The cool runnings of Scotty James

Fresh from Beijing, the silver medal-winning snowboarder talks his most treasured tournament, sustainable living and the sports he tried before hitting the halfpipe…

Scotty James was born on the 6th July, in 1994. He stands at six feet, two inches tall. He likes Fleetwood Mac. Recently, he asked Chloe Stroll — she of the high-octane, Formula One-famous Stroll dynasty — to marry him. She said yes. He’s also good friends with another F1 racer, Daniel Ricciardo. And, perhaps most intriguingly, he was born in a suburb of Melbourne named ‘Warrandyte’, where the average temperature this January topped 31°C.

Why is this last fact so particularly intriguing? Because James, a sun-soaked, sandy-haired and archetypal antipodean, recently brought back a well-earned silver medal from the coldly-contested 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. For the ‘Men’s Halfpipe’. On snow.

“It wasn’t exactly the easiest choice of sports, coming from Aus,” says the snowboarder. “But my family have always been passionate about being in the snow. My dad loves snowboarding — so I suppose you could say that he was a big reason why I started.

“I played Australian rules football at school,” James adds, “and really enjoyed it. We wake boarded a lot, too. But I was never really glued to a sport until I found snowboarding. It’s my true passion”.

If making it on the slopes wasn’t impressive enough (or if you’re just digging through the powder for another fun Scotty fact), James also suffers from a condition that causes his knee to randomly, alarmingly dislocate. And yet, despite this difficulty — one which would have ended the nose-grabbing dreams of lesser sportsmen — James made his international debut at the 2010 Europa Cup, and has since become one of the most exciting, most impressive young snowboarders in the world. 

And his father, who James himself mentioned earlier, has a lot to do with his son’s success. Back in the day, keen snowboarder Phil James couldn’t find a board small enough for his infant son — so he bought a display model from a ski shop in Vancouver for just $10. Skip forward several years and — when the 2010 Winter Olympics hit the ice in Vancouver — a 15-year-old Scotty James became Australia’s youngest male Olympian for half a century. 

Since Canada, such international globe-trotting has become common for the Australian sportsman. “I started travelling for snowboarding at the age of 10,” says James, citing the mountains of Europe or America as the two best “halfpipe meccas” in the world. “Me and my mum spent a lot of time on the road. But doing school when travelling was pretty cool. There’s been a lot of sacrifice from my parents to get me here — and I’m very grateful”.

Since those early days, there are few places James hasn’t competed. He’s taken on the SuperPipe in Colorado’s Breckenridge, won his first Olympic medal in front of the world in Pyeongchang and even took gold at the FIS Snowboard World Championships at his first tournament, in 2015. But where is his favourite place in the world to compete?

“I’d have to say Laax, Switzerland,” says the snowboarder. “ I’ve always loved the halfpipe there. There’s a lot of atmosphere in that halfpipe — as well an incredible view from the top. But my favourite tournament? XGames Aspen is always a great one. It has a lot of history and an incredible atmosphere with some really big crowds. It always feels amazing to do well there”.

“We have a stage; an avenue to show style, creativity, excitement and risk…”

Fresh from the powder, James’ Beijing 2022 silver medal is just the latest in his majestic collection. But it’s also one step further towards the hallowed gold — if he can see off the talents of Japanese duo Ayumu and Ruka Hirano, who joined the Australian on the podium at the recent Olympics. But the Games, says James, unlike almost any other championship, have almost a theatrical quality to them. “There are a lot of elements that are like performing,” he says.

“In a way,” he explains further, “we have a stage. The scene is set and we are free to show the world how we best do what we do. It’s an avenue to show style, creativity, excitement and risk. Then, the judges and viewers get to decide what they like. I love that style of competition, because there’s nothing more rewarding than winning when you have built that story — and other people like it too”.

But it’s not only competition that creates and shapes a snowboarder. Like only a handful of other sports, the discipline transcends tournaments, and has melted off the halfpipe and trickled into every walk of James’ life. 

“Snowboarding is a way to express yourself,” he acknowledges, “through what you wear and the style you carry when you are actually applying yourself to the craft. And that’s really cool and almost unique for a sport. I definitely like to put energy into this side of things, as it’s important in what we do — even from a judging stand point in competition”.

‘Energy’ is an understatement. The snowboarder, keen to share his passion and sporting insight with the world, has even started-up his own clothing range; partly practical for snowboarding, partly casual for lounging. 

“It came naturally,” he says, “through me being pretty particular with what I wear. More so with my signature gloves that emulate boxing gloves. The design for those gloves doesn’t change much, as I love the way they look. But I do enjoy playing around with different colourways. I actually wear the products we make — so everything is very much great quality. Because it’s important to me that people get the genuine product that they see me wearing in competition and training”.

But the industry is changing. Even since James began snowboarding, the materials and products used by winter sportsmen have taken on a more eco-friendly slant. But they’ve had to, says the silver medallist — because the very future of their sport depends on it.

“The products we wear on our backs, the recycled leather — even the wax we are using has changed,” says James. “Because, as we are on the glaciers a lot, this wax has had to become much more environmentally friendly, made with less chemicals. There are lots of new products, in particular ones that makes us more sustainable. 

“Because we are in the mountains every day — using what Mother Nature gave us. We need to respect that.”

Want more sportsmen interviews? Revisit our cover interview with Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton…

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