Confessions of a shredder
by Josh Naud
Snowboarding isn’t just about the half-pipe. In fact, there’s a whole other realm of snowboarding that’s been around for ages but is now slowly making its way into the mainstream, especially with Canada’s recent successes at the Olympics.
We’re lucky to introduce you to a Calgarian who is a part of Canada’s snowboard team and is eager to tell more about his sport and the lifestyle that comes with it. From what we can tell, it sounds pretty much like backpacking Europe, except that instead of getting drunk on park benches in the afternoon, they race down icy mountains by day and drink by night.
From his hotel in Denver, Colorado, Canadian alpine snowboarder Dylan Riley, 24, hooked up with The Reflector for a little Skype session on March 27.
Reflector: So you had a race today, how’d that go?
Dylan Riley: “Today wasn’t so good. It was slalom and I don’t really like slalom. It’s ok but I like giant slalom better. It’s faster and it’s a more powerful turn; it’s more fun. Slalom is like, it’s just hard. It’s really quick turning and it’s not as much fun.”
R: So how have you been doing lately? Where are you seeded?
DR: “It’s been a really tough year. It hasn’t been good at all. Last year was way better. I qualified to race World Cup in two Canadian World Cups last year ‘cause I was having a pretty good year, and yeah, the first World Cup I went to I got injured. I couldn’t race for the rest of the year. I had to get surgery and I missed all the summer and fall training, so I started this year pretty far behind everyone I guess, and it has not been a good year. It’s starting to come together now, you know I had a pretty good chance in Slovakia to do well…After the first run I was in the top-16, which over in Europe is really, really good, but I had a poor second run so I went down to like 24th or something like that; I’m not really sure. But here I had a good run at US finals and I was 14th in the giant slalom, and then actually 14th again today in the slalom… I should have done better today but I don’t know, slalom is hard and awkward for me. I like GS better, it’s faster and it just fits me better.”
R: You said you got injured lately; I was actually going to ask you if you have any battle scars from snowboarding?
DR: “Yeah, I’ve had two surgeries on my shoulder to repair, umm, oh geez I don’t even know. I’ve had chipped bones and torn ligaments and stuff. So they had to fill all that stuff in and do a stabilization surgery. So I’ve had two of those now, hopefully I won’t do anymore. And then I broke a collarbone a few years ago, but that’s just a collarbone, that’s no big deal.”
R: What’s the worst crash you’ve ever had?
DR: “Probably in Mount Hood. We were training in the summer and when you train on summer snow, it’s like the hardest snow you can get. It’s just completely bulletproof ice, like you can’t get an edge inside of it; it’s so icy it’s like riding on concrete pretty much. But as it warms up and stuff it gets really bumpy and rutted, and just really shitty, and final run I was like ‘I can do this.’ I was angry because I hadn’t done a good run for the last three or four, and one of my friends did a good run so I was like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ Yeah I just started bouncing in the ruts and the board didn’t stay on the snow all that well and I just slid out and my shoulder came out and chipped a bone in it. It was crazy because the arm got stuck, the head of the humerus, it got stuck down below my scapula (my shoulder blade), so it was a really weird dislocation. Usually they come out the front and they’re fairly easy to put back in but this one got stuck way down in the back and, yeah it was ugly.”
R: That sounds pretty bad.
DR: “Yeah, it hurts when it happens. It’s weird because there was a doctor on the hill, and he came but he couldn’t put it back in; it was too tight at the moment. So we had to go down to the lodge and we had to get three people to put it in. They put a bed sheet around your hips and they put one person on each side of that bed sheet to hold you from moving, and then they have another guy who comes out the front and he just pulls on your arm as hard as he can, and then eventually it slowly comes below the shoulder blade and back up into the socket, so yeah, it’s not fun. It’s like Army style, you know, where they have to put it in on the spot.”
R: Did they give you a little vodka to drink while they did it?
DR: “No, no. They just put it in there, which was cool because then I didn’t have to do it at the hospital, because hospitals down here in the U.S. are really expensive and stuff. So that was cool.”
R: So conversely, what’s one of the more exciting memories that come to mind when you look back? Do you have a highlight?
DR: “Yeah, probably the very first time I got top-eight at a North America Cup race in Steamboat, Colorado. It was the first time I had just awesome runs and I got to call my dad with good news, you know? You always get beat pretty good and you finally get to call home and tell your dad how good you did, so that was really cool.”
R: Do you ever second-guess your decision to pursue snowboarding at the level that you’re at now?
DR: “Oh absolutely. Every single time I have a horrible race I wonder what the hell I’m doing. I’m like, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I paying $30,000 or $40,000 a year to go and lose? This is stupid.’ Yeah, every time I have a bad race I think that. But all it takes is one good race to erase a whole year of bad stuff. You can do terrible all year, get your face kicked in at every single race, but if you do good in the last run, it doesn’t matter; it was a good year. All you need is one good race, and that’s what I’m looking for at the Canadian championships (March 29 to April 3).”
R: Could you walk through a typical race day from when you wake up in the morning to when you race?
DR: “Sure, ok. It used to be really bad for me. I used to get so nervous that I would throw up every single morning before the race. It was awful. And all my teammates knew it; all my friends on the circuit knew it. It was crazy but I don’t do that no more, because I figured out how to control my nerves. But typically you wake up earlier than what you would like, you stretch and get loose, and then you go down and eat breakfast, pack your bag and make sure it’s all ready and don’t forget anything, ‘cause that really sucks. And then you get to the hill, put your gear on, and depending how awkward it was to get to the hill, you either have lots of time or you don’t so you just get ready, and then you go up for inspection, and that means you get to look at the course, but you have to go really slow through it. You can’t go fast or you get disqualified…So you look at the course, you slide down it really slow, you study it and memorize it…inspection is really important. And then after inspection you have some chill time, so you can do some warm-up runs, do some free turns, you know without a course or anything, and then you just come and sit at the top of the course. If the gods are happy and there are no timing delays, you can race fairly quickly, but if the gods are unhappy there are all kinds of delays. You know, timing delays, start gate problems…all kinds of craziness. You can be sitting up there for an hour, two hours in the cold doing nothing…One time a squirrel chewed through the timing wires, so they had to go and lay new wires. That was a two-hour wait, and everybody was totally angry from that, but whatever, it is what it is. You can’t let that stuff get you mad.”
R: So after the race is done, how do you unwind?
DR: “It all depends, you know? It depends who is there and what you have to do the next day or that night. Sometimes you have to leave right after the race, but other times there’ll be enough people sticking around that you can make a big party somewhere, which is definitely the funnest part. Sometimes you’re in a big place and there’s a huge discothèque and you can go dancing and let loose hard, but sometimes there’s nothing around you so it’s just a party in the hotel room with all your friends…Either way it’s going to be a lot of fun and you try to find as much mischief as you can take without getting thrown in jail…There’s been some tough travel-days following a party, you know? Like in Kiev, there’s nowhere to go so we had a big party in the hotel room and it was great, and you know you have to get up at four in the morning to catch your shuttle so you basically just go until then. So you hate life on the shuttle, you hate life more in the airport and then you get on the airplane and sleep.”
R: Ok man, well thanks for talking to me, I really appreciate you taking the time…
DR: “Hey no problem, I love talking to anyone. And you know, who knows maybe someone will pick up my sport through this article because [alpine racing] is really small, and one of my dreams when I’m done racing is to try to grow the sport, try to get young kids into the sport because I found so much through sport. So many incredible lessons and learning about myself, and even how to pursue a dream and try to find excellence, and I feel like every kid should have that opportunity. It kills me that a lot of kids don’t have that opportunity and so when I’m done [racing], I want to try and grow the sport as much as I can and make sure the kids have something fun to do.”
Riley said he’s looking at splitting up his snowboarding with some part-time university, because he said he misses that part, “learning stuff,” though he’s been learning German, what he called the language of snowboarding and skiing. The Canadian finals were happening as this issue went to press, so check out www.canadasnowboard.ca for results.