The Relentless Freeze Festival, with it’s eclectic mix of snowboarding, music, dodgy halloween costumes, sickeningly tempting food stalls and abundance of alcoholic-fluid serving checkpoints, returned to the Thames’ south bank this weekend for the 5th year running. With its impressive quad towers and post-apocalyptic silhouette looming overhead, Battersea power station is a fitting and familiar home for the festival – even more so with halloween right around the corner.
This year the snowboard comps followed a different format to previous years, with the organisers ditching FIS for a much more appealing invitational event. This ultimately meant that more big name riders who couldn’t previously compete due to the strict regulations imposed by the FIS could now show up and throw down. While many of the previous Freeze Fests have been freakishly lucky with dry weather, this time around it was ‘that time of the month’ for Mama Nature as she blew in some short, but sharp downpours that periodically had all but the most practically dressed spectators fleeing to one of the many tents surrounding the jump for shelter (and beer top up).
It was also incredibly windy – so much so that when the snowboarding all kicked off on Friday evening, with a Style Jam, it was clear that the 15 riders, despite being some of the best in the world, were struggling. Of course, the show had to go on and riders, once used to the conditions and jump, began to deliver the goods. Being a style comp, the focus here was on the execution of tricks rather than how difficult they were on paper and we saw slow back 180’s, shifty’s and some stylish 5’s in addition to the bigger spins. Nate Kern was the only rider representing for Blighty and although he was riding impressively, had to settle for 12th place. Eventually it was young Swede Sven Thorgren whom the judges deemed the most stylish, with an absolutely mahoosive backside rodeo nosegrab, closely followed by Werni Stock and Roope Tonteri. And when we say close we mean close – only a single point separated the three riders.
Once the riding wrapped up on Friday the crowd dispersed into the various stalls and tents to chow down on some tasty nosh, watch some skating, settle in with the premiere of Jeremy Jones’ new film Further or throw some serious shapes in one of the three music stages littered across the site. Zane Lowe and Mark Ronson, a.k.a. A-Yo did a bloody good job of getting the crowd going on the main stage with a set that ran like a 90’s hip-hop classics mix tape, with a spattering of catchy dance/dub numbers thrown in for good measure. Rounding the day off in style was bass-loving DJ Shadow, who by the end of his set, had well and truly succeeded in getting everyone raving their asses off like their mum’s lives depended on it.
Saturday started off bright and early (it wasn’t actually – it was past midday, but bloody well felt it after a measly 3 hour kip) with the Whitelines Battle of Britain, where a collection of some of our biggest and brightest UK shred talent assembled to hit the intimidating Freeze kicker. With temperatures obviously a tad warmer than the previous day, the snow was running slower and many riders were struggling to get enough speed to make it past the knuckle. With many years competing on the international competition circuit under his belt it was the experienced Dom Harrington who stomped a big, floaty backside 900 to claim the win, while Cody Hierons, who was pulling out the steeziest backside 7’s of the comp found himself landing in second. Scott Penmen, with his comedy facemask and knack for flipping really fast whipped out a tidy double frontflip, much to the enjoyment of the crowd to walk away with the bronze. Also worthy of a mention is young Scottish rider Jamie Trinder who was riding solidly all afternoon but couldn’t do quite enough to break into a podium position. A valiant effort on what was undoubtedly the biggest stage of his career so far.
As the light started to fade and the crowds began to gather around the Freeze kicker like slightly intoxicated zombies around a wounded Simon Pegg lookalike, a cohort of some of the planet’s most talented competition kicker riders were hopping into an elevator to be whisked up to the top of the beast of a structure, preparing to drop in for the floodlit main event: the Snowboard Big Air Invitational. With much calmer conditions than the previous day, the riders were noticeably more comfortable and were throwing heavy tricks right off the bat. In an exciting Air and Style-esque format, and one not too disimilar from our forthcoming November Knockout Rail jam tour we might add, riders were paired up to battle it out head to head over two runs before a 5 man final. One of our highlights in the early seeding stages was a picture perfect method from Halldor Helgason – classic trick, perfect execution. Halldor, our latest cover star, and his brother Eiki stopped by at the Whitelines stand a day prior to sign a few mags and pose with their fans.
Six Brits were shredding: invited riders Jamie Nicholls and Billy Morgan (last year’s Battle of Britain winner), as well as Whitelines Battle of Britain riders Cody Hierons, Jamie Trinder, Nate Kern and Sean Tumelty, who courageously stepped up to ride in Eiki Helgason’s place, as Eiki managed to break two of his fingers the previous day. All six were riding well, with Jamie eventually edging out his Nike teammate Halldor with a backside 1080 double cork stomped bolts. After an absolute barrage of spinning and flipping, and some very close pairings, the field was steadily whittled down. Incredibly, three out of four of our boys made it into the top 10. Sean took a few nasty slams, and didn’t make it into the last 10 (he was up against Roope Tonteri ffs!) but is a hero for stepping up and giving it his best – when we caught up with him after the comp and he was completely buzzing – and rightly so. Nate and Jamie Nicholls continued to push it in the semis but couldn’t do quite enough to break into the top 5. From that point on it was all about one man.
Billy Morgan had been riding incredibly confidently from the moment he first strapped in and his consistency and amplitude cemented his place as the sole Brit in the 5 man superfinal.
For the final, riders had three runs each with the first being a style hit, the second being a tech hit and the third a trick of the rider’s choice. Billy, who was up against a formidable set of riders including Max Parrot, Tor Lündstrom, Marco Grigis and Victor De Le Rue, opened up with a huge backside rodeo with the kind of style that would have Mikkel Bang solidly nodding in approval, and the score, which was well into the 80’s, set up him up well. Billy went all out with his second hit, going for a backside dub 1260 and although a light hand drag had the crowd collectively holding their breath for what seemed like hours awaiting the judges decision. Thankfully the score was still a solid one and bumped him into the lead. With the other riders sketching out on either their first or second hits – our Billy had done enough to win the bloody thing before even taking his third run. And dropping to the chants of ‘Billy, Billy, Billy’ his victory lap was glorious – a massive laid out backflip that made the crowd explode in a frenzy of whoops, hugs and high fives. For Billy, the result was his first international win of his career and he is also the first British rider to have ever won the international comp at Freeze. With this win and a world first in the form of a triple backside rodeo stomped earlier this year, the future is certainly bright for Billy and here’s to hoping we’ll be seeing that recognisable grin on many more podiums in the coming years. What a day for Billy Morgan and what a day for UK snowboarding as a whole. You all did us proud.
With the final done and dusted, it was time for the celebrations to begin, and what better way than with thousands of other stoked out Brits bumpin’ and grindin’ to the tunes of legendary Hip-Hop heavyweights Public Enemy. Everyone was in high spirits and Public Enemy certainly brought the noise – much more easily than you’d think. Towards the end of the set, one token dick was convinced he’d been bitten by a radioactive spider, and Flavor Flav had to halt the set to coax him back down to solid ground (there’s always one eh?).
And with one last triumphant tune, Public Enemy put a (w)rap on what was undoubtedly the best Freeze Festival to date. Many went on in search of the nearest pub, planning to make the night count by partying into the small hours of the morning – after all, this thing they call Freeze only comes round once a year, and this one is going to be bloody hard to top.
RELENTLESS FREEZE RESULTS
Snowboard Big Air Invitational
1. Billy Morgan (GBR)
2. Marco Grigis (ITA)
3. Tor Lundström (SWE)
4. Maxence Parrot (CAN)
5. Victor de le Rue (FRA)
Whitelines Battle of Britain
1. Dom Harrington
2. Cody Hierons
3. Scott Penman