Q&A with Julia Marino
The past few years have been a whirlwind for Julia Marino, as she has risen out of relative obscurity to become one of Team USA's top snowboarders. After earning four X Games medals in 2017, she'll be looking to add some Olympic slopestyle and big air hardware to her collection in PyeongChang.
Earlier this year, we sent Marino a list of questions. Here's what she had to say.
What's your earliest memory of snowboarding?
I started skiing when I was 3 and I tried snowboarding at 9, but was always way more into skiing and rarely touched my board. My family would head to Beaver Creek, Colorado for a week every year for February break. I would snowboard maybe one or two days out of the week. At 12, after breaking a ski in the woods, I was "stuck" with just my board, but started feeling a greater connection with it. By 13, I really started to get into it. I love the freedom, creativity and athleticism of it, and that I can usually do it in a beautiful setting.
What's your earliest memory of watching the Olympics, and did you expect to be there one day?
I have always been really into sports. Before I started snowboarding I played basketball, soccer, etc. and always enjoyed watching the Olympics. Regardless of the sport, I just remember being really impressed by the determination and passion of the athletes and their personal journeys and thinking how, one day, I wanted to experience that myself in the biggest sporting event in the world.
What was the breakthrough moment in your career?
I started pretty late in the sport, but when I was 15, my dad and I rented a house for the winter in Breckenridge, Colorado. Prior to that I had always been riding East Coast (Ice Coast!) mountains, so hitting more advanced parks definitely helped me progress and see my future as a competitive snowboarder. I joined the U.S. team at 16 and started getting into bigger events, but it really wasn't until last season, at 18, that I had my breakthrough moment, when I won the big air World Cup at Fenway Park, followed by a podium at the world championships in China. This gave me a lot of confidence that I can have success at the highest level.
Who has been influential in helping you reach this point?
Definitely my parents have been very influential for me in my career. They showed me endless support and confidence in me through my entire life and that's something I've always appreciated. Getting into this kind of career wasn't easy either. It was expensive, and required a lot of traveling and being away from home at a young age. But they knew it was my dream and they were fully committed in every way to helping me achieve that dream.
Favorite perk of being a pro snowboarder?
Getting driven to the top of the course in a sled instead of a chairlift. Getting pulled up is even better — it's like wakeboarding.
Favorite place you've traveled to?
I've been to so many beautiful spots that it's hard to choose just one, but one of the coolest places was Japan. It was in the summer so the weather was really nice, sunny and warm every day. I was there for training with my coach and a couple of friends. The part of the trip that made it so memorable was where we stayed. We rented a place from Airbnb that was a little traditional Japanese hut in a rice farm village surrounded by miles of bamboo forest. It was so unreal. The roof of the hut was thatched with bamboo and hay, the sliding doors were made out of paper, and the floor was all original clay from the ground the hut was built on. Not to mention the giant tree going through the middle of the hut that had a little treehouse up in it where my friend and I slept. We also got to go into Tokyo and explore. So, that was one of the coolest experiences because we were really in the thick of the culture, whereas, sometimes at certain events we don't get to see much of the country outside of the hotel that we're staying in.
Tell us about your coaches.
My coaches are Mike Ramirez and Dave Reynolds on the U.S. team. But I also work with Max Henault from Quebec, Canada. He runs his own summer/winter snowboard facility right out of his backyard, called Maximise. I've been working with him for about three years now and he's like my big brother. I spend a lot of time at his training facility during the summer, so I've become really close with him and his family. It's like a second home for me. It's pretty awesome to have that kind of relationship because it makes it so much easier for us to understand each other and get a lot accomplished.
How do you go about working on new tricks?
Snowboarding is an interactive and social sport. You ride with your friends and see what they do and watch countless edits of people doing new and creative tricks. The more you see what others do, the more you visualize yourself doing the same or a customized version. Not a day goes by where I don't think about or visualize my goals or ideas. I've always been a very visual learner, so thinking about things I want to do and mentally putting myself in the situation has always been a big part of my progression. If there is a new trick I want to try in the future, I break down the trick in my head and visualize myself doing it over and over to the point where it feels like I've already done it. This makes it so that when the time comes where I do the trick, it's as if I’ve done it already.
Is there anything snowboarders do for training that might be considered out of the ordinary?
Many snowboarders practice their tricks and air awareness on a trampoline first before doing it on snow to learn the muscle memory and the vision of the trick. Then they can take that trick to the airbag and try it as many times as they want without serious risk of injury.
Do you think people have any misconceptions about snowboarding?
I think that, back in the early days of snowboarding, people viewed snowboarders as super chill and laid-back people who are just cruising around with their buddies. Which is true to a degree! One of the amazing things about snowboarding is the social culture. Freeriding with friends and fellow competitors clears the mind and allows for further progression in a low-stress outdoor environment, generally surrounded by spectacular scenery. But I think that the more the sport evolves and the public gets exposure to it, the more people see that the riders, while still having fun, are very determined and focused. Especially if you see the kind of tricks being thrown these days. That requires total dedication and attention to detail.
We are a close knit bunch and really care about each other - not only our teammates, but competitors from all around the world.
What’s something interesting about snowboarding that most people don't see?
Something that's cool is the lifestyle and general vibe among the riders. It feels like a real community. We all push each other in a competitive but supportive way. In other individual sports, you might not see as much interaction among the athletes. At a snowboarding event, you'll see the athletes really appreciating a good run, because we know what goes into it. This keeps the vibe at the top of the course mellow, but focused, because the mental game is one of the hardest parts of this sport.
What's the relationship like with your fellow competitors?
Snowboarding is a unique sport. We are a close knit bunch and really care about each other — not only our teammates, but competitors from all around the world. But we all want to win! Rather than hoping someone doesn't do well, we want to win by being inspired by, and outdoing, each other.
What's your biggest fear during contests?
When I first started competing against the top women in the world, I used to get really nervous, but the more I experience I have, the more I understand those nerves and put them in perspective and even feed off of them, because they remind me I am doing something I love at the highest level! But, I think it is important to understand that it is natural to experience it. I still feel it, especially if there are weather elements, like heavy or unpredictable winds.
What athlete, in any sport, has been your greatest source of inspiration?
One athlete that is a source of inspiration for me is Jackie Robinson. In middle school, I wrote a research paper on him and learned a lot about his life and the challenges that he faced. Knowing the tremendous amount of hardship that he overcame is truly motivating. Even with everything that he went through, he never allowed those extreme obstacles to play as an excuse or stop him from achieving his athletic goals or his goals for achieving racial equality.
Do you have a personal motto or inspirational quote?
“Luck” is at the intersection of hard work and opportunity.
What will success look like for you in PyeongChang?
Success in PyeongChang would just be me doing my absolute best and putting all of my hard work into that moment. Results will follow.