Robbie Walker is from Australia, where winter is summer, kangaroos are ubiquitous, and surfing rules the scene. Making it big as an international snowboarder from this area of the world is no small achievement, but Walker has successfully made the jump, grabbing worldwide attention with his breakout parts in TransWorld Snowboarding's "These Days," and People Creative's "Nice Try" -- complete with a gigantic backcountry double cork.
As the North American shred focus shifts to summer glaciers and southern hemisphere locales, we caught up with Australian's biggest backcountry export to talk about coming up from down under, and the 1260 that mangled his ankle.
ESPN: Where did you first hear about snowboarding?
Robbie Walker: My parents were both ski instructors back in the day, so as soon as my brothers and I were old enough they started taking us to Mt Buller. My dad always wanted a champion skier in the family and taught us to ski using bamboo poles next to our lodge. But as soon as I got my hands on a second hand snowboard I never put my skis on again. I think I was about 14 years old.
Looking back, what kind of scene was going on back then? Any different than the States?
I couldn't compare it to the States as I didn't do my first overseas season till I was 19. When I finally did do my first overseas season I realized what I was missing out on -- our parks don't even compare.
When did you first get to ride over here?
Whistler in 2003. I saved up enough money to live on $30 a week. I've been doing back-to-back seasons ever since. I did a season in Mammoth, which I loved, the park is amazing and I liked the California weather. Then the following three seasons I didn't have a base, instead I lived out of my car, traveling from hotel to hotel, filming video parts.
How did you choose Breckenridge to reside in?
I decided to base in Breckenridge because I wanted to focus on doing a few more comps. Breckenridge has the best park, in my opinion. They have a big jump line, which is what you need to train. There are also a lot of Aussies who live there which makes me feel a little more at home.
What's your take on park riding? How does it support progression in the backcountry, and vice versa?
Park riding is really important; it was all I knew until I filmed my first video part in 2006. I remember hitting my first backcountry jump and learning pretty quickly how hard it was to land in powder! Having done the trick a thousand times in the park teaches you air awareness, and knowing the trick so well gives you the best chance to land it in powder.
I think there are a lot of people these days that have given up riding park because the park riding level has gotten so high that it is so hard to keep up. Backcountry was always considered the hardest to be good at, but now to be one of the top park riders you have to be able to put together a run with a couple of double corks and a couple of 1260s. I think it's important to stay as well rounded as possible.
What went down this season? I read on your
blog you've had some issues with your ankles?
This year I based in Breckenridge for the season and planned to do all the comps. But this was short lived as I broke my ankle coming up a little short on the rotation for a back 12, two weeks after arriving in the States. Eventually, after eight weeks off that ankle healed but after only one week back on the hill I badly sprained the other ankle doing the exact same thing on a switch back 12. [It was] a pretty unsuccessful season in terms of competing, but I still had fun. I learnt a lot and it has given me the drive to have a killer season this year.
It seems like the double cork is a must have for every big video part. What's next after every kid can do one?
We all just found out about the triple cork, and it's happened a year or two earlier than I thought. So I'm going to have to give that a try soon.
What have you learned about the US after having lived here for a while? Any general conclusions about Americans you can offer?
I've learnt that Americans don't like hugs like my Aussie mates. [Laughs.] But I think snowboarders, no matter where they are from, are all such a cool relaxed gang. Every year I feel more and more at home.
What, in your opinion, is the weirdest food we've got over here?
Definitely the cereal collection! I can't believe you guys have an entire isle in the supermarket dedicated to cereal where at least three-quarters of it looks like pure sugar. I don't think you could find choc-chip cookie cereal in the supermarkets in Melbourne, although I bet there are a lot of kids out there who wish they could.
How often do you go home? Ever think you'll live in Australia full time again?
I spend half the year in America and the other half in Australia. It's a fun lifestyle and one that I wouldn't swap for a regular nine to five. I always love the seasons in the US but I am always happy getting home. Eventually when I stop snowboarding I will live in Australia full time, but I don't see that happening in the near future.
Do you get any endless winter jokes from your American buddies?
No jokes from my American mates but a lot of them tell me it must suck not to get a break. When I'm back home it's a quick season. I just do a few contests, a couple of sponsor trips and a few fun weekends with friends. Not too many people are here to film with and there isn't too much in Australia worth filming, but I do try to get some shots for the magazines.
What advantages do you think growing up riding in Australia have given you? How did your riding change when you started filming and traveling?
Growing up snowboarding in Australia has given me all the confidence in the world because after my first season in Canada in 2003, where I learnt to do a 720, I was The Man back in Australia. But until you can spend more time in America it is very hard to get good at snowboarding. At Mt. Buller you usually just shred slushy or icy runs and jib a few little rails. I learnt so much the last few years filming and traveling with some of the best snowboarders in the world.
Were there challenges to breaking into the US snowboard scene as an Australian?
It may have taken me a little longer to make friends in the US but once I became friends with some great people in the scene they were all very accepting and helpful with getting me to where I am today. A lot of breaking into the scene is about being in the right place at the right time.
Any breakout moments that you can pinpoint as being important?
A big break for me was meeting Joe Carlino and Evan LeFebvre. In Mammoth in 2006 they saw me doing some 1080s and put me up in the Mammoth Resort Report on TransWorld.
Is that how you hooked up with the TWS film crew three seasons ago? How about the People crew for "Nice Try"?
I've been friends with Joe Carlino and Evan LeFebvre for a few years. When they started talking about putting together the project and asked if I wanted to get involved I was so stoked. After a great year with them I met a few of the People filmers and was lucky enough to shred with them for the season. I have been really lucky that both years it worked out so well.
Any other Australian unknown rippers making an impact?
The big dogs from Australia are: Ryan Tiene, Clint and Mitch Allan and NZ ripper Jake Koia.