Originally published November 2017
By Nick Lipton
I missed the way it was. Local shops and big video premiers, the Forum team, $20 lift tickets and Scotty Wittlake’s neck tats. I missed Mark Frank Montoya’s rap videos and Robot Food blowing minds. I missed everything about KidsKnow, ducking ropes and bad kid shit. I missed it so much that eventually I began to believe snowboarding was dying. But I was wrong. Just another idiot who had lost his way. But from the darkness came a light. And in a single photo I found a spark of rawness that proved I was full of shit, and snowboarding is forever.
Gimp mask, coffin board, beer in hand. I’m taking a shit and starring at Andrew Brewers Instagram for some reason. Who is this dude making Brewer look short and fat? My interest is spiked. But I’m cautious. My fear that this is just another dork from Tahoe is real.
I dig deeper, and find my new man crush is a GG Allin loving, old-as-fuck father of three from Sweden. A man who started skating in the 80s. A dude who in 2007 straight up quit DC because he thought it was whack. A modern-day middle finger to outside influence and all things corporate. A hero who carries the eternal flame of snowboarding’s rebellious core.
Maybe you’ve heard of him, PJ Gustafsson. He used to wear big pants, bright colors and look like all the other Scandinavian kids coming out of the mid 2000s. Maybe you even liked his part in that Croatian snowboard flick “In Love”. But maybe not, because I was deep into snowboarding and I missed this dude completely. But then Death Label blew up, and the dude that’s been riding pro for them for almost a decade started popping up around the internet.
Back in the stone age PJ was just a small Swedish kid with normal European parents. That meant no snowboarding because it was dangerous. But, Europeans tend to give up easily so in 1994 PJ got his first snowboard. An orange Sims Noah Salasnek with the skateboard graphic on the base. One, two, skip a few and it’s the middle 2000s. Europeans are flocking to America to take over everything from big jumps to massive handrails and PJ is riding with Halldor for DC Europe. But, PJ says, “Fuck it.” And becomes a heavy metal badass we could all learn from. In his own words, “I had to wear DC from head to toe. I wasn’t really into wearing that baggy, neon colored stuff. Also, it was a lot of pressure and a part of snowboarding that I don’t like. So, I quit riding for DC. I just quit and I remember having anxiety at the time since they provided me all my clothes, shoes, outerwear, boards and boots and even money to pay my rent.”
Let’s pause to recap. A kid who was on the brink of having it all threw up his hands and walked away. He defied the system and disrupted the norm. And in doing so, embodied exactly what snowboarding is supposed to be about. Doing whatever you want, because you’re free to do it. So what came next? Well, PJ went looking for a sponsor, found Death Label on the internet and as he puts it, “I wrote an email to Taka (Death Label Boss/Owner) and told him I would love to ride for Death Label. Maybe two weeks after sending my first email I had a box with five fresh 2008-2009 boards delivered to my door.” And just like that he was the first non-Japanese rider on Death Label. The company that gave Nike the middle finger and would go on to become a true underground giant.
Guy writes an email, signs a contract and bam, he’s pro. But unlike every other pro on earth, PJ just does whatever he wants. Google him, you won’t find much. A few photos of having fun, lots of evidence that he travels and rides in places most only dream of, but most of it is just PJ being a weird ass punk rocker with a hot fiancé and a bunch of little kids. Living the dream like it’s actually supposed to be lived. Care free, comfortable enough and filled with things that make you happy. In the winter the guy calls Sweden’s biggest ski resort home, where his family lives in a little cabin with a rail park in the backyard. And that’s where everything starts to come together. PJ is the dream because PJ put his values in check. He doesn’t want a 300k check from Burton or to be on Dancing with the Stars. He wants to snowboard, where, when and how he wants.
This approach to life reminded me of my childhood hero, Scotty Wittlake. The dude who was better than everyone, gave away all his money and quit because he was sick of the pressure to perform. And that’s where it hit me, PJ is the future. Proof that no amount of money, industry bullshit or outside influence can spoil snowboarding’s core. Proof to every little weirdo who picks up a snowboard that life is what you make it. Proof to every old, fat, washed-up asshole like me that you don’t have to be an old, fat, washed-up asshole. Proof that dads can be rad. Proof, that we are the captains of our voyage through life. But I’ll shut up and let PJ lay out his philosophy for you, “One should always do whatever the fuck one wants and not give a shit about what other people think or expect of you. It’s your life and there are no rules on how you should live it. If you want something really bad just go and get it.” A statement that he followed up with, “I just want to have freedom to be me and do whatever I want, whenever I want. No boss, no office hours and no suit. I’d rather be my own boss and work with something that I have loved for basically my whole life while making very little money, than work for someone else with something that has no meaning just for the money.”
And there you have it. The path to happiness. To living the dream. Life advice and proof in the pudding from a real father, pro rider and life liver. A dude who decided to be his own boss. Tattooed born 2 lose around his neck. Found a hot babe to settle down with and gets to ride a snowboard for a living. So, if you’re young, listen to the man he did it his way and it worked out. To the jaded and the old. Listen to the man. He broke free and created his own path and the sky didn’t fall. And to everyone who thinks snowboarding is supposed to be one way or another. That Nike sucks or the Olympics are bullshit. That Shaun White is or isn’t the best snowboarder ever. Just shut the fuck up, chase your dreams and apparently, get an Instagram. Or as PJ puts it, “I hate Instagram to be honest! I think it sucks so bad. But, today it seems impossible to do what we do without an Instagram account.”
You can keep up with the man, and my new hero @pjgustafsson.
Support the companies that support people like Pj Gustafsson. Here’s all the people that do that: Death Label Snowboards, Switchback Bindings, Vans, The UG, Modest Eyewear Co., BeerSavage, NOCCO, Arcade belts and Smoketower.com. Also, Halldor hooks him up with Atrip outerwear and other cool stuff.
PJ Gustafsson will return.