Forrest Shearer is a Dana Point, California, local who in recent years has become one of the most prominent big mountain snowboarders in the world. His style is fluid and effortless and watching him ride spine-tingling backcountry lines with a surf-inspired approach is certainly inspiring.
So where did all this style come from? For Shearer it was born on the beaches of Southern California, watching and emulating the local surfers in a region that is entrenched in surfing history. Shearer has been on the forefront of the modern carve movement, making even something as simple as a turn look like a piece of art.
Under the tutelage of big mountain master Jeremy Jones, Shearer has found his own path as a soul-carving and big mountain-slaying environmentalist who uses his stature in the snowboard world for good. We caught up with Shearer to talk about moving from California to Utah, his love of self-powered turns, and what he hopes his advocacy will mean for his legacy.
How does a kid from the cruisy beach town of Dana Point end up in Salt Lake City?
I followed in the footsteps of some friends that moved to Utah from California for the snow. Some of the locals took me in and I found the mountain tribe to be really similar in comparison to the surf community. You live to ride everyday. Instead of having to wait for swells to come up you could just go to the mountain and it’s open all day. All it takes is one good day in the Wasatch Mountains and that’s usually it, you’re hooked instantly. Since those early days, I’ve lived and breathed snowboarding. It’s given me everything.
Were you a surf rat when you were a kid?
I was a full-on beach grommet. A lot of people don’t know I was actually born in a house a stone’s throw from Windansea in La Jolla. It’s in my blood. I was recently down at Trestles surfing Churches and I remember as a kid getting dropped off at that same beach with all my friends and being left there all day by our parents. It’s crazy to think about how some things just seem right when you’re a kid. We would sneak up to Burger King on Camp Pendleton and scrap together enough money to grab some food and stay at the beach until sundown. It was the life.
Dana Point is pretty rich in regards to surf culture, did that have any impact on you?
Oh, for sure it did. Surfing, skateboarding, and music set the tone. As a kid, I was part of a cultural melting pot that was evolving around me. It was nuts, man. Full-on punk rock. I was like a sponge taking it all in. The history and the legendary guys that lived in the area and surfed that particular stretch of coast was out of this world. And you can’t forget the skateboarding scene. The ocean as a kid was my natural wilderness and gave me a sense of exploration and freedom to do my own thing. Skateboarding gave me inspiration to try new things, which I transferred into my snowboarding. All these things instilled values that I treasure and still carry with me.
How did you initially get into snowboarding?
Snowboarding was something new and slightly unattainable for a kid coming from Southern California. It’s weird because the act of snowboarding takes place in this totally cold harsh climate, but it seems so right because surfing and skateboarding are blended into one act. The two come together and enhance snowboarding. I would basically emulate both of them. But I got into it like anyone I guess. I religiously read snowboarding magazines and drove two-plus hours up to the local mountains with friends. We were die-hards, eventually figuring out that we had to get up there by any means necessary to snowboard as much as we could.
I feel like in the last few years there has been renewed interest in the art of the turn, and I feel like you’re definitely one of the movement’s zen masters. How much of that was influenced by your surfing?
Snowboarding and surfing have a strong connection. They both share this effortless glide. It’s rad watching friends that are surfers turn on their snowboard. You can see their style instantly stand out. Those guys are the masters of the turn. For me, surfing was the original baseline. I figured I would get back to it at some point. It’s my roots and definitely influences my snowboarding. The turn really takes the whole process of sliding on snow back to its original form. At this point there’s only so many spins you can do in the air. I think the turn is more relatable to people. It brings this element of fun and style back into snowboarding. Whether it’s a powder turn or carving early morning corduroy it just looks rad.
Who are some of the turn style masters who you look to for inspiration?
I tend to get my inspiration from surfers. There’s so many good turns out there and guys that add their own personal touch of style. Man it’s hard to pick one so here’s my shortlist of just a couple that come to mind. Guys like Wayne Lynch, Gerry Lopez, Michael Peterson, Tom Curren, David Rastovich, Dan Malloy, Ryan Burch, and my uncle Tom Ortner come to mind when I think of influence. For snowboarders that have sparked my creativity and have great turns, I would add Craig Kelly, Jeremy Jones, Taro Tamai, Josh Dirksen, Temple Cummins, and some of the Japanese guys like Orange man, Ken San, Waji, and Om. The turn revolution is alive and well.
I read an interview with you recently where you used the term “free-range snowboarding.” Explain to people what you mean by that.
It’s limiting in a confined area like a ski resort. Free-range snowboarding is a way to describe the unlimited. The mountains hold endless potential. I’m a seeker at heart and will always be looking for what’s over that next ridge. I want to approach snowboarding in an environmentally-friendly, organic, GMO-free way, in order to leave less of an impact on our planet.
I feel like splitboarding is a consciousness expander, it gives people a new appreciation for the terrain they’re riding. Why does it mean so much to you to earn your turns through human-powered means?
Splitboarding is a rad process. You link up with your buddies and everyone in the backcountry is just doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you ski or snowboard. Using human power to access your turns allows you to have a more meaningful experience in the mountains. Getting there under the power of your own two feet is not only a rewarding feeling but also creates a change in mental attitude. Knowledge is power in the backcountry and you have to keep an eye out for each other because you don’t have ski patrol looking after you. All of a sudden you’re on your own. That’s a feeling I really enjoy. Unlimited access where you have the freedom to roam. That’s a conscious reminder I think, to learn about the terrain and protect these wild places.
You’re an avid environmentalist. What are some of the initiatives you’re currently working on?
Man in the U.S. it’s hard to not pay attention to our current political climate. We all have to become activists if we want to see any change in our system. Raising your voice and standing up for issues is the new norm. We can’t afford to take a back seat anymore. You’ve got to get in the game. In the words of Edward Abbey: “ The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” Here’s a couple issues that I’m getting involved with: Public lands, clean air, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, and climate change. All front-line topics that are relevant to me where I live in Utah. If you’d like to stay current on issues to help vote and lobby for change, you can take action on many platforms. Sign up for the Protect Our Winters newsletter and check out Outdoor Alliance and Patagonia to sign petitions and learn more.
Is it hard to stay in Salt Lake City when the policy makers there seem to be constantly attacking public lands?
We need to take a stand on public lands. It’s a new age where we’re all locals and can make a difference. We are all federal public land owners, from hunters and anglers, to the outdoor community. The state of Utah is one of the most diverse in the country. It’s only a matter of time when coal and oil extraction becomes a thing of the past and the state politicians finally come to terms that the outdoor industry, tourism, and renewable energy is the future for Utah.
It seems like this administration is going to continue to roll back environmental protection policy. Why is it so hard to get people from both sides of the aisle to care about something that shouldn’t be a partisan issue?
It’s an unfortunate time where the current government is undoing all the hard work that the Obama administration has put in place, the Paris Agreement, the Clean Power plan, National Monument review, the list goes on and on. Plus hurricanes and fires are increasing at an alarming rate and winter snow is depleting, which are all influenced by climate change.
But in all this turmoil there is a silver lining. I’m really excited about the newly-formed bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats working together to address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate. Also the midterm elections are coming up in 2018. It’s going to be a huge year for climate policy and action. Please use your voice and vote.
Let’s talk a little bit about Jeremy. I have to imagine that no matter how good at snowboarding you are that going on a trip with him has to be both intense and pleasurable at the same time. Has riding with him changed your perspective?
No matter who you’re with when you’re going into the mountains, you form a tight bond with your partners. You have to trust them with your life. Jeremy has been one of my main riding partners and he’s been a guide in my life. Yes of course there’s both certainty and uncertainty going through my head when we go on a trip together. One, I know for certain there’s going to be good riding happening regardless of conditions. You surround yourself with positivity. Two, I know there’s always a chance of uncertainty going into the mountains, especially with Jeremy. But that’s something that everyone needs. You have to challenge each other and think outside of the box. Conscious reminders to be yourself and constantly adapt and evolve. Riding with Jeremy over the years has taught me to put trust in my riding ability, decision making, and line choices. If you have the patience you can ride big mountains in prime conditions. You just have to put in the work and the time.
What’s important about a line to you, what makes a line standout?
The terrain and features stand out literally when mind surfing a line or mountain. The beauty of riding snow is that everyone has the ability to ride it differently. I love watching my friends ride and bring their own individual styles to the table. It’s like an artist putting their brush to a blank canvas. Currently, I’m really into the snowboard design process where there are certain board shapes that work really well for a line. Different board shapes for different kinds of terrain on the mountain. Also, I enjoy solving problems in complex terrain and riding a technical line. I think that comes from my love of climbing and mountaineering. Living life to the fullest and just being in the mountains. It’s an amazing experience
Do you have a legacy agenda? What does the Forrest Shearer legacy look like to you?
I hope I’m able to leave a lasting impression and teach the next generation to appreciate these places and be better stewards to the environment. I want to leave a long-term contribution to this planet. One with lasting values and inclusivity for everyone to enjoy. Hopefully through my snowboarding and enjoyment of wild places that stoke for life will spread.