Once again, snowboarding icon Terje Haakonsen is making brash comments, calling snowboarding journalists “cowards” in a newly-released Volcom snowboard film. As you might remember, Haakonsen came under fire in 2015 when he made what many considered homophobic comments on Twitter in regards to professional skier Gus Kenworthy’s publicly coming out in an ESPN story.
“Anyone who uncritically gives his support to the IOC and their events is a coward,” said Terje, doubling down on his statement in the video when I asked him for a comment. “I find it highly lamentable that no snowboarders, coaches, industry leaders or journalists question the values and economic model of the IOC.
Why does everyone accept that the Olympics are beneficial for snowboarding without even questioning where all the money goes? Why is there no investigative journalism covering this matter? Find me one snowboard journalist doing investigative journalism on the IOC and snowboarding to prove me wrong and I’ll revoke my above statement.”
While I’ve come to think of Terje as sort of the drunk uncle, bound to say something eye roll-inducing every now and then at a holiday party, his recent misplacement of blame was so erroneous that I felt that it would be, well, ‘cowardly’ not to respond.
First, some context: In 1998, snowboarding made its debut at the Winter Games. Terje, along with many other riders, was upset that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) chose the FIS (Federation Internationale De Ski) over the ISF (International Snowboarding Federation) to oversee snowboarding in the games. Terje, who would have been a favorite to take gold in men’s halfpipe boycotted the Olympics, which was covered by both snowboard and traditional media outlets.
That was 20 years ago, Haakonsen who is easily considered one of the sport’s all-time great’s, is also one of the few snowboarders of his generation who still has a shred of relevancy. And while he might not be as influential as say a Kelly Slater is in the surf world, his opinion is still important to many snowboarders, even when it’s misguided.
Like most of Terje’s comments, there’s a lot to unpack, but we’ll start with the ‘journalists are cowards’ comment. I fail to see his logic. There are only a handful of snowboard media outlets and there were only three major U.S.-based magazines ever in the history of the sport (I’m aware that there were some smaller players, but only three that had any real relevancy) and all of those magazines have at one time or another reported on Terje’s views about the games. So what is Terje’s expectation from media outlets, that they wouldn’t cover Olympic-worthy news? If so, I think Haakonsen might not understand the role of journalists–we aren’t here to shape the industry, we’re here to report on it.
Frankly, it feels like an easy target. There are really only a few full-time “snowboard journalists” in the world. And the majority work for major magazines that count on advertising from Terje’s sponsors to print those magazines, which pretty much puts a stranglehold on them writing anything critical about his comments. I guess if that’s cowardly Terje should petition his sponsors to support media outlets that promote objective journalism. Until then it’s probably best to keep your sights on those who can actually have an impact on the IOC and the games.
Which ironically enough is the athletes who Terje lets off the hook in the initial part of his statement in the video and the sponsors who cash in off of the games, none more so than Terje’s longtime hard goods sponsor, Burton. From where I sit, there is no snowboard company that has benefited more from snowboarding’s involvement in the Olympic games than Burton, from athlete visibility to designing the Olympic uniforms, Burton has had a heavy hand in the games since snowboarding’s inception in the Winter Olympics.
What this means is that Burton’s profiting from the games has indirectly benefited Terje as a paid professional. Jetting around the world taking helicopters to the top of powder-packed peaks isn’t cheap and luckily for Terje, Burton has been able to help fund those adventures by being the biggest snowboard brand in the world, which has only been bolstered by Olympic exposure.
Stoked to have to signed up with Burton Snowboards ..again. They wrote on their web page that I have pulled back from competitions, but I actually did 8 comps last season. I definitely retired from most of the acrobatics type of riding, but if there is speed,amplitude and powder involved. I’ll give it a go. I’ll continue working with the familytree lines of boards, boots, bindings and the AK gear. Pushing the sustainability program and giving people headaches ☺️ Thx @burtonsnowboards for giving me the opportunity 🏂💨💨
The worst part about the whole situation is that I personally agree with Terje’s position in regards to IOC corruption and wrote about their mishandling of not only snowboarding but skateboarding’s oversight federations, here. I’m sure Terje wasn’t talking about me personally. I would be surprised if he’s ever read my work. But it was hard not to flinch when he called snowboard journalists cowards as he strapped into his Burton snowboard and adjusted his Oakley goggles. I guess I couldn’t just sit on my hands as Terje’s misdirected blame played over and over again on my laptop speakers. Terje does mention the industry at the end of his rant–and in his statement, above–but doesn’t call out Burton specifically, and certainly wasn’t brave enough to step away from his main sponsor even in the prime of his career to ride for a company that would willingly boycott sending its athletes to the games.
Terje’s contributions to snowboarding and snowboard culture are hugely important. Because of this and what was previously mentioned about advertising revenue, most people will let the ‘cowards’ comment slide. However, if I were Terje I would reflect on the hypocrisy of my position because, as they say, hurling stones when you live in a glass house is a dicey endeavor at best.