Surf The Mountain | The Sammy Carlson Interview

How the surf – and snowboard – turn inspired the iconic Sammy C style

The term ‘surfy’ has quickly become the buzzword in ski media. Skis aspire to create a surfy, slarvy and slashable feeling similar to how our snowboard pals have brought the playful riding experience to their decks.

In the world of skis, the first loose and surfy planks came in the form of McConkey’s iconic Volant Spatulas – powder skis that brought in rocker, taken from banana-shaped water skis, to produce a pair of skis that remained super-loose for effortless slashes.

“Sammy Carlson has quickly shot to the forefront of this surfy skiing style”

Since McConkey, there have been many athletes who have become trendsetters in both ski design and a mastery in the sideways-slashing surfy style. Eric Pollard with the Sakana and Chris Benchetler with the Bentchetler series brought powder skiing to the masses while, in most recent years, Sammy Carlson has quickly shot to the forefront of this surfy skiing style.

Sammy’s unique style was born from hanging out with the Poor Boyz up on Mount Hood, while his strong freestyle background gives him one of the most clean and flowy styles that’s hard to match. We caught up with Sammy to hear from him how this style was born, and see how his equipment – including the new Surf the Mountain range by Quiksilver – has helped to influence that iconic surfy style.

Hey what’s up Sammy? Hope all’s good! I just wanted to dive into your background a bit. You obviously fine-tuned your skiing up at Mount Hood. How much of your style is down to that mountain and the Poor Boyz crew?

Yeah, definitely. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Mount Hood and spend so much time with the local crew and yeah, it was all about style. Eric Pollard was like a ski hero for me, someone I was looking up to as a kid, for sure. So as I started progressing, I was really psyched on doing big spins and tricks, but I really wanted to add an element of style to it.

You’ve obviously got a solid big air and slopestyle background, but I was interested to hear if it was quite a natural progression for you to go from that background to, you know, super surfy, super playful backcountry terrain?

Definitely, yeah. For me, just growing up in Mount Hood, it was always about skiing the entire mountain. I really enjoyed going to the park, but whenever we got good snow, I’d be skiing the whole mountain with buddies and hitting cliffs and airs. So I always had that passion for just free riding outside of the park. And then as I grew older and got connected with Poor Boyz productions, then TGR, so I always had the opportunity to go out into the big mountains.

“I just decided to just focus on what was actually inspiring me”

As soon as the X Games was over, I would always go up to Whistler and spend a lot of time in Canada with some buddies up there and just yeah, really loved and always enjoyed the backcountry.

I wanted to spend a majority of my time out filming [in the backcountry] and I was always like, if I was out of the mountains or just at home, I found myself daydreaming more about riding lines and just shredding pow more than competitions.

So, all of a sudden, leaving the mountains in the backcountry to go and do some of these competitions kind of started feeling like it was forced, and I just didn’t like what it was doing to my overall passion for the sport. So I just decided to just focus on what was actually inspiring me, instead of trying to pretend like I was still super psyched on competing, because I had a lot of fun when I was doing that.

Yeah, for sure. And just quickly touching on surfing; when did you actually start surfing?

Yeah I started surfing in Oregon. It was actually right around when I stopped competing. When I was skiing for Oakley, I got pushed into my first wave by some of the women on the Oakley surf team. It was actually Steph Gilmore.

“The whole lifestyle around surfing is something that I never really felt with any other sport besides skiing and snowboarding”

And I just started surfing, I had so much more free time in the summer, when I wasn’t focused on training for competitions. And it really was like such a nice breath of fresh air. That really just gave me like a whole new inspiration on life.

It’s just like I could go do and just totally go and get away and take a break from the mountains. The whole lifestyle around surfing is something that I never really felt with any other sport besides skiing and snowboarding. There’s something super special about just being out in the ocean, amongst the swell, or just up on a mountaintop.

So it’s fair to say that you like keeping things versatile in life. Is that right?

Yeah, definitely. I definitely have tunnel vision, I’d say, when I get into something I really focus on it. In the winter, I love just getting lost in the mountains – and I think that’s probably what I love the most about skiing.

And just like for me, I think that’s why I transitioned into the backcountry. From when I was growing up, I liked the sense you get to the mountain, there’s just like that feeling of freedom there.

It’s just a little bit more freedom, like stepping away from crowds and the resorts and nowadays, especially around competitions – and like park skiing, it’s just like so crowded and all the resorts are so crowded. So when I get out in the backcountry I just think that’s what skiing is all about – like the ultimate freedom to get away from everything and any stresses in life. So I think that’s what attracts me the most to it.

I also like riding in the park and getting out in the backcountry – like just mixing it up. It helps me keep things fresh and helps me get stoked on what I’m doing and passionate about it. I think if you stay doing the same thing for too long, like, no matter how good it is, you can lose sight.

Obviously, you’ve been sponsored by Quiksilver for a good amount of time. Did you make a conscious decision to partner with a surf / snow brand?

Yeah, I was lucky they hit me up. I was definitely really excited for the opportunity to partner with them. I think everything like our morals and my values really aligned with everything that I’m doing and what they care about. That’s something that’s really important to me to represent brands that I believe in and support.

Yeah. Nice. Moving on to the new Quiksilver Surf the Mountain series – your new outerwear collection. Tell me a bit about that and how it came about

Yeah, I’ve got two jackets coming out in FW 22/23 with Quiksilver. I’ve always been trying to be involved with the brands I’m working with and the R&D of products. After a couple of years working together, we had a really good working relationship and they were really open to a lot of the designs that I was pushing for, I think it just kind of naturally came together.

[This year] One of the jackets is a two-layer [the Black Alder Stretch] and there’s a three-layer [the Highline Pro 3L] for super technical, more for backcountry routes – kind of top of the line in terms of fabric and materials. It’s really cool working with designers who are really open and receptive to feedback since day one – they definitely listened to me which has been super cool.

Nice Yeah, looking forward to checking it out. And how about the ski kit you ride. You obviously have a lot of input into the R&D with both Armada and Full Tilt. Just thinking about the Whitewalker ski as an example, you know, that’s a really like surfy playful ski that matches your style perfectly actually.
The same goes for your Full Tilt boot as well as they’re packing that nice progressive flex. So yeah. Does this surfy sort of style inspire a lot of that design?

I wouldn’t say like 100%. But something I would say has inspired my skiing is not only surfing, but snowboarding as well. Just growing up watching snowboarding, I love that kind of style and just how you lay a turn on a snowboard. It’s definitely inspired me.

So I think there’s definitely the inspiration from those two sports and kind of how I’m trying to ski. If you watch me, you can see like, I’m always leaning [into turns] a lot. Growing up, I’ll get a lot of shit like from different skiers as I ski very untraditionally, not like a typical skier. And that’s something that took a while for me to kind of perfect.

“Just growing up watching snowboarding, I love that kind of style”

That’s why I ended up working with Full Tilt because like the way I’m going from the front to the back of the boot in a fast movement, I would normally blow walk modes on regular boots. When I got connected with Full Tilt, they were super interested in helping me with a boot that actually works and I’m really happy now to have a boot that I can actually ride all season.

“We were actually looking at John John Florence and his new boards”

Yeah with skis though, for sure. I found the way I was riding the mountain with Armada skis, I was just kind of telling them my goals as this year and where I was having problems. And then I can’t believe how well we did it with the Whitewalker – it solved all those problems and really opened up new doors.

It’s so versatile. With a new tip, you can see it’s like a pin tail. We were actually looking at John John Florence and his new [surf] boards. I was showing them for inspiration like how John John was surfing these big waves and that’s how I want to ski you know, like riding big lines but still being able to perform.

What’s next for you, as far as you can say, for this season?

I’m looking to spend more and more time looking for bigger lines, just searching for bigger lines and getting more comfortable in the mountains. And I’ve been spending a lot of time on that. I hope the conditions line up for me to ride some big Alpine lines and just kind of keep pushing that freestyle element out in the mountains and focus on riding natural terrain.


You can check out Sammy’s new signature line over on the Quiksilver website

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