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Keegan Valaika interview

HUCK talks to the pro snowboarder about starting his own clothing label, upsetting soccer moms and the wisdom of David Benedek.
Interview Ed Andrews

Über-talented snowboarder Keegan Valaika first came to prominence a few seasons ago thanks his joint section with jib legend Jeremy Jones in Burton's It's Always Snowing Somewhere and adding some urban rail action to Absinthe Films' Ready.

But this Laguna Beach to Salt Lake City transplant is much more than your average scruffy-haired jib kid. Having proved he's just as comfortable hitting backcountry kickers and powder lines, he's now making moves to 'have a crack at snowboarding' with his new clothing label, Gnarly Clothes.
HUCK caught up with him to find out more.

HUCK: What are you up to at the moment?
Keegan Valaika: Just woke up, sitting on my porch drinking a coffee. About to start moving all my stuff out of my apartment 'cos my lease is up. I'm about to be homeless for a couple days because the place I was going to move into fell through. It's all good though, I got a tent.


How do you usually spend your summers? Do you need time away from snowboarding?
I usually spend my summers travelling around a bit. I try and stay down at the beach as much as possible though. It's definitely good to be somewhere where snowboarding isn't even an option sometimes. It helps me regenerate some passion when I'm feeling kinda burnt out on snowboarding. I think Benedek said it best in one of the Robot Food videos with "you don't realise how much you love snowboarding until you can't do it for a while".

Could you tell me the story behind your new company, Gnarly Clothes?

It was basically an inside joke amongst a few friends that evolved into a clothing company. It's pretty much the best shit ever being able to design clothes I actually want to wear and work with my friends on something we truly believe in. It's not too bad having a grip of my favourite snowboarders on the team either.

You say you are having a "crack at saving snowboarding". What do you think is wrong with snowboarding at the moment?
There's a lot of things wrong with snowboarding at the moment. I'd rather not dwell on what's ruining snowboarding though and focus more on what's helping save it. Anything within snowboarding that somehow alludes to the times of Volcom's The Garden is on the right track. That movie encompasses the soul of snowboarding really well. Same with Robot Food because it's just a group of homies doing what they love to do. It's not like they were forced to go hang out with each other because of their sponsors. Those guys just rode together because they enjoyed riding together. It's that simple.  I guess that's what I mean by 'saving snowboarding'. Snowboarding is just about going out and having fun with your friends. No commercial bullshit.

What's the significance of the peace sign logo? There seems to be a hippie theme running through a lot of the clothes?
I guess a little, but really it's pretty random. I wouldn't say it's solely a hippie thing though, I mean, we have a shirt with deer and targets that says 'MEAT' on it. I guess we're not really that hippie. I drew the logo flying home from overseas and when I got back home, it just stuck.

How did you go about selecting your team riders?
I think it started with a couple of the OG's like Lane [Knaak] and [Nate] Bozung. From there, some people came to us, others were kids I had known about for a while but just didn't have a team to put them on at the time. Everyone on the team is significantly different but they all encompass what Gnarly is about in their own respect. Like Jonas [Michilot] and Lane: two totally different styles of snowboarding but you can tell they're both having the time of their lives and it shows through in their snowboarding. It is just dope being able to put so many of my favourite snowboarders under one family.

Ultimately, what are your aims for the company?
Right now, to just stop losing money would be nice. [Laughs] Honestly though, as long as this thing can grow to the point where it's funding itself, that's good enough for me. The real reward would be seeing some of the lesser known kids on the team blow up and get some recognition, like Timmy Ronan, Nick Russell and Alex Stathis. These kids are some of the best snowboarders I know and I just want the rest of the snowboard community to see that.

I understand you and Mikkel Bang were behind the Burton Love boards that upset a few people a few seasons ago. What did you make of that?
I didn't really hear or care too much about it.  I heard Burton got a bunch of letters from pissed off soccer moms. Whoops! Their kids have probably seen much worse stuff on TV anyway, so I don't really feel bad about it.

The Love boards have been toned down a bit. What would you like to see on the series in future?
I don't really know to be honest.  Maybe some more boobs?

Who have you been filming with?
I filmed with Transworld last year. I think the movie is called In Color so go check that out. Ethan Deiss, Wyatt Stasinos, Alex Stathis and Nick Russell all have shots in that shit too so make sure to check their fire for yourself, if you don't wanna take my word for it. I think Lane has shots in [Chris] Bradshaw's part also so I'm definitely looking forward to peeping that.

Any more parts with Jeremy Jones?
Not this past year, but you never know.  Maybe in the future.

Finally, who inspires you?
Everyone who's a part of Gnarly, Max Caputo, Penny, Chapelle, Neil Young, Brotha Lynch, Pat Burke, Nicolas Müller, Mikkel Bang, Ricky Tucker, Jake OE, and a million other people.