It’s almost impossible to imagine someone like Shawn Farmer arriving on the snowboarding scene today. In the late 1980s and early 90s, characters like Farmer, Dan Donnelly, Damien Sanders and Steve Graham were nothing less than our sport’s original stars, and their antics were the basis of many early snowboard films. They were – without a shadow of a doubt – making it all up as they went along, and to say they were an eclectic bunch is a laughable understatement. While riders of today may have different riding styles and looks, the subtleties are only noticeable for those truly obsessed with the sport. Back then, the top tier of pro riding was a mish-mash of degenerate characters; an x-rated Village People line-up with only a love of snowboarding, a keen sense of mischief and a hatred of skiers to bind them.
And in this weird, fucked-up world there was one character with more confidence, attitude and outright balls than the rest. If Winston Churchill is the reason you and I don’t speak German, then Shawn Farmer is the reason we don’t all monoski in Henri Duvillard one-piece suits.
Shawn Farmer was relatively long in the tooth when he burst on the scene. Born in 1964 and raised in the mid-west state of Missouri, he was pushing twenty-seven when – after a few seasons in Colorado – fame beckoned with a part in the newly launched Standard Films’ Totally Board (it would later be known as TB1, and started the TB series). “I just wanted to make a movie,” says Shawn now. “More than anything I just wanted to make films because it was cool to see myself ride.” The next season he moved to Mt Baker, where he famously pulled a topless method over the Baker road gap (on his first attempt) before heading down to Tahoe to shoot with Fall Line Films for a production later titled Critical Condition. It was this film that truly launched Shawn into the limelight, helped by an outrageous self-penned rap that scored his section. “People in the industry would like to dismiss me, just because I don’t grumble like a lot of you sissies,” rhymed Shawn. “You can give me product, that’s cool I guess, that way I can go and trade the product for sex.” The riding was vintage Farmer – big cliffs, method airs, and the odd frontflip. The attitude though, was something else. “I need money to live, you got a head like a sieve?” he sang, “What’s the problem – you got shit in your ears?” Set to a background of The Doors’ Peace Frog, the infamous ‘Farmer Rap’ was three minutes of confrontational – but funny – stuff.
“The premier was in San Diego at the ASR trade show,” recalls Shawn. “Right after that movie came out and the next day we were in the trade show and everyone was on us. It was like a fly convention and the shit just showed up.” Shawn’s major gripe was with snowboarding courting big business. He saw the sport having a more core, skate-punk future. “There was a moment in time when snowboarding was jocked-out,” he explains. “And they were lining up with the skiers. I was an outcast. I really didn’t like the jock image, like the neon stuff, and the Colorado people who were really clean-cut and had like an almost country club feel. I was just an anti-establishment person. So skiing didn’t fit my idea. It’s not right or wrong, it was just the way I felt back then. Only skateboarding felt like it had soul for me.”
Critical Condition opened a lot of doors – mostly to parties – and again, he dug deep. “I was such a heavy partier and drinker,” he says now. “I hindered myself, you know. I probably would have went further. I’m still dealing with issues relating to alcohol, though I haven’t had a drink for about four months now. But god, it was funner than hell.”
While Shawn was partying hard, he was still putting down insane lines and getting a ton of coverage doing so. With his self-made two-metre-long boards, unkempt long hair, and finger-at-the-camera attitude, he was the perfect poster boy as snowboarding went through its teenage years. He was also in on the ground just as hip-hop was taking off. “I was actually thinking of launching a rap career off Critical Condition,” says Shawn. “But I never got connected with the right people. The timing was there, but I’ve always had trouble hanging out in cities; like I freak out when I’m in LA – I have to get the fuck out of there.” Shawn may have been downhearted with how snowboarding was sucking the corporate cock but, he says, “the music industry was even worse.” The rap career never took off, and the country boy retreated to his Tahoe safe-haven. “I built this world in my head and the real world never matched up,” he says with a laugh.
Snowboarding owes a huge debt to people like Shawn. By tapping into the punk skate scene and the rap world, as well as the ‘go-big’ attitude of skaters like Mark Gonzales and the ‘keep-it-simple’ philosophy of Mt Baker, he wrestled snowboarding into what he thought it should be. Whether he fully succeeded or not is open to debate, but he undoubtedly changed the sport’s course at a pivotal time in its development. It’s this re-programming of snowboarding’s DNA that Shawn sees as his lasting legacy. “I think I had a lot to do with the attitude that prevails even to this day,” says Shawn. “It’s a sort of anti-mainstream thing. People like Danny Kass – he’s a smart guy, smarter than me, but he has that attitude. Even people with long hair – like Shaun White – who aren’t afraid to have their own style. I like to think that I was there at a time when it could have gone more uptight, and I helped bring in some attitude. I helped keep things fun you know?”
Shawn’s life today still revolves around his love for snowboarding. He plays in a band with legends Terry Kidwell and Bob Klein (called Hunks of Metal), he lives full time in Truckee, California – on the edge of Lake Tahoe – and he works for the water company at the Northstar Ski Area. “Life is good,” he says. “I don’t see the old crew like Nick Perata quite so much, but we talk on the phone every now and again. I go riding on every powder day still, and can hook up with lots of people here.”
One gets the sense that Shawn’s fire is still burning strong. I have no doubts that he still charges. I want to know what – aside from the attitude – he is most proud of from his career. What riding moment will he remember when he is finally in the rocking chair and pondering a life spent riding powder? “Oh man,” he says with a sigh. “Well probably that would be the straight line on Superior in Utah. It’s down something called ‘Hidden Chute’ from a movie called The Source, and Axel [Pauporte] re-used it in the film Lines. People had skied the chute – but they did like a hundred jump turns down the fucker,” laughs Shawn. “I had a 195 board, and that chute would be too narrow to turn even if you had a 150. So I straight-lined it. Ha ha ha!”
Check out a recent video interview with Shawn here, filmed at his home in Tahoe…
Watch the full ‘Farmers Rap’ section of Critical Condition here:
To see the entire Critical Condition film, go to:
Or to see Shawn in the full-length film Snowboarders in Exile go to: