“They Need Young British People In Resorts” | Q&A With Billy Morgan
Southampton’s Billy Morgan is synonymous with snowboarding in this country. We gave him a call to talk all about his achievements and the future of the sport he loves so much
In 2011, the order was a Triple Backside Rodeo 1260. In 2015, this was followed by the Backside Quad Cork 1800. If you didn’t know better, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these are burgers of the month at your local fast food joint. They are, of course, snowboarding tricks though and not just any old ones either. They’re some of the hardest to perform in the entire sport.
When Billy Morgan became the first snowboarder to land these, he pretty much cemented his place in the history books for all eternity (even if cynics might try to argue otherwise). To give you a sense of the latter trick’s difficulty, a Quadruple Cork requires the rider to perform four off-axis flips with five full rotations and somehow land upright before sliding away.
When the Southampton snowboarder landed this move in Livigno, Italy, you’ll remember that the buzz around him was infectious. The footage of the trick went well and truly viral, moving beyond the borders of the snowboard news cycle and into the realm of mainstream media. It also got Billy on the radar of sports journalists ahead of what was, at the time, the next winter Olympics.
“Three years later at Pyeongchang 2018, Billy made headlines again by becoming the first British man to win an Olympic medal on snow”
Three years later at Pyeongchang 2018, Billy made headlines again by becoming the first British man to win an Olympic medal on snow. For neutrals and supporters alike, the winning of Olympic bronze felt like a much deserved payoff for all of the hard work he’d put in. His Double Grab Frontside Triple Cork and the resulting spot on the podium it earned him was, from a British perspective at least, a feelgood story for the ages.
Three years on from his heroics in Pyeonchang, and Billy’s still the same down-to-earth lad from England’s south coast; one whose stamina for shenaginans remains fully intact. Many people will never forget his debut Olympics. He famously marked his Sochi appearance by dancing with a toilet seat around his neck in the middle of a Russian nightclub. In 2018, he continued to do his bit for the concept of banter when he memorably balanced the Union flag on his chin at the Olympics closing ceremony.
During a recent telephone call with Billy, we spoke about everything from his sporting achievements to the impact Brexit will have on the future of snowboarding.
Here’s a transcript of that chinwag below.
All of these amazing achievements in the sport from a person who first picked up a snowboard when they were 14 – Why was it snowboarding for you?
Yeah, I was quite late to the party. But as I got into it and older, it was just such a good social aspect to it all. I was hooked the whole way. I think it has a lot to do with the freedom of it all, and that’s something I enjoy the most and still do.
You were heavily involved with gymnastics from an early age. Has this gymnastic background been a great help in your snowboarding career?
It was a massive help. It was mainly just the aerial awareness and obviously with me doing lots of spins and flips and that in the air. When you’re up there, knowing where you are is quite important, and that was bred into me in gymnastics training and drummed into me from a young age.
Even after I quit when I was 14, I went to adult gymnastics on a Tuesday and Thursday night and just messed around in the gym club where we just used to go mental and do flips. I found gymnastics really transferred across to snowboarding. It was almost like without knowing it, I was training for my future snowboard career.
“I found gymnastics really transferred across to snowboarding. It was almost like without it, I was training for my future snowboard career”
Your performance at the Winter Olympics was British snowsport history. The pay off for all your dedication to snowboarding – how do you feel about it now? Has time faded the feeling, or does it still make you smile whenever you think about it?
Yeah, I was just talking about this, I still sometimes forget, and I’m like, no way. I still can’t believe I got the medal. Because it’s never the be-all or end-all achievement for me. It’s more about going out there and doing the best I can.
I especially never want to let down my country. That’s my biggest fear. I always try to enjoy it as much as possible. It’s about going through the journey and the training and all the things like that. It’s just such good fun, and getting a medal in the end was a huge bonus. When I think back, I’m like, that’s a bit mad.
“It’s just such good fun, and getting a medal in the end was a huge bonus”
How did Sochi differ from Pyeongchang?
In Korea, It was slopestyle and big air, and in Russia, it was just slopestyle. In Russia, the slopestyle was really sick, and the course was massive and perfect to ride. On top of all this, the weather was really good, and everything was mint. The slopestyle in Korea was not so much like this. The weather was horrific, and it just wasn’t an enjoyable experience.
I was battling an injury as well, but luckily for me, it went away just in time for the big air event. The weather for this was good, and I felt really on form and just started to enjoy the experience a lot more on the whole. I couldn’t put my finger on which one was better. They were both sick. I wish I could go to more Olympics.
“I wish I could go to more Olympics”
You’ve recently left your position at Park and Pipe. How do you feel about the future of British snowboarding?
We have some really good riders at the moment. People like Katie [Ormerod], Matty [McCormick], and Billy [Cockrell] are really good at what they do. We just need more of them. We don’t have enough of a roster of young kids coming through to sustain our Olympic team through the years, and I don’t know how that happened or what we do about it.
I think it’s the loss of seasonaires going away and snowboarding. I don’t know, but that’s the only thing I think is bad is the long-term future of snowboarding at the Olympics for us, and it’s a little bit bleak at the moment.”
More has to be done for sure. If we can get more people into snowboarding, then it’s great. But actually sport in general, because people value and get a lot from doing sports and the more we can pull people into doing that the better everybody is going to be.
Do you see yourself as a potential influence for these future stars coming through and someone who can offer advice going forward?
I hope so. I’d like to think I’ve been a decent ambassador for the sport. I’ve enjoyed my career, and I’ve kind of put that ahead of everything else, and I’ve done really well in the process. I might not be the best model for elitism that there can be, but I hope that I’ve inspired people to go snowboarding for sure.
“I might not be the best model for elitism that there can be, but I hope that I’ve inspired people to go snowboarding for sure”
So you’ve officially retired from Olympic competition – What are your plans going ahead?
My plan is that I’ve got so much more snowboarding to do. I want to hit the backcountry a bit and do bits and bobs around coaching. I’m definitely not done. I still have a lot to offer the sport, so yeah, if those opportunities arise, then I will definitely snatch them up. It’s just hard to tell at the moment with the ongoing pandemic.
What I was thinking is that I could really do with a couple months of going away. Just me, my girlfriend, and my son living in the mountains for a bit. A lot of the guys I did seasons with back in the day are still at ski resorts in the mountains, so I need to go back and stoke that fire because they really were legendary times.
“A lot of the guys I did seasons with back in the day are still at ski resorts in the mountains, so I need to go back and stoke that fire because they really were legendary times”
Now [at the time of interview] you’re in the midst of planning a splitboarding venture in Scotland – How are you getting ready for this, and what made you want to do it?
We are pretty much there. We are just waiting for the green light from the government to let us out to play. Snowboarding is pretty decent in Scotland if you get the weather right. We need to make the most of what we’ve got here, and I just really want to do some splitboarding.
I’m really enjoying taking a step back and enjoying nature a little bit more. I feel like splitboarding is the perfect way to do that, and hiking about in the hills having a really nice day sounds great. Also, at the end of the day, you get some epic powder runs up there. It’s a new avenue that I really want to explore.
“We need to make the most of what we’ve got here, and I just really want to do some splitboarding”
You don’t have to be a super sick snowboarder. You can hike anywhere you want, and you can go down almost anyway you want as well. Just bring a packed lunch, and you don’t even need to board down. You can just hike around if you want to and enjoy it.
You’ve just got so many options. Scotland is on our doorstep, and it’s closer than anywhere abroad, and you can get there in hours and go snowboarding which isn’t too bad at all.
You get to relive one moment from your career so far, and it can’t be the 2018 Winter Olympics – which moment is it and why?
It would probably be one of the British championships back in the day, they were always just so much fun, and the scene was at its peak. It was just all popping off, and I was coming through, and the parties were just insane.
We would go snowboarding in the day and party in the night – the British Championships in 2012 were mint.
How do you see Brexit affecting participation in snowsports? It feels as though the double whammy of Brexit and the pandemic have really shaken the industry at the moment?
Yeah, it’s really not good. A lot of my friends own chalets, and as well as them struggling, they can’t offer positions for people to go away and do seasons. Which for a lot of people, is the pivotal thing that makes them who they are today. They’ve learned their careers there and been able to travel around Europe.
This is going to hugely impact people, and I don’t think it’s going to be good for young people in the UK. I don’t really know what the details are. I mean, surely they’ll still be able to go away, but it’s going to make it a lot more difficult.
Resorts need British people. They need young British people in resorts because a lot of Brits go away skiing. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work, but I don’t think it’s been taken into consideration. It’s not on the forefront of the government’s mind if seasonaires are going to get their winter fix.
“This is going to hugely impact people, and I don’t think it’s going to be good for young people in the UK”
I feel for anybody who was thinking about going to do a winter season and now can’t because of the current situation.
Most people I did seasons with back in the day went away on a jolly, and now they have their life there. I know chefs, videographers, people who own chalet companies. Being part of seasons and being out there has given them aspirations and driven their careers and whatever route they want to take. It’s like going to college, I know it sounds really weird, but that’s it.
For more information on Billy, check out his athlete profile on redbull.com
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