They’re ripping up the freesports scene and taking the women’s game into uncharted territory. Even the boys are taking notes.
Cheryl Maas, Snowboarder
‘Cheryl is currently on a boat in the Maldives surfing with Terje,’ I’m told when I can’t get hold of her. That’ll be Terje as in Haakonsen then, one of the most influential snowboarders of all time, and he and Cheryl are kicking back in the Maldives after a busy winter.
It’s a situation that perfectly illustrates where Cheryl is in the world of snowboarding right now. This year, after only a year of riding pipe, Cheryl represented Holland at the Olympics in Turin finishing 11th overall. A couple of months later she took first place at the Roxy Chicken Jam, in St Moritz, throwing down a kicker transfer frontside 720, a trick involving two full spins and a lot of time in the air. No girl had ever landed the trick in competition before and it secured her a place at the top of the Ticket to Ride World Tour, ahead of 152 of the world’s best female snowboarders.
‘She’s the most naturally talented rider I know,’ says an admiring Jenny Jones, who took second overall in the TTR. ‘She’s got my favourite style – really smooth, solid and in control.’
Jenny is not the only rider to sing her praises. Cheryl is considered the undisputed number one on the European circuit by most, if not all, of her fellow pros. Lesley McKenna, who represented the UK at the Turin Olympics, puts Cheryl’s success down to her combination of talent, judgement and temperament and her canny way of sussing out what she can get away with. ‘She’ll take big risks but not stupid risks, which is hard to find in a snowboarder,’ says Lesley.
But Cheryl wasn’t always so confident in competition. Until friend and fellow pro rider Stine Brun Kjeldaas helped her believe in herself, Cheryl got crippled by nerves. ‘I used to get really nervous before a comp and that really screwed up my riding. I knew I could do better but I could never do anything I wanted to, and never had much confidence in myself, but I do now,’ she says.
At only 21 and having learnt on the dry slopes in Holland, Cheryl’s already at a level far beyond most of the European girls in both pipe and slopestyle and now she’s beating the US and Canadian riders, too. But, despite being so successful and admired on the world competition circuit, winning is not all-important. At the first Eastern European Roxy Jam in Czech Republic earlier this year, she stomped a massive 900 in practice, a spin that got even the guys talking. ‘It felt so sweet to land that trick. I didn’t care about the competition after that. Other than the support you get from riders, competitions aren’t that important to me. I like keeping it fun,’ she says.
Cheryl’s big passion is filming. She’s had two stand out parts in the Chunky Knit all-girl movies, Dropstitch and Transfer, where her (some might say masculine) style on rails and over kickers drew gasps from the audience at the premieres. This year, she’ll be making a big impression in Chunky Knit’s new chick flick Last Winter, and in the new Volcom and Forum films, in which she co-stars with some of the world’s top male riders.
So does she get scared nailing new tricks and going big with the boys? ‘The first time I hit something I’ve not jumped before I’m scared because you don’t know if you’re going to make the landing. It’s a judgment you’ve got to make and you’ve got to do it right,’ she says.
In the park, Cheryl is still a huge fan of the backside 540, a trick she was stomping after her first season in Mayerhofen at the age of 17. She also rates the frontside boardslide on rails and the Hacken flip in the pipe when you turn upside down. ‘It’s a very technical trick that I just learnt last season,’ she says. Cheryl is currently working on getting her backside 900s dialled. Watch out for them – and more – at this season’s TTR tour.
I won’t travel without: Music. It’s the best company when you’re travelling alone.
i-Pod playlist: Dutch rock and roll band Anouk (www.anoukmusic.com)
Best beauty tip: Don’t worry about what you look like when you’re travelling, just get to your destination and then freshen up.
Cheryl’s trick tip: Backside 360Take the same speed as if you’re doing a straight air, then slightly bend your knees as you’re getting close to the take-off. Take off straight with a little pressure on your toes. As soon as you pop, look over your back shoulder. Keep looking around until you turn 360 degrees, and then spot your landing, stretch out your legs a little bit, land and bend your knees.
Kirsty Jones, Kitesurfer
It’s girls like Kirsty that make you sick. Not only is she a successful model and megatalented kitesurfer, windsurfer, surfer and yogi (yeah yeah, we know), but she’s also got a big heart. So big that in May this year she did a world first long-distance kitesurf from the Canary Islands to Morocco – 140 miles and nine hours of non-stop kitesurfing – to raise money for charity.
‘I left Costa Teguise beach in the morning with light winds, kitesurfed up towards North Morocco for five hours, then changed course and came on a downwind leg for another four hours before coming into the special village of Tafaya where the charity, villagers and president were waiting to greet me,’ she casually recalls.
Queen of the ocean
Since 2001 Kirsty’s been podiuming in nearly every event on the kitesurfing circuit, including being crowned Ladies Kitesurfing World Wave Champion in 2004. But she actually started her career competing at a national level in surfing and windsurfing, and has managed to keep up both sports at a worldclass level ever since. Just last year she won Red Bull Master of the Ocean in the Dominican Republic beating her male rivals in the surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing events.
‘I really enjoy competing,’ she says. ‘I love the adrenaline and the way competitions push you to your maximum. But I don’t like the way they can make you a bit egocentric and obsessed with being the best. One thing I have realised is that it’s much more important to be a good person and a good ambassador for the sport than winning competitions.’
Egocentricity isn’t something that Kirsty suffers from. What the modest 26-year-old won’t tell you is how gutsy she is. ‘I’ve seen her go out on her smallest kite in extremely windy conditions in Cape Town, South Africa, with only a couple of guys on the water, and tuck into the biggest swell,’ says fellow pro kitesurfer Emma York. ‘She’s so determined that she will go out in anything to get the best waves and to have the sickest session.’
For all her obvious gutsiness, Kirsty has a nurtured spiritual side. Her perfect day, she says, would consist of surfing with dolphins, listening to Jack Johnson and doing yoga at sunset – experiences that she can enjoy regularly as a professional kitesurfer. Kirsty is so passionate about yoga that she is taking an instructor’s course in Baja this year so she can run kite, surf and yoga courses. ‘Yoga and surfing help to keep me balanced and calm, and they keep me grounded when things get a bit hectic,’ she says.
Away from competitions, Kirsty travels to exotic locations for photo shoots with her pro kiteboarder and photographer boyfriend, Richard Boudia. Her photos have appeared in top freesports and fashion magazines all over the world. Home is in West Wales and she heads back there as often as she can to catch up with family, friends and dog. One of life’s certainties is that Kirsty will forever be an action girl on the constant lookout for new highs. ‘I recently tried snow kiting in the Alps, which I definitely want to do more of!’ she says.
I won’t travel without: My Island Tribe sunblock gel, Redken Extreme leave-in conditioner and my yoga mat.
i-Pod playlist: Pete Murray, Wire Daisies, Jack Johnson, Foo Fighters, Snow Patrol, Ancien Spirit, The Neptunes, 50 Cent, The Doors, The Smashing Pumpkins.
Best beauty tip: Never go in the sun without sunscreen, and invest in a good moisturiser and eye cream. My favourite products are by Dermalogica.
My favourite things: Sunrise and sunset surfs, nature, animals, yoga, good food, music, kitesurfng in waves, surfing with dolphins, happy days!
Kirsty’s trick tip: Back Loop This is pretty easy to pull off once you can go along comfortably on the water. Edge with your heels, look for a little bit of chop, take the kite a little higher in the window, then throw yourself around. Lift your front foot up and look over your front shoulder and that should be enough to spin you round into a back loop.
Kristi Leskinen, Freeskier
It takes a lot to be a Cooler cover girl. It’s not just about being gorgeous (although Kristi is undeniably hot), it’s about talent, attitude and going that one step further for your sport, which is what makes this 25-year-old a perfect cover girl for Cooler. A pioneer of the women’s newschool movement, Kristi was the first female ever to enter the US Freeskiing Open and ski with the guys, and the first girl ever to pull a rodeo 720, her favourite spin because ‘it’s the coolest feeling trick, it’s like floating through the air on your back,’ she says.
Since her arrival to the pro scene six years ago, Kristi and best friend and fellow pro Sarah Burke have worked tirelessly to get girls accepted in the freeskiing arena, whether that has involved bugging organisers to let women compete or stripping off for FHM to show the world that female freestyle skiers do exist. ‘Without our presence as forerunners at contests like the US Open and X Games women might not be in X Games today,’ Kristi says proudly.
Kristi’s hard work has paid off. In 2005 she came 3rd in the X Games, swiftly followed by a 2nd in the US Open, 1st in the Gravity Games and 2nd in the World Championships. The year before she was selected for the cover photo of the 2004 Powder Magazine Photo Annual and, in 2003, won the award for Female Ski Segment of the Year at the Powder Video Awards, her proudest career moment to date.
Shortly after her spate of 2005 wins, Kristi had a freak accident out skiing, which led to a brain hemorrhage followed by months out of action. ‘It’s strange,’ she begins, ‘I never even got knocked out. I fell, and at first I thought I was fine, then I got to my car and could hardly drive and by the time I got to the hospital I could barely walk.’
When Kristi finally hit the slopes again at the end of 2005, she was knocked back once again, this time with a torn ACL ligament, the skier’s nightmare. Good rehab and determination produced a remarkable comeback and in January this year she took 4th place at the Winter X Games. An invite to Snowboarder Magazine’s Super Park event soon followed, a public announcement that Kristi was back. ‘As a skier, it was an honour to be included with the whole of the women’s snowboard scene. It’s cool that ski and snowboard are considered equal now.’
More motivated than ever for this upcoming season, the freeskiing queen is currently working on switch 7s and 5s. ‘Fear’s a big part of the sport,’ she says. ‘Being scared and then overcoming your fear and finally doing the trick or the jump is the reason these sports are so exciting.’
But does the pressure of being the best sometimes get too much to handle, especially when you’re expected to pull off your hardest tricks after injury? ‘This year, it got to the point where I had to remove myself from all the people who were putting pressure on me,’ she says, ‘because the second you start doing it for someone else you’re going to get hurt.’
Off the mountain, Kristi’s ‘happy place’ is strapped to her wakeboard on the marina in Pennsylvania where she grew up. In fact, Kristi nearly chose wakeboarding over skiing until, as a teenager, she visited the US Open in Vail and spotted a group of professional skiers sessioning a rail. They had the kind of freedom she’d always looked for in a sport and from that point on Kristi knew it had to be skiing.
I won’t travel without: My pillow. No matter where I am, I sleep much better and feel much more at home with my own pillow.
i-Pod playlist: I listen to a little bit of everything besides techno, which makes me crazy!
Best beauty tip: Wear sunscreen every day. Goggle tans are for ski patrol! I always use at least SPF45.
My favourite things: My pink teddy bear, my houseboat on the marina, wakeboard, and dirt bike.
Kristi’s trick tip: Frontside/backside 360 A 360 is much easier than it seems. The key is to wait until you jump to start the rotation. At the same time your legs are leaving the jump rotate your shoulders 90 degrees, then keep your head and shoulders turning at the same pace. The best technique tip is to watch someone do the trick you would like to do in person. Follow them very closely and do exactly as they do.