No snow? No problem! The art of the snowboard in the concrete jungle of DTLA

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Photo by Pascal Shirley (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

This weekend, if you want a taste of winter sports here in the land of drought and far from Sochi, you can head downtown to a new gallery on Mateo Street called CES Contemporary. Snowboarders/artists Mike Parillo and Corey Smith commissioned a series of boards from a dozen artists which they then hand-painted and finished. (Some were even given a test run at Baldface Lodge in British Columbia, a mecca, Parillo said, to riders who truly get the sport.) The collection of custom boards will be on display under the title Neon Daze and Winter Waves through February 22nd.

We talked to the LA -born Parillo via e-mail in advance of the Saturday show open (6-9pm.) While colorful boards are nice, he told us, what matters most is the camaraderie, trust, and immersion in nature that snowboarding inspires: “When I think back to amazing days, the only things that come to mind are the people, places and laughter, not really how cool my gear looked,” he said.

KCRW: What is important to you about the look of the snowboards you use?  (And how many do you have?)

Mike Parillo: Funny or weird as it may seem, I prefer to have very low-key graphics. All-black ‘ninja style’ is best for me, and the three boards that I ride are pretty much just that. After 25 years of riding and having countless graphics produced, most people probably have big collections and would bet money that I have a pile of decks. But I’m a minimalist – I’ve had hundreds of boards pass through my hands, but I’ve never felt a need to hoard toys. If I have extras lying around, I put people on them as quick as possible. They should be bringing happiness to the world.

KCRW: You’re an artist as well as a world-class snowboarder.  How does each of your passions inform the others?

MP: When I was in my early twenties, visual art presented itself as a major game changer in my life, but I was primarily focused and absorbed in riding as much as possible. My very naive self-taught painting style at the time reflected the happiness of being that guy. Mountains, sunrays, waves, “happy-happy-joy-joy” stuff was all I did. I can say that I was more of a “snowboard artist” then (if there even exists such a thing). Fast-forward to present day, being established as a fine artist that happens to be involved with and influencing this so-called sport. My roots and passion in snowboarding have given me so much and that informs me everyday of how amazing life is and how important nature is, especially when living in a big cement box in DTLA.

KCRW: Most of us are worried sick about this drought, which I’d imagine has another impact on someone involved with winter sports… 

MP: I think anyone who has been committed to getting ideal conditions and chasing storms or waves over time inevitably gets consumed by the weather, its patterns, changes and abnormalities, and they can’t help to subtly become an environmentalist at heart. It’s alarming to me personally because I’ve seen such a radical change in the last 10 years. It feels like the seasons might not be guaranteed in, say, 10 years from now. I know without a doubt that bad winters kill the retailers and that trickles back upstream all the way to the sponsored riders when budgets and projects get cut. The bottom line is that above-average snowfall before the holidays, continuing all the way through the spring, makes everyone who loves this thing equally happy.

KCRW: A recent piece in Outside magazine suggested that snowboarding is a dying sport.  Is that true?  Do we need the art to remember it by?  

MP: Quite simply, NO, with about 10 exclamation points. There’s no need to even debate it or waste the thought to contemplate that. Having said that, I know I am very lucky to have the perspective I do, which has been gained from experiencing every aspect of the lifestyle. It would be impossible to understand simply from taking occasional weekend trips to Big Bear and Mammoth. If the industry dies out, that would suck but we can make boards in our garages, teach ourselves leather work to make boots, and sew hides together to create a paleolithic-esque, Home Depot, ultra-utilitarian phase of the sport. We’d still just be riding mountains with our friends that have become family.