From growing up a skateboarder and surfer in Los Angeles to the forefront of the early ‘90s freestyle scene to recent exploits including his historic descent of the Grand Teton with Jeremy Jones, Bryan Iguchi has defied pro snowboarder norms for more than two decades.
Now, at age 41, Iguchi’s legend continues to grow. One need only look from his ground-breaking riding in Volcom’s timeless 1994 film “The Garden” to his still abundant backcountry freestyle skills in V-CO Productions’ 2014 release, “Mr Plant,” for evidence. And although Iguchi has chosen to lead a relatively low-profile existence in Jackson Hole, WY, his creativity, knowledge, skills, wisdom, and understanding of his place in the snowboard world and beyond have always commanded the respect of peers, collaborators, and inspiration seekers young and old.
Iguchi talks growing up a SoCal snowboarder, the lure of the Tetons, art, lines, the natural world, the pursuit of knowledge, and more. Module: gallery_album
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Colin Wiseman: How did you become a snowboarder growing up in Southern California?
Bryan Iguchi: I started skateboarding and surfing when I was eleven years old. After a few years I discovered snowboarding and thought it was the most amazing sport. It combined the best elements of what I was doing, like waiting for storms in the ocean as with surfing and the technical tricks I was doing on a skateboard. It was the perfect combination of the two. I went to the mountains and just totally fell in love. It kind of took over my life.
How old were you when it took over?
I was 15 when I was turned onto snowboarding. I went out every weekend I could, went on trips to Colorado and Utah, Tahoe and Mammoth. So when I got out of high school I moved to Big Bear and went riding everyday.
What’s your family background?
Three kids and a single mom—she worked odd jobs like retail and such. Just making do and getting by.
Did you have to hustle a bit to make it to the mountains, then?
Absolutely, man. I had a couple good friends, a couple buddies I grew up with that would go ride on the weekends and stuff, so I would just jump in with them and once we got to the resort it was easy. Or we’d even just go hike, ya know? Hike up the mountain and build a jump.
Can you talk about your development as an artist?
I was always drawing and doodling, and had a couple friends who I took art classes with at school. We would draw pictures together and hang out. But when I met [Asymbol co-founder] Mike Parillo I started painting—probably in ‘92 or ‘93. It’s always just been a hobby; it started with acrylic and then I got into watercolors for a while, just experimenting with different mediums.
Did you meet Parillo at Big Bear?
Yeah, we met working on the park crew in ‘92. He was actually living in a tent in the woods. He’d show up at the park with a bag of Top Ramen, crush up the noodles and eat ‘em. He was one of the most hardcore guys I’ve ever met with the kindest, biggest heart—the most awesome guy to hang out with. So we hit it off, really.
You did the whole contest/freestyle thing for a while there. Can you tell me about your move to Jackson?
I was a professional snowboarder, but I didn’t really know anything about the mountains. I had this realization when I was filming for Volcom’s  “The Garden” that there’s endless terrain, but you have to learn how to access it safely. I wanted to learn about the mountains and riding in the backcountry. I saw Jackson as a place I could do that. It’s a small town with a lot of access, a lot of riding with a lot of quality snow. So my best friend Tim Ramirez—who I grew up surfing and skateboarding with—and I ended up staying the season and moved back to California afterwards. The next season I went back up there. I migrated back and forth a couple times after that, then pretty much decided to call Jackson home. Everything that I wanted was here. I was finding this satisfaction every year and just getting really inspired to snowboard. I like the small community and the vibe.
What keeps you in Jackson?
So many things. The more I explore and ride, the more opportunities come and present themselves. With the snow, you can’t really hit everything you want every year, you have to wait for it. And when you’re there, waiting, the conditions come up and these opportunities present themselves and you have to be on it and be there to get it. I think every season I have these discoveries of new lines or different snowpack or possibilities that keeps me excited. I met my wife Lily here, and now we have two boys, Mylo who’s five, and Silas who will be two in December. It’s a great community and we totally enjoy the lifestyle here.
You were talking about different lines and different conditions—I just watched [Teton Gravity Research and Jeremey Jones’] “Higher” and I was wondering if you could talk about riding the Grand Teton?
That’s a line that I’ve looked at for quite a long time. It’s something that takes me out of my comfort level. To go out and do that kind of mountaineering stuff—it’s not really what I set out to do. But with the right crew and the right conditions, it was an opportunity that presented itself and I really enjoyed it. It was amazing to ride this iconic peak that hovers above the valley. It’s something I never thought I would have been snowboarding several years ago. I would never have imagined it. My riding has evolved, and the right people were there—it was an amazing experience.
Did you feel like you were ready for that?
Absolutely, I did. I’m not getting any younger. With the family and stuff, everything has to be right. I don’t want to take too much risk, it has to be super calculated. But physically and mentally it was all there. Riding with Jeremy [Jones], he’s in the same position. He’s got a family and you know, we’re not crazy people. It may look like it, but honestly it’s a calculated, humble approach that allows us to doing something like that. We were ready to walk away at any point if anything didn’t feel right.
Can you talk about this role that you take as kind of a mentor to young riders in Jackson and beyond?
I think it’s a natural process of being a snowboarder and being involved in the snowboarding community. You see these kids coming up and you want the best for them. I’ve decided that to be the best influence, I can go ride with them and kind of enlighten them, or shed light on the stuff [about which] you don’t necessarily know where to start, or even want to talk about—to get the conversation going. The bottom line is that every day you want to come home safe. I’m continuing to learn as a professional rider, and it’s not necessarily my physical ability that’s getting better—it’s my knowledge and the choices that I make on the mountain. If I could share that with younger riders and give them a better handle on that, then their mental game will be on another level and they’ll be able to progress further.
When you reference the “stuff you don’t want to talk about,” do you mean avalanche-related accidents?
Just all the stuff that’s kind of the elephant in the room, the stuff that is hard to talk about. You have to train to be proficient in the backcountry, and most people don’t want to take the time to stop and go out and do these training drills or take these first-aid classes. It’s tough. It’s one of those things that requires some motivation. But once you start doing it, it starts to make more sense and starts to become fun to do those drills and see yourself improving and becoming more comfortable doing it.
As an experienced snowboarder I find it to be more rewarding than ever because I’m making my own decisions on the mountain—there’s so much freedom that comes with that.
I know that snowboarding is a career, but how much is art a career for you?
Art is definitely just one of those personal passions. I have been sharing some of my artwork with some brands that I work with, selling some paintings and doing some commercial artwork, but it’s honestly just the process that drives it, just something I love to do. When I have an idea and get excited about a painting, there’s nothing that feels better.
Displays the photo gallery for a selected Gallery Album.Can you tell me about your recent work on the Union/Asymbol binding?
I wanted to do something that was symbolic of the strength and connection to your board. I started thinking about it and I was fascinated by the buffalo, the spirit, what it represents. The buffalo jump is this old Native American hunting technique. The natives would run the buffalos off a cliff. There’s a famous photograph of these three buffalo going over the cliff, with such good style—it’s kind of a haunting image, but graceful at the same time. I thought it would be a good, iconic, traditional image, so I used that for a symbol of strength to represent the connection from you to your board.
Can you talk about the relationship between your snowboarding and art?
I have a similar passion for both. On my snowboard, trying to learn a new trick or riding a line, you get this thing that obsesses you. And you work towards your goal. I find that process of trying to make something happen, to make an idea become a reality in the artistic sense, a physical feeling much like snowboarding.
So it’s not a mutually exclusive thing—more two different processes of reaching that feeling?
Yeah. Riding is obviously very physical and the art is more mental, but it’s that feeling that you get, the high that you get, the excitement that you get when you’re working on something, or having a session, you know?
Would you say one drives the other?
With snowboarding, the landscapes and natural world inspires my artwork—just the light and the lines of nature, what exists in nature, I get to feel the most amazing compositions out there. I want to try to capture and remember that. I’ll ride a line and look back at my track and it looks beautifully placed and perfect; and other times it looks like a crazy scribble, sketchy. So, I really am conscious about the tracks I leave. Especially with touring, like when I’m splitboarding, laying a good skin-track that’s straight, efficient, to the point—it’s an art form that takes years. I’m constantly trying to improve my awareness of moving through the mountains and picking a clean line, and being as efficient and fluid as possible. Drawing lines and splitboarding is a connected kind of art form.
Bryan Iguchi is supported by Volcom, Electric, Union Binding Company, Bluebird Wax, Remind Insoles, Nuun, and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. To view and purchase prints of his art, visit Asymbol Gallery.
Top Image: Rip Zinger.