Straddling the gap between those who live the dream and those who sell it, Andreas Wiig is one pro snowboarder who seems to have the business game sussed.
“Do you think a lot of people are interested in snowboarding in London?” asks Andreas Wiig, having just signed an autograph for a passerby. In fairness, the kid seemed lured in more by the small throng of cameras than any recognition of who the twenty-nine-year-old Norwegian is, and he seems to have picked up on that.
It’s late September and Wiig is here fulfilling his pre-season industry duties, showing his face at a shop signing at The Snowboard Asylum in Covent Garden as one his sponsors, Forum, tours their new film, Fuck It, around Europe. It’s the first time he’s been approached on the street. He may have claimed slopestyle gold in front of an audience of millions at the Winter X Games in both 2007 and 2008 – making him of the few riders to have ever beaten Shaun White – but to anyone not familiar with snowboarding, Wiig is just another dude in a plaid shirt hanging on a street corner.
After a short walk down to the banks of the River Thames – with Wiig pushing along on a cruiser board to stop himself from ollieing and further damaging the broken ankle that put him out of business for most of last season – we return to the tour bus, a large black coach with Fuck It scrawled across the side. It’s early on in the tour, but the malaise has set in: stories circulate of police searches, marijuana stashed in bins to avoid sniffer dogs and indiscreet sexual conquests. But in this sea of energy drinks and lads-on-tour exuberance, Wiig seems relaxed – detached, perhaps, from the juvenile antics he’s surrounded by.
“I don’t pay much attention to it because I’m used to being around nineteen-year-olds,” he says diplomatically when I ask about the age difference between him and the rest of the team. “It’s not like I’m the old dad saying, ‘Turn it down, guys.’ It’s not like that.”
Diplomatic feels like a good starting point when describing Andreas Wiig. He sits calmly, fixes you with a courteous stare and reels off answers that seem considered, yet guarded at the same time. But there is a real intelligence that permeates through. Career-wise, Wiig seems to know exactly what he is doing. Case in point: when the photographer reaches for his camera, Wiig pulls a beanie emblazoned with the Rockstar Energy Drink logo out of his back pocket and slaps it on his head. In an industry where youth is a meal ticket and the passage of time ticks like a bomb, you can’t help but respect him for playing the game.
But in order to understand this consummate professional, it’s important to understand how far he has come. Hailing from the small town of Asker near Oslo, Norway, Wiig started snowboarding as a “more playful” alternative to skiing. From age eleven, he bore the brunt of icy conditions on his local mountain of Vardaasen, a 300m strip that only opened its slopes for a few months a year, building DIY kickers with friends as he “was always into jumping”.
By the time he was sixteen, Wiig had given up playing football on a regional team to concentrate on snowboarding. But aware of his situational limitations, he headed out to spend a few months riding Mammoth Mountain in California with some of his friends when he was nineteen, borrowing money from his parents to fund his stay. “We went there to have fun but at the same time, I really wanted to get somewhere in snowboarding,” recalls Wiig, readily volunteering his early ambition to turn pro.
And it worked. A chance collision on the slopes with a cameraman working for prolific filmmaker Mike ‘Mack Dawg’ McEntire saw Wiig granted a small, nine-trick video part in 2001’s Stand and Deliver. Major sponsors soon voiced an interest and Wiig has remained a prominent force in snowboarding ever since, hopping between core companies like Jeenyus (now defunct), Omatic, Nitro and now Forum, while representing snowboarding’s mainstream-friendly side by way of Vans and the aforementioned Rockstar. Indeed, Wiig straddles an industry that can so often pull riders in opposite directions. He is the guy who spurned the grassroots TTR World Tour in favour of corporate made-for-TV spectacles like the Winter X Games and Dew Tour. But he’s also the guy who’s gained respect across the board, thanks to his ability to balance his seasons and log solid, dependable video parts – in classics like Video Gangs by Forum and more recently Standard Film’s Black Winter – whilst still competing.
You can’t help but feel that any success Wiig has enjoyed has been entirely of his own making: the outcome of strategic calculations, as opposed to dumb luck. He recalls ignoring some early career advice he got from the filmers of Video Gangs to not bother with competitions. So what drove him down the competitive path?
“It wasn’t about winning, it was about, er… developing myself as a rider, I think – mostly,” says Wiig. “The contests made me a stronger rider. It was fun too, but it wasn’t like I didn’t want to win. The better I did, the more fun it got.”
Though Wiig says his decision to compete in the US-based X Games and Dew Tour, instead of the global TTR Tour, has a lot to do with the fact he’s based in the States, he also admits that that he “wouldn’t say [money] didn’t play a role”. He adds: “If you are only about the money, you are not going to reach very far, I think. It’s got to be more about the joy of landing a perfect trick.” It’s that joy – born of a pure love for snowboarding – that creeps onto Wiig’s face when he later recalls how he used to watch a VHS copy of the 1996 classic Subjekt: Haakonsen – a much-loved film focused solely on iconic Norwegian snowboarder Terje Haakonsen – to the point of destruction.
Snowboarding has changed over the past decade since Wiig’s fateful collision with that Mack Dawg filmer. It’s hard to imagine a snowboarder of Wiig’s profile and competitive success simply being discovered by chance today. Nowadays, champions are groomed from a young age, invested in like footballers and trained like athletes at facilities like Camp Woodward. But what does a self-made man make of how things have changed?
“I think it’s pretty crazy to see how organised it is nowadays. You see all these kids with their personal trainers. I just hope that it doesn’t get to a point where it’s all about the money, about who can afford their own coach,” says Wiig. “Trick-wise it helps, because the kids just keep getting better at a younger age. But I think that sometimes they don’t have the same inner motivation. When someone’s not telling them what to do, they don’t know what they are supposed to do. Just go have fun on your snowboard! […] It’s more about what you want to do, not what your coach wants you to do. I think that is what draws a lot of people to snowboarding: the freedom to do whatever you want to do.”
It’s these same trained-for-battle kids who now rival Wiig for top spot on the podium and lead slots in films. But he’s not planning on throwing in the towel just yet. When I bring up the inevitable ‘double-cork question’ (i.e. can he do them?), he answers elusively that he is “planning to do them more and more” – clearly aware that an arms race is underway, and that without this trick in your arsenal, you barely stand a chance. But he’s not downtrodden about the passage of time and talks enthusiastically about younger riders he respects, like Norwegian up-and-comers Gjermund Braaten and Alek Ostreng. And he seems excited about where he’s heading too, stating that he would prefer to go “back to the roots” of freeriding towards the tail-end of his pro career.
It’s becoming more apparent that, when it comes to the future, Wiig’s the kind of guy who’s got a plan mapped out. For someone who readily throws himself off cliffs (see: the now infamous and scary section on Mack Dawg’s Follow Me Around), he comes across as incredibly, well, sensible. He may joke that he’s blown his money on “booze, parties and expensive hotel rooms,” but in reality he’s invested in property, stocks and one fast car. “I’m trying to be settled when I’m done snowboarding,” he says pragmatically. “You only have so many years so you don’t want to lose it all.”
The bus suddenly grinds to a halt outside the venue of tonight’s premiere. And while the rest of the Forum crew bound around excitedly, clearly hyped to meet new faces and throw Fuck It-branded condoms out into the crowd, Wiig seems to have reached a Zen-like plateau. There’s a distinct lack of ego and bravado about the guy, just a work ethic that’s refreshingly humble for someone of his profile and success.
“It’s pretty simple: just work as hard as you can while you have the chance,” he says. “It’s not like talent is only gonna take you so far. You need something besides talent. It’s [about] your ability to work hard and put a lot of effort into it.”
And with that, he steps off the bus, ready to sign autographs, smile for photos and immerse himself in the present before the future sets in.