THE MARIA THOMSEN INTERVEIW
Driving to Maria’s through the Pemberton, BC, meadows in the summer felt like a trip to the country. Her driveway is a...
Snowboarding makes our lives better. There’s no denying that, although we should remember that it’s not the be-all/end-all of life. Sometimes snowboarding leads us on a much different path than we could have ever imagined. This story leads us to the lower hemisphere to talk with snowboarder turned surfer, Kevin Griffin. Kevin’s from Winnipeg, Manitoba and you should remember him from the DOPE, and Sandbox movies. He has done some of the most effortless and progressive street-boarding. And he’s always up for anything, which makes it easier to understand how he made the switch from snowboarding to surfing.
By Rob Lemay
I’m stoked to be sitting here with you in Bali, Indonesia. Let’s jump right into it. Where exactly are we in Bali and how long have you been here?
We’re three hours up the west coast from the airport in a place called Medewi. It’s two hours away from Canggu and heavy tourism. It’s really just where the mountains start. I’ve been in Bali for six years now. The first three, I was down in Bukit, by Uluwatu. A friend showed me this place. I saw mountains, rivers, no tourism, and waves without crowds, so I made the move. It’s so much better up here.
So, surfing is basically what’s brought you out here?
Not, initially. I couldn’t surf when I first moved here. I came for my summer vacation the year before I moved here. I surfed for three months and saw longevity in it. Learning to surf is like being a kid again. It’s starting something a little later in life that you usually do as a kid and just having that fresh stoke. It’s nice.
What do you do when you’re not surfing?
I climb a lot, dirt bike, and I’ve been building a house for the last year and a half, and I’m not a builder. The house has been the main challenge in my life the last little bit. I started just using YouTube tutorials and now I’m fully free-styling it, plumbing and roofing. I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.
Is it tough to get building permits out here?
No, you don’t need any permits. You could just literally build a treehouse, run the wire for power and live in it.
That’s pretty sweet. So after six years what do you miss most about life in Canada?
I miss a lot: friends, family, snowboarding, and coaching at summer camp. That’s probably the thing I miss the most, coaching at summer camp. Yeah, having little shithead kids to teach. It’s so fun. Summers in Whistler, definitely miss that. Sketchy rope swings and skating the valley trail, climbing random shit after Garf’s closes. Just being an idiot basically.
Do you think there’s anything that would bring you back to Canada or are you in Bali full-time?
I’m here full-time for now. When I came here, I had this dream to find land in the jungle and build my own house. The dream wasn’t to live in the house here forever. It was more the act of building it and getting to learn how to surf. And now that I’ve almost finished, I would say the next dream is to build a couple of small cabins on my land for friends so I can share all the stuff I love. After that, I’d say the next dream is to go back to Canada, live in my motor home and fucking snowboard!
Do you think you might film another snowboard part?
Oh, definitely. I miss hitting handrails. I miss sledding and riding pow too. The backcountry is sweet, but you’re not actually snowboarding much. There’s so much bullshit to it just to actually get to snowboard. If you live in Whistler, you can ride awesome pow on the hill. You don’t need a truck and sled and have to spend a bunch of money on petrol. Unless you’re working on the oil rigs in the summer, how can you afford that?
So, when you come back and film a street part, who would you want to film and ride with?
Derek Molinski, Jody Wachniack, E-man [Anderson], Brockle [David Brocklebank], you, [Andrew] Geeves, and I’d like Jarrod Au to be there.
Hell yeah! That would be a good crew. Okay, before we get into boarding I wanted to ask you, what would you say is your key to a happy life?
Freedom is the key. Life takes all this money, with rent, and a car. Finding things that make me happy that are free, knowing how much money I need to sustain it, and then just having my freedom. For the last three years, I haven’t done a single fucking thing I didn’t want to do. I don’t have anybody telling me to go do this or do that. That’s always the goal; just to have time to find things I like and search for new passions. When I came here, I had enough money to live for three years. My goal was to just not think anything financial and just find new things that I love. It was climbing, dirt biking, surfing, building, hiking rivers, and finding cliffs to jump off. That’s the fun shit.
I’d say you’re pretty happy here then.
Yeah, but I’m trying to think of a nice way to say this. Bali is so fucked.
It’s a third world country still, isn’t it?
It’s a third world country with huge tourism dollars, but there’s no infrastructure to hold mass tourism. It’s chaos. The roads are chaos. Trying to make a living here is chaos. It’s pretty hectic.
It definitely looks a little loose. How have you been making it work? What have you been doing for money?
Well, I had enough money for the first few years, and then I went and worked in a snowboard shop in Aus. I did that for two seasons. Then I did three months in a cotton factory.
Like, picking cotton?
Yeah. But there are machines that do that now. It’s in a big factory, and you’re all masked up. I was called a ‘Tarper’, so I would pull the tarps off the cotton when it came into the factory before it went into the machine. It’s a really shitty job. Nobody wants to do it, but you get paid well. I can live off 5 grand a year in Bali. I made 15 grand in three months in this cotton factory, so that made this light bulb go off in my head.
You got a little nest-egg.
Yeah, it’s like, “Well, I’m going to go back and do that cotton farm thing again,” and I did. And then, I bought some land. Then, I bought some more land and sold it. And now, I’m just flipping land.
Land prospector, Kevin Griffin.
Yeah. I definitely didn’t see that happening. Housing property even here can still be pretty expensive. So I’d buy a block, and then subdivide it, so that way I would have really cheap land to sell to people. I don’t even put in an effort to sell it. I just chill until someone is like, “Hey man, do you know of any land?” And then, I happen to have some, and then they buy it. It’s like literally no work. So, I’m just laughing and surfing all day.
It sounds like a pretty good life. You see yourself keeping the house and living here for the rest of your life?
I would definitely keep it as a vacation home. But I don’t see myself living here full-time forever.
So, we might get you back in Canada? Where would you see yourself setting up shop if you went back?
I would just be in my motor home, probably just live in the day lots in Whistler.
I don’t think you can do that anymore.
No, my buddy runs all the parking in Whistler, so he can give me a staff-parking pass. I could live in the upper lot, or camp out by the skate park. I’d probably want to get a little lot around Bralorne. Make a little off-the-grid cabin for sledding, and riding pow. Probably not sled too much, more just hike stuff. Or even post up in the motor home around Nelson, somewhere around there, Whistler or Nelson.
Let’s bring it back to snowboarding. Have you been keeping up and watching the new snowboarding? Is there anything that you’ve been stoked on?
Yeah, I watch everything, seriously, everything. E-man’s fucking slow sign fakie back three, or whatever you want to call that. I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever seen, by far my favourite thing from snowboarding last winter. I grew up skateboarding, so it’s like doing tricks over slow signs from flat. I always thought that was the sickest shit.
What’s your favourite movie that you’ve seen lately in the last couple of years? Or video part?
Well … Fuck, that’s a hard one. I have to say my favourite is the film Beacon that Hayden Rensch made with Louif Paradis. They absolutely killed it.
What do you think of Jake Kuzyk’s stuff and how far he’s come?
Jake’s stuff is so good. But I knew when Jake was 16 where he was going to go with this. He’s so fucking good, but it’s hard to be overly impressed because I just knew. I’m impressed that Jody stuck around. I was going on rail trips with Jody, and he’d get to a spot, and he’d seriously just think of the easiest thing he could do. He’d be like, “Maybe I’ll noseslide it. No, boardslide, no, back blunt. Maybe 50 front 180. That would be gang.” I was like, “Fucking hell, dude.” At the time, I was his team manager for Endeavor. I just like, you’re going to get cut, man. You’re not even trying. It’s not like you’re so good that you can get away with not trying. But he was persistent, and he just kept putting in his hours and kept getting better. Now he’s so fucking good. Yeah, Jody is the most impressive. And Derek. When I first met Derek, he couldn’t even carve. And he moved to Whistler, I remember the first pow day. I went snowboarding with Derek. He couldn’t even get down the mountain. Just straight from Winnipeg, couldn’t ride pow at all, and now he’s fucking smashing it. He’s got one of the best methods. I think it’s because he’s so tough.
Yeah, Winnipeg tough.
Yeah, he’s not scared. He can get smoked and just fucking love it. He’s always had people that were so much better than him at snowboarding that it really pushed him. Yeah, very impressed by Derek.
What would be your advice to the young snowboarder just moving to Whistler trying to snowboard as much as they can, maybe even trying to go professional?
Stay away from [David] Brocklebank, and don’t go to the Whistler skate park. No, I think trying to go pro is just the dumbest thing. The influence Brockle has on people is spot on with what should be happening. Just go fucking snowboard with your friends and get hyped. It doesn’t matter if you get the shot or not. Maybe your friend does. Smoke a joint and high-five. Brockle is such a good influence on everybody. He’s passionate about what he does. He’d do it for nothing. He did do it for nothing. I watched him for years. Yeah, I’d say if you’re trying to go pro, it’s probably not going to happen. If you just love snowboarding, you’ve got a much better chance to make a life out of it. But statistically, just start playing golf, and you’ve got a better chance of making the fucking PGA Tour.
The odds are not in your favour.
I think what I’ve taken from this interview is how much of a great life snowboarding has given you. It’s also given you in a new direction, and you’re killing it. You’re happy. You’re living easy. Your stress is at an all-time low.
No, I still get stressed. If I miss the right tide. If I get out of the water, and I see this bomb set come in, I’m super stressed. Coming from snowboarding, and then watching surfing, I was just like, “Fuck, everybody sucks.” I see them do these really shitty, flaily airs, and like a million 360s, arms all over the place. I was like, “Man, I’m going to do that so much better. It’s going to be sick.” And then, I started surfing and realized that I’ll probably never do an air in my life. There’s so much you got to learn like paddling, reading the wave, tide charts, swells, swell direction, wind, spots, dealing with fucking locals. You really got to put your time in, and you only get what you put into it. But if you have the time, and you dedicate yourself to it, fuck is it rewarding. Now I’m like year six, and I’m just starting to feel like snowboarding is benefiting my surfing.
That’s the addicting part, how hard it is, kind of like skateboarding. That’s awesome, man. I think we got a good little interview. Do you have any last words? Anybody that you want to thank?
I want to thank my mom for being so cool my whole life and supporting everything I wanted to do. Thank you, mom. And just fucking live it, have a dream, go for it, fuck it up, go for it again. Just do it. Don’t party too much. If you’re freaking 20, send it, but you’re not really accomplishing too much cause you’re drunk all the time. Yeah, just fucking live it.
Thanks for hanging out and showing me your place. Lots of love, Kevin.
Back at you, bro.