding. During high school, he was also exploring the backcountry and going snow camping with his dad, Mike. Dirksen also grew up at Mt Bachelor, where the riders were never all that focused on becoming elite competitors—where, to this day, fun with friends is the dominant mentality. It’s a place that, if you’re gonna ride it properly, you better know how to turn. Dirksen moved to the “big town” of Bend to ride Bachelor with Jason McAlister as soon as they graduated high school and fell in with Bachelor locals like Marcus Egge and Travis Yamada.

“The locals at Mt Bachelor have always been proud,” Dirksen says. “For McAlister, Egge and I, Mt Bachelor made us the riders we are. It’s relatively flat, but on its good days, it’s incredibly special. Four to six inches of wet snow and a lot of wind overnight is the formula for the best days. It’s a unique mountain and as a result, we kind of saw ourselves as unique riders as well. Everybody else had access to steep terrain and big cliffs and here it seemed like we had to work harder for quality riding, just being so flat and different.”

By different, he is referring to the massive white walls created by lava flows from a bygone era. Never-ending transitions. A kind of skatepark for snowboards. The type of terrain that teaches riders to use their edges, pump for speed, and find momentum to make creative lines and transfers. To refine their turn in the pursuit of airtime.

Dirksen joined the Fall Line Films crew, then moved to the ultra-progressive Mack Dawg program through the mid-to-late-nineties, and eventually put out a part or two with Kingpin Productions. He was rolling with the most progressive crews on the planet—the new guard of freestyle film pros. Then came Robot Food.

“When ‘Afterbang’ came out [in 2001] I was filming with Whitey and Kingpin,” Dirksen says. “I was finishing up a random season with a lot of poorly timed trips that involved bad weather and crappy snow. I felt burnt out and needed some change. I have always figured that it was good for my snowboarding to change situations—the people I rode with, the people I shot with, the jumps and locations. Robot Food was perfect. There was so much excitement and passion involved in the project. I loved being a part of it.”

Dirksen’s segments in Robot Food’s “Lame” and “Afterlame” were part of a whole that, while featuring never been done tricks and progressive riding, also suggested that snowboarding should stop taking itself so seriously. It spawned a whole generation of riders that understood there was more to the sport than 100-foot booters. Sure, pushing your limits is great—but it’s great because it’s fun. That was the message. Change begets change, and there’s more than one direction for the sport to go.

“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” Dirksen says. “Yeah, you’ve got to ride well, but you’ve also got to do it with style, you’ve got to do it different and unique, it’s got to have some surprises.”

My goal is to take anything and make it fun and exciting.

For Dirksen, the next surprise was being invited to ride with Jeremy Jones in “Further”—an openness to change driving his career in a new direction. In a way it brought him back to those childhood experiences snow camping with his dad, allowing him to meld 15 years of industry experience with a self-sufficient backcountry approach that was just beginning to come onto the radar of mainstream snowboarding. “Riding with [Jeremy] Jones and TGR took me out of my element,” Dirksen says. “Exploring is such an amazing part of snowboarding. It really got me really excited to continue riding for the rest of my life.”

Always an opinionated guy when it came to developing products, Dirksen also had a new avenue to explore in backcountry gear. He left longtime outerwear sponsor Bonfire for the Patagonia team and started working with board sponsor Salomon to develop their splitboard program. Which brings us to present day. To Dirksen, 20 years deep as a pro rider and still finding inspiration in unlikely places. He splits his time between his wife Fabian’s homeland of Switzerland and his adopted hometown of Bend along with their young daughter. He runs one of the most successful roots events in snowboarding, the Dirksen Derby. And, well, he continues to appreciate the simple things—to pursue genuine snowboarding, to refine that timeless turn.

“There are so many different ways to inspire people, which is kind of the ultimate goal for a pro snowboarder, isn’t it?” Dirksen says. “What I’m trying to do these days is show how fun snowboarding can be. It’s not just about triple corks, especially for the average person. Small, creative stuff can be fun. Or even big, simple stuff. It is more about trying to throw in your personal style. It’s not always how big you go or how many flips. It’s how you do the trick, the details. Or even, what you do before and after the trick.

“There’s a part of snowboarding that’s triple flips and all that, but it’s definitely not the only part of snowboarding. And it’s not the part of snowboarding that I’m into right now. For me it’s about exploring in the backcountry or going to the resort and making the most of the conditions. My goal is to take anything and make it fun and exciting. To take a crispy spring day, just average snowboarding, and feel my board turning on clean snow. And most importantly, for me, it is about appreciating these days to the fullest.”

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