Devun Walsh Interview: From the Archive

At 5’6”, Devun Walsh is the smallest giant in snowboarding. First bursting onto the scene in the mid 90s (riding for the ill-fated Shortys brand) his rise to fame was cemented when Peter Line invited him to join the legendary ‘Forum 8’.

As part of the most progressive snowboard team ever assembled, Devun’s riding was pushed to new highs, resulting in standout parts in such classic movies as Simple Pleasures, Technical Difficulties, The Resistance and True Life. Along the way he started his own eyewear company Iris (now I.S Design) and was a driving force behind the Wildcats’ rapid growth from local shred crew to fully-fledged snowboarding brand.

An industry legend he might be, but Devun’s story doesn’t start and end back in the day. Through the millennium and right up to this year’s Mack Dawg film Double Decade, he has continued to throw down epic sections season after season, and just last winter he was welcomed on board yet another cutting edge team at DC. In short, his riding is as relevant today as it ever was.

So what’s the secret to his success? What keeps this diminutive Canadian firing on all cylinders, and why aren’t the rest of us bored of him yet? For me, the answer lies in the man’s purist approach to riding. A Devun Walsh video part is guaranteed to be chock full of powder and outrageous hangtime. There’s no spin to win, no icy halfpipes or man made booters – just an eye for natural terrain, a bag of classic, unflappy tricks and an uncanny ability to soak up the heaviest of landings. How can a recipe like that possibly get old?!

The further he gets into his thirties, in fact, the more there is to appreciate in Devun’s riding. Out there on his sled, totally at home in the Whistler backcountry, this is an experienced pro at the top of his game. It was high time we asked him to share some of his thoughts.

I guess we should start with the DCs stuff. How did the move to DCs come about?
Well I was already on the boots. Or I was on the boots for a long time and then I went back on the boots, so it was just a natural move y’know? Things weren’t working out at Forum, I needed somewhere to go and it just so happened that DC ended up making their own boards and building up their outerwear, so it all just worked out for me (broad smile). Especially with Lauri [Heiskari] and Iikka [Backstrom] joining too.

OK. So what are DC planning to bring to the table that isn’t already being done in snowboarding? What’s new?
Lots of things I guess, but mainly it’s just more team driven – I’m sure lots of companies say that but it actually is. Like me, Sean [Lake, team manager] and the rest of the team spent a year straight just riding boards, to get to the point where we are now.

Are there plans for a Mtn Lab 2.0?
Sean Lake: Well there might be, you’ll just have to stay tuned! We had a great time making the first two movies and there’s a good chemistry there with Pierre Wikberg [the director] but right now Devun, Iikka, Lauri and Aaron Bittner are filming for Double Decade, the new Mack Dawg movie.

I remember the first Decade film – that was a wicked movie!
Devun: It seems like last year! Haha!

Well yeah, you’ve been riding a long time now
– Thanks. No, thanks a lot for reminding me! Haha!

Haha! Seriously though, are you kind of the daddy of the team now? Do you take the kids out to the backcountry and school them, y’know? Like show them how it’s done or take them under your wing?
Yeah that kinda what happens. I’m kinda the old guy who knows where to go and helps everyone out. And then we get to the jumps and they show me how to snowboard!

I saw you around at the Air & Style when you were judging. How was that?
It was interesting, in that it was my first big judging experience. It was pretty stressful actually.

Have you ever been a contest rider yourself?
Yeah, well I used to compete in the X-Games and try the big air and stuff like that. It’s fun when the snow’s good, but when the snow is icy and rock hard it sucks. I remember one year I tried a big air, and as you came off the lip of the jump you could literally see the boards of the landing ramp through the ice, cos the ice was so clear. It was like a skating rink. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Shaun White was there doing cab 7s – y’know like 16 years old going “Woohoo! This is the funnest thing ever!” And I’m like, “Er, you could die though, if you don’t land on your board…”

So what did you think when you saw Torstein Horgmo and Mikkel Bang stepping it up at the Air & Style? Is it impressive to see these kids coming through? I mean Torstein’s pretty phenomenal, and he’s a team mate now.
Yeah it’s kind of amazing to see those kids show up the big guys. Like Mikkel knocked out Travis Rice in the first round, and Torstein just won the Big Air at the X-Games, which was huge too. Yeah, kids are amazing these days. I guess growing up on park features has just helped them elevate their game y’know? It’s amazing to see.

It seems like you’re quite a purist snowboarder. All your video parts are full of beautiful backcountry riding, and there’s no nonsense when you see your style – it’s sort of timeless. How do you feel when you see kids these days and they’ve either got the rocker look with the tight pants or the yo-boy gangsta thing going on. Do you buy into that stuff or do you try to stand back from it all?
I was wondering how they get in and out of those tight pants? (laughs) Like do they wear them all year once they make ‘em? Just wear them at home? They wouldn’t dry out too good… Yeah there are some tight pants out there, and to me that’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen. (chuckles) Y’know what, I haven’t seen anybody in the backcountry snowmobiling in those pants yet.

Not yet. I’m sure one pop over the seat and you’d tear your pants, like “Shit! Crotch is going!” (laughs)

So do you think image is getting in the way of pure talent? Are teams picking riders based on whether they fit the right look, that kind of thing?
It’s kinda always been that way, but those riders seem to die out pretty quick. It definitely is getting pretty steezy though. I mean, just enjoy what you’re doing. If you have to dress like that then I guess you have to dress like that, as long as you’re enjoying yourself. It just doesn’t look comfortable to me.

You don’t seem to go for the big spins so much in your video parts, like the 9s and 10s. Is that because you think less is more in terms of style, or does it just feel nicer?
If I find a jump that works for it then I’ll do it, but I end up hitting so many that don’t. Cos what happens on a typical film day is, you get to the parking lot and you’re the first one there and it’s great. But then you might have to break trail into the alpine, so by the time you’ve got the trail broken every other crew is called out. So you race to the very first thing you can get to which you know you can get a shot on – so usually it’s a cliff. You wait to build a jump, right, because you want to start getting some shots under your belt. And by the time you get to build a jump it’s a couple of days later, and the snow’s not as good, and it’s not as big a jump as you wanna hit. So you don’t really get to chuck big tricks cos the snow’s not too good. Well for me anyway, that’s what usually ends up happening. So we’re trying to make a conscious effort to build more jump stuff to get some more spins.

It always looks stylier when you do a slow rotation anyway.
Yeah well that’s the other thing. If you have to like, jerk it around, then I just give up.

Do you get recognized a lot?
Yeah, sometimes.

What’s that like? Are you well known outside the snowboard scene in Canada?
Well when I’m in Canada it’s weird. A lot of people are like, “What are you doing here?” And I’ll say, “Er, because I live here.” “You do?!” A lot of them don’t even realise I’m Canadian. But I do get hassled sometimes. I was waiting in customs once at the airport, just about to go up to the booth, and this kid started yelling my name from way back. And y’know, it’s different from customs here in Europe where you just show your passport and they wave you through; over there they give you the third degree, and if you’re doing anything suspect you get yanked in for more questioning. It was pretty funny, the kid’s like yelling my name at the top of his voice – “Devun!” – and I’m trying to keep my head down wishing he’d shut up.

How did you get your first sponsor? Did you make a sponsor-me video?
Yeah. Me and a friend of mine made a full video – like a 30 minute film – and we gave it to Westbeach. And the funny thing is the guy who owned the company, Chip (he owns Lululemon now) his attitude was so “what can I get out of these kids for sponsoring them?” So he said, “OK, I’m gonna sponsor you guys, but what I want in return is for you to make a 45 minute video, and we’re gonna box it and sell it in our stores.” So we made this movie called Flotsam and Jetsam and put it in the store. It was hilarious, it was basically just following us around.

What year was that?
1990? No, 1993? It was 1993 I think.

Do you still have a copy?

Do you keep a copy of all your videos?
I have most of them. I went through a list of all my parts recently, and I have over 30 parts.

And do you keep one of all your boards as well?
Yeah, I have one of all my boards. Not in the shrink wrap though.

Which video part are you most proud of?
I think Technical Difficulties. I have some of my best shots in there. That was a long time ago though. And when I filmed That, there were so many other things that I almost had for that part it was crazy. I was thinking “Fuck, fuck, my part’s gonna suck this year.” Then when it came out I was like, “Wow, everyone liked it!” For me though it was so close to being next level but it just didn’t work out. Not a long enough year I guess! (laughs)

Do you get to choose the music for your section?
That one I did. And most of ‘em I get to choose.

Your part in The Resistance is legendary, filmed in six days cos you injured your knee. What month of the season was that?
January. I think it was six days in total, but when you add up where the shots came from it was four days.

At least you scored with the weather for those few days.

I guess your worst injury apart from that was when you smashed your front teeth out?
Well the worst injury I ever had was the throat injury, when I crashed my snowmobile. I was jumping off a windlip, and I nose dived the sled and caught the handlebars on my throat, which crushed my windpipe and broke my adam’s apple and my voice box. Yeah I was pretty close to biting the big one there.

Did you get heli’d out?
Yeah. Like I was breathing through a pinhole. If I moved I almost ran out of breath. It was pretty scary actually.

Who did you look up to when you were younger?
Erm… Jamie Lynn was kinda my biggest influence. I mean when I first started snowboarding I thought Craig Kelly was amazing, and then Jamie Lynn came out and he was like… he just had the best style. He did everything different than everyone else. He was pretty rare.

Who do you like riding with?
I really like riding with Iikka and Lauri sometimes.

Do you find people have different attitudes to riding in Canada or the States?
Not to riding, but they do have a different sense of humour. Like there’s absolutely no sarcasm in the States.

Which is good! That’s more like the British sense of humour.
Yeah, we’re way better than the states on that score. (laughs)

Was it in That where you’re felling a tree to hit a road gap?
Fuck, how many times am I gonna have to go over this? (laughs)

Were you asked this question already?
Yeah, someone earlier today was like “that’s pretty harsh, there’s not a lot of trees in Europe and for you to go and do something like that…”

Wow, I wasn’t gonna say it was harsh, I was gonna say it was pretty rad. Haha!
Well it was in the shot, this tree, and we needed a new angle of that road jump so we decided to cut it down. It wasn’t gonna hurt anyone, we used it for firewood. It kept me warm for a little bit!

You used to like a good party. Have you calmed down these days?
Well you just can’t keep going at that rate. I used to be able to ride really good hungover – amazing. Because I just didn’t care. Then one day it turned into “I can’t stand up hungover” so I cut that out.

Do you work out to keep fit for snowboarding?
Yep, I have a personal trainer in the off-season and I do whatever I can to keep sorta fit.

How long do you plan to continue riding? I guess the limit’s not been set for older riders yet?
Well yeah, that’s the whole thing right? Like Todd Richards and Dave Downing are still ripping. The sport’s so young I don’t think anyone’s even tried to snowboard for a long while. I think it’s as soon as you start to die out in people’s minds and no one’s interested in you then obviously you’re done. I think I’ll be able to determine when I’m really slacking off, but it’s not really time for that yet.

You’ve got quite a few financial enterprises going on, with I.S goggles and the Wildcats brand. Do you see yourself as a businessman at all?
No. I’m horrible at it! (laughs) I think I’m spread too thin right now.

How do you deal with the whole tradeshow thing? Is it weird to be at places like this [ISPO] having to sell your brands and talk business? I mean it’s so far removed from actually snowboarding, from being in the backcountry with your board and your sled.
I don’t do any of the selling with I.S actually. The only things I’m involved with are some of the team decisions, a bit of the marketing and some of the design. The big one is helping with the Wildcats stuff. I help design it and so on. It’s a lot of work, and something’s gotta change soon. For me I need to focus on my snowboarding, it’s just become apparent to me in the last little while. So we’ll see.

What’s the most scared you’ve been on a snowboard?
Well, it’s pretty scary when you jump some of the road gaps. Especially at first, cos you’re not too sure of the speed. So you gotta hit those a little too fast most of the time, and you end up overshooting it which is pretty scary in itself. But if I had to pick a single moment…? I did stunt double work for the Hollywood movie Out Cold, and they were shooting me cutting across a slope from a heli. I went to go down a chute and I kinda caught my heel edge and started to tumble; I had a backpack on, and in the backpack I had a radio which was hooked up to the ski patroller who was watching me. So I started to tumble a bit and I didn’t really know what was going on and I just heard him yelling over the radio: “AVALANCHE! AVALANCHE!” and then I realised that I wasn’t tumbling I was actually in a slide – I thought that I fell but I guess the snow took me. The chute was steep like this [describes a slope with his hands] with rocks at the bottom, and I somehow managed to reach out and grab a tree on the side of the chute and pull myself outta there. I was so rattled when I got down to the bottom, and they were like, “alright, alright, we’re gonna change location” and they just moved over a little bit. I said “Er… well it just slid. Shall I go again?” They were like “yeah yeah, you’re fine.” So they went to drop me on this peak and I’m sitting there looking out the helicopter and I’m thinking “I don’t know, this just doesn’t seem right to me.” They’re hovering the helicopter, so I get out and I grab onto the runner and I get a big electric shock cos the heli isn’t grounded. So I’m already feeling weird cos I’ve shocked myself, and I buckle in and they tell me to go; I take one ollie and the whole slope starts to go with me, and I’m just watching it cracking going “wooooooah!” And I just manage to ollie over the bottom of it and I bomb out and go crazy at them. The guy just goes, “Wow, that was a big one.” I
didn’t get buried but it was a metre and a half fracture, which would’ve easily been enough to bury me. So then they were like, “OK, you’re done for the day.” I was so spooked.
Wow, that is a scary moment! So from most scared, what’s the most stoked you’ve been snowboarding? Is there a particular hit or run that stands out in the memory?
I dunno, Just riding’s fun, y’know? Probably just doing ghost runs with your snowmobile. Powder runs…

What are your goals in snowboarding? Is there a certain trick you’d like to do before you hang your boots up for good?
I’m really looking to filming. I’d like to get the best part in Dawger’s movie this year, that’s kinda my goal. It’s not like skateboarding though, where you can just work at it and come out with the best part, it really depends if we get the right conditions. You can not get good weather and you’re screwed. So we’ll have to see.

Well good luck with it.
Thank you.

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