If this past weekend at the Burton U.S. Open showed anything, it's that the women's field in snowboard slopestyle has a surprising number of younger riders bringing the challenge to the dominance of older riders like Jamie Anderson and Spencer O'Brien. There are a few young women who didn't make the finals round of the contest, but it's clear they're soon going to be on the podiums of almost all of them. Over the next few weeks we'll be profiling several of them, starting with Team USA rider Ty Walker.
ESPN: You're, what, fifteen years old?
Ty Walker: Actually, I just turned sixteen.
And you're already hanging in there with the best of the best. My editor wants me to ask you how you got to be so awesome.
Ha! It's been a long process. I wake up every day and feel a little more awesome than the day before. I guess I'm growing out of my dorkiness.
Seriously though. Can you fill us in on what it's taken to progress to the level you're at now?
I don't even remember it that well because I was so little, but as soon as I was snowboarding I wanted to compete. A lot of people start snowboarding, cruise around, then maybe get into some contests, but I was the other way around. I started competing right off the bat.
I went up to the first coach I ever had, when I was like six or seven years old, and said, "I want to be in the Olympics some day. I want to be the best ever." So that's where I'm coming from.
What steps did you and your family take towards that, once you knew that was your goal?
I went to a camp with my friend in France when I was like eight years old. That program sort of fell apart and my parents ended up hiring one of the coaches to be my private coach. From there he and I just started going all over the world so I could compete in all these random contests to get some experience.
I was 9 the first year I went to the USASA Nationals, and I just got my butt whupped. That kind of put me in my place, which I hated. The next year I trained really hard and went back and won the overall. I was the national champion, and that was pretty much it for me. Ever since then I've just been competing and progressing and always trying to push myself to be the best that I can be. Every decision I've made since then has been a natural progression of "this is where I want to be, and this is what's gonna get me there."
Is it intimidating coming in as a young rider and going up against some of these older riders?
In the beginning I was kind of starstruck to be competing with all these girls I'd really looked up to. I've been on the circuit for three years now and I'm pretty close to a lot of the people I'm competing against and riding with, even though they're older than me. Now that we're all friends I don't feel so much like the little kid who's totally out of her league. Now I can see that it's really the other way around: it's the younger riders who are pushing the older riders to keep progressing. They're as afraid of us as we ever are of them.
Why do you think that is?
Younger people have big dreams and big aspirations, and not a whole lot of fear and concern. When you're younger you just think, "I want to go do this" and then you go and send it.
Which young riders are you most impressed by?
Arielle Gold in halfpipe: she's 16 and she's a total force to be reckoned with, just absolutely crushing it. Ayumu Hirano, he's 14 and he's been blowing everybody away. In slopestyle there's a kid named Markus Cleveland from Norway, who was one of the Burton European Open Junior Champions this year. He's amazing.
And as far as women's slopestyle goes there's Kate Ormerod, from Great Britain. She sends it and you're like, "Where did that come from?" And that girl Miyabe Onitsuka. She's from Japan, and she's only 14 but she's got some really good style, some good tricks on rails, and she just won that O'Neill Evolution Big Air contest.
What's next in women's slopestyle?
I think there's definitely a lot of room for progression and some girls who are on the warpath, and I think we'll be seeing leaps of progression from certain individuals before Sochi next year. I just learned backside 900s, and a lot of girls -- myself included -- are really starting to focus on bringing some double corks around. Just wait.