“It’s a battle to stay on top”The slopestyle specialist said no to the navy to become one of Britain’s best snowboarders. Now he approaches his craft with military precision
At the age of 18, Billy Morgan took his snowboard and bid farewell to the British coast, heading instead for far-flung mountains. Seven years later, he’s more at home in the resorts of Mayrhofen or Breckenridge than his hometown of Southampton, thanks to his world-class skills. His fearless riding and massive aerial tricks have made him one of Britain’s best, one of only two Team GB riders to make it to the Olympic slopestyle finals, and the first rider ever to land the complex triple backside rodeo. But there’s no gain without pain.
THE RED BULLETIN: How is everything looking for this season?
BILLY MORGAN: I’ve been busy prepping and competing in New Zealand and Australia. But I’ve potentially torn the meniscus in my right knee, so I’m waiting to get an MRI scan. Injury comes with the territory. I snapped the anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee last year, and surgery to reattach it would have meant missing the Olympics, so I strengthened the knee and competed without it. It could be a complication from that, but it was worth it to compete in Sochi. It’s a constant battle to stay at the top of your game.
Sochi 2014 was the first Games to include slopestyle. Has it changed the sport much?
It was massive. It’s made everything in our sport a lot more professional, more regimented. We have to have a more military approach. Training is still a dirty word for a lot of snowboarders, but it’s so elite now that you can’t excel if you just go up the mountain each day and mess about with your mates. There’s been a big growth in interest in the sport, too. I went from 1,500 Twitter followers to 18,000, which is huge.
When you were being interviewed live on the BBC after the slopestyle final, there was some confusion over the snowboarding term “huck”…
Yeah, they thought I said something else. When I came off air they said, “We apologise for Billy Morgan’s language, he was obviously very excited.” Then they apologised for apologising. It was all pretty funny.
Did you bond with athletes from different disciplines?
I played heaps of table-tennis with a Polish biathlete, despite us not being able to speak a word to each other. We differed massively from traditional Olympic athletes. In the canteen I heard a Dutch guy say freestyle athletes were odd and don’t really fit in, and his friend asked what he meant. At that moment Swedish freeskier Henrik Harlaut rolled up noisily on a skateboard, wearing his baggy kit, with his dreads hanging out. Everybody just stood there, mouths wide, like, “What’s happened to the Olympics?”
Coming from the UK, and starting late in snowboarding, did you ever imagine you’d compete in an Olympic Games?
No way. I rode on the plastic of a dry slope for two years near my home in Southampton, and I didn’t get onto the snow until I was 18. Now I’m competing against people who are younger than I was when I started which, even at 25, makes me feel very old.
But you’ve become one of the best riders, known for pulling off some massive tricks. What’s your secret?
I was a gymnast for four years until I was eight, then I was an acrobat until I was 13, which helped. I actually struggle with doing smaller tricks. With bigger tricks, where I’ve got more spin and rotation to play with, I feel more comfortable. I’m definitely unusual.
Do you still get scared?
Doing tricks for the first time on new jumps is always scary. You don’t know the speed, and that’s the danger as you could land too early or too late. Sometimes I’d love to just go back down the mountain, but it has to be done. The more scared you are of something, the better it feels when you conquer it. I’ve just always been addicted to that feeling.
Does the danger element of slopestyle ever make you wish that you had a desk job instead?
Not a desk job, no. I was going to join the Royal Navy actually, like my granddad, dad and brother before me. My brother’s two years older, and he was already in the navy at 17, having got straight As at school. He set a good example for his younger brother, but then I went on to be just this rebellious snowboard douchebag! Now I’ve gone on to prove myself, made it my career. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
No place like roam
Morgan is based wherever the snow is, from France to the USA.
Favourite slopestyle park
The Absolut Park in Flachauwinkl, Austria
“Going with the flow stresses me out far more than having a plan. I just need to know what I’m doing, then I can do it. Floating about is a real worry.”