This February in New York City, 20,000 freezing fans watched as 23-year-old New Jersey native Shayne Pospisil silently moved from alternate list to winner's circle, besting the likes of Shaun White, Travis Rice and Terje Haakonsen at the inaugural Red Bull Snowscrapers event. Pospisil took home $50,000 for his efforts, in front of what was pretty much a hometown crowd, and with the help of a Highest Air win at the venerable Arctic Challenge later that month, the grin is still on his face. Coming down from his biggest season yet, ESPN Snowboarding caught up with Pospisil and determined what friends and family have known for years: It was only a matter of time
"When you love what you do, and put your heart and hard work into it, you will succeed. This shows with Shayne's recent success," says his 21-year-old girlfriend, Agata Jenczelewska. (And no, they didn't meet each other on a Web site for people with tricky last names.)
Becoming a household name when you have a name like "Pospisil" (pronounced "Pahs-pose-sill") might sound tough, but Shayne is well-positioned to do so, with a 13-year history in shred and an upbringing that might even make Shaun White blush. "When I was younger, I definitely knew I had it good," he says. "No other kids were skating a ramp in their own yard, riding their bike to the beach to go surf and then jumping in a minivan for a 5-hour drive to snowboard in Vermont. I owe it all to my mom and dad and can't thank them enough."
"We've always been an active family and have tried to expose Shayne and his brothers to sports and the outdoors," says mom Janet from the Pospisil stand in Manasquan, N.J. "Shayne was a natural at everything he did, like soccer and baseball, but his real passion was always on a board. We always have and still do surf and snowboard together as a family."
Though Pospisil's upbringing on the Jersey Shore did indeed make him a board sport triple-threat, action sports prodigies might not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of New Jersey. For many West Coasters, the mere mention of Jersey conjures up an industrial B-roll of smoke stacks or images of Tony Soprano rolling out of the Lincoln Tunnel onto the Turnpike. Shayne knows that not everyone understands his home state's charms: "As much as I like the term 'Dirty Jersey,' Jersey isn't that dirty," he says. "You fly into Newark and it smells like s---, but you drive a hour south to the Jersey Shore and it's the nicest, prettiest place you'll ever go to by the beach. No one knows how good we have it: how good the waves get, how money the pizza is, how fun the party scene in the summer is."
Keep in mind, too, before you step to Pospisil with any Jersey jokes, that Jersey's original Boss, Bruce Springsteen, hangs out on Manasquan Beach with his own family in the summers, that two-time Olympic snowboard halfpipe silver medalist Danny Kass claims Jerz and that, with new-to-the-scene ambassadors like Pospisil and Tim Humphreys, Jersey could be on its way to becoming the new Orange County!
For a young Pospisil, Jersey's shred offerings were much the same as they would have been anywhere else. And given Shayne's introduction to snowboard gear, it's a surprise he didn't go back to skiing: After some begging, he received a late-80s Burton Cruise for Christmas, and the bindings were so big that his instructor at Stratton had to stick her mittens in them to stop the 10-year-old from plopping out onto the hardpack. After two days of lessons, though, he was hooked. A few years later, Mom, Dad and both brothers were all snowboarding, and killing it, he says.
"I have been watching Shayne snowboard for 12 years and I think he has great style," says Janet, with complete objectivity. "He makes his tricks look effortless and easy, and as much as it scares me to watch him in quarterpipe, he definitely has the sickest frontside airs in the business."
Not only that, but he has a mom who can call her kid "sick" without phoning it in to school.
Rather than getting in the way of his snowboarding career, school, for Shayne, was kind of the start of it. He was one of those lucky kids whose parents ponied up for "snowboard academy," and he attended Okemo Mountain School alongside Kevin Pearce, now a good friend and one of the premier big-boy competitors. "We'd go up every day and ride icy halfpipe, small jumps and rails and had the time of our lives," Pospisil says. "I think that's why East Coasters are so good at riding everything, because we grew up riding s----y Vermont ice, and we loved every minute of it. I don't think I'd be where I am today if it wasn't for OMS."
Seeing as how $50,000 contests don't win themselves, Pospisil now travels so much that he scarcely sees his condo at Mammoth in California, where he has "lived" for five seasons. "I am literally there two weeks at the beginning of the season, a week or two in the middle and then I get three weeks at the end," he says. "Besides that, I'm non-stop traveling. When I'm about to go relax in Mammoth, team managers call me to go to Japan or Montana to shoot photos or do a team trip. But I come back to Jersey every Christmas, and I move back at the beginning of June till October and try to surf and chill as much as I can. Summers go off in Jersey and it's too fun not to spend time there!"
This week, Shayne is in California for the second annual Ultimate Boarder competition. Here riders like him, who pretty much kill it on any kind of board, compete in snowboarding, surfing and skating for a week straight with the goal of winning the ultimate triple threat. Alongside the crustiest of local bowl rippers and state beach ne'er-do-wells, a number of pros throw their New Eras into the ring against the likes of Todd Richards, Tosh Townend or Christian Fletcher.
"The Pizz is an ill surfer, and it shows in his snowboard style," says fellow Mammoth loc Eric Jackson. But Pospisil's surf pedigree, we should point out, isn't the typical snowboarder-who-paddles-a-bit-in-the-off-season deal, as his shocker of a barrel in UB '08 attests to. He competed up and down the Jersey Shore until he was 15, winning events at the Inlet and pulling into tubes at Main Beach whenever possible.
Once competitive snowboarding entered his life, however, surf comps took a backseat. "I needed to pick one or the other to really focus on, and snowboarding was what I knew I wanted to succeed in. I still love surfing and compete whenever I get a chance," he says.
For all the dynamics and history the three main board sports share, it's hard to ignore the differences between the sects, or the trash-talking that goes down between each sport's devotees. For Shayne, who is known for his namesake-worthy Haakon flips and air-to-fakies on-snow, all three expressions are worthy: "When I rip a turn surfing, I think about doing a pow slash on the mountain. Or if I do a big grind skating, it's like sliding a rail snowboarding. Competing in all three in a week reconnects me with my roots, makes me realize I love them all and that I'll be doing them for the rest of my life."
Last year's UB saw Shayne wear the Tour de France-style winner's jersey for a bit, after Todd Richards reluctantly let it go. This year, Shayne wants to redeem himself in the skate component. "I really didn't skate once last winter and tried to wing it in the contest. This year I'm taking it more seriously and really trying to get top three." Considering that this year, he's already in the second spot after last weekend's snowboard leg, it seems he might be serious after all.
"Shayne the Dirty Popsicle is one you can never count out," Richards says. "Whether it be quarterpipe, halfpipe or just plain slope-stylin', Shayne can do it all. He's a super-ripper in the water, too. If you see him in a wet suit, you might say 'Hey, there goes Occy!'"
The comparison to Mark Occhilupo might be new, but "Popsicle" has seen plenty of mileage. He's heard 'em all. At the Arctic Challenge last year (where he finished second), his last name, which is of Czech-German origin, was pronounced "Posposeal." Nowadays, most folks call him Pizzil. "My last name's been butchered since Day 1, but people are finally starting to get it." If Pospisil keeps making an impression at marquee events like the Arctic Challenge and Snowscrapers, people might just give up and start calling him The Man.
As for any Richards smack-talk at this year's Ultimate Boarder, Pospisil's got that on lockdown, just like his contest runs. "TR is definitely a s--- talker, but that makes for a fun rivalry. I've already heard he's been saying he's going beat me at surfing. So I'm just going have to take him down again -- and I'm definitely not letting him beat me in snowboarding again. I'm ready. I can't wait to shut Richards up. Just kidding, Todd: you're the man. But seriously -- beat me at surfing?"
Not without a Jersey handshake.