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Thursday, May 24, 2012
Updated: May 30, 12:15 AM ET
Image Maker: Jussi Grznar


Jussi Grznar
If you ask nicely, Mother Nature might just bend the rules for you or keep the lights on past curfew.

It's possible snowboard photographer Jussi Grznar may actually be a spy -- some kind of espionage super-agent from Europe sent over here to infiltrate our North American ways, and our women.

Or maybe not, but Grznar is certainly keeping an eye on us. He notices things -- everything, all around him, all the time -- from art on restaurant walls to what kind of shoes the waitress is wearing. He knows how many people are sitting three tables away and where the fire exit is. He's calm, likeable and speaks deliberately but his eyes are like machines, scanning the world, processing life, seeing the light. I suppose this helps a photographer succeed but "world-traveling snowboarder" is also a pretty sweet cover story for a spy.

Currently based out of Whistler British Columbia, 31-year-old photographer has lit up the snowboard industry, bagging six magazine covers internationally since 2008, and shooting with some of the best crews in snowboarding (as well as some real heavy hitters in the surfing and base jumping worlds.) His photos exude character, creativity and patience -- much like the man himself.

ESPN: You were born in Slovakia. When did you start snowboarding?
Jussi Grznar: I started skiing at age 3. When I was 18 I went on a trip to the mountains and my buddy was a snowboarder and we swapped. I first tried snowboarding after nine rum and cokes. I strapped in and I couldn't stand up and everyone was laughing.

I thought it was the hardest thing ever but then I tried it sober and it was easier. That was it. I loved it. I never went back. I think Slovakia is just a smaller version of Canada -- it's hockey and mountains and snowboarding.

How did you end up in Whistler?
The movie "Highlife" by TGR. I [didn't] know how, or what I was supposed to do but I decided I just wanted to be part of what they were doing. Every movie I watched, it was Whistler, B.C., so I knew that was where I wanted to live.

I coached snowboarding in the mountains each winter and parked cars at a celebrity hotel in London in summer. It took five years to get my papers. I came to Canada in October 2006.

How was that first winter?
I worked doubles -- days on the Horstman T-Bar and nights at the Amsterdam Pub. I met a guy from Australia named Matt Gilsenan and we became best friends. He introduced me to surfing and took me to Mexico. I had a camera, a Canon 350D and one lens. I sent the photos to a mag in Europe and they ran an eight-page story, and I thought, "This might actually work. This might be the thing."

Jussi Grznar
To put the season to rest, the crews will often go out for one last time just to have lunch in the mountains, goof around, and enjoy the view.

But you had no formal training?
No. I never planned it. But you turn 25 and you realize you aren't going to be a pro snowboarder. I really loved the culture and the life and the people. I was looking for a way to be a part of it.

That was 2008 - 2009. You've had seven covers since then. Safe to say you're a fast learner?
There are certain features that have been shot a lot before but you are always looking to step it up and find a fresh perspective, add an interesting element, add mood, shoot it in a different light and bring something fresh and unique. But you don't become a great photographer overnight. It takes years of practicing, experimenting and failing. I am still just at the beginning of a really long learning curve.

How important are crew dynamics when it comes to getting great shots?
People always ask who is my favorite rider to work with but to me it is a lot about team work -- if the guy is not landing his tricks and his buddy comes over and gives him a hug and shows support. In the backcountry you can get hurt or buried so the best rider is the guy who's got your back.

Also there are some riders out there who really appreciate the value of photography and will take the extra step, hit it again for another angle or wait a half hour for the light. It works both ways because they get the s--- done.

Snowboard photographers don't get to ride as much as people think. Do you ever get frustrated with all the work and not enough play?
I have to set one thing straight -- I love snowboarding more than anything and there is nothing better than shredding pow with a bunch of friends. Before, I rode 100-plus days a season but once I started shooting photos I realized I love shooting more than riding. When I go just riding and leave the camera at home I have fun and love it but everywhere I look I see photos and I wish I had the camera.

How many cameras do you have?
Too many. Digital, film, point and shoot, iPhone ... a lot.

What gear do you take for a day of shooting?
Two bodies, lenses covering 15-300mm range, tripod, spare batteries and memory cards.

Talk about the business side of things?
What I never understood before I started shooting snowboarding is that snowboarders are not just riders, they are their own business managers. They have to do sales meetings and catalogue shoots and promotional tours for movies and stuff like that. From watching riders I realized how important that stuff is. I realized I have to implement that into my photography business as well.

Jussi Grznar
Every once in a while you find a moment where you don't need to compare it to anything else at all.

It isn't just taking great photos, it's establishing a great work ethic. Shooting is 20 percent of it. You think it is just shoot in the day and then party at night, but it's not like that.

What's the worst thing about snowboarding today?
The people who don't live in the mountains and have never lived in the mountains or ridden in their lives but they are becoming a part of snowboarding through the companies. They try to run snowboard contests and tell people what to do. They don't respect it for what it is.

What is the best thing about it?
The variety. You have successful people doing completely different things. Comp riders, pipe riders, urban kids and then the big backcountry riders and it seems like there is room for everyone. And it doesn't mean one thing is better than the other but just that you are able to express yourself no matter what way you like.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I will never forget that first surf trip. You never forget your first cover. Also, I work with people who are super talented and amazingly skilled athletes and they surprise and impress me every day.