Picking Your Own Line | The Maria Kuzma Interview

From a corporate job in New York to sustainable architecture, all while competing on the Freeride World Tour, Maria Kuzma's forging her own path

Above: Maria Kuzma. Pic: Matt McHattie

The Luminaries Series is about shining a light on some of the most inspirational people in our industry, documenting their rise in their given professions, and sharing some of their insights from along the way.


If anyone ever tells you you can’t do it all, just think of Maria Kuzma, the wonder woman of snowboarding. Not only an incredibly talented snowboarder, she’s also constantly finding new ways to put her degree in Architecture to good use. Building schools out of up-cycled materials in Brazil, for example.

“If anyone ever tells you you can’t do it all, just think of Maria Kuzma, the wonder woman of snowboarding”

Maria’s gone from working for a big corporate architecture company in New York to commodifying waste streams of large companies in order for them to achieve a more circular economy. All this, while keeping busy snowboarding. Right now, she’s filming for her latest snowboard film with the ‘Surreal Crew’ and hiking the mountains surrounding her current home town Mayrhofen, Austria.

I remember when I first met Maria. She instantly gave off such a welcoming vibe that would have made anyone feel at ease. In order for us to push our boundaries and get out of our comfort zone, we need people like Maria to tell us their stories. Rather than being pigeonholed by a single profession or career path, Maria has continued to break from the trodden path and made her own. We sat down with her find out how she’s gotten to where she is today.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. Could you just start off by telling us a bit about what it is that you do?
I came to Europe from New Zealand to compete in the Freeride World Tour in 2009. It was always my dream to compete in the big mountain circuit. I timed it all very well because the summer University Holiday in New Zealand is at the same time as winter in the Northern Hemisphere, so I was able to go to University and study Architecture while competing. I knew that I wanted to snowboard and keep on doing that kind of lifestyle so from there I’ve just been trying to navigate both [snowboarding and architecture].

“You keep on getting these little hints from the universe that you are on the right path, so just keep going”

That’s when Thule came onboard. They got me introduced to Pedro, who is another Thule crew member, and from there I kind of figured out that I can, for now, keep trying to do both. By being able to snowboard means I am saying no to a corporate job, which I’ve tried already, but instead doing ‘social’ architecture projects which I have a lot more control over.

I’m learning more by saying I want to keep snowboarding and stay in the snowboard industry. I can work on these architectural projects that are really focusing on bigger problems and solving them with a tiny budget.

And how did you get here?
I studied at the same time I did competitive snowboarding but most importantly I prioritised being in the mountains, being in nature, going surfing and snowboarding. I graduated in 2015 and moved straight to New York and got a really good corporate job in the city working on these crazy skyscrapers. Then I took the big leap to leave and get out of my comfort zone. That’s when Thule were like ‘let’s get you involved in this project called ‘Recycled Build’, you’ll be the head architect’. Then that project won the ‘Water Research Prize awarded by the World Architecture Festival’. You keep on getting these little hints from the universe that you are on the right path, so just keep going.

Maria Kuzma. Pic: Dan Mullins.

By the sounds of it, it wasn’t always your plan to end up where you are now. Did you have any ‘aha’ moment when you realised that this is the path you want to take?
Yes so, Thule told us to go to Brazil and do something if we think we can make something work and it all just came together. We were starting something out of nothing and there was a lot of doubt about if what we were doing even made sense. But once you took the step out of the comfort zone everything started to come together in a more meaningful way. We were trying to do something cool for the community and start raising awareness about water use and water quality.

How was it to quit your day job and leave behind the security it offered?
It was quite scary. The first two years after I quit were not financially comfortable, and even still now. But you’re not leaving something comfortable to go to something more comfortable, you’re doing the opposite.

“You’re not leaving something comfortable to go to something more comfortable, you’re doing the opposite”

And now, funnily enough, everything is going in this loop. I’m helping to build a different company where we’re commodifying waste streams of large companies. I’m head of the construction sector for that so basically designing the materials for the buildings I want to make. We’re also designing materials for the snowboard industry so it’s all coming back onto itself.

When you started working for Thule, were you still working in New York?
I was on the Thule team and thinking ‘What do I do, do I leave New York?’. I asked my team manager and she’s the kind of person you would go to for advice. She told me to leave and go to Bali and figure it out. She also asked me for a document with all the goals that I want to accomplish. Thule was encouraging me to step out of the status quo.

Maria Kuzma. Pic: Dan Mullins.

You’ve got all these skills from your degree but instead of putting them to use by working for big corporate companies, you decided to use them for something good?
Yes because, for example, the buildings I was working on in New York were just massive steel and glass structures. It was mental how much resources were pulled out of the earth to build these things. I’ve gone to the complete opposite now making construction material out of waste. And applying them in a beautiful way.

“Thule was encouraging me to step out of the status quo”

While in New York I realized I was working to build someone else’s company that did not reflect or progress the skills I wanted or that aligned with my own values. I’m super grateful for the experience, and I’m currently working on a few sustainability projects in the US right now.

Maria Kuzma (Shot on GoPro).

You’ve mentioned Thule a few times during this interview. Would you mind telling us a bit more about the brand and how you got involved with them?
They approached me back in the day and asked if I wanted to be a Thule ambassador. I think they really liked that I was also an architect and not just a competition rider. They were the ones who pushed us to do these projects and they’re the ones who’re our main supporters of ‘Recycled Build in Brazil’.

“I’m helping to build a different company where we’re commodifying waste streams of large companies”

The ‘Recycled Build’ project is basically a prototype to show people that this is what we can do with it and we’re using that as a prototype for a low-income housing scheme in Brazil as well as another larger school in the Amazonians.

And this is all tied together with the wastewater system you mentioned earlier?
It’s different but it links into it. We’re launching the website in mid-March. We’ve got these incredible prototypes companies coming on board. The consumer-facing side of the company is basically an offset, “Pay XX dollars a month and your personal and/or company waste is offset”. Our intention and back end work job is building the infrastructure for waste-to-value technologies so that countries, communities and companies can have more of a circular process economy within their waste streams.

Nu Cycle won a grant from the Finnish government a while back at the start of lockdown and from there it has been pretty hectic to get it all sorted. We’ve got Asmo using some of our materials already. They don’t use any chemical resins in the making of their boards anymore, they use our Nu-Cycled waste-derived resins that are plant-based and non-toxic and just a waste stream from the agricultural refinery process. We can use it for anything, we can make beautiful floors, construction materials and it’s all non-toxic and plant-based rather than just chemicals.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Maria Kuzma (@mariakuzma)

And it’s not just building materials, it’s also for creating energy out of waste. What we do is analyse big companies waste streams and convince them that they can profit from it. We can link you up with waste-to-value technologies, you can make money from your waste and then your product is more waste neutral and we’re potentially making a commodity out of your waste. People don’t understand that it’s a golden material, this shit can be useful, we can put it to use.

“There are hormones and anti-biotic in this water people are drinking”

It all starts with a waste analysis of the companies entire process. From transport to every single material and energy consumption that goes into the making of this product and figuring out what waste stream to tap into. We can tap into global companies, like massive textile companies, clothing companies, restaurants, hotels, energy companies, fabric dying companies… everything. It’s quite a process.

The wastewater systems we’re putting together in Brazil are low maintenance and slow and they work because they create greenery and shading and they filter the water in a very natural, organic way. We use this because it’s the least energy-consuming low-maintenance solution there is. Figuring out how this can be applied to treat the wastewater from a massive textile factory is where it starts getting interesting…

In Brazil, a lot of toilet pipes go straight back into the river, into their water. My project partner has done lots of research mission down waterfalls, measuring the water of beautiful rivers and such and there’s pharmaceutical shit in these waters. There are hormones and anti-biotic in this water people are drinking. And people don’t know it.

This is all very impressive Maria. Is there a website where we can find out more about these projects?
Sure, you can read more about it here “The 2019 Water Research Prize has been awarded to Recycle Build Brazil by Recycle Build”.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Maria Kuzma (@mariakuzma)

For someone who’s been part of two very male-dominated industries, snowboarding and corporate architecture, have you as a woman ever found it hard to be part of such a male-dominated industry?
That’s an interesting question because of course yes. Mostly it’s just the assumption that it can’t be done because as women, we’re brought up with that kind of programming. You see it with a lot for women these days, it’s intimidating growing up in a man’s world and it’s easier to just be subservient and say ‘oh no I can’t do it I’m in a place where it is set up for me to not really succeed as easy as for the white male counterpart’.

“If we want a stronger, more successful community, we have to include more women”

I think it’s just the daily subtilties that make the difference. Having the frame of mind and making sure that you surround yourself with really smart strong women that not only inspire you but keep you in check as well.

What changes would you like to see in the [snowboard] industry going forward?
Just a lot more inclusion. I feel like once it’s more normal to be included then progression will just happen. Once women see other women, take the Surreal Girls, for example, there are no European female snowboard crews filming. How are we supposed to get women snowboarding if they can’t see women snowboarding? Of course, there are good women posting good shit but I mean, film crews. In America it’s different, there are heaps of them and maybe that’s what pushes their industry and makes it so much stronger. If we want a stronger, more successful community, we have to include more women. There will be so much more people buying shit because there will be so many more snowboarding… it’s just so simple.

Have you got any advice for the next generation who would like to get involved in the industry?
Surround yourself with women that push you and inspire you. Basically, just surround yourself with good people.


Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.