Snowboarder Alex Chumpy Pullin: “I kind of like that scary vibe”
The champion snowboarder spills on thrill seeking, competitive sports and that time he rode an active volcano...
"I'll go snorkelling right now if you want," offers Alex 'Chumpy' Pullin in the middle of our interview. Despite it being a non-swimming temperature of 17 degrees outside (plus wind chill) you get the distinct impression that if you took the bait, he'd be a man of his word. In fact, the 27-year-old world champion snowboarder and Olympian is exactly the kind of guy who'll catch some waves in the morning, head to the gym, then head back out for a surf again that afternoon - just to burn some energy. "I'm up for anything: tennis, mountain bike riding - whatever," he confirms cheerfully. "I'm just into being active, so crossover sports like surfing are awesome and it's something I can do right here at home."
It was exactly this pull towards nature and all things extremist that lured Alex into snowboarding. Like many of Australia's champion boarders, a love of the sport was fostered at home in the Victorian ski field town of Mansfield, which Alex describes as being like The Man From Snowy River. "My family ran a ski and snowboard shop when I was little and we actually lived on top of that shop," he says. A skier since the age of three, by age eight he'd discovered the thrill of snowboarding culture. "It kickstarted a whole lifestyle for me," he says. "Even music. I'd be sitting in the back of the car - one of the grommits - listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Chilli Peppers and going snowboarding. I fell in love with it right there."
And it's that same thirst for speed, snow and adventure that has carried him around the world for the past 14 years, competing in Boardercross tournaments in far-flung places like Japan, Canada, Chile and the Sochi Olympics. As you can imagine, travelling to new places to do the thing you love most never grows old. "It's definitely one of the perks," agrees Alex. "I've been to some incredible places and met some incredible people." Not to mention some pretty out-there experiences. "In South Chile I rode on an active volcano glowing red. You know, the lifts are going up the side and you get to the bottom and you're like 'That was awesome' and then you turn around and go, 'Man this thing is going to blow any second'."
And yet, you have to ask if all that adrenaline ever gets a little bit tiring? Especially when you're racing the best snowboarders in the world? "I think everyone might wonder why you compete and even I have to ask myself that sometimes," admits Alex. "The thing is, I feel so many different awesome emotions, nerves, excitement and anticipation on the day of an event, it kind of elevates a normal day of snowboarding to something bigger."
For the uninitiated, Boardercross is a racing discipline based on timed runs - and according to Alex, it's "cut throat" by nature. It's also highly dynamic, with constantly changing conditions. "You rock up to these courses and sometimes they're a little bit intimidating," he says. "But that's the exciting part. I kind of like that scary vibe." (You can see why these land-and-sea exploits make him a natural fit for the Tudor's Black Bay Dark diver's watch, which he wears in the shoot. With its slick metal casing and self-winding mechanical movement, it's made with adrenaline junkies like Alex in mind.)
I think everyone might wonder why you compete and I have to even ask myself that sometimes
But adrenaline aside, what else drives him? Alex is the first to admit this "purely racing" sport fosters some healthy competition between riders, although like surfers, they all remain friends at the end of each tour. "I definitely think it's key to stay in your own game," says Alex. "But for me, I can't say that I've been able to progress without other riders. I look at my rivals, I look at guys that I think might be doing something slightly better than me and even just a very specific area - they're the biggest teachers."
Naturally, the sport has its impact on the body, too. "It's high-impact, high-speed, and there's big jumps," says Alex. "So training is a massive part of it - one for performance but also to prevent injury." It's also about being in the moment. "On snow, it all comes down to good and bad decisions. You make a bad decision and you put yourself in a vulnerable position," says Alex. And even though he uses fear as a motivator, the threat of injury does play in the back of his mind. "In the early days, the [accidents] that really scared me were head concussions. We're moving upwards of 80km/hour, and with the surface of snow at its firmest, it's basically like hitting the road off a motorbike. It's always on the cards, it could definitely happen."
Thankfully, after 15 years of competing and discovering how to train smarter, the injuries are less common. "The funny thing is, I had more crashes and accidents when I was younger learning the ropes than in the later part of my career," he says. Lucky for him, a passion for music (he's a self-taught guitar player and singer) and filming his travel escapades are far less dangerous side hobbies. "It's more just a personal project," he says of his videos, which are published on his site alexchumpypullin.com. "In Australia, it's a rapidly growing sport, but there are a lot of people who wouldn't really understand where I go. [The videos] are a way to open up that window into my lifestyle."
If you're thinking Alex's life sounds like one big plane-hopping, extreme sport, adrenaline-fuelled ride - don't worry, his chill persona says otherwise. With a base in Sydney's Northern Beaches, Alex is just as content at home as he is on the road. "When you live in such an incredible place, one of the coolest things about travelling is that I'm always so excited to come home."
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