Interview by Brad Oates, all photos courtesy Kinger
He’s been snowboarding since putting ski boot liners in your sorels was the next big thing. He’s passed many an Olympic piss test administered by a midget cowboy named, Mickey. He has worked at Camp of Champions for over 10 years straight. He snowboards over 200 days a year. He was in the first X Games boardercross. He beat Terje to win the Open. Friends, Rob Kingwill is the man! With almost a quarter of a century snowboarding under his belt and the sun ain’t setting anytime soon. Rob’s skills on a snowboard are matched by few, mimicked by many and revered by all whom shred. He is currently riding 50-degree powdery lines in Alaska with Mike Basich and loving every moment of it. In a season of too much snow, not enough sun, television commercials, tram laps, private resorts with Justin Timberlake and board detail right down to his own graphic production, Rob finds time to get humped by Yobeat.
What was better, losing your virginity or your first day of snowboarding?
Definitely losing my virginity. My first day of snowboarding was on this icy, super nasty gravel road behind my house. We just slammed ourselves over and over again. My first day of really turning my snowboard in powder was much better than losing my virginity. I can still remember – I went from an old Burton Elite with fins on the bottom, and fast lock buckles, to a Sims Pocket Knife 1445 that I washed dishes all summer under the table at age 12 to be able to afford. I took it up on Teton Pass. I remember just pointing it down the hill and being able to turn left and right and just getting that feeling of float and powder and thinking this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life. This is the greatest thing that was ever invented.
Do you introduce yourself to campers as the dude who beat Terje (Kingwill beat Terje to win the ’98 US Open)?
Never. He beat me this year in the fakie race at Baker. I have to comeback and try and catch up next year. It’s always an honor just to ride against Terje. I don’t know if you know the story but, we both didn’t make the finals of the U.S. Open originally. It was going to be 16 man final, and they decided to bend the rules so the top 20 riders could be in it and that included me, Terje and Daniel Franck (laughs). I got first in the end, Terje got second and Todd Richards got third, but it wasn’t even meant to be. I had tied Terje for 17th place in the qualifiers and that was like the highlight of my life at that point. That halfpipe was really shitty, too. I always labeled myself as the best shitty halfpipe rider in the world. If it was a shitty halfpipe, I was really good at riding it.
Do you remember your first pipe?
First halfpipe was at Jackson Hole. It was put together by Chris Pappas and George Pappas in 1987, I think? They put a log slide in it and they had whole the Kemper pro team there. I was twelve. Our biggest goal was just be able to get out of the pipe on the other side of the wall. The pipe was so flat you couldn’t get any speed. Drop in, go off the hip into the pipe and then just rock underneath the walls all the way to the bottom and just try hit this log jib gap thing. It was well shaped just not steep enough. There were many permutations. All hand built, like made out of hay bales. Most those days were hand dug and the innovative thing was to stack up the hay bales in the summer so the snow went on it. Hay bales would rot and melt the pipe from underneath, so there would basically be these holes you would fall into.
Were you on the Olympic team?
No, I missed it by one spot, twice. I was top 10 the third time around. It was such a janky qualification thing. I was so bummed on the judging. I went for it a couple times. Some of its luck, a lot of its skill, a lot of it’s luck and you just hope to be top 3 in super tough intense qualification.
How were the Olympic qualifying piss tests?
I would have the piss testers show up at my house all the time. I think they knew I was straight edge, or something. At contests, I swear I was always the random person tested and there would be about 60 people in the field and it was always me. When you’re on that program, though, you can’t even take cough medicine. Some random little supplement thing could get you in trouble. You have to list out where you are in the world for 6 month periods. If you aren’t where you told them on like some sheet from 6 months ago, you would automatically fail. I don’t know where I am going to be 6 months from now! They would always send this creepy little cowboy dude named, Mickey. He was a midget with a cowboy hat. He had small hands and looked like a carney. They would send him to my house, too. There is always something unnerving about a midget in a cowboy hat watching you take a leak.
Tell us about Compatriot Snowboards.
It’s owned by Kevin (Jones) and I and a couple other dudes. It was just one of those synchronous events where I was riding for Arbor and I wasn’t really very happy with where that was going. I had always really wanted to be involved with a brand on the ground level. Kelly D Williams is a friend of mine, who is the founder of Compatriot, and he had done some art for my clothing company, avalon7. Kelly asked me if I wanted to be involved and I was down. I was sick of giving my ideas away and this seemed like a great opportunity. I said to Kevin, “Hey Kev? You want to start this snowboard company with me?” I thought for sure, there was no way in hell Kevin would ever take risk and jump in with me on a new snowboard company. I figured I would just put it out there and Kevin thought it over and really liked what the brand stood for and where we were coming from and decided to come over and make Compatriot a reality. We’re in year two and the boards are looking really good, we’ve really got some good momentum and it’s so rad to have a voice like Kevin in the brand coming into our teeny little snowboard brand. Our hearts are in the right place and I think we are going to go pretty far with it.
You just won Dick’s Ditch. Tell people about Dick’s Ditch and what this year’s victory means to you?
Dick’s Ditch is Jackson Hole’s banked slalom. It has been going on for 12 or 13 years. The race runs about 2 minutes. If you’re not about to pass out by the end of it, you aren’t trying hard enough. A little more boardercross-y, than say, Baker – Baker is more about the big banks because of the way there snowpack is there. Dick’s puts in more features and jumps to spice up the banked element. They send one rider down the course, fastest time wins. This is the fifth time I have won it. I got a sweet belt buckle this year. Luckily, I have won almost half of them. There is such a large margin for error – you definitely have to put the hammer down in order to win. This year was a little bit tight. I kind of goofed around on the qualifier day and got smoked by a kid almost half my age. I had to put the hammer down on race day and put him in his place.
How has 2011 been shaping up for you?
This season has been phenomenal. I chose to do less contests this year. Kevin (Jones) and I have a $20 bet. I think I lost because I went to too many contests. I was the consummate contest kid for about 15 years straight — World Cup, then chasing it, then North Face Masters contests; always being out of town. This is first real season where I have been able to explore a lot of the terrain at Jackson I haven’t had time for. We have gotten 500 inches of snow so far right this season – it’s been a pow day almost every day. October 26th was our first day on Teton Pass, so I am at like 120 days or so of shredding. The snow just started in October and hasn’t stopped. I did the North Face Masters at Snowbird but on the last cliff I jumped I caught a branch and landed on my face so I was kind of out of that. I got 8th at Mt Baker in the pro men category, and 2nd in the fakie category behind Terje, I was so pissed! Next year I am getting a real race board type base and stepping it up. I want to win baker more than anything. Won Dick’s Ditch here in Jackson Hole. Went out to the Yellowstone Club a couple times and rode with those guys up there. Had a little Justin Timberlake action.
Wait, you went snowboarding with Justin Timberlake?
Yeah, I did a couple clinics up at the Yellowstone Club. I helped him do some frontside airs. He was killing it by the time we were done. Blasting frontside airs. It was definitely a really cool thing to ride with Justin. Totally rad dude, he’s a ripper. He’s bringing sexy back! He’s legit and such a down to earth cat. He just loves snowboarding.
Compatriot Snowboards, AVALON7, The North Face, Smith, Skullcandy, Bluebird Wax, Bern Helmets, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, RedBull, World Boards.