What: Switch Backside Rodeo Photo: Vernon Deck
When snowboarding avalanched into mainstream culture in the late 90′s, the once tight-knit culture fractured into thousands of crews, styles and angles on how to ride snowboards. Money pulsed in. Fashion followed, then dictated. Brands took kids for rides. Snowboard companies fought for credibility and cashflow and when it all looked like it was about to go to the dogs, most of the zany start-ups vanished, snowboard tech evolved to its current form and the focus got put back on riding snowboards.
Throughout that whole journey past step-ins and purple fleece, dyed hair and boozy clowns, Gigi Rüf has maintained as one of the world’s top riders; always just shy of the nasty mainstream media spotlight, but often favoured amongst his peers, fans and in core magazines as rider of the year. Gigi has landed countless covers, never with the same trick twice, and is unparalleled in his smooth backcountry destruction.
I meet Gigi in Innsbruck in his native Austria the night before the Air & Style contest. With his infectious laugh and mellow nature, it feels like I’m hanging with an old friend. Between beers we nab a quick interview.
(Taken from Bitchslap issue 13)What: Fs 900 Photo: Vernon Deck
So what’s the purpose of the extreme schaum on the Austrian beers?
It’s proof of it being fresh and it gives you a nice moustache if you don’t have one. It’s better than a milk moustache.
Sticking to edibles, I’m a fan of all your doughy, cheesy, fatty food here in Austria, what’s your favourite Austrian dish?
Käsknopfle are pretty special, where I’m from there’s a big tradition in cheese. It’s flour dough with eggs, flour and you mix it up and make this Spätzel and mix it with tons of cheese. But my favourite dish, I gotta give hands down to my Wiener Schnitzel.
There’s a lot of people who don’t know about the Krampüs. Can you explain the Krampüs for us?
It’s every kid’s nightmare. Where I’m from we used to chase them with snowballs and you could get away with it if you could run fast enough through the snow, but in Tirol, where we are now in Innsbruck they’re quite heavy I think, you’re not fucking with the Krampüs cos he’s wearing chains and will actually beat you up if he needs to. He’s got big bells around his waist and fur and a wooden mask, so when they run they make a lot of noise.
What: Big spinny jump Photo: Ryan Boyes
But what is it, some kind of Christmas devil?
It’s a nightmare for sure, the story is that the 7th of December is Saint Nicklas day and the Krampüs is the helper of Saint Nicklas, he helps him carry the bags of goods, of nuts and mandarins and chocolate and whatever kid has been bad gets the whip of the Krampüs, and nothing sweet whatsoever from Nicklas, he’s staying out of the game. It’s definitely crazy so stay nice kids otherwise the Krampüs will get you around Austria. That’s why I’m so nice.
So there’s a new energy sponsor in town. What do you think about that, and these type of events?
Well I mean the Air & Style started in ’95 or ’96 and it’s definitely an event that has shaped snowboarding and now it has a new sponsor and money so now it can be held 3 times a year and it’s crazy how much energy there is around it. And for me, being a representative of this thing, it enables me to do whatever I want and accomplish certain goals that wouldn’t be able to do without the liquid force you know. One of these things was, we did this video shoot called Burn Units and I got to invite the team to my home mountains and it was a treat you know, the video looks great and it was all fun, shits and giggles. All fun stuff.
What’s it like being the boss of the backcountry?
You have to think back in time when there weren’t that many parks and the jumps facilitating that a snowboarder could actually get on a solid set up to learn his thing 9-5, and for me it was all about finding a matching kicker for the landing you know… I take pride in it you know, I can go out there and find stuff to do. Even if there’s no park I’d find somewhere that would transmit fun and get me excited, or challenged I should say. It’s more of an unpredictable environment that I like to be in you know, that’s what I’m mostly challenged with to conquer that and it seems pretty spontaneous.
Do you see it as a natural progression in snowboarding, I mean back in the day it was all about riding the mountain and then it became…
It became an ABC of snowboarding, I have to say, I take it as a creativity challenge, for me snowboarding is about having the eye for things that you can translate quickly into your own way of riding. Not to be predicted by a jump or whatever, but anyhow it’s all fun and I guess progression is a big name in the game and for me, it’s just nice to be called king (laughs). If that was your question (keeps laughing).
Well the question is basically that there are a lot of kids ripping on jumps but you do amazing jumps on natural shit and you also tear up the mountain which a lot of those park rats couldn’t do. What keep you amped?
The simple is answer would be that I’m excited. Excited to be y’know, to be able to translate those things.
But those are your roots, you grew up in the hills riding powder right?
You go riding in your home resort, you meet up with buddies, and there’s more and more, you’re right in the group, and you feel it. One has to kinda go on the first track, when the snow is fresh, so the others would hit it at the right spot and I was always the kind of guy that couldn’t wait and had to go, you know, keep the speed and had to go, and that’s what made the day, that one track that you made really good, into a really natural setup, all day with everyone riding it, it was getting even better because you get more pop out of it and more speed. I definitely learnt my way of being that guy who had to take be the first person.
You’re the guinea pig!
Yeah but mostly I ran out of speed so I’d just put it in there, everyone else would fall, but then the next turn I had every time.
What about going from Burton and Uninc. and riding those kinds of boards? Now your on a Volcom thing that no-one can get, those boards are made by Signal yeah?
Yeah Signal and we have a couple of boards now coming out of Nidecker.
So what’s the difference? I reckon there’s probably a really big difference between a Burton board and some rocket triple-camber thing right ?
Yeah I don’t rate that, I have a clear idea too of what I want and yeah, to me I see it as being one of the formula one riders who can only ride that and the advantage is I’m involved in the engineering part and the technical part of shaping the board and that gives me a lot of freedom and for everyone involved, and with the small quantities of boards we were doing, we’re running like 2 or 3 rounds a year, so we were getting the feedback to the company and to the production and getting back prototype boards and so we were really able to move fast on the shapes and the boards and last feb when we shot for 9191, my movie for Volcom and the board has been so good and there’s nothing I’m missing out on, so that was another challenge.
Making your own board.
Yeah, to apply knowledge. I was very involved in Uninc. Right now I’m working up the whole past with Uninc. into a website so kids can follow the whole process of what we’ve been doing, however it was a nice apprenticeship and I’m kinda using it now for my own purpose so it’s ok.
So tell me about 9191 – I mean, it’s amazing. Is it something you developed, produced and made yourself?
Yeah, Volcom made it and I was just doing whatever I wanted, I could just go about it and ride with people that I like. Nothing like you would imagine like, ‘oh you have to do this and that’ nothing like that, no restrictions so I could jut go about it with friends and just chill out and good times.
Is there anything in the last five or ten years that really sticks out in your mind that you are most proud of, besides creating a boy?
Yeah the moment I’m in right now is what I’m most proud of man, but definitely my photo album I can look back on, I collected everything I’ve been a part of, everything I was proud of I have them memorised, and I hope it continues.
You’re still young eh?
Oh, not that young but I plan to be going for a while.
Younger than me, if you could change anything about your current situation what would it be?
I would change this interview (laughs). Answering stupid questions would be one them ha ha.
There is nothing you would change?
Well yeah I guess one part that always kind of followed me was that I tried to stay loyal to the people that give you something or for part of the way at the end you have to decide if you’re doing it for yourself or someone else. I’m the worst decision maker anyway, that’s probably why I stay loyal ha ha, so I can I avoid decision making. But I stay close to people that supported me, I’ve grown up in times where my parents were not happy about me snowboarding, they pushed the broom on me and told me to finish school and learn something and then we could talk about me travelling the world. It’s not that true anymore I mean parents are becoming free’er, I mean between teenage years and I guess thirty it is a good time to use your body and you’re gonna get a lot on the way snowboarding is a really big culture you know? And any spot I’ve visited, I wanna learn about that culture and certainly I’ve never wanted to do something someone else has already done in one spot. It was maybe nerdy at times how I sucked up the videos and wanting to learn everything. I hope kids still cherish them and appreciate where it came from and not just looking to the future, they need to do their part too, to keep it real. I guess that’s not really about change but I just hope the kids out there cherish snowboarding the way they should. Taking some studies in style and what style actually is and copy it if you can you know, not just go to a local store and buy your jacket or whatever, It’s good to get associated with what you support you know. Everybody is trying to push for something you know. Obviously talking about energy drinks is a bad thing but one thing that attracted me to Burn was the freedom to create that they gave me and we’re in the start-up phase and it’s like ‘ok let’s take it easy’ and they support part of our culture but I still feel like I’m in the same socks as a couple of days ago you know, it’s a lifestyle and there’s nothing that’s ever felt like a big change and I’ll cherish that forever.
That’s a long ramble dude, how do you want to wrap this up?
Nice to meet you man, cool that you are back in the mountains to feel that inspiration you know?
Fuck I’m pumped aye, I just want to go back down to the Paznauntal and go jibbing.
That’s it, that’s all that matters, just to get out there and snowboard and do your thing.
Interview by Dick. Photos kindly provided by Vernon Deck and Ryan Boyes.