There are pro models and then there are pro models. One's the product of exceptional skill level; the other of exceptional ... symmetry? Whatever it is, it takes a rare breed to cross over from icy landings to haute couture.
Modeling is not new to action sports inasmuch as action sports is new to modeling. Both Kelly Slater and O.G. Zoo Yorker Peter Bici modeled for Calvin Klein, 11-time Winter X medalist Jon Olsson walked the runways in Milan for J. Lindeberg, and Olympic skicross gold medalist Ashleigh McIvor has been in fashion shows in New York and Toronto.
New to the pro model lineup is 24-year-old Johnnie Paxson. The Gresham, Ore. loc -- who had the closing part in Finger On Da Trigga's 2009 release "Hard to Earn," recently signed to Anon's pro team, and has also been asked to film with Absinthe this year -- was "discovered" by Ralph Lauren last summer at Windells Camp. In just one year, Pax's face has gone from being seen slope-side at Mount Hood to glossing the pages of GQ and Vanity Fair and the walls of every duty-free shop this side of the moon. The Ralph Lauren ads have even sparked commentary in fashion blogs about RL's "accident-prone models" and a debate over who the cutest Polo model is.
At the onset of what could be Paxson's biggest snowboarding season to date, we had to find out how this all went down, and what it means for his shred career.
ESPN: How did the opportunity to be a Ralph Lauren model come about?
Paxson: I was at Timberline getting ready to shoot the last shot in "Hard to Earn" ... head down, beanie and sunglasses on, putting my bindings on, and these people came up under me asking if I was interested in modeling. It threw me off guard, but I said sure. So the next day, I met [the photographer] Bruce Weber, and they cut my hair, put me in a bathrobe, sweats and boots, on skis, with a glass of wine in my hand. It was super cheesy. They wanted to use the Windells camp kids, too, so they all gave me a hard time. I jumped on one kid's board to jib this table and [one of the Weber's assistants] freaked out, telling me [the table] was a $3,000 rental.
Ralph Lauren ended up using photos from that day for a Christmas mailer. I got $50 and a meal out of it. They also had a huge banana cake ... I'm pretty hyped on banana cake, so they let me take the whole thing home. That was sick.
And more work followed after that?
[Bruce Weber] called me later on ... about a job with Abercrombie, so I went to Boston for nine days. I got more than $50 for that one. After that, Ralph Lauren contacted me about the shoot in Florida.
Tell us about your flight to that shoot.
I went to Poland to film with FODT in February. It was my first time out of the U.S., and I ended up breaking, dislocating and tearing the ligaments in my wrist the first thing I hit. I go to the Polish hospital where no one speaks English, and they put me under to set it. I called the photographer and told him I broke my arm, but that I'd totally take the cast off because it was a good amount of money. He said to just come and we'd see. So I flew right from Poland to Florida and was puking on both flights, going through the gnarliest sickness I'd ever felt. They gave me so much morphine at the hospital that I was going through withdrawals.
I finally get to Florida, get picked up by a private car and taken to this awesome house on the beach in this polo community. The guy under Ralph Lauren comes up with Bruce and they were stoked on the cast -- they put a belt around it like a sling. I had to talk to a famous dog, I had to dance -- I hate dancing, you don't understand how frightened I am to dance in front of people -- and they ended up using one of the pictures and some of the video. Then the paycheck came and all was good.
What's the theme of the campaign? Any idea how long the ads are running?
It's called the Big Pony. We were supposed to be at a private polo match in Florida. I hope they run for a long time because each year they run I get another payment.
As far as your monetary success from the campaign goes, are we talking VWs or Maserati here?
VWs -- but a couple of them, for sure. It was good money.
How did you feel upon seeing the ads for the first time?
The first time I saw the actual display in a store was in Argentina in September, but someone had posted a photo to my Facebook before that. I knew people were going to find out, but I didn't really want anyone to know that I modeled. I was nervous that it would be bad for my snowboarding career. I felt more embarrassed than anything.
So why'd you do it?
It happened out of the blue, and it was a cool opportunity to be thrown into -- something I've never been a part of before, a totally different scene. It was cool to experience that aspect of it. Obviously, the money wasn't bad, either.
What's been the reaction among snowboarders who've seen it?
They've been pretty cool. They gave me a hard time when it came out, they're still giving me a hard time now, and I'll probably be given a hard time in the future.
Have you had any more work come out of it?
I have the name of an agent who wants me to come out to New York and meet clients, but there are things in the contract that conflict with snowboarding so I don't know how it's going to work out. I don't know anything about that industry and it's kind of scary to jump in.
Snowboarding comes first, and there are going to be jobs I'm not going to take, so I need to find the right agent who will work with me and allow me to choose the jobs I want to go to -- the couple day shoots during the season or the summer or whatever.
Is modeling something you think you'd like to pursue, beyond snowboarding?
I don't get any pleasure out of having my photo taken. It's super awkward ... but it takes me out of my comfort zone and is something totally different. Might as well take advantage.
When are you going to drop Magnum on us, man?
I'm working on a new look right now, called the Pac Man. I actually watch that movie ["Zoolander"] to get pumped up before I model [laughs]. I heard there's a second one coming out; I'm kind of upset that no one called me to be in it.