She has revolutionised women’s riding by going bigger and better than the rest, and keeping it calm and composed in the process. We caught up with snowboarding’s shining light to talk talent, training and getting in trouble for going too fast...
Words by Sam Haddad
I meet Torah Bright at the Soho Hotel in London. The place reeks of celebrity, the pointless, famous for absolutely no reason that any sane person can fathom, kind. Taking a seat next to the 21 year-old Australian, I decide, albeit in my slightly biased snow-loving opinion, that she would actually justify such fame and adoration on a global scale. I mean the girl turned pro at 14, placed fifth at her first Olympic Games in the half pipe, won the X Games superpipe last year, beating two Olympic medallists in the process, and is the reigning TTR World Snowboard Tour Champion in 2007 (for the uninitiated this means she’s the best snowboarder in the world, until anyone proves otherwise). And she’s challenging America’s utter dominance of the women’s half pipe, even though she hails from a country designed to breed worldclass surfers, rather than snowboarders.
Torah does get recognised back in Oz these days, which she seems to find amazing and uncomfortable in equal measure. I ask if she’s got a lot of male groupies. “Nothing too crazy," she says, “but it’s special if someone comes up to me and says they love what I’m doing. I’m like, ‘It’s crazy that you care.’" Although she is that pretty, if a load of guys did follow her round Pied Piper-style, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Insane snowboard talent is one thing, but, for right or wrong, on the female side especially, having the looks too equals one hell of a marketing jackpot. You can picture her brand managers, dollar signs replacing their eyes cartoon character-style, and the sounds of cash registers ker-chinging in their ears. She is such the perfect commodity that even her surname sounds made for headlines.
Torah started skiing at two years old. But she never fancied the downhill racing path taken by her older sister. “I decided I wasn’t going to have my mum and dad put me through ski racing and all the training for it. My older sister was doing really well but I just thought, ‘nah, it’s not for me.’" Instead she gave snowboarding a whirl with her brother Ben, who is now her coach, and within two days they loved it so much they bought boards, the kind with swallowtails.
Not that she was all bad at skiing, as a recent trip to Saas Fee with the Roxy team showed. She was saying how much fun it had been and how she’d hit some jumps when the Roxy team manager, Stine Brun Kjeldaas, stepped in with the news that Torah had been throwing 360s and she wasn’t even on twin tips. “I wasn’t going to mention that," says Torah, “but, haha, yes I did. I’d never done freestyle on skis but I was coming up to this jump and I was just like I’m going to do it. All the guys were telling me not to switch to skiing after that." Luckily for skiers, she doesn’t plan to, I checked.
Growing up in Cooma, Australia, her parents nurtured a love of snow by taking her to the mountains every weekend. Her snowboarding heroes were Tara Dakides, Nicola Thost, Victoria Jealouse, and “obviously Terje Haakonsen". She learnt alley-oops and cab 7s from meticulously studying Danny Kass videos, demonstrating a level of intense dedication that runs throughout her approach to snowboarding. All those armchair fans who think elite snowboarding is a piece of piss compared to say biathlon, because it’s all about style and fluidity rather than hard graft, won’t get much love from Torah. “I feel so run down after big events like the X Games," she explains. “And after the US Open I woke up and was just like I can’t even get up to walk. I literally ride for eight hours a day for four to five days if I’m doing half pipe and slopestyle, as I have to train and then compete at night. I’ll get back to my room at 10pm, but have to be up again at 6am for training and so on."
Party on, you may think, and at times her behaviour does seem to be more what you’d expect from a pro tennis player than an unruly, boozy snowboarder, though that probably says more about the sport’s coming of age than anything else. And as Torah is Mormon and doesn’t drink anyway we shouldn’t be that surprised, though she suggests most riders do behave themselves during comps.
“Everybody has a different take on it but usually everybody is resting and training until their events and when it’s over, then they go out and have fun," she says. Post-event she likes to party as much as the next girl and even suffers a form of hangover the next day. “I get hang-out overs, where I’m exhausted from being out without having drunk and I wake up with a headache. Maybe it’s empathy for the others," she says.
Not only does Torah train like an overweight boxer trying to get in shape, but she even has to abstain from powder, exhibiting a level of willpower most of us could only dream of. “I get so tempted when there’s been a lot of snow, I just want to sneak off," she laughs. “There was one event in New Zealand where there’d been snow the night before and we just went off for some powder while they were cleaning the pipe."
Article continues...I’m starting to get used to Torah’s self-depreciation skills, so it’s not much of a surprise to hear she doesn’t rate herself as a freerider. “No, it’s totally different and I think picking lines and reading the mountain is definitely something that comes with time and experience," she says. Maybe she’ll get into it when she’s older? “Nah, I haven’t done too much backcountry but I’m actually terrified of it, as you can’t control it. I don’t want to die snowboarding!"
So does Torah like the pipe because it’s a controlled environment where it’s harder to get hurt? “No, there’s so much to the pipe that you can never say that you’re not going to get hurt. I always feel the same at the top of a run, and I’ll know after my first hit if it’s gonna be a good one or not. If I sketch on the run-in nothing seems to flow as well, whereas if I have a perfect first hit everything just seems to flow," she says. Matching the composure of top sportsmen, such as Roger Federer, Torah doesn’t get nervous before comps either. “Maybe just a slight flutter sometimes," she admits, although it’s normally more excitement that she feels from the crowd. “I’m like, ‘wow, they want to watch me, that’s so cool.’ It’s just a large platform for me to show what I can do."
When Torah isn’t hotel-hopping and living out of a suitcase, she spends most of her time in Salt Lake City, which is incidentally where the Mormon headquarters are based. Her religion is often a source of fascination to the media, so I’m pleased that she manages to keep her eyes open while I ask my painfully predictable questions on it.
“Some people are like, ‘You’re a mormon and you snowboard? That’s bizarre.’ But it’s more the younger kids who are like, ‘You’ve never had a drink?’, but I have the last laugh as I remember the whole night and they don’t." So she really never gets tempted to get boozing. “No, I’ve made the decision on it," she says. “Sure, drinking looks fun but I’m having fun too. People say you don’t know what you’re missing out on, but it doesn’t bother me."
Torah’s less convinced about whether her faith helps her snowboarding. “No, it doesn’t make me a better rider because I’m a Mormon and I believe in God," she laughs. I feel like a goon for even suggesting it, but in my defence I meant that perhaps it helps her have a calm state of mind.
“Yeah, I’m comfortable, I have a good sense of who I am and what I’m doing." She must misbehave sometimes though right? And she did really like getting made up as a rock chick when we shot her for the cover. A glint of mischief appears in her eyes. “When we were really little we used to get chased by ski patrol all the time for going too fast," she says. But she didn’t get in trouble with her parents as she’d say, “We were just skiing, they tell us off when we can ski, but they should be telling those out of control punters off, as they really are going to hurt someone." These days she gets in less trouble, but does still get shouted at to slow down.
And so to the future. This season is all about defending her TTR title, which she expects to be super-hard, with big threats coming from Jamie Anderson and Cheryl Maas. Her huge airs, monster rotations and aggressive riding style have, without doubt, already revolutionised women’s snowboarding, but she wants to go bigger and better with more tricks and different trick combos, which she’s been working hard on with her brother-coach Ben.
Torah also plans to work the fashion side more, and will be adding to her signature goggles with a clothing line and board for 08/09. Of the design she says, “I love very pretty things and I just wanted to bring a little bit of femininity back to snowboarding for girls and glamour as well."
As I leave the hotel, dodging the drunken, loud-mouthed celebrities in my path, I think about how humble and sweet Torah is, in spite of all that she has already achieved. Maybe that’s because the people who have the most to shout about in this world do the least amount of shouting.
Find out what the pros say about her...
What the pros say about her...
LEANNE PELOSI “Torah should be an inspirationfor all. She’s a great role model, she’s driven, motivated and one of the best, hottest female pro snowboarders in the world. She’s got a million admirers, respect from her fellow shreds and it’s funny because, despite all her success, she’s got a laid back, down to earth persona. She’s a girl with big dreams from a tiny town in Australia who made it. She’s awesome… and what she does both on and off her snowboard inspires me."
KELLY CLARK “Torah is one of the most technical and well-rounded riders in women’s snowboarding today."
ANDREAS WIIG “Torah Bright had an unbelievable season this year, winning every big event she entered… well deserved! She is an amazing rider and leads the way for women’s snowboarding right now. She’s always impressed me by going big, but still with the ability to stay in control. Besides being a good rider, she’s really cool and always in a good mood. After all, she is from Down Under."
IIKKA BACKSTROM “I met Torah years ago. She was a cute Australian girl who ripped on a snowboard. She’s still cute and now she’s rich! Haha."
Compiled by Zoe Oksanen