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Doing it right in Chile. Photo courtesy K2 Snowboarding
In snowboarding, the name Travis Parker has become synonymous with the word awesome and laid out back flips. The man helped to start a revolution in snowboarding — a regression towards having fun riding with your friends and not taking it too seriously, or so it appeared. Having only known Travis for a couple of years, and only gotten to know him a little bit more on a recent trip, I don’t think I could properly do justice describing him. Anybody reading this who knows him personally knows exactly what I am trying to say here. He is smart, crazy, creative, a phenomenal story teller and has an uncanny ability to leave you laughing hysterically or completely speechless. Travis is not like anybody else. He stepped away from snowboarding at what many consider to be the summit of his career, and has returned on his own terms — this time with much more sleep at night.
What have you been up to the last couple years?
I’ve been working at the Boys and Girls club and at Heavenly as a ski instructor. I work with beginners mainly and sometimes I work with advanced and intermediates. Basically I go and teach them the basics. I’m level one certified from PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America). I think it’s a good organization, they give you the tools to speak the language. It’s like going to McDonald’s and getting a Big Mac in Tokyo, it’s the same as a Big Mac in Dallas. They break it down to where anyone can understand it, using words that are not slang. As a pro snowboarder I was in the scene where everyone was like, “blah blah blah,” it’s like our own language. Getting PSIA certified was really good because I put my mind in the mind of a beginner. I love it, I think it’s really cool.
Kids must freak when they get Travis Parker a their instructor.
A lot of them don’t know or don’t care. They’re just beginners, I have my uniform and helmet on and I look exactly like the guy standing next to me.
Why become an instructor?
I feel like I got myself in a position as a pro snowboarder, where I lost the value of a dollar. I lost sight of everyday respect. I was pampered and I demanded so much, and got it because I put myself in crazy positions flipping all over the place. I really cared about the actual skill I was working on and I wanted to be paid a dollar amount on that skill. I worked hard for it and then I got burnt out. I wanted to put myself in a situation where I could humble myself and offer a service. Teaching beginners is really good because I get a fresh perspective of someone who really just wants to go down the hill and understand how to operate the board. I wanted to share all the great things that I have gained from snowboarding.
At what point in your career did you get burnt out?
I got crazy as fuck. I was dating this woman, and I was trying to make sure that everything was great and also make everything really great with my snowboard life. I was demanding a lot of money. I don’t even know what the hell… I’m really trying to break it down and figure out what it was. At the time, my best friend Jesse wanted to start a business, Airblaster. I was living with my girlfriend and I was doing tons of things, trying to be the best snowboarder that I could be and attempting to be Mr. Awesome at the same time. In my eyes it was [about] doing the best I could do with all these movies, and making sure everyone was happy. I just got to the point where, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I just collapsed. I collapsed and I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I was surrounded by all these dudes who were just like, “let’s go do this… let’s go be awesome”. And I just didn’t want to be around a bunch of dudes anymore who just wanted to be awesome.
If the girl is who I think you’re talking about, I had her fake ID when I was 18.
[Laughs]. No you didn’t! Oh she’s a sweetheart.
Yep, she gave it to me. She rules. How did you and Jesse Grandkoski become friends?
When I moved to Whitefish, Montana I was fourteen. It was kind of an odd time to jump into a whole new group of friends, because I was developing. It’s trippy, I didn’t know what the fuck… People wanted to fight me, people wanted to be my friend, I was dating different girls here and there. I’ve dated a lot of girls… and then I was really shy at the same time. We did the Sadie Hawkins. Do you know what that is?
Yes, it’s a dance.
Yes, where the girls ask the guys. Heather Glee asked me, she was a beautiful gal. Jesse and I paired up and went to Sadie Hawkins. I liked to dance, he liked to dance, all the girls liked to dance. He was really intelligent and really good at his books, he took time at everything he did.
Top of the world. Photo courtesy K2 Snowboarding
He seems like a very smart guy.
His mom was a social worker and was really generous with food, a place to stay and was always really nice and welcoming. I just felt like I was part of the family.
What about your family?
I grew up with a single mom and I have one older brother. He was watching our house in Texas — he was not an adult, taking care of a house. He didn’t like Montana because he broke his arm snowboarding and got made fun of because of his long hair. So it was just my mom and me. My mom worked at the ski resort, in the kitchen. She made food for all the skiers and rode up the lift every day. She made very little money. There were points where I had to help with the bills at a very young age. I worked at the golf course as a bag boy, parked carts and picked up balls. I thought it was unfair at the time, but when I look back I think, fuck yeah, I’m glad I did that. It was a lesson.
Do you think you would have pursued snowboarding if your mom hadn’t worked at the local ski area?
Oh no, I owe it all to her. The risks she took were amazing. I know there wasn’t a lot of communication, and my Dad had a lot of resentment when my mom up and left. He was going through his own shit, but was really upset his wife just up and took his kids away. Two teenage boys, developing…
Do you see him now?
Oh fuck yeah, my dad is awesome. A big father figure in my life was my uncle Carlos. He was a really, really good man. He used to work for a bunch of troubled guys and gals. That guy is so cool, an amazing outdoorsman, raft guide, skier, telemarker, snowboarder, business owner, father, and husband. He invited me once on this bike trip with all these troubled teen girls. Probably about 15 or 20 [girls], and we just rode bikes with them through Banff on a 150-mile camping trip.
Is he a major influence for your involvement in the Boys and Girls club?
Yeah he was a big part. I don’t know what it is about adults and teens, we just keep our distance from teens. Something about my uncle was just like, play with your kids, have fun with your kids.
What do you do there on a daily basis?
Every time I go in there I am bombarded by teenage boys saying, let’s go for a bike ride!
Do they know you’re a pro snowboarder?
They do and they don’t. Some of them do, but they don’t really care and I don’t make a big deal about it. The main thing is, I go in there and bring my toolbox and I help them fix their bikes. There is always something wrong with the bikes. Then we go on a ride or go to the beach and jump in the water, they love to ride their bikes to the beach and jump off the docks. I think it’s fucking awesome. I work for the Boys and Girls Club and I hope I don’t get in trouble for letting boys swim in their fucking boxer shorts.
If you got a boner you might.
Fuck no. Fuck no, goddamn.
Soul carves of death. Photo courtesy K2 Snowboarding
It sounds like you’ve had a lot of change in the last few years?
It’s a different type of life. I can live my life making not much money, but I want to be my absolute best.
What were the Robot Food days like? Those videos will go down as some of the best snowboard videos of all time.
It was really awesome and really stressful in a lot of ways. I had a lot at my fingertips. I could be very creative and had a lot of support financially. I felt like I could make moves you know, in the world and in snowboarding. I had an opportunity so I took it and had fun with it. I did my bit of expression to the world in one way or another, whatever it was- fun, crazy and in a way sometimes a little bit rebellious.
Was it all good times, like it looked like on the screen?
Yes and no. A lot of times I was really struggling and I didn’t understand why. I had a lot of anxiety and paranoia, just weird paranoia, paranoia I had to be medicated for.
Aliens were in my ipod, motherfucker, aliens are communicating through this ipod, you know because they make those weird clicky noises and shit? I’d listen to music and think it related to my life in one way or another. [Laughing].
Isn’t that how everyone listens to music?
Maybe you just have a vivid imagination.
I do, and I did. I’ve learned how to harness it and not let it effect me anymore. A lot of it was stress from trying to please my sponsors. I was getting paid a lot of money and I felt like I couldn’t let myself relax because I had to keep doing stuff for them. It stressed the shit out of me. Plus all the bullshit on the radio all the time — the politics and shit. Mainly I was going through a point in my life where I was very confused, very scared and had a lot of anxiety. I couldn’t sleep, I got all fucked up.
How do you sleep now?
I sleep great.
Ok, so back to Airblaster, how did that come about?
Well, I had money, success and popularity in a sport. I had pictures in magazines, I had this little bit of success. I bought a house, had a girlfriend I was living with, and I had these long-term visions [of] raising a family. I have this vision with every woman I’ve ever been with and that was not the reality. I was so used to fulfilling my dreams in so many ways, that I was just hung up on making it happen, because I made everything else happen. Airblaster is the one memory that sticks out more than anything else. I was sitting on some stairs with Jesse, he wanted to start a company and I had money. We looked in each other’s eyes and said, we can do this, we can make it happen. He’s an intelligent man. I had money I’ve bought a house with, helped my mom with and put my brother through college with and yeah sure, I’ll invest in a company that is awesome and I believe in while I still have some gusto left.
Airblaster is one of the only companies out there saying you don’t need to go huge, just ride with your friends.
Yeah it’s huge. I came from Texas and that is a big part of who I am. Texas is pretty damn cool, I don’t know what it is about Texas. I grew up in hill country and it leaves a lot to your imagination. In my imagination nothing else existed until I was fourteen and moved to Montana where the mountains are massive and everywhere.
Where are you living now?
I’m living in Stateline, Nevada. I’m starting to really like Nevada because I come from a red state and there is something about a red state- people carry guns, wield guns and conceal guns. I know that’s fucked up, but it’s kind of American in a way. I know it’s screwy because people die, and I don’t like that. Shooting people is not good. Some people can carry a weapon and not use it. I don’t know what it’s like to carry a weapon and I don’t know if I ever will to be honest. But there is this level of respect where you’re like motherfucker, don’t disrespect me because you can die!
[At this moment a male voice shouts from the other room- “Travis! Travis! Give me your knife!” Travis- “Hold on! I got it.” Travis pulls a knife from his pocket.]
[Laughs]. So you don’t know what it’s like to conceal a weapon other than during this interview?
[Laughs]. Yeah, I guess so.
Ok, so what is your life like now?
Lately I’ve been trying to make a living and I’m really adamant about making an honest dollar. I look around me and, you know people gotta make a dollar, and they’re going to do it in the way they’re going to do it. But I go through things in my brain and once I figure something out what I think is right I stick to it and I go for it for a while, until I decide that maybe it wasn’t so right. For the most part if something clicks in my brain, something is right. I was having a conversation with my mom and she was like, “Hey Travis, I saw this ad in the Portland Tribune for wind turbine school. I thought it would be really cool, because you’re not afraid of heights, you could do this job.” Anything I do I work hard. She gave me the number and I took a math exam and went to do the federal shit you do to get funding, and I just followed through because my mom is the best. She is the best. I don’t know, I followed through with that shit.
Follow through. Photo courtesy K2 Snowboarding
I heard you had a bad case of scabies once?
Here’s the deal, it’s life and if I can be an example for someone who beat scabies, I suppose I can do that. I was 19 years old, homeless in Vail, Colorado and [was staying with] a couple good New York friends. Something about people from New York, they’ve got a lot of heart. My friends took care of me and let me stay with them. I was traveling a lot and ended up sleeping on a bad mattress or something and somehow got scabies. I didn’t have the money to repair scabies and go to the doctor. So basically it became a major infestation of the tiny no-see-um bugs. They live under the first layer of your epidermis. Ahhhh! They’re fucking gross! They’re fucked. They eating your fucking skin. EAT POOP EAT POOP EAT POOP EAT POOP! They leave these lines with little dots and it was like connect the dots all over my body. Finally I went to a doctor, and I was like, “Sir, what the fuck do I have? I can’t sleep I’m itching so bad.” They itch so bad! The doctor took one look at me after I took my clothes off and he said I had a major infestation of scabies. He said to “take this fucking shampoo and wash everything else you have and give the shit to your friends. And if you touched anybody, let them the fuck know.” So sure enough I let this girl know, who I had a relationship with. She got it and her friends got it and everybody got better. I hated scabies.
A true American survival story… You were telling me before this interview started about how two guys tried to rape you on our last night in Santiago. Would it be too painful to relive the memory?
Yeah, sure. I wandered out of the bar and was trying to get a ride home from these beautiful women. But the beautiful women were like, no you have to go with the boys! I was like no, I don’t want to go with the boys, I want to go with the beautiful women. So I stuck to it and you know what it wasn’t working, so I needed to walk home. I was walking and didn’t know where I was. I got emotional. [Laughs].
[Laughing] Is that when you cried?
[Laughs]. Yeah that’s when I cried. I was like, where are my friends? I was punching a fucking pole. Why did I punch a pole? Because I missed my friends and I was like, fuck this! Then two gay men were like, “Dude what are you doing? Chill out,” But I didn’t like those guys, because later on down the way they were like, “We’re going to rape you.” But I was like, “no mother fuckers, you’re not going to rape me.” [Laughs]. This is not happening, you got to think of something else, you guys are good guys. Motherfuckers, you are not going to rape me, it’s just not going to happen. [Laughs].
Did they rape you?
Oh no, I could see it in their eyes that they were good guys. They’re chill. They must have been fucking with me and saying some bullshit. It doesn’t matter how hammered I am, I am never going to get raped. They were good people, they helped me get back to the hotel, but they did tell me they were going to rape me. I was like, no you’re not going to. It’s just not going to happen, so don’t even start thing about that. Don’t please, motherfuckers no!
I’m glad you didn’t get raped, that would be a terrible way to end our trip.
Yeah, I would have a sore butt hole. Here’s the deal, during that whole whatever the fuck it was, escort home, they couldn’t do anything because they didn’t have my consent. Maybe those guys have something about the whole consent game, because mother fuckers said they were going to rape me, but it just wasn’t going to happen. They know how to draw the line, and that’s positive.
A good way to end a trip. Photo courtesy K2 Snowboarding