Kevin Pearce Pro Spotlight
By Joel Muzzey
By every measure, Kevin Pearce is a contest kid. As we push toward the Olympics in Vancouver, Pearce stands squarely atop the list of American medal hopefuls for halfpipe. But as snowboarders, we should ask ourselves why the best competitive riders in the sport are still coldly referred to as "contest" guys? Are they and the contests they do part of some less-cool substrata of shredding? Hell, no. Since the earliest days, competitions have fueled technical progression and built up the framework of what we've come to know as "pro snowboarding." To be at the top competitively right now is a serious affair. It takes discipline, physical stamina, and mental fortitude, to say nothing of the freakin' tricks. And all these things take a hell of a lot more work than our collective "ride pow with my bros" ideal. Fact is, the contest haters are riders who wouldn't make it through the first round of qualifiers. So, as we head into the Olympic Games, let's show some solidarity as shredders and give these "contest guys" their due. Pearce is killing it right now, and someday, when he walks away from the contest circuit for powder pursuits, he'll be your favorite backcountry dude, so you might as well start backing him now.
Do you have any pre-contest rituals or superstitions?
I'm not really superstitious or anything, but I do like to get onto a regimented schedule before a contest. Like, do the same thing every day—going up to the hill at the same time; if I have a set plan and stick to it for a few days, I feel like it gets me in the zone. And when I do that, I compete a lot better. Making sure I get up early, get to practice on time—they never give us enough practice—and get a good warm-up is important. There's so much waiting around at contests these days, like the X Games and Dew Tours. Unfortunately, I haven't really found a great way to deal with all that waiting around yet …
That waiting must mess with you.
Yeah, especially after practice, you get in this rhythm of taking all these runs and you're all stoked and you got your energy flowing, and then they're like, "Okay, sit around for a half hour." I'm like, "What am I supposed to do now?" Sure, I can stand around with my buddies and rap out with them, but we want to go and ride—and do this. It's tough when you're in it, then you gotta wait around—try to warm yourself back up … it kinda sucks.
Have you gotten the visit for Olympic drug testing yet?
We've been on that program—USADA [United States Anti-Doping Agency]—for about a year, but I haven't gotten drug tested yet. They haven't come to my house yet, knock on wood …
Why knock on wood?
Well, just 'cause it's such a hassle. You have to give them a time—an hour every day when you will be at your house, and they can just show up whenever they want. I have seven to eight in the morning, so I know there's a good chance I'll be at home sleeping. But basically, they can come into your house and pretty much take over—totally exploit your space. I think I must be kind off the radar though, maybe because I've never been to the Olympics and never did too well in the Grand Prix.
How do you feel about your chances of making the Olympic team?
It's going to be tough, but I've definitely been trying to put the work in. No matter how you look at it, the U.S. is stacked and everybody knows that, but I feel like I've been focused on pipe for the last eight months or so. And it's tough to focus so much on that because I love to ride everything. But I feel like it's worth it to buckle down and take the time now and give it my all. I feel like after last season, I put myself in a good position to make it happen, which feels good, because last time around I wasn't ready.
And you've got some new tricks going into the season.
Well, yeah, you saw the New Zealand Open, everyone knows about the doubles. That's what's happening. And we had that pipe in Mammoth, so I got to learn a couple there. For me, it's just getting my head around those tricks, getting the rotation down—it's just fully committing to those new tricks. And it's so scary, just because I haven't really done these before—just the fact of doing two flips, it's pretty hectic … I feel like when doing a double on a jump it's a lot easier to save yourself, but in a pipe, there's such a small zone to land it right. You've gotta really dial that shit in. Mine aren't a hundred-percent dialed in yet, but …Which doubles do you have?
I've only got two. I got the double McTwist, which is the first one that I learned, and the Cab ten double-cork. I don't how many it'll take. It'll be crazy just to make the [Olympic] team! Are you gonna have to do two just to get on the team? Who knows? But now, the standard has been set, I mean, in New Zealand, Louie Vito was doing them in f—king qualifiers.
So what it's gonna take to win a pipe contest this year?
It's hard to say what the judges will think, how they'll score the doubles. They've really only seen them once—the Grand Prix in December will only be the second time, so I think the doubles are going to get scored super high. I think it'll take at least two to win one of those GP events. It took Shaun [White] two to win in New Zealand. Hopefully, though, the judges will go back to the roots and see the style points, so it's not just about doubles, and also that kids who are just hucking themselves and not grabbing will get docked. I would hope anyway. But kids are gonna be going for it, it could get sketchy. For me, learning to do them into the airbag was huge—having that sense of safety and not having to worry about getting hurt was just huge.
How scary and sketchy are these doubles?
It's next level. I mean, I haven't just rolled up to a pipe yet and done it. The last time I did 'em I had the airbag there to try it into first. It's so next level compared to just going up and doing a McTwist—so far beyond "just do another one" all these other factors come into play. Just getting the rotation down took so long, then thinking about taking it from the airbag to the actual wall was such a big step. Then to think I've gotta be doing this in my run right off the bat …
Talk about your private pipe session in Mammoth with the airbag.
Well, we [Frends crew] were planning it for months, but some sponsors were flaking out due to budgets, the economy. Our plan wasn't really looking so good, but it was right about when I started working with Nike and they just totally stepped up and supported it. It was so late in the season they had to farm snow from all over the mountain …
Nike let me invite Danny [Davis], and Jack and Luke [Mitrani] up, and it was just the four of us for twelve days, plus I had my brother filming. We didn't want anyone there to get shots, we didn't care, we just wanted to do our thing and learn some tricks and we kinda knew that was what it would take.
Does having the crew all together elevate the riding?
That was a like a dream come true to me, to have a private pipe and be able to invite my best friends. It was just us. Every day we'd roll up in a cat or on snowmobiles, we'd build a fire at the top of the pipe, we had a Bose player blasting tunes—it was just the best vibe, the best times. There was no pressure, no one bothering us, we were salting the pipe on our own—making the whole thing happen and pushing each other. I think it was lucky for me that Luke could already do some doubles, so he came up and just started doing them—he didn't even use the airbag— he was like, "F—k this thing!" One day, Luke tried a switch double [Mike] Michalchuk on the wall while Danny and I were launching into the airbag. He almost killed himself—almost landed on his head. Danny and I looked at each other and we were like, "Okay, we're pussies, we need to try these doubles." After that we just snapped into it. We'd watch each other try and then the next person would drop in and go for it—it was crazy, there was so much energy, we were just totally pushing each other. I don't know if I would've ever had the balls to step up and do that by myself if those guys weren't there.
What's the reality of your rivalry with Shaun?
It's something that the media makes up—you know, show up at the X Games for the big rivalry, it's something they're pushing. I guess it gives the people something more to look at if there's someone to rival Shaun, but it doesn't feel that way to me and it never has. I mean, we've grown up snowboarding together, since we were eight years old at the U.S. Open, riding together. I don't have any problem with him or anything. When we meet up and get to ride together, it just feels all positive. He pushes me, you know? This year is a perfect example. I heard about his new tricks and I feel like I have to go and learn 'em. It's just a back and forth, pushing each other.
But if he stomps all four of those hammers, he's gonna be pretty hard to beat.
Well yeah, that's obviously on my mind. It's definitely pushing me to be better and I think that's exciting. He has that ability, where he can go up and learn all those tricks in the pipe all by himself—I commend him for that. But that's not my style and that's not how I'm going about it. I feel like we're going at this two totally different ways. I guess we'll see what happens this winter. He pushes and then I push back, that's how it's always been between us. Sometimes I step up and do better—he wins most of the time, but hopefully that'll change.
What does it feel like after a big contest and you're standing on the podium?
It's good—those are the moments that you work so hard for. Everything—all the stress and all the pressure—is just gone. It feels good to put in that much hard work and have it pay off. I think that's why I keep coming back for more every year and why I love it so much—it's that feeling. I love filming and I love riding backcountry, all aspects of snowboarding—but you never get that same feeling of accomplishment. It's a different kind of feeling.
Will you do anything else this season other than focus on pipe?
Once February has passed, I'll be done with contests. Well, I'll do the U.S. Open, but besides that, I'm out. It takes such a toll and it's just such a long road. I'll take a break after, but then I'll hopefully be able to get back out to film with Absinthe [Films]. I had a great time with them last year. Hopefully I'll be out riding with Danny [Davis], just cruising. Peace out, you know? Get out of the light—away from the TV, all the people trying to get on you—and get back to what real snowboarding is, back to the essence.