JEFF & LEANNE | BOARDING THEIR BACKYARD
Really good snow in the valley bottom around Whistler isn’t very common. The amount of snow and the quality that we were...
Driving to Maria’s through the Pemberton, BC, meadows in the summer felt like a trip to the country. Her driveway is a long narrow gravel road marked by an abstract metal sculpture. Her directions were to go straight all the way to the end. Tucked away in a nook, I arrived at her little piece of heaven. Instantly I felt the relaxed, happy vibes. So much greenery, lush gardens, a mini ramp next to a large kid’s pool and a trampoline surrounded by scattered toys. The messiness of free-range kids running wild. I looked up to see this tall funky house pieced together with different reclaimed materials, colours and textures with Maria standing in the doorway. With a warm smile and her full-of-life personality, she welcomed us inside for something to drink. I was charmed by the cool eclectic furniture, there were plants all over the place and a cat that apparently came with the house. I also noticed organic food brands on the kitchen counter, a big bowl of fresh harvested potatoes and healthy snacks she had set on the table for us. It was clear Maria takes really good care of herself and her five-year-old son, Tao. We chatted about the power of good nutrition and how to make healthy smoothies taste good for our kids. I felt really inspired by Maria’s wisdom as a mother and her heart of gold. It would’ve been easy to chat about nutrition and the crazy journey of motherhood for hours but I know most of you are here to read about her snowboard career.
Maria and I have a lot in common with our snowboard careers just a generation apart. We both started snowboarding later in life, turning pro at a more mature age. We both focused on street snowboarding and we’ve both had a child (although I didn’t have mine until after my career). But note Maria is way more badass on a snowboard than I ever was. We sat on her cozy leather couch and had a long conversation that kept getting interrupted by our kids, my dog, and her alarm set for the sourdough that she was in the middle of baking. These pages are the condensed version of that conversation. –Priscilla Cannon
When you found out that you were pregnant, did you have an, “Oh shit” moment? Like, what’s going to happen to my goals and dreams? Can I do this with a child?
Oh. For sure, 100%, Tao wasn’t planned and I was nervous. I thought what am I going to do? I wasn’t one of those moms that was stoked about being pregnant. I was very in my own head about it. But it was only because of snowboarding. I knew once he was going to come I would love him more than anything. I remember talking to my parents and they would say you can’t snowboard like this anymore, you have to make a plan. And I was like, I will show you. I just knew I would figure it out. It sparked a fire inside me. But I was definitely like, “Oh, shit!”
I read that while juggling being a new mom and filming, you had to pump breast milk at spots. I was laughing when I read that because I went through pumping breast milk, and it sucks. I can’t imagine doing it while travelling and needing to be focused on snowboarding. Can you give me a little picture into your world as a brand-new mom?
Pumping breast milk really sucks. And you’re getting used to this new life where it’s not about you anymore. Tao was five months old for our first trip to Quebec City. His dad was there, too. He would take care of him and bring him to the spots sometimes. It was really cold so he would mostly be at the hotel and I’d be breast pumping at the spots. And you know that sound it makes? “Wawawawaw.” It was -42°C and the batteries were dying in the pump so it wasn’t going at the real speed, waaawaaawaaa. I remember one day I put the breast milk in the snow to keep it cold so it wasn’t going to go bad. I forgot it and had to go back to get it. It was pretty funny. I think after that trip, I had a meltdown because it was so hard. I didn’t get sleep. I was up with him and doing everything that a first-time mom would do.
How is the mom/career balance now? I’m assuming you’ve got more of a rhythm going. Is it easier or just different?
This year’s been the easiest so far; Tao is five. Last year, when I filmed for the Real Snow part, it was a bit hard because he didn’t like that I was going away. I ended up breaking my hip and coming home then leaving again for three weeks, which was all I had left to get any shots. I couldn’t bring Tao ’cause I needed to focus. After that, he was scared I was going to leave. I’d drop him off at ski school and he’s like, “No I don’t want you to go! Are you coming back?” I could feel that it had taken a toll on him. When I was away I would call him and he would just cry. But this year he was like, “Hi, Mom. I’m good. I love you.” When he’s good, I’m good.
Does his dad still travel with you guys?
No. Because we’re not together anymore. Tao sometimes goes to his dad’s but he’s working a lot so we have grandparents to help. I’ll also fly him to Denmark or my mom and dad will come over and help.
How old were you when you turned pro?
Thirty-two. Last year. I had been getting support through the years but I wouldn’t call myself professional. I’d been paying for myself because I wanted to do it. I wanted to film video parts and I was like, “OK, I’m going on this trip. How can I make the money?” I would work in the summer and figure out how to make enough money and bring Tao.
Having a child opened my heart so much. What has having a child gifted you? And what has changed?
I think your priorities change. Before I would waste a lot of time like watching TV. Now I feel I use my time more thoughtfully. I want to be present and I think that it has really slowed me down. You know how kids are so curious about little things? He’ll be like, “Look at this bug!” Sometimes you’re like, “Come on, let’s go” because you’re in a hurry. Then you’re like wait a second, this is awesome, I don’t have to be in a hurry. Simple things have become more precious. You were saying how being a mom has opened your heart. You never felt love like having a child. You also want them to learn to love, too. So, I think more about being kind because I want to show that to him. It doesn’t mean that I’m perfect, but I think a lot about how I interact with and talk about people. I want him to have a positive outlook on life so I try to live that myself. Being spontaneous is probably one of my biggest sacrifices. I’m still spontaneous, but I have to organize first.“I just knew I would figure it out. It sparked a fire inside me.”
More planning is always needed.
Yes. And I’m not a good planner. But I’ve learned to embrace that because society has all these rules. I don’t like schedules. I know it’s good for kids in some ways and Tao doesn’t go to school so I don’t have the same need to be scheduled. This year we’d go to the skate park till 9:15 p.m., then we’d come home and be like, “Oh yeah, what am I making for dinner?” I make sure he’s always fed and always has fun. We’ve been sleeping until 10 a.m. some mornings. I like to live a life where you don’t always have to have the same schedule.
I think that’s great intuition. You’re clearly a courageousness woman with a ton of drive to go after your dreams no matter fucking what. Does this come from the way you were raised in Denmark?
Wow, I don’t even know. I know that my parents have always been there for me and they’ve supported me. I have a good foundation at home. If I started something, I had to finish it. I think my dad had a bit of an influence. He went to Canada to become a professional soccer player. It didn’t happen but both my parents were semi-professional handball players. We had a pretty normal family life but I am different in a lot of ways. It must come from the way I’m raised but I don’t know specifically. I have confidence in myself and self-worth, I guess.
It’s interesting because my drive came from a lack of self-worth. This is something that I didn’t realize until much later in life. The need “to matter” or “to be seen” was my motivation deep down. What drives you to progress your snowboarding beyond the enjoyment you get from it? It’s not always fun, you get pressure, it sucks sometimes and you’re scared but you do it anyway.
Progression is what drives me. You’re not going to progress without pushing yourself and without being scared. Once you overcome your fear and you’re on the other side, it’s an adrenaline rush and you’re like, “Whoa, I can do that?” It becomes addicting. I like to scare myself. Not in the moment but afterwards. It doesn’t have to be on rails necessarily but I always need to be getting better or learn something. You can learn the rest of your life, which is why you don’t have to stop. That’s what keeps it fun.
It’s interesting that so many male professional athletes have children but not so many are females. Do you think that’s because women change mentally and emotionally after giving birth? Or is it just an older mentality that perhaps is in a process of changing?
I would like to think that it’s an older way we lived and that it’s about to change, but I also think women are more needed when the kids are small. You have to ask for help because your baby is going to want you all the time. In the first few years, they especially want their mom because we have the boobs. I hope that women will see that you can do stuff, too. I think that if you see someone else do it, you can relate to them, and you’re like, “Hey, I can do that too!” So I think that’s a wave that’s about to start.
Injuries are somewhat inevitable, what are some of the more serious you’ve had? And is it different as a mom?
I had a pretty big scare last season. I hit my head trying to gap to a rail and went full speed into a roof with my forehead. Apparently, I wasn’t knocked out and remember waking up in the snow with blood everywhere and no clue what was going on. I was trying so hard to figure out what I was doing there and I had no idea who I was but the first thought I had was Tao. I remember saying out loud: “I know I have a son“ and slowly more memories came to me. I had a deep cut on the front of my head and was given 11 staples. At first, I was really disappointed that I had to end my season and I was thinking about going back to the spot a few days later, but when reality hit, I was just thankful that I “only” had to deal with a bad concussion, it could have been so much worse. I was feeling a lot of regret and guilt towards being a mom and letting something like that happen, but I worked through it. I think it’s important not to let fear and events from the past control the future. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Getting on Burton is still relatively new. It must be so nice to be getting their support.
Yeah, it’s almost a year now. I’m feeling so thankful. Burton really brings you in, and they have this family vibe that I’ve never seen anywhere else. They want you to come everywhere and at first, I was like, “Oh my God—I don’t know any of these people!” But everyone was so nice and supportive. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
Congratulations. It’s huge. What new opportunities has Burton been able to open up for you?
They include me in the new movie that we’re making this year. They brought me to the Dew Tour and I won the Rail Jam. It was kind of cool because I wouldn’t have gone to a big competition like that otherwise. I hadn’t done any competitions in so long and I was nervous but when it started, I got a kick out of it. I’m getting included in product development as well.
Do you feel any pressure now? What mental attitude do you take towards the whole thing?
I feel pressure, for sure. But I think I’ve always felt pressure. The biggest pressure is from myself. I know that coming out of every winter I feel like I could have done better. There’s a newer pressure because I know I’m getting support to do this, so I know I have to perform. The worst pressure was when I did Real Snow. I just wanted to do so well because I knew people would see it. I wanted to be able to compete with the boys even though they’re a lot better than me. It was a pressure that was mentally really hard for me. This year I’ve mellowed out my thought process and I’m going to do my best and that’s all I can do.
Having to commit to high-risk features, what goes through your mind? Do you analyze the worst-case scenario? How do you cross over from being in a state of fear to dropping in?
I don’t know if I think about it that much but I’m terrified sometimes and I definitely go through all the fears. After hitting spots that I’m terrified of and learning I can overcome it, I find a way to take baby steps. Sometimes I’ll get on and off a rail for a full day and have to walk away. I remember this triple rail I did with gaps in the middle and I spent the whole day not doing it. At some point, I got a step further… like okay, I made this. Now I made it to the second rail and then I just kept going. So I have to repeat myself with baby steps and just keep doing it until I get a certain confidence.
What does the future look like in your mind?
I feel like I’m healthier now than I was in my 20s. Body-wise I feel good and I feel like I’ve got lots more in me. People give me attitude about being old but I don’t care. I’m not a big planner but as long as I’m inspired, I’ll keep doing it.
You take care of yourself by healthy eating, what about yoga or training?
Yoga has got me through so many injuries and I try to do it every day. I mountain bike, dirt bike, skateboard. That’s one of the cool things I can do with Tao, we go to the skatepark. If I’m not active I go crazy.
Any words of advice, things that you’ve learned that you’d passed on to first-time moms?
Try not to be so planned. That’s one thing that really helps me, I go with the flow so we can do whatever. Laundry will get done but remember to do what you want to do. You don’t want to live for doing the laundry. Also, don’t be scared to ask for help. People want to help but you’re not going to get it if you don’t ask.
What do you want to bring to snowboarding?
I want to push women’s snowboarding and show what’s possible for others. Starting snowboarding so late, being a mom and turning pro at 32, I think I’m a really good example that anything is possible. Because if I can do it, so can you. I want to be a leading example and a positive influence of having a family but not giving up what sparks your fire whether it’s snowboarding or any other sports or your career.
Any words of advice you’d like to pass on to women trying to make a career in snowboarding or progress their snowboarding?
Don’t be scared to look stupid. I still look so bad sometimes when I’m learning something new and my snowboarding is far from perfect. So many things that I do I’ve tried 1,000 times. It doesn’t always come naturally. Some people can do it naturally but I’ve always been one of those people that have to put a lot of work into it. Believe in yourself!