I've heard Kas Lemmens described as a mythical creature, a bit like a unicorn. Watching him snowboarding just fills you with joy, not only because his riding is incredible, but also because he's usually giggling and has a huge smile on his face. This might lead you to assume that he's like that all of the time, but we've only recently found out that there's a lot more to him than what we see on the surface. The following conversation took place a grassy Swiss hill in July while we were shooting for the HEXAGON project.
Interview - Theo Acworth
Photos: Ponchikz and Tim Schiphorst.
Hello Kas, let’s get straight into it. I believe the last few years have been heavy for you. You’ve had a string of gnarly injuries, and you also suffered a heavy personal loss in your family. I guess the best way to start this off is to ask you how you’re feeling right now?
I’m feeling good. But yeah, I’ve never experienced things like that before in my life, so those were definitely heavy years. I went through some stuff, but I’m feeling better than I ever was, which is good. I just started a landscaping job, someone told me that this sort of work is very grounding and good for helping you reconnect with yourself.
That’s cool to hear, working outside is definitely good for the soul. You posted something on Instagram recently saying you’d been opening up about your feelings and how that process had helped you, and I wondered if you wanted to say anything about that?
I think people who know me from snowboarding always thought I was a very happy person, so maybe they didn’t see that sort of thing coming, but that’s the point I was trying to make. I really enjoy snowboarding and am always happy when I’m snowboarding, but I also have my own problems, same as everyone. I’m not always happy but I never talked about it with anyone, and over the past couple of years I realised that things might not go too well if some of these feelings don’t find a way to come out. I just wanted to tell everyone that it’s ok to not feel ok. And that helped me a lot, talking to other people. I definitely found that out late in life, but I’m so glad I did. If I didn’t then I probably would still feel pretty bad.
Have there ever been times where you’ve been made to feel more uncomfortable or more anxious about your feelings specifically because of snowboarding?
There have been situations for sure, where people say something like ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be a pussy’.
So hearing things like that make you feel like the idea of sharing feelings would be seen as weak in some way?
I guess. I think those phrases happen a lot in snowboarding, and I’ve probably said them myself. I think maybe how you process and deal with feelings has something to do with your family and your parents. You see what your parents do and you emulate that.
So if you see that negative emotion isn’t a normal part of the conversation then you feel like it shouldn’t be?
Yeah. I always saw that in my dad. He never really spoke about bad things. He didn’t like doing it, or maybe he couldn’t do it himself, so he was always focusing on good times. And I always thought that was a good thing, which it can be, but when times are bad then it’s also important to talk about bad things.
Maybe some people don’t naturally want to burden others with their problems, especially parents and their kids.
I definitely think they did that for a while. My parents got divorced and it wasn’t until much later in my life that we found out the reasons why and what happened there. I think it was just their way of protecting us, but I eventually gained a way better perspective on why and how things happened. Just a whole complicated web of things. What was the question again?
I think I asked about emotion and why it was something that you didn’t talk about?
Oh yeah. Since I was little I was always on my own program, always fine doing my own thing. I always felt like if something affects me then it’s my own problem to deal with and no one else’s. I think that in the timeframe where my dad was sick and I was injured and not able to do the thing that I liked most, I started to figure out that it’s good to communicate with people. I felt really bad and was just sort of locking myself in my room, to the point where if I didn’t take action myself, then people might have let me stay there and I’d just fade away.
When it’s normal for you to not reach out, then people don’t expect you to. And then when you really do need help it can be even harder to ask for it. Who were the first people you spoke to about this stuff? Friends, or people outside of your normal social circles?
It was definitely friends first. I was never open to it, but I found out that I had a platform with my friends without even knowing it. I’ve had a really good group of friends that I could talk to. I don’t know if they saw that they helped me in that way, but they really did, and they still do. And now I try to do that back. So yeah, friends first and that made me realise that I opened up a lot more with my family too. I feel so much better. It’s so much better to just talk.
We were also speaking earlier about the idea that when we’re snowboarding it dominates our minds and our time, perhaps to the point where it doesn’t allow the quiet moments where other conversations can happen.
I think that on trips you’re with people who enjoy snowboarding and who are happy to talk about snowboarding all the time, which means it can be hard to find that quiet moment to ‘drop it’. Maybe its because I’ve been going on trips with the same people for so long that these people have become my best friends, so I see them outside of snowboarding a lot as well, and I think that made it easier to talk about these things. If I was on a trip with people I didn’t know so well then it would be harder for me. But I think what I’ve learned is that there should always be a part of you that should be open for people who want to share their feelings, of any sort. I think that’s hard though, to always be open to people. Even to people you know. But I think you can only try, and get better at it along the way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world would be a much better place if everyone was much more open with each other. It starts with your best friend, or a relative, and it goes from there. It should be ok for anyone to talk about their feelings, especially men. It’s important to have healthy conversations instead of bottling it up. It should be more integrated into snowboarding, because when people talk openly about feelings, other people who look up to them might feel better about themselves.
I think when you encounter an open discussion of a topic that you thought should be private or you felt you should be kept private, it normalises it. Instead of keeping it quiet and secret, it’s out in the open, and you realise that that’s ok.
That helps so much. Almost everyone is going through things like this. I wouldn’t say that anyone should feel sorry for me; everyone should feel sorry for everyone. One problem isn’t worse than another. I’m trying to learn to receive people’s problems with open arms, instead of reacting with ‘man up’.
If even one person read your Instagram post and found some help or support in it and felt better about their own situation, that’s a great thing.
It takes a lot of courage to start conversations like that. I think it would be great if people start to realise that snowboarding can be used to promote that message. Then people would be like hey, snowboarding looks really fun, it’s a way to express yourself, and people with an open mind also accept you, whoever you are.
I think we all like to think that we’re all very open-minded here but that doesn’t mean we’ve actively tried to make other people aware of that. We can’t save the entire world and make it perfect, but we can at least try and do something. I think conversation is the start of it.
Yeah I think so too. It’s nice to talk about this topic in general, sharing feelings.
Just talking about talking.
Ha, yeah. I think I actually deleted the post that you mentioned where I talk about feelings. Sometimes I feel so insecure about these things.
Because you were worried about what people might think about you?
Not so much, I sort of took a step back because I felt like I should focus on myself before I can help other people. Last year I went to some therapy sessions, and I want to learn more this year. I’m still trying to figure things out, but using my words to help other people in some way is something that I would like to do. Maybe later I want to focus on helping other people, but for now I felt like maybe I couldn’t do that, or shouldn’t do that. So that’s why I took the post off. But now I think that it’s never bad to share something.
Not at all, especially if it comes from the right place. And the more you do it, the more you learn from it.
Yeah. When you brought up the post a couple of days ago I was actually kinda surprised that people still remembered it, so it made me wonder why I archived it. Insecurities I guess, emotions running all over the place.
When I read it I realised that I’d never had a serious conversation with you Kas.
Neither had a lot of other people! My thing was to hide my emotions behind my laughter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ‘fake’ happy, but I would put out more positivity to drown out the negativity. But that doesn’t make it go away, it just stuffs it into a tiny box in the back of your head, which will eventually pile up and fall over.
In Jake Kuzyk’s Pride interview on Torment he was saying that he’d feel fine all day, until the moment he would get into bed and try to fall asleep. That’s when it all hit him.
That’s it, because you just kept on going and trying to have fun and not thinking about that stuff. He said that very well. I’m very proud of him.
Absolutely, all of those interviews were definitely a big step forwards for snowboarding. I hope that all of us here have made you feel like we’re down to listen at any time?
For sure. I think it’s hard to immediately go from someone who’s never opened up into someone who’s 100% open. If you can, then that’s awesome, but I think for me that’s something that’s coming with time.
It’s nice talking with you Kas.
Yeah, I was just going to say the same thing. I was always interested in seeing your stuff and I thought you were an interesting person, but I never had a serious conversation with you.
It’s hard to find the space and the quiet moments. I’ve been meaning to have this conversation with you all week. We only walked 10 meters away from the other guys, but we had to actively make the choice to do it, and it’s allowed us to sit here and talk easily for the last hour.
Yeah. In a few years I would like to be able to see myself saying that I’m not ashamed of anything that I am. I’m doing good right now but I would love to be able to say whatever I wanted in any situation, as long as it came from a good place. I just want to able to fully accept myself as who I am, but I’m doing good right now.
I just realised that we haven’t really spoken about snowboarding.
Are we still going to?
I guess we could. All I wanted to say is that I really like watching you ride, and that’s great to see you being backed by companies like Vans, Public and Ashbury, and we’re excited to see what you get up to this year.
I’m just really happy with the people around me in snowboarding. Especially this week, it’s been so refreshing. The past few seasons have been a bit stressful. This felt nice, just hanging out with a great group of people and naturally making something together. It just felt like a holiday.
That’s what I’ve been saying all week!
It’s the best. Also through these trips, I’ve met so many great people that I have amazing connections with who I can just talk to. I haven’t spoken much about emotion lately. Maybe because I’ve only really seen my family and my girlfriend in lockdown. It’s nice to share things with people you haven’t shared them with.
Sometimes it’s weirdly easier talking about deeper topics with people you don’t often talk to.
I’m quite proud of what snowboarding is, and what’s going to happen with it in a few years. Good things are happening. And that’s a plus of social media I think. Seeing that there’s more to people than just tricks.
For sure. And if this interview helps even one person feel a bit easier about themselves, then that’s rad.
Never be ashamed of who you are, or to ask for help, on any level. It shouldn’t be taboo. Sometimes I feel like people look at you a little weird when you say that you’re going to therapy.
It’s a word that has some connotations, but I think that’s changing.
I feel like we touched some sick shit. I would rather have an interview like this that has some meaning and isn’t just me talking about switch backlips.