It’s impossible not to acknowledge the cultural impact of the Robot Food videos – Afterbang, Lame, and Afterlame. They were the videos you played while you put your gear on and got ready for the mountain; they featured the songs you would later download and ride to. The precedence they set changed the way snowboarders viewed snowboarding – what constituted as snowboarding and what didn’t. In effect, Travis Parker and the rest of the Robot Film crew created a new lane, an antithesis to something like Mack Dawg Productions – rather than displaying snowboarding as an exhibition, something intimidating and distant, they made snowboarding look fun and accessible.
Afterlame, the last Robot Food video, came out 11 years ago and Travis Parker left professional snowboarding 10 years ago. Today, he lives in Anchorage, Alaska, holds down two jobs – one at a local brewery, another at a local snow and skate shop – he cuts his own hair, meditates, and occasionally wears a necklace with a safety pin attached to it as a reminder to be safe. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I’m into safety,” he tells me. “It’s a reminder, a mindset, and an attitude. The fact that I could walk after being a pro snowboarder was by the grace of God. And it made me think that a higher power was probably watching over me. The fact that I’m still walking and able… I’m grateful. My Naturopath, by the way, said that traumatic head injury was a big part of my weirdness. I’ve hit my head probably 7 times while snowboarding. That’s too many times, dude.”
There is no pretense with Travis; he’s exactly who he says he is. He’s self-conscious, self-deprecating, and a constant scrutinizer, always, it seems, trying to regain a misstep. If you want to know something about him, just ask. “I’m being medicated with a mood stabilizer and it works good,” he tells me. “Sometimes I don’t want to be on them, but hell, they work. So, why not? The only thing is, sometimes they make me slur my speech. They gave me a large dose at first and I was almost drooling.”
With the air and humility of a good student, Travis is always learning and evaluating. He even writes down words that I say. “This could be your magnum opus,” I tell him as we talk about the potential for another Robot Film video. “That’s a good word. I gotta start writing some of these down,” he says. It’s hard to tell whether he’s being sarcastic or serious. The more we hang out, however, the more I can tell the difference. “Owe! I just got stung on the face…some bee stuck his tail in me,” Travis says one day while we’re out hiking. He continues: “A few years ago, 6 or 7 hornets came out of the ground and stung me. [The doctors] told me, ‘you gotta take an EpiPen everywhere you go.’” “Oh, shit. Do I need to stab you,” I ask. “No, I’m good,” he responds. “Ana-phyl-actic,” Travis carefully annunciates, looking at me as if to reassure him his pronunciation is correct. “Yea, anaphylactic.” I nod my head yes. He smirks.
There’s a distinct difference between Travis Parker the Employee and Travis Parker the Snowboarder. While he works retail at the brewery, Travis the Employee wears khakis and a button-down. When he’s snowboarding, he wears outerwear; it’s his uniform, much like Iron Man’s suit is his. As someone who grew up admiring his snowboarding, that’s how I see it. And with that uniform, he becomes something only years of experience can afford: a professional. Not a professional in the everyday corporate sense of the word, but a professional snowboarder. He becomes that guy hitting handrails in a football costume again, that guy who did a backside rodeo 1080 in Lame, that guy who was doing fast-plants off cliffs in 2002. With that outerwear, he’s right back in the saddle of talent that afforded him the accolades that brought out the Dave Chappelle in him 10 years ago.
Why did you quit snowboarding professionally?
I never really quit. I don’t think I ever started to be a professional snowboarder either though. I guess one day I decided that I was one, when it was all that I did and it put money in my pocket. I’m still a professional snowboarder, with unprofessional human tantrums maybe. I stopped accepting money from companies because when they gave me money they would, in return, tell me how to snowboard or talk. This is marketing and sales. It happens in retail too. Marketing people, [some of which] were also friends, would get mad if I wasn’t snowboarding how they wanted me to, even if I was in the frame, draped in and strapped into and on their products. It was a lot of work to say what others wanted me to say and do what others wanted me to do. [All we were trying to do] was market fun. We worked really hard at fun. We worked so hard at fun that it wasn’t fun anymore.
I also made bad decisions as an adult – you can’t be a sports athlete and abuse alcohol. That was me. I used too much substance and it threw me way off track. If you compare a sports athlete to a car, it’s like taking a racecar to the grocery store instead of a station wagon. It just didn’t make sense. So, if you’re going to be a sports athlete, you gotta drink water, not alcohol. You gotta be practical – you gotta drive the station wagon instead of the racecar to the grocery store.
In my experience – and you can agree or disagree – it seems like for a while alcoholism was a big problem in the industry. That’s what all the pro snowboarders did – they got drunk the night before and then competed or filmed the following morning.
Yea, well, it was accepted. It was the thing to do. People loved it because [snowboarding] was a rebel sport. It was normal to be social in the drinking environment and to thrive as a professional snowboarder. It was like being a rock star. It’s fun, but it’s hard. And I don’t think it’s realistic because obviously there’s no longevity in it.
I was very competitive as a sober professional snowboarder and then I decided, “I’ll start with some microbrews and everything will be okay.” It is okay with certain people, but with me it wasn’t. Here’s the perspective that I come from: it’s not alcohol, alcohol is not bad. Dehydration is bad. The fogginess from it is bad. That’s where I struggle. I can’t blame alcohol. All I can do is say, “hey, I’m responsible for my actions.” I loved having a good time and I just had to learn how to say, “enough good times for now. Go home, rest, be competitive.” That way I could keep my job and my sanity.
What do you think was the straw that broke the camel’s back?
Oh, gosh. I recall a day where I owed a lot in taxes. I was actually up here in Alaska – I was heli skiing in Haines – and I had to go back home to pay taxes.
I have a mental illness as well. Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood is what I’ve been diagnosed with. I take pills because I’ve been psychotic, I’ve been depressed, I’ve been manic. I’ve been in extreme mental states that have not been fun at all. So, I had to take medication to chill me out. And I’m so thankful for my doctors. If any of my doctors read this, I just want to thank them.
So, the medication works?
Yea, it works. Some didn’t, some did. Most of them did. Talk therapy was awesome. All my friends are awesome for putting up with my bullshit.
Are you still in contact with anybody in snowboarding?
Yea. I just chilled out with it for a while. But I’m still in contact with some. I just had to take a big breather and take a step back and evaluate everything. I missed out on a lot of growth. I was just given all this money and power with my words. If I wanted something, I could have it. It didn’t take work, other than flips and spins.
And you don’t see that as work – being a professional snowboarder?
It was work. It was really hard work. But it was something that caused jealousy among people that wanted my position and it made me stress out that that position would be gone if I relaxed for one day. It was stressful… I don’t miss that. I miss the snowboarding, a lot. Snowboarding with my buddies, snowboarding with new people of all different skill levels and really amazing skill levels. Going on missions and telling stories… I loved all of it.
Have you ever thought about making another snowboard video?
Yea, I’ve thought about it. I think about the crew. I think about the cast. I always want it to be what it was. I don’t ever want it to change, you know. But, yea, I think about it. I’d love to do another one.
Who would be in your dream crew?
I’d have to say ladies first. So, all my dude friends would have to wait (laughs). Morgan LaFonte, Cara-Beth Burnside, Annie Boulanger, Leanne Pelosi, Barrett Christy, Megan Pischke, Tara Dakides.
What about guys?
The most righteous dudes that were my friends: Bobby Meeks, we’re in Alaska so [Jason] Borgstede is awesome – he’s definitely been one of those guys whose talent was above most, but couldn’t quite get out there, for whatever reason. He did really well, he just didn’t get to where he wanted to be, that’s what it was. Who else would I like to snowboard with? Louie Fountain, Chris Englesman Andrew Crawford.
[Those guys are] just awesome, righteous dudes. They’re like brothers. There were moments where we were like, “okay, guys, we gotta get our shit together and do this right.” And then everyone’s like, “yea!” And everyone has that moment where we’re not following some other bullshit and we’re in complete control of our lives. That’s Meeks, he’s the leader, the bad ass. And Crawford’s always like, “I can do this! I got this!” My perspective is like, “yea, you’re right, you can do it. I can do it too. I can strap into my board and be the best I can be too.” I don’t know where else to go with it besides those guys are leaders, you know? And I’m grateful to have them as friends.
So, yea, those are my people. There aren’t many. And I don’t mean to be like that…
…Uprooting your life and moving to a place like Alaska, that’s so far removed from everything else, I think gives you some perspective. Like, “who do I really want to see now that I’m so far removed from that situation?”
I think there are a lot of good snowboarders, snowboarders I have no idea about, who would be the raddest dudes to snowboard with. But, for me today, the people that I’d like to snowboard with again are my friends Bobby, Louie, and Crawford. I could go on and on with names, but that’s just kind of what I have right now.
You think you’ll stay here [in Alaska]? Or is this just a pit stop?
I’ve been struggling with what I’m going to do with my life. And I’ve been questioning what the heck I should do. I haven’t quite found a job that I’m completely happy with. I gotta be fine with just getting a job, you know? But I just want to work for myself.
It’s hard going from that to a 9 to 5.
Yea, but it’s reality. So, I’m trying to live with reality. I struggle with reality.
I think everybody does.
I like being in social environments. I like being social, it just depends on the group. And it depends on if they can have a decent conversation. I guess it just comes down to the fact that I don’t drink that much. So, when I’m around a lot of drinking, I can’t relate. That’s all.
Have you thought about working in the snowboard industry?
I have. I just haven’t applied myself.
Because you could probably be the Team Manager or something for Airblaster (laughs).
They’re pretty tough to get a job with.
You don’t think that you might be a shoe-in?
I’d have to go through the system and there’s a lot of competition. There are some people that are probably really really qualified for that job. And I’m not saying that I’m not [qualified], I’m just saying I’d have to go through the system and I haven’t applied myself.
Do you still have ties with Airblaster?
Yea, I do. A partnership is what it is. I worked on a short film this year that’s going to be coming out. Did some really fun stuff up in New Hampshire. Beyond that, what did we get to do? I think it was mainly the East Coast trip we did and that was great. It was really cool to get together with some of these younger guys and just try to be in that environment again. To think about it and realize, “oh, man, it’s completely theirs now.”
What do you mean “it’s completely theirs now?”
The sport, snowboarding. It’s their lives now, being completely immersed in that activity and the lifestyle of snowboarding.
Does that imply that it was yours at one point – you and your peer group?
I feel like we had ownership of a slice of it, you know? And, yes, to me, I was like, “this is our time. Let’s take advantage of this moment.” These times that we have, we have to use them to the best of our ability and enjoy life to the very best. We gave it our all, you know? Beyond that, I think that’s what it is: we’re all given a time to shine and we need to embrace it.
Your 15 minutes…
And you’re comfortable with all that?
Yea, I think so. For me, it was a sport, man. I had this opportunity and I was going for it and I loved it. Am I comfortable with the legacy I left for the young people? I probably had too much to drink. And I probably had too many failed relationships with women who I just don’t even know where they are anymore. And that’s not a good example to set for young people.
I didn’t know any of that. My only frame of reference are your snowboard parts which, I think, you guys were trying to make snowboarding look fun, trying to embody that idea in a progressive kind of way. You guys were out there messing around while, at the same time, doing legitimate tricks.
It was really fun. There were years where we’d put it all on the line and we paid. We slammed, hard. But we still had to keep figuring our way to progress and do it in a way that wasn’t so hard on our bodies because we started to be more aware of our mortality. We’re human.
There seems to have been a transition in snowboarding, where it’s treated like an official sport like basketball or football. Things like having an agent are commonplace now, people whose job it is to safeguard the wellbeing of the athlete, as opposed to earlier eras of snowboarding where you, as a snowboarder, would be told to go out there, hit that jump, and stop being a pussy.
Yea, yea. That’s tough. There’s something to be said about learning for yourself though. It’s nice to have a person or group of people be like, “hey, man, be careful. The floor’s wet.” But if you go somewhere else where people don’t care to warn you, is that actually harming you? Because you’re so used to someone looking out for you that you don’t even think about what’s around you. I struggle with that. I struggle with safety as a hobby because I want to be prepared for some shitty shit if I have to. I want to be able to climb a fence and a rock wall if a tsunami’s coming.
Do you ever think you’re too hard on yourself?
Well, yea, sure. I am probably too hard on myself. I know my language gets me in trouble sometimes because I have a high standard. I’m not, like, sad or down on myself. It’s like I want to be better. So, people mistake my high standards for low self-esteem sometimes.
If there’s one overarching lesson that you’ve learned, something that you could instill in the next generation of snowboarders, what would that be?
Just care about your head. Care about your brain – protect it with a helmet. Care about your health. Make good decisions and don’t party too much. Because snowboarding is fun and you may as well have fun for a long time and not mess yourself up.