Whiplash: Scotty Wittlake Interview
By Gerhard Gross
Scott E Wittlake is the one that got away. Influenced by Portland’s early 90s hardcore punk scene he lives by his own damn-the-man code. The snowboard world loves someone who isn’t afraid to buck the system, so when Scott E’s first part in Kingpin’s The Revival came out in 1999 it didn’t take long for a buzz to form. And his minimalist style, like donating 100 percent of his royalties to the charity Food Not Bombs, only solidified him has a strange and interesting character. But by 2004 he was ready to quit professional snowboarding—he now says that he “hated being recognized” and “wasn’t getting any better but other people were.” He also didn’t want to milk it and the whole situation made him feel “like kind of a fake.” Of course, the move made him all the more real. After a seven year hiatus, Scott E. teamed up with Bryan Fox to make the short shred flick The Rascals last winter so we sat down with him to see where he’s at.
Are you happier after you quit snowboarding professionally?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. Those first couple years I had nothing to do with the scene and I had more fun snowboarding than I did in a long time. I felt like l was better after I quit, maybe because I was riding so much.
Does being a pro snowboarder represents everything that snowboarding is about?
Our society puts a huge emphasis on the definition of success being fame and fortune. Not nearly as much emphasis is put on how you get that fame and fortune, or what is physically happening to get there. If you’re a pro snowboarder you have fame and fortune, at least to some degree, as opposed to someone who goes and snowboards for the pure love of it. Getting better at snowboarding isn’t an easy term to define either. With snowboarding and skateboarding, the better you get, the more able you’re to use your creativity. It’s more of a creative outlet because you have more control over what you want to do. Your limit becomes more your brain than what your body can do.
Why did you want to make The Rascals?
Bryan asked me and I said yes. He’s always wanted to make a little video that he could have his say in. I’ve been friends with him for a long time and when we’re both in Oregon we snowboard together at Mount Hood. But I was leaving the snowboard industry right as he was coming in so we rode a bunch but never filmed together. It was a bit of an excuse to ride together more.
Scott E’s part in Kingpin’s Brainstorm
Was The Rascals your first project on your own terms and just for fun?
All the videos I did were fun to film. The Revival was really fun because I didn’t realize I was even going to be in the movie until it came out. I just got invited along because I knew Blaise [Rosenthal]. Then the filmer invited me along a couple of times. I could only go so much because I was working nights at Squaw. There wasn’t pressure because I was just a kid that no one knew anyway. No one expected me to do anything and I never expected to be paid.
So it was never a goal to be a pro snowboarder?
Of course it was a goal. Every kid that skates or snowboards has fantasies about that, but I didn’t think it was attainable for me. When my part in The Revival came out I was like, “Whoa, I’m going to be officially sponsored now.” I thought maybe I’d even get a little bit of money. None of that happened until later. Someone told Oakley about me though. They were the first to fully hook me up. They backed me from day one. They sent me tons of stuff, even though they didn’t know anything about me. And with The Rascals, they were the first ones to be down for sponsoring it. They didn’t f—k around with us. To this day Oakley sends me all the goggles I need.
What are your feelings on snowboarding now?
It depends on what day you ask that question. Some things are really cool. There are still companies that are down. This summer I worked on a commercial salmon boat in Alaska and I realized I didn’t have sunglasses and I was leaving in two days. I just emailed Matty Swason at Oakley and he had someone overnight glasses to me. They’re super fancy, polarized glasses, like the fanciest ones you can get. That was really cool. Some people are always just down. But then some people, not so much.
But the state of snowboarding in general? It’s kind of weird I guess. Making The Rascals I’ve realized a lot of people at snowboard companies will tell you they want to do something, but it’s just a bunch of bullshit and they don’t follow through. At my age I don’t care to deal with that. I’m not going to kiss someone’s ass so they give me a free snowboard. And if they won’t, someone else probably will, and if they don’t I can always just buy one.
Scott E’s part in Kingpin’s Happy Hour.
What else have you been doing to keep busy?
I worked construction for a while and I was a bike messenger in Portland for four years. I rode my bike across the country once and was a bike messenger in New York for a couple months. This summer I worked on a fishing boat in Alaska. I helped Holden design a bib pant and a really waterproof jacket. Mikey’s backed me before Holden was even making clothing. I’ll probably work for them forever. I guess technically I snowboard for them.
Any plans for a real comeback?
Short answer, no. I look at people like Travis Rice, Mark Landvik, Nicolas Müller, Jake Blauvelt, Gigi Rüf, and Bode Merrill and there’s no way I could snowboard on that level and I don’t want to pretend I’m snowboarding on that level. I wouldn’t be the real deal so I don’t want to.
But we’ll be seeing you on the slopes?
Unless something physically keeps me from doing it. I snowboarded almost every day last winter. There was a point where I so beat down. I thought I was getting old then I looked on the calendar and I went 20 straight days. Being in Northern Washington it’s easy to access backcountry without a snowmobile. Whether it’s splitboarding or hiking it’s nice to get out and do some long backcountry runs. If I work hard during the summer and make enough money I can live cheaply and snowboard as much as my heart could desire. That’s the ultimate freedom, when you don’t have to answer to anyone.