Legendary British snowboarder and slopestyle champion, Billy Morgan talks to STYLE ALTITUDE about competitive style, having fun doing triple corks – and his shot at the Winter Olympics.
At the Ski and Snowboard Show in London, Loulou Baylis sat down with one of the best ever snowboarders to emerge from the British slopestyle circuit, Billy Morgan. Chatting to Britain’s best hope to win a medal in Sochi’s Winter Olympics next year.
Billy Morgan is a name to remember. Trust me. Having done five seasons, this is the seasonaire who became the first snowboarder to casually land a triple rodeo - and then land a triple cork a year later for good measure. And now he’s competing for the British team in Sochi’s Winter Olympics. Well, not only is he competing, but he’s one of the British team’s stars.
So how did a guy from Southampton become so darn good at riding?
‘I went skiing with my school and my friends said that we should try snowboarding. I kind of reluctantly agreed and went along and it was actually really fun. Before that, I was an acrobat, so when I quit I kind of needed something to fill the space that gymnastics left. Snowboarding consumed all of my time. It’s all I wanted to do, and it’s all I’ve been doing since then’.
You would assume that it’s the gymnast in Billy that means he can flip so stylishly and effortlessly in the air. Billy is tall, athletic and comfortable in his own skin, as well as his ubiquitous hoodie. As Billy says himself: ‘Gymnastics has absolutely determined how I ride.’ But what does stylish riding mean to Billy?
‘Style is basically making it look easy. You can tell when someone’s mastered a trick. Instead of just doing it, they’re putting extra things in as well, whether grabs or pokes or tweaks. That’s what you look out for when you see a stylish rider. Like Sage Kotsenburg. If you watch him, he’s ridiculously stylish’.
'It’s showing the mastery of snowboarding. That’s what style is to me’.
Billy is definitely one for making tricks look easy. Who wouldn’t want to land tricks as effortlessly and naturally as Billy Morgan? When defining stylish riding, Billy unintentionally describes just how he snowboards:
‘It’s about putting things in that other people don’t do, like Japans, double corks and doing weird grabs. And being mental. It’s showing the mastery of snowboarding. That’s what style is to me’.
To us, and many others, Billy Morgan is an incredibly stylish rider. Yes, he can triple rodeo, but he can also tweak tricks way above his contemporaries. He is definitely one to show off the ‘mastery of snowboarding’.
However, an avalanche of snowboarding elitism was triggered when this snowboarder with a background in athletics came on the scene. Some of Billy’s peers argued that he does not encompass the ‘legitimate’ conventional snowboarding style. What’s the point of a triple cork when you can 360, they asked?
‘I was known for not being stylish because I was a gymnast'.
‘I was known for not being stylish because I was a gymnast. It took a long time for me to get rid of my gymnastics style and have a more relaxed snowboard style, which is what judges look for. I did struggle with that for a long time. My style is definitely better than it was’.
Billy gets up and demonstrates his acrobatic ‘style’ and why it was sneered at, mocking the way gymnasts are known to land by putting his hands over his head as if landing for a perfect gymnastic finish. But, surely, any critics have been forced to silence after seeing what Billy can do? Looking pensive, Billy contemplates that ‘there’s still the argument that triple corks shouldn’t exist. They say that people should do 360s and long grabs; that’s what judges want. Some people hate triple corks’.
Indeed, some people openly stated their hate for triples via comments on Billy’s videos. With that beguiling Billy Morgan grin, he recalls: ‘One comment was really harsh. But I looked at his Youtube account and he had videos of himself doing sniper shots on Call of Duty. I’m not really going to get offended by this guy, because he clearly just sits in his living room playing Call of Duty all the time and hating on people’.
Billy blatantly doesn’t spend sleepless nights worrying about what others think. His philosophy is about having fun. When discussing landing the backside triple cork 1440, Billy is more concerned about the fun side of the trick: ‘A lot of times, if tricks are really scary, then that’s all you think about, but it was actually really fun. Once it was done, I found it quite easy and doing more of them wasn’t as intense as I thought it would be’.
The now infamous triple cork happened on a perfect day in Breckenridge, where the British team are currently training in the run up to the Olympics:
‘We’d been riding Breckenridge for probably about a month. We don’t get a million good days so it was one that was really sunny. I felt good, I was warmed up and I had done lots of doubles the day before and a few that morning. My coach just said “If you don’t do it today then you’re never going to do it”. So, I just went for it, and it worked. It was fun.’
For Billy, there was little fuss. Shaun White on the other hand brought The Shaun White fanfare. When doing the same trick a few weeks before Billy, Shaun made viewers sign non-disclosure agreements. There’s a ‘no fuss’ attitude to Billy. As one of snowboarding’s greatest achievers he seemingly appeared from under the radar to become of one the UK’s best riders.
Billy first came to people’s attention in 2010 winning the Big Air with a backside 1080 double cork. He won it again in 2011 and then caught the whole of the snowboarding world’s attention when he landed a triple backside rodeo. Billy Morgan was the first snowboarder to land a triple rodeo. Ever. And what was even more astonishing was that it was on a standard training day with standard Billy wanting to have fun. There was no Shaun White press woo-ha about it, no private kicker to land it off. It was filmed on a Gopro and uploaded onto Youtube. Boom.
And then October, 2012 there was the London Freeze Festival and top contenders: Max Parrot, Marco Grigis, Victor de la Rue, Roope Tonteri, Halldor Helgason. Billy Morgan walked away the victor. He won the ‘Battle of Britain’ competition with style, throwing down a huge slow motion backside rodeo and a backside dub 1260. On his third run, Billy laid out a huge backflip to a ridiculously excited and cheering audience. Seeing as the competition focused on style, rather than difficulty, Billy’s victory added another ‘pah’ to detractors of his style. ‘Winning Freeze last year was amazing. Being in London in front of Battersea Power Station and our home crowd was REALLY amazing. Definitely a highlight of my life so far’.
The only way is up for Billy. With Freeze Festival under his belt, all eyes are now set on Sochi and The Winter Olympics 2014. With triples now being Billy’s norm, can we expect a few in his shot at an Olympic medal? ‘I’m hoping to put triples in my run, but it all depends on how big the jumps are. Luckily, I can do triples on smaller jumps. The Olympics are going to be interesting, because everyone’s working on stuff that no one will have seen before. I think we’re all going to be pretty amazed’.
'The Olympics are going to be interesting, because everyone’s working on stuff that no one will have seen before'.
With fellow Brit boarder Jamie Nicholls recently landing a triple cork at Breckenridge, the prospect for Brits on the podium is strong. Yet, with Nicholls also landing a triple cork, does that mean that someone will push it and include a quad in their run? ‘I don’t think I’m going to try any quads because I doubt that the jumps will be that big and you need a big jump for a quad’. Still, with Billy’s familiar grin widening as he says this, there’s a hint of mischief. Watch this space. – and the Sochi games.
It’s a big time for slopestyle, as this is the first year that the category will be included in the Winter Olympics.‘The Olympics have already affected slopestyle massively,’ Billy agrees, ‘It’s pushed the level of snowboarding on so much, especially in the last year. It will have to just plateau for a little bit after the Olympics because the standard is insane.’
With Billy leading the way in setting this standard, what’s his advice for all those kids that watch and re-watch his Youtube videos and will be glued to the Olympics? ‘My advice is to get on the snow and have fun. If you’re not having fun then you don’t want to progress. You’ve got to enjoy it because that’s what snowboarding is about. And if you’re having fun that’s what life’s about’. Again, Billy’s cheeky grin appears.
'The Olympics have already affected slopestyle massively'.
There’s no doubt that Billy will crank up the fun levels once the pressure of the Olympics is over. After Sochi, what’s left for Billy to achieve? ‘I have never ridden powder. Not what I think qualifies as backcountry now. I’ve done some tree runs in Morzine where I did five seasons and still return every year and hang out at the end of the season. But I feel like after the Olympics I deserve a few powder trips, maybe heli drops. Also, I really want to film, do some video projects. After that I’d like to carry on riding competitions.
To be working without an injury, just riding and having fun: they’re the days that I remember. That’s all I want to do.’ As I say goodbye to Billy Morgan, I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing that cheeky grin beaming from more podiums – even Sochi.
Billy Morgan is a guy that’ll take it all in his long stride, and make sure that he has a darn good time while doing so.
Billy Morgan is an ambassador for Freeze, the UK’s biggest Winter Sports Festival and Après Ski Party, taking place on Clapham Common, London, from 27th November – 1st December. Athletes from around the world will compete in the “Hail the Rail” challenge with live performances from DJ Fresh, Madeon and AlunaGeorge.