Into the Spotlight: The Kevin Pearce Interview

Photo: Cole Barash

Words by Gemma Freeman

This interview is from 2009, prior to Kevin’s head injury.

Snowboarding is gnarly: there’s always a younger generation coming up pretty hot, and so if you’re 25 and not on it, it’s hard to keep going,” observes 21-year old TTR Champion Kevin Pearce.

“It’s pretty gnarly how young most of us are, it’s crazy…” Able to buy a house before he could legally purchase a beer, this down-to-earth native of Norwich, Vermont is well aware of the weird world of pro shredding. Known as the hardest working man in snowboarding, he destroyed the contest circuit last season at just 20 years old, stomping solid 1260s, huge McTwists and perfect Rodeo 540s at the world’s most elite events. Kevin took gold at the Air & Style Big Air, the Burton European Open Halfpipe, the Air & Style Quarterpipe and the legendary Arctic Challenge – leading him to claim the overall TTR crown for 07/08 and no doubt earn himself a payrise from his sponsors at Burton, Volcom, Oakley and Adio.

But, it wasn’t that simple. Perhaps a tad bitter that his younger colleague had taken the World title, Shaun White entered a low-key Swiss comp that just so happened to be the last TTR event of the season –the Snickers Classic & Popcorn Wallride. He duly won, nabbing 700 more TTR Ranking Points which pushed him into the Number One spot and left Kevin in second place – therefore no longer champion. A fiasco? Perhaps.

The solution? Split the $100,000 champion prize money equally between Kevin and Shaun. Most people would be pissed. But Kevin? More ‘c’est la vie’. Yes, he’s found success as a contest kid, but to Kevin – who was told the news while he was in the middle of Alaska, filming for the new Burton movie and his first Absinthe section – there’s more to snowboarding than podium places. Especially when you’re riding alongside heroes like Nicolas Muller and Gigi Rüf, and have just survived an avalanche…
Follow that with a summer spent surfing near his new home in Carlsbad, Southern California (home to Gretchen Bleiler, Shaun White, Jussi Oksanen and more) and life’s pretty peachy for this talented regular footer. He even squeezed in a trip to Bali for some more surf, and spent plenty of time hanging out with his ‘Frends’ crew (best buds Danny Davis, Jack Mitriani, Keir Dillon, Luke Mitrani, Mason Aguirre and Scotty Lago).
When it comes to his job, Kevin seems more mature and professional than 95% of the snowboard fraternity and – whatever he says about the sport’s focus on youth – if he continues to demonstrate the same humble attitude and ability to throw down under pressure, he has a long, illustrious career ahead of him.

Via a phone call from Mammoth (where he’d just enjoyed a day’s early season shredding) we chatted with snowboarding’s newest superstar about youth, powder, pressure, girls… and owning a British passport.

So how is Mammoth? I heard it dumped there a little while ago…
Yeah, I came up for a weekend with Danny and Jack. It’s been a lot of fun, super warm and good to get riding again. There’s not a tonne of snow, although there was a lot recently: it snowed a couple of feet then it started to get pretty warm and melted.

I saw on your Friends blog that you were in Bali in October: How was that?
Yeah, that was insane! I got to go there with Oakley for a surf contest: Terje, Chris (our team manager) Gretchen Bleiler and I. It was more a surf vacation, we went to hang out, chill and surf as much as we could. We cruised around the whole island, went to different surf spots – it was just awesome to get time off to mellow out. It was my first time to Indonesia too, and as we always go to these cold places it was nice to get to go somewhere tropical. Totally get a tan for once, and my hair went all blonde; everybody asked me if I’d dyed it!

What are you like at surfing?
I’m getting better; I haven’t been surfi ng that long, because I grew up in Vermont. But now that I’m out in California, and during my time off in the summers, I’ve been trying to be mostly surfi ng, and so I’ve gotten a lot better over the last couple of years. I’m still definitely not great, but I’m getting there.

Is it good doing something like that, without any pressure?
Yeah – I love it so much. It’s so relaxing. Snowboarding is awesome of course, but it’s nice to have something different – where you don’t worry about people watching or judging you: it’s all about yourself.
You won the TTR last year, and have just turned 21, how does it feel to be that successful already? Are you scared of burning out or is there still lots to achieve?
Yeah, it’s pretty insane for me to have accomplished that at a young age because I really didn’t expect it when I was growing up. From a young age snowboarding was something I did for fun – I never thought of it as anything more than that. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that it’s turned into a career. My situation may have changed, but snowboarding will always be the
same for me – it will never be something that I think of as a job. And if it does I’ll have to change things… So in that sense it’s been awesome. But, yeah: it was pretty crazy how busy things got last year – how many contests and how much travelling there was, but I was able to deal with it pretty well.

How did you start snowboarding?
I started because of my brothers; I have three older brothers and they got into it because of my uncle and I always looked up to them, followed them and wanted to do what they were doing. They learned to snowboard, and so they got me into it. I started when I was five and, you know, for the first eight or nine years I was never competitive or thought about it in that way. I
didn’t even know there were snowboard contests for a long time – I’d just go out at the weekend and loved it.

What was your childhood like? Were the mountains a big part of it?
Actually, snowboarding wasn’t a huge part of my childhood. I did all the sports growing up: I played
soccer, I played basketball, lacrosse… I did all these different sports and snowboarding was a part of
that. Most weekends in the winter we’d go up to the mountain, and that was it. It wasn’t until I got older that it turned into more than that.

Were you quite well off as a kid?
Yeah, I was really fortunate. My Dad has a pretty cool story: he actually got kicked out of high school, then travelled the world, came home and started his own glass blowing company. Th at became pretty successful, so my parents could afford, and were able, to take us to
the mountains, buy us snowboard kit, you know. So in that sense, it’s pretty much because of my parents that I’m where I am: 100% per cent.

Photo: Blotto
What do you think of your success now?
They still back me, and always have, because of how my Dad was raised: it was never all about staying in school. When I wanted to concentrate on snowboarding he was always behind me.
OK so what would you be doing if you weren’t snowboarding for a living?
Unfortunately I think I’d probably be in school: I’d finished school and gotten in to college and so that year was the deciding point – between whether I’d go to University or snowboard. That year I ended up being really successful in snowboarding, so it was a pretty easy decision for me, but there was some pressure – people were telling me that I should go to college.

There’s so many riders like yourself that are young, and already a focus for sponsors. Do you think there is too much emphasis on youth and the ‘next big thing’? It seems that when people hit their mid-20s they’re seen as ‘old’.
Snowboarding is gnarly in that sense: it seems like there’s always a young generation that comes up pretty hot, and so if you’re 25 and you’re not on it, it’s hard to keep going. It’s pretty gnarly how young most of us are, it’s crazy.

You’re one of Burton’s big riders now; quite a few of your international team mates left recently – Gigi, Anne-Flore, DCP, Romain, JP. What did you think about that?
I was bummed that those guys had to leave, but it had a lot to do with the economy and how much money Burton has. All those guys – JP, DCP, Romain – they’re still so good, and so it was hard for me: growing up those guys were huge idols of mine so it was weird to see them go.

Do older team members like Terje give you advice? What’s it like hanging out with him?
I’ve been really lucky in that sense growing up. Terje is like the Michael Jordan of snowboarding: me and my brother were in love with him – he was our idol. And when I came up on Burton I got the amazing opportunity to hang out with him and go on a few trips, which was so helpful in my career.

What’s the best advice he’s given you?
Just being around him, watching him ride and getting to experience how he handles snowboarding – that’s the best way to learn from him. His whole riding style is incredible, the way he moves his body; watching him at the Arctic Challenge or in the backcountry, you realise how much bett er he is than anybody else. That alone has taught me so much.

You were involved with designing boards, bindings and outerwear for Burton this season. How did that come about?
Burton are really cool in that sense; they gave us the chance to give a lot of input in the product, how we feel about it, how it works, what we like etc. Especially with the Vapor (the board that I ride) they take all of our input and use it. That’s the great thing about being a part of Burton. It’s very helpful for me being able to give feedback on the product.

Was there anything in particular, like did you have a list of tweaks you’d change?
Not really, its more that when we’re riding, if anything comes up we let the development guys know. They listen, take care of it and fix what they can.

What would be your perfect day?
There would be two different snowboard days for me: the perfect contest day and the perfect powder day. They’re so different. Being in Alaska for sure though. I
had a few weeks there, waking up, getting in a heli and riding perfect powder. Then getting to ride with Jack, Danny and the whole crew – that’s a perfect day.

I heard you had some really crazy fans in Japan; what happened there?
Yeah, the Japanese are so stoked on snowboarding. They are passionate about it. Getting to experience that scene is a whole different world: there’s a lot of screaming, hugging and a ton of pictures. I’ve been there a bunch of times; three times last year, and have gotten to appreciate that culture a few times before.

Photo: Aaron Dodds
Are you going to do the TTR this year or do something different, maybe film more?
I think it’ll be good: do a bunch of contests, the same as last year, then once the US Open ends, take that time to move on and start the whole film side of things. This year again with Burton, but more with Absinthe, which I’m really excited about.

What’s it like working with the Absinthe guys?
Amazing; this was my first year and they totally welcomed me into the whole family. They’re such a
tight crew, just being with those guys teaches you so much about snowboarding and it’s so fun. It’s really important to get that other side of snowboarding into focus; contests are cool, but that’s such a small part of snowboarding, it’s pretty hard to just do that.

How was it going to Alaska for the first time?
Man, that was amazing. I was so lucky to go there with Gigi and the crew. I haven’t been in the backcountry much, but being there, in the heart of that scene, there is no one I’d rather be there with than those guys.

Did anything scary happen at all?
Yeah: the second or third day a whole cornice broke and took me down the mountain and I lost my board. That was very scary, a real eye opener on how intense and powerful those mountains are.

What was going through your mind when that happened?
Um, I was just trying to stay on top of the snow, and not get buried. It happened so quickly that there was not much to think about, When I was at the bottom I was so glad to get out alive.

Did you get to ride with Nicolas or Wolle?
Nicolas was only there a few days, but I got to get in a couple of runs with him, but he is so next level. Being with him pushes you so much. I’m so fortunate to get to ride with those guys. He’s doing great things with his environmental work, I back him 100% and want to move in that direction myself.

Could you see yourself filming more and competing less in the future?
I grew up, and came up, through competitions; a lot of people fade out of competitions and concentrate on filming as they get older, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to do both – that’s what I enjoy doing.
Have you managed to spend any of your TTR Winnings yet?
Yeah I bought a house in Carlsbad in Southern California, by the beach, so when I come home from
trips I’m able to do a bit of surfing, relax and get out of the snow. But besides that I haven’t really used my money much – I’ve been saving it really.

How did the Friends crew come about?
It started because we wanted to have something of our own; we loved hanging out and snowboarding together. So it seemed right to start a crew – and the name fit. Right now we have a website, make t-shirts, make stickers but nothing too serious: it’s all about having fun.

What would you say your favourite event is?
The US Open, as that was the first I went to as a kid and it’s in Vermont, where I grew up. It’s got so much history too. That’s the one I look forward to the most every year.

Have you seen Travis Rice’s film yet? Do you think snowboard films need to step things up from now on?
I just watched it actually! It’s insane and turned out to be everything that it was hyped as and more. I was amazed – it pushed the sport ahead of its time. We’re hopefully going to see a change in fi lming, because after that people need to step up big time.

I know there was the fiasco with the TTR last season where Shaun White won the Popcorn Classic. What did you think about that? How did you feel?
I had mixed feelings. It was a big mess, but the TTR handled it well; they took responsibility, manned up and fixed it, which meant a lot. It’s a learning experience: the TTR is still young and there were kinks that needed to be worked out. So it was understandable, and I was bummed, but you have to move on. It’s not the end of the world.

Did you take it personally that Shaun had to win the title?
Shaun is such a competitive person – I’ve known him a long time and so I didn’t take it personally. That’s how he is, that’s how he does things. I was definitely not surprised.

If you were in Shaun’s position, would you have done the same thing perhaps?
It’s hard to say because I’ve not been in that situation, but if I was… I’d say no – I would not.

What’s the best thing about being a successful snowboarder?
Having as much fun as we do and getting to travel all the time – to experience what we have at such a young age is incredible.

Does it help with the ladies at all?
Sometimes: it depends where you are, but in Norway it does!

Is it difficult having relationships at home when you’re travelling all the time?
I’m lucky, because I get to travel with Danny, Jack, Scotty etc – they are my closest friends. I get to hang out with them for most of the year, but I don’t have a girlfriend right now because I’d never get to see her, so there’d be no point. But there’s always time for that later on in life.

Photo: Adam Moran
I heard a rumour one of your parents is British: is that true?
It is true. My Dad is British; I have a British passport and dual citizenship which is really cool. I haven’t had much time to come over there yet, but I look forward to checking it out a bunch in the future. My dad actually grew up in Ireland but he was born in Britain.

Does he still have an Irish accent?
He does actually: he’s my dad so I don’t really notice, but when friends came over, they’re like, “damn you’re Dad has a full-on accent!” It’s really funny, when he’s back in Ireland – his brothers still live there – he falls back into the thickest accent. I can still understand him though…

Have you made it to the UK?
I’ve been to Ireland a few times when I was younger but not for a long while.

I’m not sure if you heard, but we have quite an unusual snowboard scene here?
I’ve seen a little bit in the magazines – you guys have that carpet riding don’t you? It looks like it would be so gnarly – so brutal!

It can be! But then, we have kids like Jamie Nicholls who can throw 9s off plastic kickers, and when they get to snow they’re like; ‘Oh this is easy!’….
It’s like that for us growing up on the East Coast – riding ice. When we ride powder it’s so much easier. It moulds you into a better snowboarder I guess?

Have you ever eaten Marmite?
Yeah: growing up my Dad always had Marmite in the house. It’s a love hate thing I guess. I used to eat it a bunch when I was growing up, but it’s pretty damn salty!

Would you rather have a full English or a Continental Breakfast?
I’d go for a Full English – black pudding, with all the trimmings.

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