An ESPN ESPY award, a flight on a private jet, walking the red carpet in Los Angeles — it was a busy week for Olympic snowboard slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg. Before heading to L.A., Kotsenburg stopped by Woodward at Copper on Monday for a day of playing in the on-snow terrain park with good friend Joss Christensen and a handful of lucky Woodward summer campers. Christensen is, like Kotsenburg, a Park City resident and gold-medal winner (skier slopestyle). He and Kotsenburg were nominated for the Best Male Olympic Athlete Espy.
Kotsenburg sat down with the Summit Daily News to talk all things snowboarding.
ESPY nominations, media tours — how different is life after the Olympics?
Yeah, it’s totally different and totally the same too. Afterwards, they don’t prepare you for anything. It’s just like, “Here you go, media tour, have fun.” It’s just pycho but really fun at the same time.
I still go home and have to make my own bed and everything. Mom still gets mad at me if I don’t call her back. Everything’s different, but it’s the same.
How has the Olympics shaped or changed slopestyle snowboarding, what was the response after the games?
Everyone has their own speculations. I thought we walked away from this Olympics with it being portrayed in the best way. We had an awesome course, great weather. The course was huge, which was sick. Everyone rode so good.
We came back and so many people were like, “we just saw snowboarding in the Olympics for the first time, slopestyle was sick, we’re taking our kids to whatever mountain.” It’s so cool seeing that. I feel like everyone inside snowboarding kind of got the same feeling. It was pretty good for snowboarding. I think everyone got that.
You’ve talked before about the lead up to the Olympics and the pressure to qualify. Can you tell us about that?
There were moments, man, I was so stressed out — even going into the year. I’d just hide it and be like, “Whatever, it’s just another year.” Totally just lying to myself. This was the craziest year ever, the biggest year ever, the most stressful year ever. But also, it turned into the most fun year ever. I learned so much about myself, snowboarding and how to handle stress.
This year was a big learning experience or me. I did seven or eight contests before the Olympics and the Olympics were the first week of February. It was just back-to-back-to-back contest.
How much did your relationship with your coach Bill Enos help get you through?
Me and him get together so well. We’re best friends when we travel. I never had a coach like Bill. I hated having a coach at first. We just jelled and made it happen this year. It was a dream scenario of a year.
Two years ago I probably would have been negative about the whole thing. Having Bill there, he’s always in the best mood.
Some athletes talk about the pressure being off once you get to the Olympic. Was it?
It’s true to an extent. You still put pressure on yourself. You still want to go there and do good. It’s a hard thing to explain. It’s a different kind of stress.
We went there and we just wanted to ride our best. That’s all anyone wants to see.
We’re here to do our thing; that’s how we looked at it. When you start putting negativity in, it’s so hard to get it out. And people were being so negative about the course. I was so stoked to just be there.
You mentioned the negative press how did you handle it?
From the first day to the day of finals it was Shawn this, Shawn that. Is the course dangerous? People say it’s dangerous. I understood it was part of the Olympics. I was just positive about it.
They (course designers) made all the right corrections. It ended up just being perfect. The shapers listened to everything we told them. It ended up being one of the best courses of the year. It was a dream scenario honestly.
A lot of freeskiers and snowboarders say they don’t train. What’s your approach to training?
I don’t really like the word training. Let’s just go snowboard and see what happens. I go out and snowboard my heart out. For some reason I just don’t like the word.
Then what goes in to adding a new trick?
I spend so many nights staying up till three in the morning thinking, conjuring up a trick that I have no idea is possible. It keeps me awake at night. That’s how you have to be. Snowboarding is still so progressive right now. You can’t do the same stuff.
You don’t just think of these tricks and go huck ’em. It looks like you kind of do that, but there’s definitely a thought process that goes into them.
I have so many tricks in my head right now, I have no idea if I’m ever going to do half of them. They’re in there and if the time comes: Sometimes you end up trying and they don’t work out and sometimes you land them first try and win the Olympics.
What would you say to a kid that might be thinking of trying a trick he shouldn’t?
The hardest thing to do is to know. I’ve done it myself as a kid. I can’t tell you how many times. I’ve done it myself as a kid. I can’t say I haven’t. I learned fast: Where’s your comfort zone? Where’s stepping out of your comfort zone and progressing in a good way? And where’s just being and idiot and maybe trying a trick that your friend did that you shouldn’t be trying for another year? It’s knowing your body, knowing your snowboarding ability.
Don’t rush anything, because it’ll come. I’ve hit plateaus where I wouldn’t learn tricks for so long and I’d kind of freak out. “I need to learn something. I need to learn something.” And then you might try something you’re not ready for and that’s when you get hurt the most, when your not processing the trick right. Your thinking too far a head. You do it for some reason when your body is telling you no. You’ve just got to listen to your body, know your own ability and not go at someone else’s pace. That’s another thing. Your friend might be progressing like crazy. But he might plateau next year, and you might pass them. If you’re just going at your rate you’ll be fine. Don’t be stupid about that stuff. That’s how you get hurt. It sucks to see, too. I’m guilty of it.
Progression is key. Whether it’s personal progression or progression of the sport. Progression is everything. Especially with these new kids coming up. It’s sick to see. I stay awake at night now thinking what can I do that no one else does. If it stays stagnant, it’s not fun to see, it’s not fun to do.
Speaking of progression, with places like Woodward are you worried about competition from these kids in a few years?
I already see it. Kids are progressing so fast it’s unreal. There’s fourteen year olds out there doing some of the tricks we’re doing in our runs. It’s absolutely insane.
Where do you see the snowboarding progressing as a sport?
I see progression in the tricks but I’d like to see progression in the courses too. I would love to design a course. I have so many ideas I think would benefit progressing the sport. More features, different ways to hit the features, different style jumps, there’s so many different ways. It doesn’t half to be three rails and three jumps and just a straight line where this is the hard line, this is the medium line and this is the line where you’re not going to get any points on.
What do you think about being nominated for an ESPY?
It was crazy. I watched the ESPYS the last couple of years. I look up to those guys so much. Being nominated, I’m just like man I can’t believe Lebron’s going to be there. Nominated in the same award show as people like Kevin Durant. It’s unreal. It’s so cool.
I think we’re going to Australia end of August unless something happens with weather. Other than that, kind of just hanging out, golfing, surfing, skating. Itching for winter but definitely enjoying summer.
Note: Since this interview, Kotsenburg won the ESPY for Best Male Olympic Athlete. He was up against his friend Joss Christensen and skier Ted Ligety.