Words| Stanley Leveille. Originally published in the Oct. 2017 issue of TransWorld SNOWbaording. Subscribe here!
"I'M READY WHEN YOUR BALLS ARE," HE SAID TO ME BEFORE DOING THIS INTERVIEW. HIS INFLECTION IS ADDICTIVE, AND SOMETIMES I FIND MYSELF SUBTLY REARRANGING WORDS FOR A PROVEN COMEDIC HALLDÓR-ESQUE EFFECT. I'M TEMPTED TO START WITH A LONG LIST OF HALLDÓR'S PARTY ANTICS. HIS RECENT MANEUVER IS A HOMEMADE "TRAVEL TOILET" COMPRISED SOLELY OF A CONDOM. DO I NEED TO EXPLAIN THAT? IN FACT, I AIMED TO PAINT HALLDÓR AS SNOWBOARDING'S JEKYLL AND HYDE: BUSINESSMAN BY DAY, PARTY ANIMAL BY NIGHT. BUT UPON FURTHER EXAMINATION, THE EXAMPLE DOESN'T QUITE FIT. THAT TERM DESCRIBES SOMEONE WITH VASTLY DIFFERENT CHARACTER FROM ONE DECISION TO THE NEXT. HALLDOR IS CRAZY AND GENIUS AT ONCE. THERE IS NO ALTER-EGO; HE IS JEKYLL AND HYDE AT THE SAME TIME—A SINGLE POWERFUL ENERGY THAT HAS DEDICATED ITSELF COMPLETELY TO SNOWBOARDING AND ITS VARIOUS FACETS.
YOU SEE, ADEQUATELY DEMONSTRATING THE WAY IN WHICH HALLDÓR HAS MADE A CAREER OUT OF BEING HIMSELF REQUIRES MORE THAN A Q & A. LO, IN ADDITION TO THE SAGE WORDS OF MR. HELGASON HIMSELF, I WILL GUIDE YOU CHRONOLOGICALLY THROUGH SOME OF THE EVENTS THAT PUSHED HALLDÓR TO HIS PLACE AS AN INTERNATIONAL SNOWBOARD ICON. INTERWOVEN INTO THE DISCUSSION WILL BE QUOTES FROM MY CONVERSATIONS WITH HIS BROTHER EIKI, TRANSWORLD SNOWBOARDING FILM DIRECTOR THEO MUSE, RITUAL OF SIN AND METHOD EDITOR MIKE GOODWIN, AND LOBSTER MARKETING MANAGER RYAN SCARDIGLI, KNOWN MORE LOVINGLY AS DIGGLES.
My introduction to Halldór Helgason was in 2010 when I peered up at a dusty television screen broadcasting the Winter X Games. I stared trans – fixed at a baby-faced Icelandic boy with "helgasons.com" scribbled across his upper lip in Sharpie. It made me laugh out loud—a true moment of bril – liance for a nationally televised snowboard event and just the kind of antics snowboarding needed. Prior to this specific moment in time I was faintly aware of the Helgason brothers and their website, but at that moment I had a feeling I was witnessing a legend in the making. We will revisit that night that Halldór would win the X Games in 2010, but allow me first to supply more details about the man I'm tasked to discuss.
The backbone for this piece comes from something Halldór said to me: "IF AN ICEL ANDIC PERSON LIKES SOMETHING. THEY GO ALL IN ON IT. NO MATTER WHAT IT IS. WE LIKE SNOWBOARDING SO WE GO ALL IN. DRINKING? WE LIKE THAT SO WE GO ALL IN. IT'S THE ICEL ANDIC WAY; YOU HAVE TO GO ALL IN. IT'S MORE THAN THAT TOO… IT'S TALENTED ARTISTS; THERE IS SO MUCH TALENT COMING OUT OF ICEL AND COMPARED TO HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE LIVING THERE." Having spent ten days in Iceland with Halldór 's family while working on Eiki's documentary, Island Born, I met a community of Icelandic people in their hometown. If anything can be said about these islanders, it's that they go all-fucking-in on whatever they enjoy. According to Eiki, "WE'RE A SMALL NATION, SO WE WANT TO IMPRESS PEOPLE, BUT WE ALSO COME FROM THE MOST INTENSE VIKINGS—PEOPLE THAT NOBODY WANTED AROUND. IT'S JUST IN OUR NATURE TO COMPLETELY SEND IT."
For reference, we're talking about an island whose national soccer team made an unprecedented appearance in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Euro – pean Championships, and an estimated 12% of the entire island population traveled to France to support the team. Meanwhile, back at home, it can be assumed the remaining 88% were tuned into the game. All in. Halldór is a poster-child for this Icelandic mentality. Halldor says, "I'M KNOWN FOR BEING WHO I AM IN ICELAND. AND THAT HAS CHANGED OVER TIME. WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I WAS REALLY LOOSE AND BANNED FROM EVERY SINGLE BAR EXCEPT ONE IN MY HOMETOWN. EVERYBODY HAS SEEN ME NAKED IN ICELAND AS WELL. PEOPLE AREN'T SURPRISED TO SEE ME NAKED."
When talking to his brother, I was expecting a simple "yes" when I asked if he thought Halldór was growing up. "NOT AT ALL! BUT THAT'S A GOOD THING. GROWING UP MEANS YOU'RE GETTING OLD. HE'S STILL THE SAME . I THINK MOST SNOWBOARDER'S DON'T GROW UP. THEY JUST STAY YOUNG UNTIL…ONE DAY…THEY'RE OLD." Eiki has a way of casually dropping profound statements like this all the time, and there is no one who knows Halldor better. Halldór and Eiki have spent more time filming together than any two snowboarders I know. "WE PUSH EACH OTHER IN A GOOD WAY. WHEN HE LEARNS STUFF I WANT TO DO IT AND THE REVERSE AS WELL . WHEN WE STARTED, I THINK I WAS TWELVE, AND HE WAS EIGHT OR NINE AND STILL TRYING TO DO WHAT I WAS DOING."
Eiki and Halldór come from the second generation of Icelandic snowboarders, and Halldór asserts, "I DON'T THINK THERE IS ONE FREESTYLE SKIER IN ICELAND." Most of these riders are still living in Iceland, unknown to the world at large. Halldor listed several for me: "ÁSGEIR HÖSKULDSSON, DANNY KÓNGUR, ÁRNI INGI, INGÓ OLSEN, HREGGÓ, ARNAR SL ARK, SIGGI Í HOLUNI, SVANUR, BOGI BJARNASON, AND A BUNCH MORE KINGS."
After combing through the various newspaper clippings that Halldór's mother has saved, I saw physical evidence of Halldór's impression on Iceland as a teenager. One Icelandic newspaper clipping shows a large picture of his smiling face with marker on it. The photo is surrounded by foreign text. "X Games" is the only thing I could make out. Let's revisit that night in 2010. Not a month after his 19th birthday, Halldór was given an invitation to the Winter X Games as an alternate for the big air event. As fate would have it, the injury of another rider allowed Halldór Helgason to introduce himself to the international snowboard scene—for him, a perfect opportunity to promote his site. The image of Halldór with his own website scrawled haphazardly across his upper lip on live national television speaks volumes about who Halldór would become in snowboarding: someone who plays by his own rules, a style god, a true legend.
Think of the millions of dollars various corporations invest into the X Games. Despite this, Halldór commandeered the discussion of the announcers to a website run by teenagers. Of course, for this plan to be successful, Halldór would have to back up the antics with riding. He did, and he continues to. With a frontside double 1080 and a backside double 1260, Halldór won the event with a score of 100. For reference, other contenders in this event were Mikkel Bang, Travis Rice, and Torstein Horgmo. He was in America for his second time ever, got on national television with his own website scribbled on his face, and won X Games gold.
"I HAD NO IDE A WHAT I WA S DOING AT ALL . I HAD NO IDE A ABOUT THE CONTES T SCENE . I HAD NE VER WATCHED IT OR C ARED ABOUT IT. TO BE HONES T… IT WA S THE FIRS T TIME I HAD E VER DONE A BACK T WELVE . AND IT ' S PERFEC T AC TUALLY, BEC AUSE IT WA S SUPER SKE TCHY, BUT THE Y S TILL HOOKED ME UP WITH THE PERFEC T SCORE . IM AGINE HOW MELLOW THAT IS? THOSE T WO TRICKS . I SUPP OSE AT THAT TI M E N OT TO O M A N Y PEO PL E WE R E D O I N G TH E M , B U T S TI L L . IT ' S INSANE LOOKING BACK BEC AUSE TODAY YOU HAVE TO DO AT LEAST TWO MORE FLIPS TO WIN."
After 2010, Halldór would never win another X Games medal. According to him he got "LAST PLACE AT ALMOST EVERY ONE AFTER THAT."
His lack of medals did not equate to a lack of coverage though. In 2013, he destroyed himself trying a triple backflip. There is interview footage from the day after the event with him in a neck brace. Other X Games highlights include his simple yet resounding method in the big air event of 2012, during the initial stages of snowboarding's cork-based identity crisis. This same year, he was handed a flask on live television by his friend Coach Thunder, aka Johannes Brenning. When it came to contests, you could bet Halldór would be entertaining to watch. He was a fan favorite, a snowboarder's snowboarder. He preceded Sage Kotsenburg as the rider in the contest with the best perception of snowboard style. It wasn't antiquated, and it was a far cry from some riders' mute-heavy hucks. But of course, Halldór's reputation in snowboarding would not arise from the X Games—not even close.
Starting his film career with a standout segment in Standard Films' Black Winter, Halldór debuted as one of snowboarding's future greats. And while the Standard movies demonstrated his exceptional and equivalent ability on rails and jumps, his personality shone even brighter upon the creation of Sexual Snowboarding. Founded in 2011 and comprised of Eiki Helgason, Gulli Gudmundsson, Halldór and Johannes Brenning, aka Coach Thunder, the videos from this new film company displayed this crew's special brand of snowboard insanity, solidifying Halldór's reputation as a madman. "[SEXUAL SNOWBOARDING] WAS THUNDER'S IDEA; HE DID ALL THE HELGASONS.COM STUFF. HE WAS TRAVELING WITH ME ALL THE TIME ON EVERY SINGLE TRIP. WE DID STANDARD FOR A FEW YEARS, BUT WE REALLY WANTED TO DO OUR OWN THING. WHICH IS WHAT EVERYONE WANTS REALLY. TO BE ABLE TO CONTROL EVERYTHING OURSELVES AND DO EVERYTHING THE WAY WE WANTED." The same year that Sexual Snowboarding was created, Nike approached Halldór to join their snowboard program. Several years later, I met Halldór at Nike's Headquarters in 2013 while interviewing Sage Kotsenburg. I ended up having a long conversation with him and Ethan Morgan about their weekend of partying in Portland. The story involved a topless homeless woman and a stolen carpet. I think Halldór 's relationship with Nike signified another key moment in his career, and it demonstrated his ability to stay true to what he believes in.
"I THINK I'VE BEEN REALLY LUCKY. I ALWAYS MADE SURE BEFORE SIGNING DEALS THAT I ASKED WHAT THEY WERE SPONSORING ME FOR AND WHAT THEY EXPECTED OF ME , BECAUSE I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WANT TO DO. I JUST MAKE SURE THEY ARE NOT GOING TO CHANGE ME OR MAKE ME DO SOMETHING THAT I DON'T WANT TO."
Halldór is the first to admit he was skeptical about Nike's interest in him. "I HAD SO MANY QUESTIONS. [I SAID], 'WHY DO YOU WANT ME ON THE TEAM? I AM NOT GOING TO BE A CONTEST RIDER OR ANY THING LIKE THAT. I AM PROBABLY NEVER GOING TO WIN SOMETHING BIG AGAIN. WINNING X GAMES WAS PROBABLY A ONE-TIME DEAL." Halldór showed me his list of questions he had going into his phone call with Nike. The questions vary from, "What's the main reason you want me to ride for Nike?" to, "Do you like our blog?" to the foreshadowing, "Will Nike 'leave snowboarding after a couple years?'" "THEY TOLD ME THEY WANTED SOMEONE WHO WAS LOOSE. SO I SAID, 'PERFECT!"
While talking to Diggles, he recounted a story of working with Halldór during this time. "I WENT TO ICELAND IN 2012 AND STAYED AT HIS PARENT'S HOUSE. HIM AND EIKI WERE STILL LIVING THERE WHEN HALLDÓR WAS FILMING FOR THE NIKE MOVIE. I REMEMBER GETTING UP EARLY ONE OF THE FIRST DAYS, AND EVERYONE WAS STILL ASLEEP, BUT HALLDÓR WAS UP DOING EMAILS." Due to minimal daylight during the Icelandic winter, Halldór and the gang were on a very strict schedule while filming the Nike movie. On January 1st, for example, the sun rises in Akureyri occurs at 11:30 am and sets at 2:58 pm. According to Diggles, they would go and film a spot for three hours, until it got dark. After grabbing some food, they would come back with lights to set the spot up for tomorrow. Eiki spoke on what it means to film in such peculiar conditions. "I'M NOT GOING TO SAY THAT EVERYONE IS DEPRESSED, BUT YOU GET A LITTLE HINT OF DEPRESSION WHEN IT'S SO DARK , AND IT MAKES YOUR BRAIN GO A LIT TLE CRA Z Y, AND YOU COME UP WITH THE BEST STUFF." PERHAPS EVEN CRAZIER IS THAT EIKI ESTIMATES THAT, "60% OF OUR VIDEO PARTS HAVE COME FROM ICELAND."
Is it the dark creative energy that pushes Halldor to do the insane things he does? To clarify, I mean it quite literally when I say that Halldór is a lunatic on a snowboard. His ability to decipher lines on such massive features— such as a multi-building flip transfer—indicate nothing short of a severely disordered state of mind. He's got all the traits of an archetypal mad-genius. During my stay in Akureyri, Eiki and I chugged along in his '84 Toyota Landcruiser as he pointed out, among other things, the location for Halldór's ender clip in the Nike movie, Nevernot. If you're not familiar, he winches into a takeoff built on the top of a local warehouse, backflips to the top of another building about 60 feet downhill, tosses a backside 360 off that building, then stops right before an intersection. Having stood directly between these two buildings personally, I can say with absolute confidence that no normal person would look at this scenario and think, "I should gap that." The spot doesn't even remotely lend itself to it. It's in a busy area with a lot of traffic, and there is no reasonable way of get onto the building.
I asked Halldór how he did indeed get up there. "JUST THE CLASSIC WAY WITH A LADDER , BUT IT WAS A HEAVY MISSION . FIRST, I STARTED WITH ASKING THE PEOPLE THAT OWNED THE BUILDINGS IF IT WAS OK IF I JUMP BETWEEN THEIR BUILDINGS, AND ALL THEY SAID WAS, 'SURE, JUST DON'T KILL YOURSELF.' THEN THERE WAS SO LITTLE SNOW WHEN WE DID IT THAT I HAD TO CALL THE GUY THAT OWNS THE SNOW REMOVAL COMPANY IN ICELAND, AND HE BROUGHT OUT HIS MACHINE TO SHOOT UP SNOW ONTO THE ROOF. THEN I HAD A BUNCH OF SICK SNOWBOARD KIDS AND FRIENDS FROM MY HOMETOWN HELPING OUT TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. THERE AS ON IT HAD TO GO DOWN THAT DAY WAS BECAUSE WE HAD HIRED A DRONE FILMER, AND IT WAS HIS LAST DAY IN ICELAND."
What he didn't add? He was donning a neck brace because he had wrecked himself trying a triple backflip two days prior at the Winter X Games. The doctor told Halldór he shouldn't ride for two weeks, and he backflipped 60 feet between two buildings the next day. It's a pinnacle of Halldór 's career and a quintessential example of his ability to take anything and everything head-on full speed, with no perceived fear. TransWorld SNOWboarding Film Director Theo Muse recalls, "HE WINGS IT, BUT IT'S A CALCULATED WING, IF THAT MAKES SENSE. OR MAYBE HE IS JUST NONCHALANT ABOUT HOW GOOD HE IS, SO HE APPEARS TO WING IT. ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT RIDING AND FILMING WITH HALLDÓR IS WATCHING HIM FIGURE SOMETHING OUT, BECAUSE IT HAPPENS REALLY QUICKLY. A LOT OF RIDERS HAVE TO PSYCH THEMSELVES UP A LOT AND TRY SOMETHING A BUNCH OF TIMES BEFORE THEY GET IT. HALLDÓR NEEDS ONE TRY TO TEST IT OUT AND SEE IF IT'S POSSIBLE , AND HE NEEDS THE SECOND TO LAND IT. GENERALLY, THAT'S HOW IT WORKS." But here's the thing, Halldór is never satisfied. " EVERY YEAR I HAVE A MISSION—THINGS THAT I REALLY HAVE TO GET OUT OF MY SYSTEM. SOME TIMES I HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT [THESE TRICKS] FOR YEARS. IT'S THE SICKEST FEELING TO GET THAT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM BECAUSE YOU KNOW THE WHOLE TIME IT'S POSSIBLE."
But no sooner than one trick is checked off the list, another diabolical idea has entered his frontal lobe. Again, it is his balance of work and play that allows him to be successful. According to Muse, "WE WOULD GO FIVE OR SIX DAYS FILMING, NOT PART YING AT ALL , NOT DRINKING, WORKING REALLY HARD. THAT'S WHERE HALLDÓR'S TEN SHOT RULE COMES IN." For every ten tricks that Halldór gets on film, he allows himself to get blackout drunk. And Halldór has no shortage of clips from this past season filming for Arcadia. "HE STACKED SOMETHING LIKE 75 SHOTS THIS YEAR, SO THAT'S SEVEN AND A HALF BLACKOUTS FOR HALLDÓR… HE'S BASICALLY A CARTOON SUPERHERO. WHEN YOU'RE RIDING AND FILMING WITH HIM, YOU'RE NOT SURE IF IT'S REAL. IT'S REALLY, REALLY IMPRESSIVE. BUT HE'S ALSO THE MOST HUMBLE PERSON TO WORK WITH, YOU KNOW? HE'LL GET TWO SHOTS ON A FEATURE, AND THEN HE'LL BE THERE UNTIL THE VERY END OF THE SESSION MAKING SURE THE LANDING IS SOFT FOR THE NEXT GUY. IT'S NEVER THE HALLDÓR SHOW. IT'S ALWAYS THE CREW SHOW. BUT TO EVERYONE ELSE IT'S THE HALLDÓR SHOW BECAUSE HALLDÓR'S JUST DESTROYING IT."
Halldór's video part in Arcadia and a TransWorld cover mark another pivotal moment in his career. At just 26 years old, Halldór has experienced just about every role in modern snowboarding—contest winner, rail kid, powder hound, business owner, injured list. He juggles them all seamlessly with a beer in hand. He also happens to be the single most accommodating person to his fans I have ever seen. I've traveled with riders who are awkward when people approach them for a photo. Halldór handles it with grace. Hanging out with him entails stopping from time to time so people can fan out, and his understanding of being a pro snowboarder is deep enough to realize and appreciate his effect on the next generation.
In Prague, I sat with Halldór and his brother for an hour after a video premiere while they signed autographs and shot the shit with a line that grew continuously. People's requests ranged from "sign my ass" to "chug this beer" or "take a selfie with me." The list goes on. I actually stuck my hand between Halldór's legs and signed an autograph as "his penis" one time. During this particular session, it wasn't until Diggles finally pulled him away that he stopped. He was relieved but acknowledges it as a part of his job. Mike Goodwin recants what it was like to watch Halldór in action: "WHEN WE WERE ON THE MASTER BAY TABLE TOUR, HALLDÓR, AND EIKI AS WELL FOR THAT MATTER, WERE ALWAYS ENGAGED WITH THEIR FANS. IT WAS SOMETHING YOU NOTICED IMMEDIATELY AT EACH STOP. AND I NEVER GOT THE SENSE THAT IT WAS TREATED AS PART OF THE JOB OR DONE TO FULFILL SOME DUTY. HE WAS 100% IN IT, FULLY APPRECIATIVE OF THEIR SUPPORT AND PSYCHED ON THEIR PRESENCE. WHEN WE WERE IN ESTONIA FOR INSTANCE, THE LOCAL REP HAD ARRANGED FOR A BEER PONG TABLE TO BE SET UP SO THE FANS COULD PLAY AGAINST THE RIDERS. A SIDE NOTE TO AMERICAN READERS: EURO PREMIERES ARE WAY MORE WILD. ANYWAY, HALLDOR WOULDN'T BE THE GUY CHECKING THE TIME, HOPING THE GAME WOULD WRAP UP SWIFTLY. HE'D BE THE GUY SHOUTING ENTHUSIASTICALLY, DOUBLE-FISTING WHATEVER WAS GIVEN TO HIM, TEARING HIS SHIRT OFF IN AN EFFORT TO HYPE HIS PARTNER FOR THAT FINAL SHOT."
It's something not many snowboarders can do. And while so much of the media attention surrounds the idea that Halldór is a party animal with a deathwish on a snowboard, it goes deeper. It's genetic. Some people are made for certain things, and Halldór is 100 percent purebred snowboarder. It bleeds out of him in every way, from his riding to his involvement with Atrip Apparel, Lobster Snowboards and Switchback Bindings. In fact, I would argue that Halldór's creation of multiple snowboard brands is perhaps the ultimate example of him going "all in" on snowboarding. He has so much energy to invest that simply riding and filming a video part aren't enough. He has built something all-encompassing, an empire, if you will. Halldór Helgason's appeal lies in his ability to keep us guessing. He surprised everyone at the X Games in 2010, and he has continued to raise the bar each year since. It would seem as though he is unstoppable. His advice? "I ALWAYS JUST REMIND MY BALLS TO TRY MY BEST."