I toiled over this intro for an entire week — never has writing the foreword to an interview caused so much emotional and mental havoc. It wasn’t the subject matter, though there are some profound parts; and it’s not necessarily the subject himself, though I do have an immense respect for Mr. Huffman, both as a professional snowboarder and intellectual. No, the reason I have struggled with so much internal turmoil because to evoke the emotional importance of snowboarding videos before the internet era of YouTube and Vimeo is nearly impossible.
The words that could express how important professional snowboarders like Lukas Huffman were to my generation simply don’t exist. Neither do the words for the impact that videos like Happy Hour and Shakedown had on our collective snowboard consciousness.
And the funny thing is, that this interview isn’t even about Lukas’s professional snowboarding career. It is about his achievements after he walked away from the spotlight and found himself attending an Ivy League school a million metaphorical miles away from the snowboarding industry. It is about his career as a director, writer, and media producer. It is about his new feature film as well as his documentary work that has been featured on media outlets like VICE and Transworld. But nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and every time I sit down to write this I just keep replaying Lukas’s ender in Happy Hour, rejoicing in the glory of an era that I hold so dear.
Matthew Vanatta: This might seem like a weird place to start, but lets start at the end of your snowboarding career, what was the last video you filmed for?
Lukas Huffman: The last video I did was Ir77, which was my project that was a video and book. Jake Price and Jess Gibson that made the Robot Food movies actually helped me with the movie part, and then there was a book that accompanied it that I designed and published.
Why did you decide to call it quits after ir77?
Well I had a few injuries and after doing the same thing for ten years I just kind of needed a change. I had told all my sponsors that after my last season I was going to retire and go back to school. There’s only a limited amount of time that you can be a pro snowboarder and injuries help you realize that. For me, the more time I spent as a professional snowboarder the later of a start I was going to get on whatever was going to be next for me.
And knowing that it was going to be your last season drove some of the motivation for the creative process behind ir77?
By being so close to the snowboard production process when shooting with guys like Mack Dawg who allowed me to have a lot of creative input on my video part I knew what I wanted to see in videos, and I just wanted more creative control. I just figured if I’m going to shoot for one more movie I’m going to do it exactly the way I want do it. We actually tried to put more of a narrative into it, which creatively is more interesting to me, but it didn’t sell good at all (laughs). It sort of proved that there isn’t really room in the snowboard market for videos with narrative, at least there wasn’t then.
Narrative videos are popular in surfing and I definitely find them much more interesting, who don’t you thin they play well or didn’t play well with the snowboard audience?
Well I think back then the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, before the influx of internet content, things were a lot different. The cool thing is that snowboarding was progressing more than it ever has and maybe ever will during that decade, and so that was really exciting. When each video came out — like the Forum videos for instance — all of the snowboarding that was done in those videos had never been seen before, and I think that was maybe enough to keep everybody interested.
What happened after ir77?
I packed up everything in Portland, Oregon and moved to New York City.
That’s a big change.
[Laughs.] Yeah, that’s a big change. That was in 2007 and I ended up going to Columbia University and getting my undergraduate degree in Film Studies. I had been plugging away at my undergrad degree at Portland State, but Columbia of course didn’t take any of the credits, so I ended up doing pretty much a full four-year undergrad program. It was a really hardcore lifestyle change, but it was awesome and it was exactly what I needed.
How the hell did you get into Columbia? I don’t think many of our snowboard brethren would be able to get into an Ivy League school.
Well they have a really cool long-standing program called The School of General Studies at Columbia University, which is for non-traditional students with life experience. I was still in class with like these 18 year olds who had just come from all of these crazy private schools and everything, but the school of general studies is a program for folks like me for people have had careers that don’t necessarily require an academic education. There are actually a lot of veterans and ballet dancers in the program, so to get in you actually write an essay and do a bunch of entrance exams, and, I don’t know, I did pretty well.
I think a lot of it has to do with your life story and being able to show that you have been successful in a particular field, because I think they assume if you have done really well in your career that you can apply that to you academic career as well.
Did any of your classmates know who you were?
[Laughs.] No one knows who you are… that’s the humbling thing about New York City — no one gives a shit, unless you’re, like, Jay Z. On the West Coast people put an emphasis on action sports careers, but in New York no one cares, because everyone is just struggling.
Why didn’t you go into the snowboard industry, it seems like you could have got a pretty cushy job at a snowboard or action sports company?
That was never even an option for me as far as my interest are concerned. I needed something to fill a creative itch, a lot of what I do here is commercial work, which pays pretty good, but I also do a lot of low paying stuff. Like I have a feature out right now that my buddies sand I produced for basically nothing. It’s a good question it just never even crossed my mind, so it was never attractive to go into a marketing job or something like that.
You recently completed a feature film that’s doing the festival rounds right now?
Yeah a friend of mine who also used to be a professional snowboarder Phillip Thomas lives in Vancouver, British Columbia was in a few of the short films that I made and he is a really talented actor. He’s also a really good writer, so he and I have written scripts together over the last few years, which is what you do when you are trying to break in. Finally we sort of just realized we were going to have to write one that we could just produce with our buddies on the cheap. He and another friend of ours had the concept for the film and he sent it to me so we could develop it into a script and we scrapped up a little money and shot it in the fall of 2013 out on Vancouver Island, and since then it has just been doing the festival circuit. It’s doing really good; it won a whole bunch of awards.
What’s it called?
It’s called When the Ocean Met the Sky; by fall of 2105 if you start snooping around it will be on VOD.
What are you currently working on?
I’m actually putting together the pitch deck for my next feature, which I wrote with Phil and it’s actually a straight up sports drama that features a professional female snowboarder who hits her head and gets a super bad concussion, and what she has to go through to recover. I can’t give anymore away. [Laughs.] It’s kind of crazy because I wrote this script a while ago and the wildness of the lead female character of this movie is similar to Danielle and all those girls, but I had no idea the head injury thing would happen with the Too Hard people.
How did Lady Shredders come about?
Well I have been a big fan of the Too Hard crew for along time now, the editing and aesthetic of the films is crazy. It’s super far out and the music happens to suit my taste. They rip and I have been attracted to their videos because they’re kind of dark and sort of tell this dramatic story. I didn’t really want to bring the story to a snowboard magazine because I didn’t want them to neuter the details to fit into their ideals of like “fun” women’s snowboarding.
They don’t fit the industry’s ideals of women’s snowboarding.
No, they don’t get a lot of credit in the industry, but they are still living the lifestyle. They’re out only pushing the limits physically, but they’re also broke and on the road, and it reminds me of when I first started snowboarding in the 90’s. They show their lifestyle, which is pretty rowdy, so they have a hard time keeping sponsors, but guys can share their lifestyle and have it be super rowdy and they end up getting a contract.
At this point it feels cliché to watch a dude smoke and then hit a handrail, that’s been the formula for years, but that’s never really been shown in Women’s videos. It almost feels like they are a counter culture within the counter culture.
Yeah, and it’s interesting to look at the industry and ask why is there this double standard? The most successful female snowboarders are all on Roxy, they’re all super cute, and they are being used for marketing, it’s not really about the snowboarding, it’s about being super cute. The Too Hard girls are ripping, but they have this sort of edgy lifestyle and the snowboard industry turn their back on them.
Is there a desired take away from the Lady Shredders project?
Well I tried to do it as objectively as possible. Ideally the take away is that there are these girls that are struggling with everything from physical injuries to drug abuse, but they are super dedicated to snowboarding, and they are really good at snowboarding, and pushing the progression of women’s street snowboarding.
There is this balance of negative and positive things and we end on a note of the impact of Too Hard. They offer a way for women to be involved in snowboarding without being “super cute.” Ultimately it’s just a way to look at the human story about what is happening with these women and how they are living their lives.
For more information on Lukas Huffman, check out his website as well as Huffman Studio. And don’t forget to take a peek at his Vimeo page.