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In Conversation with Arthur Longo

Interviews, Originals April 1, 2021April 11th, 2021

*This interview was originally published in Volume VIII, October 2020.

Interview & Photography by Robin Pailler | Japan Photography by Arthur Longo & Tsutomu Nakata

If, like me, your snowboarding knowledge is zero, you may not have heard of Arthur Longo.

I actually met Arthur for the first time 5 years ago when I somehow blagged a job in the Alps shooting for a snow goggle sponsor of his. I was immediately taken aback, not only by his charm and humility, but by the sheer power and grace he had on the snow. Do yourself a favour and watch ‘Arthur Longo – SHE’ to see exactly what I mean.

You don’t have to be into snowboarding to be in awe of his natural talent. Fast forward to Berlin 2020 and I’m invited to a small gathering at Templehof for Julian Dykman’s birthday when suddenly I spot Arthur and his girlfriend. Turns out Arthur’s been living in Berlin this whole time. A week later we cross paths again at a BLM protest and end up discussing his life outside of snowboarding. With snow trips cancelled due to Covid, Arthur’s made use of his spare time by exploring other creative outlets outside of his natural passion. Namely painting. His curiosity led to renting a studio space in Weissensee over the summer and a fascination grew in creating multiple forms of visual expression. As I pull in to his studio space, Arthur, fresh from a morning tennis session, greets me with his trademark smile and a hot cup of coffee, before leading me into a room filled with colourful canvases, sketches and art tools. To say I was in awe would be an understatement. Never could I have imagined this softly spoken pro-snowboarder from the French Alps would have such an innate talent for creating abstract art. Naturally I waste no time in finding out more about this fascinating character, his reasons for moving to Berlin, how Covid affected the snow season and how a future career in visual communication could be in the making…

You were playing tennis this morning. Seems a random activity for a pro-snowboarder! Did you play when you were young?

Yeah it is a bit random. In the little mountain village I grew up in there was a tennis court—I would play with my dad and brother every now and then. Tennis is a good option in the city; I’m pretty stoked I found a few places to play here. I also met a coach so I had a session with him this morning which was really cool. His name’s Tommy, he’s 70 (I would say), from Berlin and he speaks super good English. He’s teaching me slices and stuff. It’s super fun. I watched the French Open recently, which usually makes me want to grab a racket. 

So you grew up in the mountains, and moved to Berlin six years ago? Was that a difficult transition moving from somewhere so snow-related?

No, I think for so long I wasn’t even feeling like I was living anywhere. I mean during trips I usually go through nice cities and visiting them was always something really exciting for me. Even though I never lived in one before, I was always attracted by the possibilities it brings. I never really felt like I had to be in the mountains non-stop or that my definitive home was in Les Deux Alps. I was already living nowhere and having this super nomadic life, so I don’t think I was super attached to being in any one place. But I’m so used to being on the move that when it comes to being in the city for too long, for sure, I miss the mountains. I could probably also miss the city if I’m in the mountains for too long so it’s all about finding a balance. And of course it’s a luxury to have both but if I tried to picture myself living here full time, I doubt that I could be perfectly balanced. It’s very nice as it is at the moment. 

Did move to Berlin primarily because of your girlfriend?

So when we met in Innsbruck she’d already been there five years. We spent another two years there and then she had enough and wanted to see something else. Since I’m the one constantly moving, her choice of where to go was more important. We wanted to stay independent in our relationship. We’re fully committed to each other but it was really important that she would be happy if I was going away. I would have felt bad if she had to live in France whilst I was away travelling. Being German, she’s in her home country and her culture, and she has a job she likes. This context is comfortable for us both.  

I’d actually never been to Berlin before either. One day we packed everything we had in the car and left Innsburck. This was in August 2014. We arrived in the middle of the night. We had the flat of a friend for a month. I was still young and feeling like, whatever, this could be for six months, or a year or whatever. It was quite spontaneous. I would have never guessed I would have spent the last six years here. It kind of felt like we were just going there to check it out. And that’s the approach I had here for a while, to be like, I’m here but I’m not really here. I’m not investing a bunch of time or trying to meet a lot of people. My approach changed over the years when we realised that we were not likely to move too soon. I started to make it more of my home as well, trying to have a deeper connection. 

Was there any initial pushback from your sponsors?

Not at all. I think I kept it a little quiet in the beginning. I didn’t really communicate it that much. Six years ago, I was constantly available for anything. So it didn’t a big difference for snowboarding. Maybe by now, as I’m moving a little less, it could sound a bit weird to people that I don’t have a base in the mountains somewhere. Having a little spot in the mountains is something I do really wish for. But being here didn’t change how often I rode and how available I was.

And in some ways people liked the story, like, ‘You live in Berlin? Can you even snowboard there?’

What’s the main pros and cons of living in Berlin?

There’s moments when I really love it. And there’s moments where I almost hate it. But in the beginning it was eye-opening to what living in a big city can be like. Whatever you’re into, you can find it (besides snowboarding…haha). But when it comes to other things like culture, music, events, food etc. There are so many of us foreigners here; you can meet people from all different cultures. Whatever you’re into, you can find it. I definitely like that about Berlin. 

It also seems that most people really care about society—it’s not hard to find someone to talk about broader topics rather than only self-centred concerns. I was really curious about the history and how everything unfolded here too. How much you learn from the past when you go to different places in Berlin. Visually there’s so much to see. I love riding my bike and taking pictures. And I did that for one or two years. Sometimes my girlfriend and I would just spend our time in the streets, looking at everything. It’s a really exciting city.

For me, it’s a bit limited with the outdoors as it’s super flat. That’s the main downside—we’re on flatland here. You can never get a perspective or point of view of things above ground. That’s almost disturbing for me. 

You’re constantly on ground level.

Yeah! I had to adapt. I started to get into skating more and that’s how I made a lot of my friends. I started to draw and paint. It helped me discover things I wouldn’t have discovered if I stayed in the mountains. But Berlin’s also a little bit far out. Having to take a plane every time I want to move or go ride is starting to become an issue for me. I didn’t feel that guilty when I was younger and maybe the world was still a bit different six years ago too. This lifestyle is not very sustainable, so we are slowly shifting towards finding solutions to be in the mountains in the winter and to have Berlin the rest of the year, and to limit the shorter trips.

Obviously 2020 has been a shitshow. Where were you when the lockdown started and how did it affect you?

We were actually in Chamonix when it happened. We had a really fun filming trip. There was eight of us in the house, having a good time. We had good snow conditions and like most people, we didn’t realise at the time how serious it was going to get. Then Trump made a speech that the U.S. were closing the borders. I was with American friends and they literally booked a flight in the middle of the night and left at four in the morning. We went to bed thinking we were gonna film the next day and I woke up alone, having to clean the Airbnb solo. The party was over so suddenly. But since I was already in Chamonix I thought I would wait and see. A couple of days later, Macron made his speech and the resort closed. At that point, no one knew how lockdowns were really gonna work. It was almost exciting in the beginning. My girlfriend came to Chamonix and we started the lockdown there for two weeks. We then spent a month at my girlfriend’s mother’s place in the countryside. She lives alone and we didn’t want her to experience lockdown in solitude. Since Germany’s measures weren’t too strict we could at least be outside most of the time. Whereas in France, people could only leave the house once a day for exercise or essential goods. So I was spending my days outside and basically trying to slow down and rest from a short but intense season. By the time we came back to Berlin the lockdown was already kinda over. We could go outside and skate again. So whilst it was very strange and affected the whole world and so many people around us, it didn’t seem to affect us that badly.

How did it affect you with regards to your work and snowboarding?

When I was 28 and still competing I would pretty much snowboard all the time. But for the past two years I’ve been taking longer breaks in the summer. So it really didn’t change that much. I mean right now we’re in November and I really feel that my natural body clock wants to be back. I haven’t been working for basically seven months. By the time I snowboard again, it will be eight or nine months. So it’s hard not to do your job for nine months. It sucks. But at the same time, there was room for other things. So although I’m really happy I had this time off, I feel weird being so disconnected to my snowboard life. 

What led you to getting this studio. How did that all fall into place?

I have been drawing the last few years, practicing it as a way of creative expression. And I feel it could be part of what I do after snowboarding. Something like graphic design, making illustrations or painting. Something kinda visual at least. I’ve always been into taking photos and enjoying cinema. So I’m trying to develop that in general. It plays a really important role in making me feel in a good place. Originally, I wanted to do an internship with one of my friends in graphic design. And that didn’t happen, but I was pretty stoked to be free in some ways. With the lockdown this year, I felt more freedom to be creative over the summer. And as our apartment is really small, I wanted to try at least for once in my life to have a creative space only dedicated to this. It’s awesome!

You feel like suddenly having time on your hands gave you a different perspective, a new outlet to explore?

Definitely. I think without it I wouldn’t have had the freedom or disconnected my brain so much from snowboarding and the snowboard life. And it really helps to fully do something else for a while, without really questioning it. At some points, I like to do stuff other than snowboarding but I feel bad about it sometimes. I just get this feeling that I should be more focused on snowboarding which is my main thing. But this year was so special, it made it easier to have more distance than usual. It felt good to really commit to something else. 

Your artwork is incredibly vibrant. Where does this desire to create stem from?

For me, it was about embracing an attitude, jumping into something new. When you’re in that mode, it’s super nice to create stuff. In the beginning I was focused on what I thought was pleasing to the eye. Different colours, shapes and so on. I was just trying to create something that looked good. Then the more I started to do it, the more I needed, maybe a reason to do it? Because maybe it’s not enough to create something that’s just good looking. I really like how it makes me aware of how I think in general. Trying to clarify my thoughts. Simple philosophical topics which made me think a lot about life. Whilst I perhaps didn’t find a way of approaching a topic or translating specific emotions, I was really happy to be in the position of someone learning, trying stuff and not necessarily trying to nail it. The search was what was exciting to me. The search aesthetically but also the search for artistic expression. The way I grew up, being creative with art wasn’t natural at all. It wasn’t something encouraged by my parents or anything like that. I think a lot of my American friends influenced me in this way. People there are less critical. Doing stuff doesn’t have to be amazing but just the fact you’re doing something is amazing. The outcome doesn’t have to be outstanding. Maybe in France and with Europeans in general, people are a bit more critical and calculated in that sense, which could discourage someone from trying something new. 

So it’s not so much about the end result but more the creative process?

Yeah, definitely! That’s what influences me a lot. When creativity takes a bigger part in my daily life I start to see and feel everything in a slightly different way. In terms of art itself, I can be excited by so many things. And the more I do it, the broader it becomes. Then I can kind of see how I can interpret something or think about the technique and how something was made. This summer I was really into the art movement COBRA, which was an art collective from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam (hence the name), who after the Second World War, wanted to break off from the more classical painting styles and really dive into experimental and primitive art. Almost like childish drawings and ‘uncontrolled’ art. All that art from Karel Appel, Corneille, and Constant is really vibrant to me. This approach of accepting something that isn’t super defined or super polished and controlled. It’s interesting to me, and of course not easy to reach at all.  

There’s such a variation of different tools and art mediums in here. How did you start to build it all up? 

In the beginning I didn’t try to learn much, or buy a book and start from the first chapter or whatever. I just bought some acrylics, some canvases and some brushes. I don’t even know anything about them, I just bought so many. Then at some point I got some oil sticks as well. I just know that oil painting is harder because it takes forever to dry and it’s harder to clean the brushes and to keep it clean. Acrylic gives you so many possibilities already. And to mix that with pencils and oil sticks can lead to some happy accidents sometimes, just by trying stuff. It’s good to learn techniques but at the same time, I enjoyed finding out things by myself. It’s just cool to keep exploring and finding new ways to have an original approach. 

In terms of other creative outlets, you skate a lot now that you’re in Berlin. How does your snowboarding influence your skateboarding?

Well, I mainly skate at skateparks. I don’t really do street. When it comes to stairs and curbs and stuff, it’s not exciting for me. And although there are skateparks here, I don’t think the choice is great either. But there’s still a couple that are nice. Dogshit skatepark close to my place has a bit of everything. It’s kinda small and it’s quick. There’s slappies, wallies, a bit of transition and the copings grind. I think that’s the way I like to skate. You don’t really have to push. It’s really just a riding sensation. You go backside, frontside, you hit something here and then you have the speed for the next thing. I don’t do any tricks apart from ollies and grinds. But it’s enough to just go around and keep the speed. I guess you can compare it to snowboarding because you pump and you try to conserve your speed, or you do a powerslide to slow down. It really feels like riding a slope and I’m glad I got to the stage where I feel comfortable and in control on a board. I think skateboarding is amazing and it doesn’t take much gear to do it, or cost too much money. That’s something I don’t like about snowboarding—unless you’re someone who dedicates their lifestyle and life to living in the mountains, getting a job there and investing in gear, it’s kind of hard to access.

It’s an expensive hobby for sure.

Totally. There’s so much gear and you have to invest so much money just to ride there for ten days. And then you might get shitty snow conditions and it’s not really a green industry either. All these lifts in the mountains and all this gear that gets produced. That’s the bad side of snowboarding for me that skateboarding doesn’t have. You can just get a setup and step out of your door pretty much anywhere and just skate. I like how skateboarding is a social thing too. If it wasn’t for skateboarding, I don’t know who I’d be hanging with in Berlin. That’s how I met a lot of my friends here.

Tell us about Japan earlier this year. Was it your first time there?

I went in January and it was my first time in eight years. I went there with the pirate crew in 2012 for the first time but honestly it wasn’t one of my favourite trips. Also when I was younger, the way you had to ride in Japan, like tiny terrain, in the trees…it wasn’t my thing. I just wanted to go big and go fast. It wasn’t really suiting my snowboarding back then. So I was never pushing too hard to go back. But this year Volcom wanted to have a trip there and it was way more of an integrated trip. We were staying with Japanese friends and we moved around a lot and it felt more like an actual trip rather than just trying to get shots.

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How does the scene compare there to Europe?

I mean the powder riding scene is really big there. And there are so many snowboarders it’s so cool. They have this deep love for the art of riding. It almost feels like a religion over there. People are so passionate. It’s all they talk about. They would study someone’s turn and be excited about how beautiful a turn or a method could be. But they have fun with it too. Our friends would hang all day in a forest where they could snowboard just by hiking there. 

Would you go back again?

Definitely, and they didn’t even have a good winter. It was an exceptional year out there. When we arrived in Tokyo end of January, it was around 25 degrees. It was a month after the fires in Australia; it seemed to be an uncommonly hot year in the pacific. We scored good conditions for a few days but it wasn’t how Japan is most of the year. I’d love to go back for sure.

So what’s your plan now? What are your goals for the rest of the season?

So we’re in November now and I’ve been in touch way more with the sponsors. The ball is rolling again. I’m really excited again. The new lockdown will delay everything again though. Without Covid, the plan would be to make a Vans movie with Tanner Pendleton but even with the ongoing pandemic we’re gonna try to make this happen. The plan was to shoot in Europe as much as possible and ride the resorts and be altogether in a spot for a longer time instead of chasing good conditions across the world. Also to find the freedom to approach it more in the sense of where you are rather than the chase. I think it’s the kind of snowboarding I want to promote, where you don’t have to spend your time going somewhere else to maybe score some powder; you can go closest to where you are and still have a good time. I guess I’ll be based in the Alps a lot and then we’ll see if the Americans can come over.

 

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