Q&A with Hagen Kearney
Hagen Kearney is coming off his best Word Cup season yet, as he was ranked fifth overall in men's snowboard cross during the 2016/17 campaign. He's looking to qualify for his first Olympics.
Earlier this year, we sent Kearney a list of questions. Here's what he had to say.
What's your earliest memory of snowboard cross?
I always remember seeing SBX on X Games and watching it on TV. I remember watching guys like Nate Holland and Shaun Palmer dominate, and I appreciated the aggressive style of it. I started out in freestyle snowboarding and I remember switching to boardercross and finding that it was truly my type of snowboarding.
Was there a breakthrough moment in your career when you realized you could compete at a high level?
It wasn't a competition. It was a training camp that the U.S. team was having in my hometown in Telluride when I was younger. They were preparing for the World Cup that was going to be held there. My coach at the time knew the U.S. team head coach and arranged for us to train with them for a day. They had a start section that had timing set up on it, and I was clocking the fastest times on their course. I had fun doing it too. That was when the U.S. team coaches urged me to pursue snowboard cross. I did, and I started doing well at NorAms. That was when I completely dropped competitive freestyle competitions and put all of my focus into snowboard cross.
What's your favorite memory of watching the Olympics, and did you imagine yourself being there one day?
My favorite memory was watching Seth Wescott winning the 2006 Torino Olympics. He was racing a guy on an Alpine snowboard, and he won it on a traditional snowboard setup, and it was inspiring. I always dreamed of going to the Olympics for halfpipe when I was younger and then I naturally shifted to boardercross and found my groove in racing.
What’s something about boardercross that most people don't see?
I would say the amount of preparation before race day is the most intense part. The amount of hours in the gym it takes to build up the endurance to attack a boardercross course at 110% for four rounds with four to six guys next to you. That, on top of the wax technicians who spend hours applying the right wax formulas for the snow conditions. All of those things have to come together in order to be successful.
Do people ahve any misconceptions about boardercross?
Yes. I feel that the snowboard industry in general views boardercross as "dorky" or a "jock sport" or that you don't have to be that good at snowboarding to do it. Sure, a lot of the athletes in our sport spend more time in the gym and probably can't do most of the tricks that the freestyle community does, but not many of the freestyle guys could jump into a World Cup course and race against the best in world and be fast. It would take a lot of practice at least. It is a totally different skill set. At the end of the day, we are all snowboarders.
Who was most influential in helping you achieve your dreams?
My first coach, Jason Kannon, formerly known as Jason Troth. He was basically an older brother/mentor from about age 13-18. He introduced me to exercising and eating correctly. He was the first person to show me into the backcountry and taught me how to believe in myself. He was also a former pro snowboarder. He basically taught me how to snowboard.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
"Ride with a chip on your shoulder." It sounds negative, but it puts me into a place of being aggressive and having no fear. It helps to remind me to attack every feature in front of me.
Who's your Olympic role model?
I would say Ross Powers. His winning run in the 2002 Salt Lake Games in halfpipe was monumental for the sport of snowboarding.
I knew deep down that I had raw talent that most people wish they had.
Within boardercross, who has been your greatest influence and why?
Nate Holland. He is known to come from the back and make it through heats. He is the best at passing in the game. He does it with raw talent. Also his mental state is impeccable. He lets nothing bother him and he has full confidence every time he gets into the gate. He's one of the best SBX athletes of all time.
Did anyone ever try to tell you that you wouldn’t be able to succeed in snowboarding?
Yes. I always had other kids my age that I would hear about talking behind my back about how I didn't have what it took to be a professional snowboarder. And yes, it did get to me. But I knew deep down that I had raw talent that most people wish they had, and I overcame those mental hurdles and learned from the greatest, while those people continued to wallow in their own problems. I overcame those problems by learning from my mistakes and getting up after I would fall and try again, literally.
Who's your biggest rival?
I would say Alex Pullin from Australia. It is friendly, but I always love beating him whenever possible.
Is there a lucky charm or an item that you can’t train or compete without?
My Misfits socks.
I like doing plyometrics, or basically obstacle courses that are designed to simulate quick movements in a snowboard cross course.
Is there anything you do for training that’s out of the ordinary?
Something experimental that I do is I use a pump track that the [Center of Excellence] built for skateboarding. It is actually pretty challenging to do segmented laps on for cardio. But it directly relates to the work that is required in a boardercross course.
Do you have another job aside from snowboarding?
Snowboarding is my main profession, but I have recently started playing in a hard rock band based out of Salt Lake City. This past fall, I would spend the mornings into early afternoons training and then playing music at nights.
I have quite a few tattoos. My favorite one is on my upper back, it says "Another Perfect Day." It's a Motorhead album.
Do you collect anything?
I have a good collection of Zippo lighters. The town I lived in before Telluride was where Zippos came from: Bradford, Pennsylvania.
If you weren't an athlete, what would you like to be doing?
Playing in a band. Which I still do, just not full time.
What are your favorite hobbies?
Skateboarding, riding motorcycles, playing guitar and playing pool (which I am not good at).
What advice would you give to a kid just starting out in boardercross?
I would say, learn from your failures. You will have a lot of shortcomings, but if you can learn from your shortcomings in boardercross, you will succeed. There are so many layers of snowboard cross and it truly takes experience and time. That's why most of the athletes who do boardercross are older than athletes who do events such as slopestyle or halfpipe.