Making waves: Maui snowboarder eyes Olympics in South Korea
On the island where Lyon Farrell comes from, they cherish the golden sand and hanging 10.
In the place where he’d love to land next winter, he’ll need a snowboard, not a surfboard, and will get more mileage out of a backside 1260 than riding waves.
Farrell is that rarest of birds — an elite snowboarder who hails from, of all places, Maui. It certainly makes for quite an icebreaker when he shows up at contests.
“I definitely get some funny looks,” Farrell said with a laug h. “It’s the last place you’d hear that a snowboarder is from.”
His goal is to end up at the Olympics in South Korea next February, the most unlikely of destinations for an 18-year-old who grew up skateboarding and surfing.
“At first, it’s a bit of a shock, in a way, when you hear he’s from Hawaii. For me, I only see what I see in front of me and I see an incredibly driven athlete,” U.S. snowboarding coach Mike Jankowski said of Farrell, who is part of the rookie slopestyle roster. “We’ve seen some amazing snowboarders and skiers come from many unlikely places.
“It won’t surprise me to see him get to the top. He’s got what it takes.”
It’s easy to see where he gets his talent: His father, Campbell Farrell, is a big-wave surfer who’s good friends with surfing icon Laird Hamilton (important because Hamilton’s brother is Lyon, the inspiration behind Farrell’s first name). His mother, Angela Cochran, is a renowned wind-surfer who captured a gold medal at the Summer X Games in 1995.
Turns out, Farrell’s first love was skateboarding, which was only enhanced by meeting Shaun White at a skate park. A 10-year-old Farrell watched in fascination as White honed a new trick.
“I was blown away by just even being in his presence,” Farrell recounted. “Because I was the kid that watched him all the time on TV.”
Farrell wanted to follow White’s footsteps into the realm of skateboarding. But after he went to a contest in California, he quickly realized it was a totally different level.
“That hit me hard,” said Farrell, a home-schooled high school senior whose family relocated to Hawaii when he was an infant. “It made me realize how hard it would be to become one of better skateboarders in the world.”
Time for a new plan.
But what? Surfing was really nothing more than a hobby (although, he was extremely good). And being a wind-surfer, like mom, was out of the question because, “there was too much gear and we had to drag it all over the beach.”
His family took frequent trips to New Zealand, where his dad was from. While there, they would typically squeeze in some skiing. During one visit, his brother tried snowboarding and it looked so fun that Farrell decided to give it a go as well.
This is how good he became: When he was around 13, an instructor who happened to be in New Zealand from Colorado spotted Farrell and invited him to Breckenridge for some pointers. He jumped at the chance and, accompanied by his mom, went there for three weeks.
He’s been going back to the mountain ever since.
In between trips, Farrell mimics the snowboarding moves he learns on his skateboard or while he’s surfing . It’s the best he can do in, well, paradise.
“Most of the (snowboarding) transition features, they relate pretty well to surfing. But it’s so hard, because surfing relies so much on wind,” Farrell said.
He’s proven to be a quick study, perfecting three different versions of 1080s in no time.
“I caught up to all these kids who had been snowboarding forever,” said Farrell , who’s sponsored by Red Bull and is concentrating on slopestyle — where riders negotiate a course featuring rails and jumps — over the halfpipe. “That made me think I could really do this. I could hang with these kids who have lived in the mountains their whole life.”
The U.S. snowboarding team got a heads-up on Farrell a few years ago and began inviting him to camps, where he earned a spot on the rookie team and travels to competitions all over the globe. His progression has skyrocketed to the point where he has a bona fide chance make the slopestyle squad for South Korea.
“He’s kind of got that really good balance of fun, positivity, along with that intense, competitiveness and drive you need to compete at the top level,” Jankowski said. “We’re still fine-tuning all those pieces with Lyon, but he has the raw ingredients to be an amazing snowboarding for sure.”
Not too long ago, Farrell had a “can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening” moment when he competed at an event and, going right before him, was none other than White.
“Now that was crazy,” Farrell said.
So was this: Winning a national competition a week ago at Copper Mountain, Colorado — after cracking his snowboard on a rail in a practice run. His mom raced back to town to get his other board — broken as well — and he landed a backside triple cork to take home the title.
The tip of the iceberg for the up-and-coming snowboarder from Hawaii.
“I should’ve been a pro surfer, but for some reason I ended up being a snowboarder,” Farrell said. “There’s a lot more to come and I’m very excited for the road ahead. I just want to keep showing the spirit of ‘Aloha’ to the rest of world.”
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