The Erik Leon Interview

"Erik has been on his own unique path since day one. He grew up fast, loose and has always been so impressive both on and off his board. We’ve been on Airblaster together now for 10+ years and have traveled the world thanks to snowboarding. He is one of those people who soaks up and appreciates how special traveling is and will make time to appreciate the culture of wherever he may be. Always coming away from the trip with stories and memories as well as some serious hammers. I am very thankful for my friendship with Erik and I think anyone who knows him feels the same!" - Max Warbington

From print issue 21.1

Interview - Theo Acworth

Photos - Stéphane Fortier & E Stone

Yo Erik.

Whatup?

Not much mate, little early for me (6.45 am) but all good, we’re big fans so are happy to get you on the phone.

Thanks for making the push. I’m also working pretty early in the mornings at the moment.

Where are you working?

Currently at a metal fabrication shop, doing a bunch of welding. Making staircases and railings for million dollar homes.

How long have you been doing that for?

Pretty much right when the pandemic started. I’ve never really done anything like this before. A friend of mine manages this shop and they needed a hand, so I’ve now been there for five months. It’s a little more than I’m used to, but I’ve learned so much.

I briefly worked in a sculpture foundry and it was pretty rad being around flying sparks and the smell of metal.

You’re never really comfortable around steel until you work around steel.

So this is the summer life of a pro snowboarder?

I guess! I just want to learn as many things before I die and I figured that welding stuff and building structural things was pretty out of my realm, and now I’m pretty comfortable with it. I look at rails so differently now. Some days we build the most perfect stuff and install it, so funny.

© Stéphane Fortier

I guess you keep track of where you’ve put things in? Maybe leave a note saying you’ll be back in a few months to do some ‘structural’ checks?

Exactly. My boss is also a snowboarder so he gets it too.

Speaking of snowboarding, you’ve just had your second pro binding with Flux, your first signature outerwear line with Airblaster, and your first pro board with Arbor. Congrats!

Thanks dude.

How does it feel to see a bunch of things with your name on it?

I’m still tripping over it. I’ve been with each of those brands for ten years now, which is kinda crazy. I was 15 or 16 when I got on and I never thought I’d end up here.

So from what I’ve heard, the theme that runs across all of your gear is affordability and obtainability?

There are a few goals that I wanted to hit, but the number one was making the most affordable signature product on the market to try and make snowboarding more accessible for everyone. Just making sure that I use my influence with the brands that I work with to offer a signature product that is tailored to anyone who wants to go snowboarding. Like the local liftie who keeps up with snowboarding but can’t afford the latest expensive gear. This is still in their price range.

That’s a really nice attitude to have towards it.

Right before I got on Arbor I didn’t have any boards to ride, and this shop in Big Bear turned their unsold boards into rental boards, and they just hooked it up and let me use a bunch of them. I just hopped on whatever they would let me use for the week. If that shop hadn’t helped me out like that then I might not be where I am today, you know?

For sure.

© Stéphane Fortier

I feel that what it really came down to was the snowboard community helping the snowboard community. I see so much value in that. It helped my career so much. So the thing that I feel it’s best to do is influence the snowboard scene through my sponsors to bring people together and grow the community.

To immediately try to give back to snowboarding with your first pro gear is rad. That’s more than a lot of people would do with any pro gear, let alone their first.

Thanks man. Snowboarding has done so much for me, so I want to do what I can to influence others to snowboard more. It just brings you around the best kind of people who can change your life forever. I’ve met my closest friends through snowboarding.

So what’s up with C.O.R.E.?

C.O.R.E. runs across my products with all of the brands. It stands for Community Outreach Riding Equipment. So the idea behind it is that every signature product has a 3-point checklist. With Arbor the sustainable approach is a no brainer, they’ve been doing this since the day they started. Fast forward 25 years and their sustainable practices are so developed that it was really easy to align C.O.R.E. with them. All of the Airblaster product that is tied to C.O.R.E. and myself has 50% recycled polyester in the material. The idea is that we may not be able to create a product that’s both affordable and 100% sustainable, but I believe that any step towards sustainability is the best step we can possibly take. Whether it’s 1% or 100%. 0% is just not acceptable.

If everyone does even a little bit, then that’s a collective impact.

Over time things will change, you’ve just got to be a part of the change and help fuel it. We’re also looking at working with and hosting events that donate money to organisations in places like Minneapolis or New York. There’s already one up here in Portland called Snow Days where they bring kids to the slopes and introduce them to the snowboard world.

That sounds great dude, very cool that you’re actively trying to give back and help show others how rad snowboarding is.

Snowboarding can totally change your life and point you in a direction that you never thought you could go. So I hope we can introduce it to people from areas where it just doesn’t seem possible. Without me getting that little push from the shop in Bear, things might have turned out different.

And now things have come full circle and you get to give others your own little push. It sounds like your sponsors have been pretty receptive to your ideas?

Yeah absolutely. I know it hasn’t been easy, but seeing people’s positive reactions when we brought CORE to the tradeshows with the gear made all the hard work and persistence worth it. As soon as I brought it up with the owner of Arbor, Bob Carlson, he was on board. I asked Jesse Grandkoski from Airblaster about two years ago and he was all in. Flux was the same, straight away they were down and trying to figure out how to take the best steps that they can. Immediately there were suggesting their own events in Japan and trying to mobilise the snowboard community over there and further expand it. I mean it’s already huge over there, but they want to make it bigger. I think the best thing about this idea is that anyone can contribute ideas that will help people to experience the same thing that you love. There are so many amazing ideas coming from people and brands about what we can do next with it. Everyone wants to help. To be able to do this with these guys and have them push it forward even harder has been unreal. I couldn’t be more thankful.

© E Stone

Just going out and filming parts is fun but it isn’t doesn’t have a huge amount of longevity, whereas this really seems like something that can only continue to grow and do good things.

Shit I hope. That’s exactly the way I see it. I love filming video parts but it does make you a bit of a recluse. You miss the other 99% of snowboarding. When I’d go filming and travelling with Airblaster we’d always spend time hanging and riding with the local communities, trips like that are always the ones that I feel leave more of an impact. Just touring around and having fun in crazy places. That’s probably the reason why I’m so hyped on snowboarding as a whole and never really burnt on filming. I’ve been able to witness the snowboard community first hand in so many crazy places that it just hypes me up. That’s what we should be supporting the most.

I agree 100%. So speaking of filming, how’s your movie this year been going?

Anyone making a project in 2020 has probably felt the butterflies that I’ve felt, but I’m pretty amazed at what we’ve come away with. It was still an incredible year, even if we only rode for half of it.

What was your approach to the project?

The plan was to go back to the roots of my snowboarding. So Kyle Schafer is the filmer, he’s one of my best friends and the person who taught me how to snowboard and first put me in videos. He’s my ride-or-die. If I was going to make my first ever film, then I want the guy who’s been filming me since day one. We said let’s just go snowboarding and have fun like we always did. Let’s create a loose roster that allows us to shoot in different environments. I just want it to be as fun as possible. I love insane crazy snowboarding, but I’ll watch Airblaster’s April again and again over anything else.

Where did you guys shoot?

Our first trip was to Japan, we were in this zone on Hokkaido that I was drooling to get back into. We brought Tucker Andrews who’s been a homie and inspiration for such a long time and such a good human. Mary Rand who’s newly pro for Arbor also joined. I’ve known her since I was 16 or 17 but I’d never been on a trip with her. We went for two and a half weeks and absolutely scored. Even people in Japan were asking where we were, and I didn’t tell them shit.

Sounds quality, where else did you end up?

We went to Quebec for a month and linked up with Frank April and his family, and also Mike Liddle who’s another ride-or-die. I love shooting with him, we always give each other the right amount of motivation. We stayed with Frank while we were there I grew up watching his parts and was so inspired by him as a professional street snowboarder, and for the last 3-4 years I’ve been standing next to him and thinking to myself ‘damn I’m snowboarding with Frank April, this is the coolest thing ever’.

© Stéphane Fortier

That’s cool to hear that you still have that feeling.

Oh dude, every day. Frank absolutely killed it, I’ve never seen him so hungry. Bode Merrill also came out for the last two weeks. We’ve been filming for the last 4 years or so and it wouldn’t be right to make a snowboard film without bringing him along, the dude is incredible. You can add him to the list of people I trip on standing next to. Not only standing next to but also looking up to, he’s like 3 feet taller than me.

So you’re still looking up to him emotionally, and physically, nice.

100%. Bode is another ride-or-die. After this trip, I realised that I could probably film street snowboarding with Bode forever. We work so well together.

Does the video have a name?

El Sueno. It means ‘The Dream’ in Spanish. This wasn’t about going ham and ruining ourselves. The idea was to snowboard with each other and have fun, just have everyone ride the same spots in their own style.  Everyone approaches things differently, and that brings diversity into snowboarding. It’s snowboarding how we want to snowboard, not taking it too seriously.

Find out more about CORE here