Words: Taylor Boyd
Over the dull, 11:30 pm roar of a bar in Southern California, a sunburned Red Gerard is telling me about the boat trip he's about to embark on with his grandfather when a blue-haired man in his fifties interrupts to ask "just one question."
"Are you a snowboarder?" he asks.
"Yep," Red laughs.
"Alright, that's all I needed to know."
He walks back to his friend and continues conversation, nodding toward Red, satisfied as though he's just won a bet, figurative or literal.
I'd be willing to make a wager as well. Last year at this time, that man didn't know who Red was. The celebrity the now-18-year-old had within the snowboard world seven months ago has surpassed our little microcosm. Red Gerard is an actual celebrity, if only C-list—or maybe B or D. I don't know how the rating scale works.
He's got a quarter-million followers on Instagram—though he says he's losing more than he's gaining at this point—and he's been on three major latenight talk shows, which certainly puts him on a short list of the most famous people I know.
I walk left out of the bar and up the street to my house, as Red walks right and piles into one of two Ubers required to ferry home the number of family members he's with. Gerards from around the country are in town for the weekend, hanging at the house that Red, his brothers Malachi and Trevor, and longtime friend Blake Axelson will soon be evicted from.
"The HOA didn't like that we had Colorado license plates on our car," Red understates when I see him next, this time at another rented suburban SoCal home that yet again seems a more suitable venue to celebrate Thanksgiving with your aunt and uncle than a spot for four modified trucks owned by teenagers and twenty-somethings to occupy its driveway. His personal trainer, Chas Guldemond—yep, that one—is hanging in the backyard, helping the professional pipsqueak bulk up a bit. Brock Crouch is whacking golf balls into a net while his girlfriend finds the bottom of Instagram, and Blake is unloading an endless stack of paintings from one of the trucks out front.
Red's recently returned from the trip to the Bahamas with his grandfather he'd spoke of last time we talked. "He's got this boat down there, and he wanted me and Kai (Malachi) to come because I think he wanted to get to know us a little better. He was like, ‘What are you guys up to? You busy?’ And we were like, 'Actually, no, we're pretty free…'"
Now that the talk show circuit is over and the season is yet to start, Red has more spare time than he has in a while. The commitments he does have, however, aren't those of other professional snowboarders I know. They don't have to be at the Oscars, ESPYs, or a private course in Los Angeles for a Golf Digest piece shot by Atiba Jefferson. When I think about it, most snowboarders I know don't have to be in LA at all.
Washington, D.C. isn't on their itinerary either. I bring up Red's undeniably awkward interaction with Donald Trump.
"Oh, so awkward," Red agrees. "That one was crazy because I was on the road for so long before that. At first I wasn't into it, but my parents wanted me to go. They made a good point; they were like, ‘Hey, maybe he's not our guy, but he's in office and you've got to respect the office.’ I saw it as an opportunity to see the White House. That's not something a lot of people get to see. So I sat the furthest I could away from Trump. I was on the wall, like, 'I do not want to be called on, at all.' I had to wake up super early. I was rooming with Kyle Mack at the time. And we missed the shuttle getting over. I was super tired. And I remember he was like, 'We want to congratulate all you guys…' and it was like he skipped a couple words, then he was like, 'Red Gerard, come on up here.'"
In reference to the boat trip, I ask Red if he feels that having won an Olympic medal validates what he does in the eyes of someone like his grandfather.
"I mean, yeah. Before, I don't think he really took snowboarding seriously at all, but it's funny how something like the Olympics can change that. People who don't care about snowboarding in the least—what else is going on in snowboarding—are suddenly interested when the Olympics pop up. It definitely got bigger in his eyes. He realized it's actually something."
That the Olympics are a validator for those outside snowboarding's inner circle is at the crux of what's changed for Red since January of 2018. Donald Trump does not give a shit about snowboarding, but the man with a reality television resume does care about ratings and winning. And Red, the kid sitting here barefoot with his t-shirt wrapped around his head, is a winner of the highest degree, in an event that is among the most viewed in the Games.
Before he flew to South Korea on February 6th, Red hadn't won much aside from the heart of the snowboard community. He'd stood on a few podiums, and those paying close attention have known he's good for over a decade. Then, sitting in 11th place, he dropped into his third run in Olympic Slopestyle.
"If you listen closely, you can tell I was over it. I made some sort of noise before I dropped in. I was so over it. I wish I wasn't so over it. I don't know; I was choking that day. It was so windy, and it's almost like I gave up. Then, I don't know, I did the first rail, and it worked, and it was like a switch flipped. I just got super psyched and wanted to board."
Contained in that last sentence is a nod at why Red's win has been so celebrated in snowboarding's core community. The unadulterated joy he gets out of riding a snowboard translates when you watch him, contest or otherwise, and those familiar with that same feeling can sense it.
So Red accepted his medal, and as the headlines hit the internet, painting his family as outlandish partiers and him as an unscrupulous teen, Red boarded a plane with Malachi, who would assume the role of manager through the inevitably ensuing frenzy that occurs when one wins Olympic gold.
"That was the first time we really had to talk about it, so we stayed up the whole flight, arrived at like 6 am in LA, did the Jimmy Kimmel interview and some TMZ one. When I got off the plane, looking at Instagram was crazy. When we arrived in LA there was media everywhere. Somehow they knew I was flying in. The next morning I flew out at like 4 am to go to New York for two nights. So many interviews; it was crazy."
In a separate conversation with Malachi, he tells me about a man who followed them for close to 48 hours, continually taking photos and asking Red to sign items. This isn't snowboard fandom; it's celebrity stalking. With a well-executed triple cork, Red became a star. I ask what it was like to appear on national television. Was he coached on what to say? What is it like waiting to appear on the set of a talk show? This is genuine curiosity. The kid I remember as a talented bobblehead, too small for any sweatshirt he ever wore, can now provide a more detailed account of mainstream media's workings than anyone else I know, or at least anyone I'll be surfing with this afternoon.
"I had a media team with me that would prep me on everything. They'd be like, 'So this just happened… If anyone asks, you say this.' And I'd be like, 'I don't think they're going to ask this stuff,' and they'd tell me, 'You never know.'"
"You walk in, you sit in a room, and it's like 'three, two, one,' then the doors open. I remember sitting there like, ‘Dude, just don't fuck up.’"
What about makeup?
"On Jimmy Kimmel, I had to wear it. They wanted me to. But I did all the New York morning shows without it. I was like, ‘I'm not doing that again; get out of here.'"
The Olympic schedule put men's slopestyle on the first day of the Games and big air on the last, leaving a gap that had Red on the primetime television circuit before returning to Korea.
"So I flew back, competed in big air, then got on a plane and went to LA for two nights and New York for two nights, then back to LA. I was pretty much going in a circle from LA to New York until the US Open. It was cool though. I had a sick crew traveling with me, [Ryan] Runke (Red's agent) and Kai, and these media guys. We got put up in such nice hotels."
Somewhere on that loop, Red returned to Silverthorne, the Colorado mountain town he's grown up in, to a parade. "It was held at the rec center, and they made 'Goldthorne' shirts and all that. There's a Paralympian that lives in Silverthorne, then Chris Corning, and Kyle [Mack], and me. We went up on stage and talked in front of a ton of people. They gave us the 'key to the city.' It was really wild."
Perhaps somewhere in the celebrity status formula, there's an equation that measures not only the number of fans, but those within that group that are, themselves, famous. Red recounts a time in New York when he was bombarded in his dressing room.
"I was doing some interview, and I was in my green room, and the Shark Tank people literally just opened the door, like, 'We heard you were in here. We really wanted to meet you.' The whole cast."
As I begin contemplating business ideas I could pitch through Red, he tells me about a potential concept of his own, more viable than any get-rich-quick scheme currently running through my mind. Red's sister runs a successful food blog called Half Baked Harvest, and it seems the Food Network has shown interest in creating a show around the duo. "I think that us together is a really special thing. She's an amazing person. I'd be so down to do something, even an interview or something. But they do want to do a show, yeah. Whether or not it will go through, who knows."
And that part hardly matters. Red is now one of probably four snowboarders that the average producer at a major network knows by name. Aside from Shaun White, they may have heard of Sage Kotsenburg and Chloe Kim. The common denominator between these names? Olympic gold. But how much has Red's life changed now that he has one of those medals to his name?
"It's definitely died down by now, which is so sick," he tells me. "It was weird; for a while when I was in airports and stuff, people would recognize me, but that hasn't been happening as much lately. I don't know how into that I was. It was different. Immediately after, it changed because people knew me, but now it feels pretty much the same."
Whether Red will compete in 2022 is a question we won't have an answer to for more than three years. As of now, he says he wants to. "I like competing," he tells me. "Some people hate it, but I'm into it. It's not the actual competition I guess, but I like the practices because you're pushing yourself to land the best run you can. You're just riding with your homies."
It's not the first time he's made mention of this. He expressed the same sentiment to me, basically verbatim, a year and a half ago. In that same conversation, Red talked about how he'd prefer to go into the Olympics as an underdog—exactly what happened in Korea and would not be the case in Beijing. At that kitchen table in Aspen in 2017, however, it was clear the Olympic magnitude hadn't set in. To Red, it was "just another contest." And while the slight anti-establishment ring to that is nice, Red is now aware, firsthand, why there's additional pressure put on the quadrennial event. Winning exposes one to a different reality. But one thing is clear to anyone who knows Red. More than he wants to win or desires the accompanying attention, he wants to snowboard. And we, as snowboarders, should feel content because we could hardly ask for a more authentic and benevolent ambassador to the mainstream than this sunburnt kid.