The former pro rider on chances, adrenaline and bikes
Interview by Sam Haddad, photo by Cédric Viollet
Riding with no brakes isn’t scary now but it was at first. Riding around Piccadilly Circus I can safely say I’ve never been so scared in my life. So many cars and double decker buses all crossing over, and they don’t care about you at all. Plus I couldn’t control the vehicle as well as I can now. I thought at least it can’t get any worse than this.
I love my bike as it was completely made by my boyfriend. I had an old, you can’t even call it vintage, city bike frame and he used leftover bits from other bikes and turned it into a fixed gear bike. He even made the chain, and added some purple recycled grips.
Zooming around town on a bike is very similar to snowboarding. The other day I’d been weaving at high speed in heavy traffic on Commercial Street and when I stopped I felt like I’d done a really tough tree run. My legs were burning in the same way and my mind was numb with concentration. Controlling a fixed gear bike is very like freeriding on snow. You need to control it with your weight, go fast when it’s safe to, but take it easy when it’s more risky.
I didn’t want to retire from pro snowboarding when I was on a downer. I wanted to retire close to my prime, and I’d won the O’Neill Freestyle Pro in 2007, so it seemed a good year to retire.
Being on the cover of a US snowboard magazine was an irrational dream which came true. It was an amazing thing, especially as I’d been refused the cover of an Italian snow mag, when I’m Italian. My board wasn’t one of their advertisers so they wouldn’t run it, even though it was a really nice picture.
What I miss the most about snowboarding is being able to just strap on my board and drop into the pipe. I miss the transitions. I also miss the travelling. Not the airport delays and strikes but those intimate, deep moments you can have with yourself when you’re nowhere. You’re on your own but feeling cuddled by the transportation. It’s like that Death Cab for Cutie video for I Will Possess Your Heart, where she’s travelling alone.
When I first came to London people loved me as a non-Londoner, as if I was some exotic animal. But, soon, as I was competing for the same air, space and jobs as them they got less friendly.
One the young freeskiers I used to team-manage died in an avalanche shortly after I moved here. He was found 2m under, and had died on the spot, with every single bone in his body broken. I was devastated. He was such a nice kid, quiet but cheeky, and such a talented skier. He had everything.
I don’t wear a bike helmet even though I’ve been knocked out six times while snowboarding. I didn’t wear one on snow either. You can say that people should and that people should have brakes too, but that’s just details. Unless you wear a full-face motorbike-style helmet you’ll be in trouble when you get squashed by a bus or slam your head on concrete anyway. If it happens, it happens.
Pro athletes are endorphin junkies, which is why they all look so damn happy. But when you stop suddenly you really miss it, and the whole world becomes a dark place. But then you start doing things such as yoga and pilates, and riding a bike and see life isn’t that bad.
I had a serious illness when I was 20, and it made me think about how everything could have ended so quickly. My advice would be don’t miss out on chances, just do it, as there’s no point in regret. But also be genuine and don’t be greedy, as there’s no point in achieving all your goals if you’ve squashed others to get there.