At the grand age of 26, he could almost be considered ‘old’ on the competitive snowboarding scene. Yet in April this year, Billy Morgan almost broke the internet when he became the first person ever to nail a Quad Cork. That’s a mega-trick containing 4 off-axis flips and 5 full rotations – a full flip and half a rotation more than the previous biggest trick, the Triple Cork 1620. Now looking towards the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, he’s come a long way from the dry ski slope he learnt the basics on near his Southampton home. But back then, Billy already had an unusual advantage in the sport of freestyle snowboarding, as he explains to Katy Dartford…
“It’s definitely pretty random,” says Billy. “I never intended to head this way. I started snowboarding when I was about 14, fell in love with it and it was just a kind of slow progression. As I used to be an acrobat I had the basic skills to pick it up quickly. I just knew after a few years of snowboarding for fun that I could start competing, then I got into the British team and ended up being pushed further and further. There was never a plan for me – it just happened.”
Billy’s physical strength and air-awareness meant that by 2010 he’d already scooped some British Big Air titles. Then, in December 2011, he landed the first-ever Triple Backside Rodeo 1260. Since then he’s continued to develop his all-round rail and air skills, and represented team GB in Slopestyle at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
But isn’t acrobatics an unusual activity to get into? “Lots of people do acro,” says Billy. “There was a gymnastics club not far from me and my brother and I started from 4 years old.” His acrobatic background doesn’t mean he’s not daunted by tricks, though. “I still find it scary, but I can calculate risk a lot more.”
Forty Hours To Build Jump
So how did he end up nailing the Quad Cork earlier this year – especially when he had a knee ligament injury to contend with? “Well, no-one had done it but there was a Canadian guy who wanted to do it. He did an easier variation, so there was a bit of a hurry to get it done. We’d been thinking about it for 6 months and we’d been to another spot with a jump built, but it didn’t really work for me; so Red Bull had this other one built last-minute. They pulled out all the stops and it was an absolutely huge jump built in Livigno’s Mottolino resort in Italy. We picked that location as there was already a big mound of snow and we didn’t have a lot of work to do, we just had to reshape it to exactly how we wanted. It still took 40 hours to build and it worked out pretty perfect on the day. We knew what we had to do.” So how does one prepare for such an epic challenge? “We did lots of triples in preparation, but there’s no real way of training for it – you just have to go for it.
Billy had reconstruction on his right knee in August. “I snapped my ACL two years ago and it was bashing my cartilage to bits, so it needed doing. It’s not easy this sport – not when you’re old!” How old is old? “I’m not 18, I’m 26. I’ve got at least 5 years on most competitors! Everyone is getting older on the pro circuit as it’s getting more professional and the pro riders are lasting longer and longer – so hopefully I’ve got a few years left in me.”
Billy says he’s not really thinking too much about the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea just yet. Big Air snowboarding, where competitors fly off a highly pitched ramp and perform as many jumps and spins as possible in an allowed time, is being introduced for the first time following the success of Slopestyle in Sochi. It seems that big stunts equals big audiences.
“It’s going to be awesome. People liked Slopestyle so much and bringing Big Air into it may change Slopestyle a little bit to make it a more technical sport. With Big Air it’s the one big trick element so it’s more entertaining to watch. It’ll make them both more specific.” Billy doesn’t think introducing Big Air will boost female participation in the sport, as the International Olympic Committee hopes. “Big air is not likely to get girls into it,” he says. So why does he think they put it in then? “For spectators I guess – and there’s no reason why not. If you think in the bobsled there’s the one-man, four-man and so on because there are many ways you can go down the track. So why not bring another element of snowboarding in that’s actually quite different?”
And what about that hardcore of snowboarders who disagree with the sport being in the Olympics at all? “Well, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it. Every sport, as it progresses, will head to a more elitist stage as it gets more popular and there’s more money in it – it’s the natural progression of a free sport. There are a lot of core snowboarders who don’t think there should be competitions at all. If you’re a core snowboarder and you want to do it for the love, you should. Nobody’s forcing you to compete.”
So, how well does Billy think he might do in the next Winter Olympics? “You can never tell – that’s the joy of snowboarding and that’s why it’s so interesting to watch. I can do a trick 10 times and on the 11th I may not land it. That’s what makes it fun.” But is he feeling confident? “I don’t know – it’s miles away, so I’m thinking one step at a time. I’ve got to get better now and I can’t think too far into the future – if I do I start worrying too much!”
What’s life for him outside of snowboarding? “I’ve just started basic skateboarding again, which is fun but it’s not easy. I’m getting into gymnastics again a little bit, swinging around, anything to stay fit really. I’ve actually been quite busy. I went to Bali for 3 weeks, which was a nice break in the middle of my rehab and gave me the drive to come back and smash into it again. I’ve also been doing some TV including a German lifestyle show about being a Red Bull athlete – that’s pretty strange, but good fun. I’m doing a TV show that’s going on Dave, called The Indestructibles, doing ridiculous stuff. I was towed from behind a boat on a ‘Wing-go’ – a wing we made out of stuff from B&Q – and we tried to fly it. We bought PVC and tarpaulin but it failed miserably. It was fun though.” So maybe TV is something he could get into after snowboarding? “Why not? I used to hate interviews and stuff but I’m getting used to it now.”
Finally, will we see him back in Tignes after his last appearance at the BRITS? “I love going to the BRITS. It’s good fun to see what’s happening in the British team and what’s going on with the younger kids. It’s nice to show support – the parties are pretty good too.”