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Interview with Rusty Ockenden by Jesse Fox. Published in issue 12.3.
I tried to leave the same party five different times. My friends kept reigning me in as I darted towards the door. I made it outside, once, only to be physically pulled back into the crowded bar. It was Halloween in Whistler and I was on mushrooms for the first time. It felt like a terrible dream. Then, what was the worst time in my life quickly pivoted to be one of the best and most ridiculous nights I’ve had. It wasn’t the last time I would partake in the garnishes but, to be honest, I’m still undecided on how I feel about the experience overall.
I was remembering this night while on the phone with Rusty Ockenden in late February 2020. Rusty told me about his experiences microdosing mushrooms (psilocybin). Explaining how it helped with his rehab and enhanced his backcountry snowboarding. I was immediately fascinated, I knew his story had to be shared.
Microdosing is something you’ve heard of. It isn’t about living through halloween party nightmares or laughing hysterically at the mundane. It involves taking one-tenth of an Alice in Wonderland dosage of a psychedelic, not enough to trip on, but just enough to sharpen the mind. Those who have dabbled expressed increased creativity, calmed anxiety, more energy, reduced depression and an easier time problem-solving.
Fast-forwarding from our conversation in February, to this past December, when I finally was able to interview Rusty for the mag, a shit load had happened in the past 10 months. Pandemic lockdowns cut the season short. Rusty had produced, edited and released The Manboys lastest film, Snowdance. Where he opened the film with a flowy, creative, backcountry freestyle onslaughts scored to Dire Straits’ ‘Down to the Waterline.’A three-minute stunner filmed in only four short weeks. Unfortunately, this footage didn’t stop the pandemic. And as a result Rusty’s decade-long sponsorships with Endeavor, Airhole, and Oakley, had all come to an end.
This was a rare opportunity to get perspective from someone on their career as this chapter came to a close. So what was intended to be a fun conversion where we trade magic mushroom stories and bring real-world psilocybin microdosing testimonials to light, turned out to be much more enlightening.
Why don’t we start at the beginning of your season last year, like you were telling me back in February? How you got injured….
Should I just get started? I can talk for a long time.
I’m rolling, you go.
Starting now. [claps hands] Last fall. I’m in Ucluelet, where I live. And I’m not stoked to go to Whistler. I don’t have fun in the town anymore. I struggle to connect with a lot of the people there. I’m irritated with the resort because I remember how much better it used to be. You know? I’m just not fired up to go to Whistler, other than to see my friends that I hang out with there. So, I decided to go to Revelstoke because it would be a new experience. And it’s way easier to get excited about doing something new than doing something you’ve been doing for the last 14 years. In Revelstoke I’m living with Dustin Craven and riding the resort. They had a great early season. Revelstoke was getting like 20 or 30 centimetres every night. We were riding pow every day and I reconnected with that “ski bum” town vibe. Revelstoke feels like a ski town.
Riding the resort I got tangled up with a skier as I was jumping off a cliff and I clipped a tree mid-air, I tore my MCL, and that was two days before Christmas. I wasn’t able get a diagnosis for almost 10 days. Finding out I’d be rehabilitating my knee for the better part of two months.
I’d gone back to Ukee at this point, and I’m working on my knee, and my physiotherapist has this whole regimen for me, and I’m doing the exercises, but I feel I’m doing it because I have to. Knowing that I have to get better, but not really focusing on a deep level with the actual injury.
Anyway, I head back to Whistler and that’s when I started microdosing psilocybin. The first thing I noticed was that I would microdose, and go to the gym or be doing exercises, and I would really get into the exercise. I’d be able to focus on my knee and what every little movement felt like. Time would fly. Instead of going through the motions, I’d be working on my knee for hours out of the day. Swimming back and forth in the pool super gently, or working with a bungee or going for a walk on it. I noticed instantly I was way more interested in the injury and in tune with it. And that’s when it started healing quickly.
By the time my knee was good and I could snowboard again, I had already been sold on the microdose. It helped me with my injury and my mental state. I feel when you’re happy and healthy in mind, then you’ll have good results. I experienced that firsthand. I started filming again with the Manboys, and they’d been at it already for six weeks. I was way behind. And I decided to continue microdosing through the winter just because I was enjoying it so much. And I noticed, right away that I was… I’m trying to figure out how to articulate it here. After filming for so many years, the routine felt repetitive, hit the jump, do the trick. Now I felt more genuine curiosity and way more interested. I think that’s the best, easiest way to put it. It felt fresh. I was finding cool features and doing different tricks. And I started to notice that I was landing everything. There was even a point this winter with Beau [Bishop] where I was like, “Fuck, dude. I haven’t fallen in like four days.” It was insane. It was pretty crazy. I think it was because instead of going up there with a plan and trying to manipulate the day, I would go up and find something I wanted to hit and then look at it like, “What is this thing good for? Okay. This is good for a Backside 180.” Or something. And a Backside 180 is not normally what I would do, but I was way more interested to try those things than to find something where I could just do my usual shit. In my part in Snowdance the first shot is a Backside Rodeo 7, and I’ve never even done a Backside Rodeo. Not once have I ever done that. And it was a natural feature. And I was like, “Man, it’d be so cool to Rodeo it.” It just looks like a “rodeoer.” But I don’t know how to do that trick. I’m sitting there looking at the lip and I was like, “Fuck it. I can do it in my head, so I should be able to just do it.” And then sure enough. I roll in and do the Back Rodeo 7, land, and ride out. And riding out to my friends who have snowboarded with me for 15 years, they know I can’t do that trick. So riding up and seeing their faces. Seeing fucking ‘Old Man Rust’ chuck some new trick, they were tripping, man.
I can only imagine.
That was the pinnacle of the season. At that point, the whole crew knew I had been doing mushrooms every day, and they were all, “Holy fuck. It’s really working for you.” That, for me, was the moment, landing a trick I’d never done before, the guys were all like:
“What the fuck, dude?”
“You don’t fall, you can’t do that trick.”
“Is this all because of the mushrooms?”
I heard microdosing explained as having a childlike interest in things that are otherwise mundane for you. Because you’ve been doing them on autopilot for so long. It’s interesting. And I’m still experimenting with it.
Safe to say you’re an advocate for microdosing?
I’m not telling people to go do this. It was just something that I did. And I think it is important to say that I was not getting fucked up in the backcountry where I could put myself or my friends at any risk. That was not a thing. Small doses in moderation. There’s a difference between a glass of wine with dinner and drinking a two-six.
Did you research effects before experimenting?
I have researched it. It’s being used to treat a lot of symptoms like depression, PTSD, addiction. It has real-world benefits that have been tried, tested, and true. And I think one of the big steps for legalization where they’re kind of stuck now is phase three trials where you can prove through case study that something’s beneficial. But that’s happening.
I’ve done enough research to know that I wasn’t harming my body. And I’ve always been down to experiment. When I was injured, I was kind of bummed. It sucked. And hearing about something that could potentially help me? I’ll try this microdosing thing. I had shit that I was dealing with, and I don’t think I would have added it to my life if I wasn’t in that state.
From my understanding a lot of the chemical drugs that are used to treat things like anxiety, work burnout, and depression. And all of these issues that people might not associate with snowboarding for a living, people might not see it as a stressful job. But I wouldn’t ignore that a snowboarder could experience similar compounding negative effects.
I don’t know how people couldn’t see snowboarding as a stressful job. Imagine when you start getting paid snowboarding, knowing no matter how hard you work; eventually you just age out. Any other career in the world, the harder you work at it, and the longer you work at it, the more you receive, the more you develop, the more opportunity there is. Snowboarding, it doesn’t matter. You can work harder, and you’ll get paid less next year. It doesn’t even matter, it’s just going to fucking end at some point. Like deep down, you’re like, “This is ending, eventually. How long is it going to last? How old am I going to be? What am I going to have left? What other skills am I going to have? What am I going to do next?” That’s a scary thought. That fucks people up, I think. Additionally, you are putting yourself on the line, there’re risks. I don’t want to blow my knee again. That sucks. That’s not fun. I don’t want to hurt my back. It is stressful.
You mentioned the fragility of a snowboarder’s career. Did you want to talk about losing your sponsors?
I’m not against it. I mean, it’s like the most real thing. I had the same sponsors for 10 years. Basically, my whole paid career was with the same sponsors. As of January 1st, I won’t have any. So now I’m like, “Hey, what do I do?”
You talked about how there’s obviously a lack of job security in snowboarding. But was this a surprise to you?
Every year you expect it because you have a contract up every year, and all around you, your peers are losing jobs, you know? And people are disappearing constantly from snowboarding. And having a 15-year career, you see hella people come and go. And when COVID hit, I was like, “Okay, I’m probably fucked.” And then Endeavor, Airhole, I don’t know, sales or whatever, they can’t pay me. Then, Oakley, my guy there has had my back for 10 years. We’re good friends and we had a really nice conversation, but he basically said, “I can’t resign you.” Honestly, I think it was harder for him than me. He didn’t want to do that. I just let him know how much I appreciate what he did for me. Because, I travelled the world. I filmed with almost every production company. I got to live my childhood dream. So don’t feel bad, I’m pretty set up out here. I’m not stressing, you know? I just really appreciate the sponsors that have supported me. I understand how much they’ve done for me and I’m really grateful.
Like you said, knowing this situation is going to be a reality at some point is half of it. It’s rarely fair. But it’s something some snowboarders aren’t even willing to face or even talk about.
Yeah, man. Totally. And it, well, it sucks. Because it’s your identity, and it’s almost like that is getting taken away, you know? But I don’t know. I’m kinda down with that. I definitely don’t care about a title. I don’t care if I’m Rusty the Pro or Rusty the Painter.
Well, it seems like you’re in an enlightened state given your situation. Being really grateful for the experiences and the opportunities as opposed to being bummed as if snowboarding still owes you something.
Well, totally. I would never want to be the guy that finishes a 15-year career looking back and was bitter about it. It’s like, how could you be bitter about that? I don’t even know how you would top that moving forward. Having that kind of freedom and enjoyability with your friends? it’s fucking crazy, dude. And, snowboarding is always there. Snowboarding isn’t going away. Nobody has to fucking quit snowboarding, you know?
I am excited about what’s new, I can take a year off right now and then try to line up shit for next winter. I could make that happen. I’m not taking a year off the act of snowboarding, but taking a year off of being involved, being a cog in the industry. I’m grateful that I’m in a position where I can actually say that and mean it.