“You’ve just got to keep healthy, keep stretching and keep working out. Making sure the body still functions is the only way to survive it.”
He's riding for himself and no-one else
Through the headstrong pursuit of their pure, undying passions, the most dedicated can transcend the fake walls and neurotic parochialisms of everyday life. For them, such trivialities are of no concern. Beyond, there is a new plain. Venturing out into the icy wilderness, with nothing but a snowboard and an indomitable desire to shred the perfect line, is Tyler Chorlton.
Despite being mid-summer, a thick mist has descended upon Fistral Bay, Newquay, blurring the horizon between the sky and the Atlantic Ocean. Hardy surfers line up offshore, undeterred by the winds and eager to catch the scraps of white-topped waves that survive the elements. It is late afternoon and I’m braving the gusts and the heavy rain to make my way towards the Headland Hotel. It’s there, in the grandiose hall of the expensive hotel, that I hope to find Tyler Chorlton, one of Britain's most distinct and accomplished snowboarders.
I had briefly met Tyler the night before, amongst the hordes of randy drinkers in the cliff-top Chy Bar. Rocking a thick chain, expensive watch and strategically angled cap, he acknowledged my presence with a raised glass, clasping hand-slap and a “cool to meet you, dude” in his curious, mid-Atlantic accent. Polite yet laidback, confident but not arrogant and displaying a maturity beyond his mere 22 years, he was instantly likeable - and we agreed to meet up again tomorrow for an interview.
The following day, however, there is no Tyler to be found. It takes several attempts at his number - reaching nothing but an automated voicemail message in Catalan - before I finally track him down via a mutual friend. “Get to the Headland Hotel, like, now,” I am told. But the storm? Needs must.
Tyler Chorlton is sprawled out in a plush armchair in the hotel bar, sheltering from the torrential storm outside. An arm extends out from his near horizontal form to once again greet me with easy-going charm and apologises for his broken phone.
“This is the first time I have enjoyed being by the sea in my life,” he tells me, sitting up and rubbing his bleary eyes. “I do tend to get a bit bored by the sea because there is nothing to look at."
“In the mountains, you can always look up and spot the littlest things; it’s comforting. But the sea is just flat and, well, a bit boring.”
Tyler’s love of the mountains stems firmly from his upbringing. After his parents divorced at a young age, the British-born rider moved to the small town of Rennes-le-Château in south-west France with his mother and siblings. When Tyler was 12, his father relocated to Andorra - the Pyrenean Principality sandwiched between France and Spain - giving Tyler his snowboarding fix whenever he visited. Such was his love of the sport that by the time he was 15 he had settled there permanently, completing only a year of school before “sacking it off and snowboarding full time.” And it is still there that he calls home, having recently invested in a snowboard shop in his hometown of Soldeu.
“It’s a nice country and tax-free so it’s all good in that but the Andorrans have a monopoly thing going on,” he tells me. “If you want any kind of proper job with authority, you have to be 100 per cent Andorran. If you’re not, you ain’t working in a bank!” he laughs. “But the lift systems are amazing, some of the best in Europe. All six-man and high-speed, the only thing you’re left waiting around for is the good snow.”
This ex-pat existence - which sees Tyler speaking both fluent French and Spanish – is yet another thing that makes him unique. Whereas other émigrés still cling to their motherland with over-compensatory vigour via football shirts and doe-eyed flag waving, Tyler eschews such sentiment. “I’m not a UK rider anymore,” he tells me, his soft tone gaining a slightly sharper edge. “And that’s what I really don’t like about traditional snowboard competitions - the competing against other nations. The way I see it is that it’s rider against rider. You ride for yourself, not your so-called country. That’s why I disagree with the Olympics.”
But in a tragic irony - to the British Olympic Association at least - Tyler is one of the few UK snowboarders who can firmly cut it on an international stage. His sprightly ability and spurning of what he calls “fashionable tricks” has seen him gain lucrative sponsorship from the likes of Vans, Oakley and Relentless. What’s more, Tyler still has a huge amount of time on his hands to further hone his skills.
Tyler landed his first small video part in the 2004 Lockdown Projects film Proper at just 18. Upping the ante the following season in the ridiculously named Bad Ass, Big Airs, his full-length section firmly held its own, matching the skills of riders 10 years his senior. Tyler’s smooth, effortless style on kickers and rails was impressive but what really stuck out was the volley of impertinently crowd-pleasing Nollie Frontflips that he threw down off kickers, boxes and flat pistes alike.
"I’m going to be really fucked in about four years, I won’t be able to walk,"
Since then, he has transcended the provincialisms of the UK scene, establishing himself as a true European pro. He has filmed stand-out parts in such international films as Purple Yeahh? (with a broken wrist no less), competed in the prestigious Burton US Open and starred, along with team mate Scott McNorris, in snow-psychology documentary Conquering Demons, broadcast via Bebo. He is now awaiting the premier of his new movie, Overseas, filmed with “analogue and old school” Austrian-based crew Pirate Movie Production.
But riding at such a high level does not come without paying a high physical price - and Tyler is no exception to this. When you are routinely pushing the limits of the flesh, contorting and straining your muscles, bones and tendons in ways humans were not intended for, inevitably the malaise sets in. “I’m going to be really fucked in about four years, I won’t be able to walk, mate,” he concedes. “I rode this whole season with broken ligament in my ankle; I just taped it up every day…”
Problem solved, then? Not really.
“...but because there was so much tension, it has to be released somewhere, so then my knee started to swell up. I taped that up and for the next couple of days after that, my hip started to go. You’ve just got to keep healthy, keep stretching and keep working out. Making sure the body still functions is the only way to survive it.”
Paradoxically, Tyler says that survival, for him, is directly related to spending time in the mountains. It was the end of a long-term relationship, for example, that saw him reassess what riding meant to him. Using it as a catharsis, snowboarding progressed beyond a sport - it became a crucial emotional outlet. “After that happened, I just got my head down and got stuck into my riding,” he says reflectively. “It just got rid of all the crap that was floating around my head.” And with this, he chose to abandon the Poma lifts and Piston-bullied terrain of the park in favour of a cleansing exploration of the backcountry.
Un-bastardised by signs, fences and fast-food restaurants, the beauty, solitude and almost spiritual purity of the backcountry is what attracts the most intrepid of riders. But its allure is a hazardous one. Away from the relative safety of avalanche control and ski patrols, it demands knowledge, experience and self-reliance. And it’s in the backcountry where everyday pros are transformed into true alpine explorers. By embracing a philosophy of temperance and earned reward in the face of the gluttonous feast of adrenaline gorged upon in snowparks, riders can gain a whole new perspective on the sport. What’s most curious about Tyler is that he seems to have done it at such a young age compared to his peers.
“When you are in the backcountry, it’s all about studying the natural terrain and planning the line you are going to take to the smallest detail,” he explains, stroking his stubbly chin. “If you can just get one shot out of it for a film, for something that took a whole day hiking there and back, there is no other feeling like it. There is a real sense of accomplishment - even though it may only be for a three-second clip.”
But what makes this so thrilling?
"If you can just get one shot out of it for a film, for something that took a whole day hiking there and back, there is no other feeling like it."
“I think it’s because hardly anyone has ever been there before. Sometimes maybe no one has ever ridden these places. They can be so remote and inaccessible.”
And much like those who have experienced such an epiphany, previous indulgences don’t seem so sweet. “I’m over the park. Once you’ve been putting so much effort into the backcountry, you come back to the park and think, ‘This is all too easy’. I was at a freestyle competition in Mayrhofen earlier this year and I just thought to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?!’” he shakes his head. “Don’t get me wrong, obviously the tricks can still be difficult but there is no real effort going into it. Backcountry is where it’s at.”
As the interview draws to a close, an impeccably dressed waitress brings a large plateful of chunky sandwiches and fresh salad. Tyler rolls up his sleeves, revealing a forearm covered in wristbands and bracelets, before eagerly devouring a BLT Club.
“So, quite a nice place to stay, then?” I remark.
“Oh no, I’m not staying here,” he says nonchalantly between mouthfuls. “I’m sleeping on a mates’ sofa.”
“Yeah, I’m just here to abuse the facilities!” he laughs, giving me another cheeky grin.
It seems to make sense but, intriguingly enough, despite his hip hop-stylings, hands-slaps and urban colloquialisms, he seems to fit in rather well in such luxurious surroundings. And, if his career so far is anything to go by, perhaps he should get used to it?