PROFESSIONAL SNOWBOARDER - HALF PIPE WORLD CHAMPION - OLYMPIAN - NICEST GUY OUT THERE - NOW DAD
I think we first started working together in NZ around 10 years ago Nate, back in the days when Snow Park’s pipe was the place to be in the southern winters. I remember you as a ball of muscle who never seemed to run out of energy. As long as you were snowboarding, skating, golfing or surfing you seemed to be pretty happy. I know a few things have changed over the years in your world (you’re now a dad!), but would you say this still rings true today?
I think most definitely! Except I have less time now to do all of those things haha.
Being athletically gifted at so many things, how did you, as a grommet from the surf focused Northern Beaches, end up choosing competitive half pipe snowboarding as your main focus?
I first started surfing because my dad was really into it. And I guess the same happened for snowboarding. As for becoming a competitive half pipe rider... no idea. I have never been a super competitive person, beating people in competition wasn’t the thing that really drove me. I think it was more just the feeling you’d get of being successful in something and the self achievement from winning an event that kept me coming back for more. It’s one of those things that once you get a taste and get that feeling you want it all the time. But going back to how I got into half pipe, it was just one of those things where at the time when I was young and developing I had really good coaches that all liked riding pipe so we ended up riding pipe all the time. And because we were learning from some of the best we all flourished at pipe riding.
Now as a dual Winter Olympian and World Champion title holder … looking back what advice, if any, would you give your younger self?
Enjoy more of doing what you want when you want, and travel more. Because once you have a family and a child you don’t get the time anymore haha. Not that I don’t appreciate what I have now, it’s just funny to think I thought I was busy back then. Ohh how I was wrong.
Considering the impacts and crashes associated with competitive half pipe snowboarding, your body has managed relatively well over the years. What injuries have you had to work through along the way?
I have been super lucky in my career with injury’s. I made it out the other side pretty unscathed compared to some. Really only a few broken bones.
Your ankle injury that ruled you out of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics happened in an airbag during a training camp weeks before the Games. I remember sitting with you in the US hospital waiting room as you awaited surgery… that was a tough situation for you to swallow. If you could go back would you do anything differently? Or do you think the disappointment of missing that Olympics helped pushed you along for the successes you’ve had since then?
Looking back I probably wouldn’t change anything . I think having those moments in your life make you a tougher individual and learning how to deal with the disappointment makes you stronger. After that injury I went home, rehabbed the shit out of my ankle and got my body in the best possible shape I could. I came back the next season hungrier than ever with heaps to prove to myself and others, and ended up having one of my most memorable seasons in my career.
You’ve been lucky enough to travel for many years with physio support on tour. What are the best tricks of the trade you’ve discovered work well for you to keep your body working at its best?
I found my body responded best to hands on physio. And as I got older I started to introduce more yoga and visualisation which I found super beneficial once I learned how to use it more to my advantage.
The snowboarding tour obviously requires a lot of travel. How do you manage to unravel and reset your body after long periods of transit?
I would normally travel with a foam roller and a ball or just the ball depending on how much room in my bag I had to play with. I found the ball worked best and for the size, you cannot beat it.
The progression in men’s half pipe snowboarding has been nothing short of insane during your career. Has managing fear ever been an issue for you? How do you manage to stay relaxed at the top of the pipe before you drop in? Do you have any rituals/superstitions
When I was younger I wouldn’t even think twice about trying a new trick, but as I got older fear definitely starts to creep up. I don’t know why or how but all of sudden it is just there and to suppress it was one of the hardest things I have had to overcome in competing and snowboarding. But when you can recognise it and use it to your advantage is when good things happen. I never got into superstitions and all that stuff, I tried it once or twice but couldn’t back it enough to use the benefits from it.
I do remember some pretty tasty meals being cooked up in the half pipe household. What have you found works best for your body with regards to diet/supplements? What are your go to meals pre and post snowboarding?
I just like to eat - doesn’t matter what it is! When on the road I would try keep it as healthy as possible but being in the USA most of the time made it quite tricky. My go to was always eggs for breaky. And stir fry’s for dinner. Both easy meals that don’t take long and always tasty. The last thing most of us felt like doing at the end of the day was cooking so keeping it quick and healthy was always the go to.
As far as training techniques, you’ve also been involved in the snowboarding world long enough to live through the transition from when everyone’s training consisted of just snowboarding, to now where everyone trains as much off the snow as on. Did you manage to find the right training balance for you in recent years?
Yeah training off snow has become just as important now. I truly think because of how much off snow training I have done from such a early age it was really the main ingredient for keeping me uninjured for all these years. And now because of how much the sport has progressed and how technical it has became off snow gym training is essential to stay uninjured.
I also remember feeling incredibly sad for you when you told me that despite all of the mountains you’d visit throughout the world with snowboarding, you’d often never explored any more of the mountain than where the half pipe was. Has this changed over recent years for you? Do you feel it is important for snowboarders to also be regularly freeriding as part of their training too?
Yeah most definitely. In the past we would just travel from one comp to the next and didn’t really get the time to explore or experience what was around us. But as I got older I made more of an effort to get out and explore and experience all of these incredible destinations we would visit for contests. But I think its really important to have the diversity in your training so it doesn’t become monotonous.
These days, when you’re not on snow, what are you doing?
At the moment just working full time and hanging at home surfing and being a full time dad. Once the snow starts falling again I’ll be hunting down some fresh somewhere in Aus and wiping the dust of the old split board and giving it a good nudge this winter.
And now that you’re a family man, what does the future hold for you in snowboarding?
My plan is to focus more on the filming and photography side of snowboarding. The pipe board is going to be packed up and put in the attic and it’s the pow board and split boards time to shine. But really I’m just enjoying being at home now for a good chunk of time and when the snow is on I’ll make trips down to score it when it’s good.
If you owned a fortune cookie company, what would be your words of wisdom?
Get out and see the world.
And finally, if you had to choose… would it be a day of pow riding with friends, or a successful day on the competitive scene.
Most definitely riding pow with friends.
Author - Jess Cunningham
After years of having the privilege of partaking in long candid talks during treatment and rehab with many amazing athletes and clients around the globe, I realised I've taken for granted the interesting insights I've been lucky enough to have into what makes these inspiring people tick.