Words by James Renhard
Unicorns, the Holy Grail, and a non worn-out copy of Basic Instinct on VHS all have one thing in common. They’re rare, so everybody wants to get their hands on them.
The equivalent in the snowboarding world is the Quadruple Cork. A trick that requires the rider to flip four times, and spin a full five times in the air. On Wednesday 15th April, 2015 Southampton born snowboarder Billy Morgan became the first person in history to land one on a mountain in Italy.
The next day, Mpora chats to Billy who sounds like the adrenaline still buzzing through his veins is the only thing keeping him awake.
“I’ve had about two hours sleep, I’m pretty haggard” he admits, sounding like a kid at Christmas who’s not slept a wink all night, knowing that he’s about to unwrap a Transformer in the morning.
Straight from the mountain, Billy finds himself in London, being devoured by the kind of press circus normally reserved for wayward One Direction members and grubby electioneers.
It must seem like a world away from the slushy snow of Italy that the 26 year old was enjoying 24 hours earlier.
“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I didn’t realise it would blow up that much. I’ve been speaking to mainstream sports stations”. Everyone from the BBC and Sky News to The Guardian have been trying to get hold of him, desperate to get on the bandwagon.
“They actually care about it so, it’s pretty big! It’s weird. I’m not used to it. It’s so random.” Says Billy, unable to hide the excitement at the novelty of it all in his voice.
As crazy as this media whirlwind is for Morgan, for most normal human beings, it’s nothing compared to the feat he achieved hours earlier. Flipping off axis four times, while spinning through 1800 degrees, all while careering through the air towards the ground is, well, it’s unthinkable.
A completely alien concept. What’s goes through somebody’s head as they line up to do something like that. Something no other person has ever done?
“I don’t really remember. When I go through the high-pressure things like that, I don’t really remember what’s going on until I ride out.” He admits.
“We’d done a bunch of riding that morning, just prepping for it, and had a reshape on the jump. After that, the quicker I did it the better. I thought ‘right, if I don’t do it now, I wont have the minerals to do it’ so I went back up, composed myself, and just sent it.”
Prior to Billy stomping his Quad – the Quad – the Triple Cork was the trick many riders were pushing for (although more recently, flat spins have dominated competition riding). Norwegian Torstein Horgmo was credited as being the first rider to land that variation, and in his film Horgasm: A Love Story, he talks about the affect that the trick had on him, and what physical state it left him in.
“I’m pretty sure I get some throbs in my head as I go round” says Billy when Mpora asks about what a Quad Cork does to a person. “I don’t know whether that’s just the feeling of knowing whether I’m upright or upside down, but it just goes WHOP WHOP WHOP and I just know when to open out.
“But yeah,” he laughs “it was just rad when it was all over. I was like ‘thank God that’s over’. It was such a relief. I was super shaky afterwards. I couldn’t have gone back up and done another one. I was rattled!”
In terms of ability, it was no surprise to see Morgan being the first rider in history to land the trick. However, the fact he wanted to do it was a little more of a shock. Previously, while speaking to our friends at Whitelines Billy made it quite clear that he didn’t even want to do the Quad.
“It just seemed stupid!” said Billy when we asked him about what must have been a change of heart. “But everybody – other riders, friends, my coach – kept saying ‘oh you should do it, you’ve got so much air time’. So, when my sponsors and my coach got together and made it all happen, it dawned on me that it had to go down, and it just kind of happened.”
So simple peer pressure it to blame for all of this? “Pretty much yeah, I’m quite easily influenced.” admits Morgan, dangerously. “If people tell me to do stuff I can’t help but do it.”
The Quad Cork isn’t the first time Billy Morgan has been able to claim a first on his snowboarding CV. Back in 2011, he became the first rider ever to land a Triple Heelside Rodeo. Presumably that was the same story, with coaches and friends talking him into it.
“The triple rodeo day was so random. It was mid season and I’d been doing so many double rodeos and felt confident, and got pressured into it.” Billy laughs, wearily. “Same as this time I got pressured into it again.”
While there isn’t any doubt that landing a Quad Cork required no small amount of skill, commitment, and athletic ability, there’s more to stomping one than just sending it. The jump itself has to be kind of gigantic.
A lot of people go away to a resort with all intentions of hitting the big jumps at the park in mind. However, when they get there, they take a look and realise that they’re big. Terrifyingly big. Nobody likes to admit it, but most of us have been there at some point – usually right before falling victim to an entirely fictional muscle pain that stops us from having to flail from here to infirmary.
The jump that Billy hit the Quad off was particularly large, and built specifically with the trick in mind. It’s obvious from the video that it absolutely dwarfs Morgan.
“I have little moments when I thought ‘Oh my god, this is really, really gnarly’.” He admits when we ask him if the monster kicker gave him the fear. But being a Pro is about more than just physical capability. Mental strength is another factor that sets these guys apart from us mere mortals.
“As soon as I think that, it has to be shut out. It needs to leave my brain. If I start thinking about that too much, I start tripping myself out. It is really hard sometimes.“
“I’ve been getting a bit more mental as I get older. But getting yourself in the right mind-set is quite important. And it’s quite difficult. Managing your own mind can get quite difficult when you’re under stressful conditions. I’ve only noticed that recently. Probably because I’m getting old, thinking about shit.”
It feels a bit awkward asking about the dangers of hitting massive tricks like Quad Corks, because Billy is still clearly buzzing off the rewards that the high risk has brought him. However, while his new trick has got a lot of the snowboarding world stoked, as always, there are detractors.
Sadly, it’s inevitable that people will say it’s pushing snowboarding in the wrong direction, that it’s ugly, or that it’s putting pressure on people to try these gnarly moves in a bid to keep pace with the competition.
“Danger is always going to be weighed up with freesports” suggests Morgan. “I just don’t like to think that people should be forced in to doing it. I’ve never been in the situation where I’m doing something I really don’t want to be doing.
“If I don’t want to do it, I don’t have to do it. I hate to think that there’s kids or riders out there that are being told to do things that they don’t want to do. That is not what it’s about.”
“Snowboarding is a free sport and you should be doing what you want to do. There are so many things you can be doing in snowboarding. You don’t have to be doing triples and quadruples off jumps. It happens to be that the guys that, like me, enjoy progressing it, and getting an amazing feeling when they do.”
While the idea of some pushy snowboard dad forcing their six year old to try a Quad is clearly appalling (the kind of appalling that we’d definitely upload a video of – just saying), it’s inevitable that the big guns of competition riding will all be rushing to get one stomped and on lock as soon as possible.
“There’ll be more riders in the next couple of months that’ll do it. It’s definitely not just going to be that one [that I landed]. Yuki Kadono, Maxence Parrot, Marcus Kleveland, Seb Toots, and all the belters.”
While some people would be annoyed at the thought of having their crown stolen by more headline grabbing names than themselves, Billy seems philosophical about it.
Surely, if putting a Quad down in competition was possible, being the only rider with a Quad in his trick bag would see Billy finding himself on the top step of more and more podiums. With rumours of a Big Air style event at the 2018 Winter Olympics, could that spell Gold for Billy?
“When organisers said they were considering putting Big Air in the Olympics I thought ‘really’? The bottom jump in Slopestyle is pretty much the same size as you’d see in Big Air, but if they actually built a really, really big jump…” Billy allows himself to dream for a second.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s going to happen. But if they put Big Air in the Olympics, I’m sure it’s going to be BIG Air, isn’t it.”
Looking back to when Torstein Horgmo landed the first Triple, almost as soon as it was put down, people started asking whether a quad was possible. People scoffed at the idea of three flips, and one was landed. People – Billy included (“It just seemed ridiculous”) – thought four was impossible. This obviously leaves one more question: is a Quintuple Cork possible?
“If somebody just sent themselves off a cliff, and there was a landing at the bottom – a super steep landing you could do what you wanted.” Laughs Billy.
“It’s just what people are willing to do, and build. It’s not something you can restrict. If you think of the kind of platform that you have to do stuff with snow, you can do whatever you want. You can build whatever shapes you want. Really somebody could get super crazy and go absolutely mental. I don’t want to think about it really.
“I don’t want to do five!” insists Billy, laughing. “I didn’t want to do four! And I didn’t want to do three when I was just getting into doubles.”
On that note, gazing into the possibilities of the future (and probably with a healthy disregard for things like biological physics on both the part of Morgan and Mpora) we leave Billy to it. No doubt the media circus was still queuing up to get a piece of him before he heads back home to find a watering hole to cure what he laughingly calls “thirsty Thursday”.
There will be detractors who knock what Billy did that day on the hill. There will be bigger name, higher profile snowboarders that will repeat the trick and no doubt grab some of the lime light that belongs to the man from Southampton.
But nobody, however hard they angrily type on their keyboards, will ever be able to take away the fact that Billy Morgan, the UK based snowboarder, the man who used to do gymnastics, the man who got trolled for wearing ‘clown’ outwear in an old video, wrote his own slice of snowboarding history today.
We hope you found that beer, Billy. You earned it.