“you can’t progress on your own”Ireland’s slope queen Orla Doolin knew she had to be the best. She got there thanks to talented friends, good doctors and a fearless streak
Watching her glide effortlessly over a series of death- defying jumps, rails and man-made obstacles, it’s hard to believe freestyle snowboarder Orla Doolin grew up in one of the flattest counties in Ireland. For someone who didn’t pick up a board until the age of 21, Doolin’s rise to the upper echelons of the sport has been nothing short of meteoric. Her secret? The 29-year-old says she has always learned from the world’s best riders. Before long, she was beating them.
THE RED BULLETIN: You came to snowboarding relatively late. How did you find international success?
Orla Doolin: I’m from a sporty family: my dad coached Gaelic football and my three brothers played. I had trials with Westmeath Ladies Gaelic football team, but my family knew I was always going to end up doing the craziest thing I could find. When I saw freestyle, I instantly knew that was what I wanted to do. But being sporty isn’t enough on its own. Snowboarding is so different – I had to be fearless.
Was it fearlessness that got you to the level where you beat people who’d been riding since the age of five?
That and training with the best riders from day one. It makes so much difference – if I’d kept to myself, I would never have progressed. I was kind of a tomboy and I decided to hang out with the better guys, even though I had no right to be snowboarding with them. You have to have that confidence. I didn’t want to be a UK-based rider – I wanted to be up there with the world’s best. I kept falling off rails, but you have to stick at it. I can be shy, but once I’m on a board I’m as confident as anyone. And very stubborn. I knew what I wanted.
Which riders had the biggest impact on you?
I’ve always picked out stylish snowboarders. Even within the UK there were guys I rode with as I wanted to mimic their style. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some amazing people, including Christy Prior, Joelle ‘JJ’ Juchli and Red Bull athlete Marie-France Roy. All of them have had a huge impact on me.
What made you stick at it through the tough times?
I first tried snowboarding on a trip to Italy in 2007. I’d never stepped on a board before. On my second day, I fell and heard my wrist snap. But, being stubborn, there was no way I’d let it stop me. I went to Queenstown in New Zealand the following year and broke my coccyx at the rail park. Again, I was following the best riders. I should never have been there, but I threw myself into it. I caught an edge and had the most unglamorous fall onto the rail. Anyone who’s broken their coccyx will tell you it’s a pain you never forget. I spent the rest of the trip boarding with a pillow stuffed down my ski pants.
How did you become a professional freestyler?
I moved to Glasgow in 2010 and started going to the local snow dome. Most of the people there had been doing ski seasons since they were 17. I was very hard on myself and spent hours hiking up and down the slope learning new tricks. I won three Burton freestyle competitions and people were like, “Who’s the Irish girl?” Burton told me they wanted me to be their UK girl.
And you became a regular on the international scene…
Yes, I quit my job, moved to Bear Mountain in California and started competing. I told my family that I’d be back in a few years. But who was I kidding? Since then, I’ve been to Canada, Finland, Norway and Australia.
Are you less accident-prone these days?
Well, to date I’ve broken my ankle, knocked out my two front teeth and fractured the AC joint in my shoulder. And both my knees are a grade below a surgical procedure. But snowboarding isn’t a sport, it’s a passion. You could break any bone in your body and the first thing you’ll think is, “How long before I can snowboard again?” You’re constantly battling fear. That’s why it feels so amazing when you pull off a crazy jump and go home in one piece