NAME: Mike Ravelson
OCCUPATION(S): Musician, Painter, Snowboarder
LOCATION: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
ART: Instagram @mikerave
SPONSORS: Volcom, Vans, CAPiTA, Union Binding Company, Electric, Crab Grab, Eastern Boarder, Vintage Sponsor
Mike Ravelson is a pro snowboarder who’s dedicated nearly two decades of his life to snowboarding. In his interview, he shares how he was able to get his original artwork featured on his first CAPiTA pro model snowboard (pictured above), the many sacrifices he’s made along the way and his creative vision for his art, music and snowboarding.
Can you give us a brief rundown of how you got started down the professional snowboarding track?
A short, short, short story is, I’ve basically devoted my life to snowboarding ever since the first day I did it.
Which was when?
Probably when I was 10 or 11 years old. Basically the first time I saw a snowboard there couldn’t have been a day where I didn’t think about it. That’s probably one thing for anyone who wants to do anything: it’s an all day, every day kind of relationship.
You keep yourself busy not only with snowboarding, but with skating, painting, drawing, music… Have you always been so creative?
No, but I think I always wanted to be. My mom is a pretty talented artist and I was always drawing when I was young. And skateboarding and music are just things I’ve always wanted to do.
Over time, getting older and coming to a realization about what it takes to accomplish something, you’re like, Okay, it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to happen immediately. So I think once I learned that lesson and started doing things that were really hard for me and making progress, I realized that you can really do anything. I think first it was skating. You start to make some progress and you’re like, Oh man, this is getting better. And it just gets more fun as you get better. Same with music. At first you’re strumming on any chords, it’s all you know, and then all of a sudden it just evolves as you keep doing it.
So, yeah, I think they’ve all been kind of helping me collectively – snowboarding, music, art or anything like that.
When you were 10 or 11, did you snowboard pretty much every day?
Every day I could, yeah. I started off on a plastic little snowboard, and luckily my house had a hill next to it, so I would just go outside and build a little jump on the side of my house.
Luckily my family had the resources to buy me a season pass and I had friends whose parents would take us on trips. I’m really fortunate because I know that’s not always the case, especially with something like snowboarding. It does take a lot of resources to get into it because it’s expensive and it’s not like you can just go to a park and throw a ball around. You have to spend x amount of hundreds of dollars on tickets and I’m lucky to have been able to just kind of get into it.
So at what point did you decide to pursue professional snowboarding?
I don’t know if being a pro really was a thing I thought about until I realized that you need to make money by doing something.
Growing up I just wanted to be like the pro snowboarders I saw in videos. I wanted to go snowboard at those places, dress like them and interact with the world just like they did. ‘Cause it’s kind of its own little ecosystem, its own culture and they operate differently than the people I saw in my everyday life growing up in Massachusetts. It was all kind of a dream. I remember watching those videos and thinking that’d be cool. Just constant thought manifestation.
What were some specific things you did to start moving towards that goal?
Anything and everything. I was continuously watching things for inspiration, trying to seek out any type of video or magazine at the time, and also just snowboarding. Basically emulating everything I saw. Taking bits and pieces from all these things I had access to and then doing it myself, trying to make it my own. And then some contests.
These days we have someone who films, someone who takes photos. But at the time it was like, Oh, I want to make a video part, what do I have to do? I’ve got to get a camera and then I have to learn how to film. Then I have to teach my friends how to film so they can film me.
So it’s kind of asking, How do you keep doing it and keep progressing with it? And that’s just creating your own sustainable outlets to do it. It’s hard to say how I got to where I am now because I’m still in it and it feels like I’m still working towards something. I guess I’ve just been utilizing every opportunity to grow in every single facet that I can, always.
How did you get on the radar of some of your early sponsors?
I think filming all this stuff ourselves turned heads. I’m realizing it now because it’s really hard to film video parts – it’s really hard to film anything, nevertheless find someone to film it.
So I think even when I see young kids now and they’re out there making their own edits and filming themselves and I’m like, Oh, wow, those guys want it. I think because we were doing that, too, someone out there saw that we wanted it and then from there it’s kind of easy. I think if you’re working towards something, somehow you do what’s necessary. It’s almost like a funnel and these different things kind of filter you right out to where you need to be. But you have to take the steps to get into that funnel, you know?
At the time it was filming, going around to contests, being seen at contests, meeting people and people seeing something in you. I’m sure you guys see some people and you’re like, Oh, they’ve really got it, or they’re working towards it. I think that’s crucial. When you meet someone and you can just tell that they’re driven, which I always was. It was the only thing on my mind since I first saw a snowboard. I think you can tell that a lot of the time in people, whether they have devoted themselves to something or not.
What were some of the things that went wrong along the way?
I don’t think wrong is the right word ‘cause nothing’s wrong. It’s all necessary. Even the stuff you see as negative. But being so driven in snowboarding took a lot away from every other part of my life and the relationships I have with other people.
The sacrifices you had to make in order to pursue your dream.
Yeah, ’cause a lot of people, they see where you are now, but they don’t see behind the scenes and the things that you have to give up.
Totally. I think it’s funny that even my dad thinks because I’m a snowboarder it’s all fun and games. Or someone who says, Oh, yeah, you’ve got it easy, you just go snowboard, do whatever you want. But it’s not that at all. You really have to give a piece of yourself every time you do it. And when you’re moving around constantly, it’s hard to build relationships.
It just depends on what you want out of life and it can take a lot out of you. But you learn a lot from it. All this is crazy.
What do you want right now? What are you working towards?
I’m just looking to be creative and express myself to my fullest potential in every avenue of my life, and to enjoy the company, being at home – everything. When you’re on the road and things are crazy, you enjoy that and know that you’ll have time to cool it down and relax too.
I try to enjoy every day for what it is and not be so next thing, next thing, next thing. Just be here, you know?
What does your day-to-day look like? Because you’re on the road a lot.
Actually a friend and I were joking about trip days because we were calling them Groundhog Days. Every day you wake up, you want to prolong putting on your pants, you get breakfast, shovel and hit a spot, it’s such a beautiful thing. But that’s trip days.
When I’m at home, maybe for a few days I don’t really do anything. I get out of bed – super early cause of jet lag – make some breakfast, have some tea, stretch and just paint and kind of decompress a bit. Maybe I haven’t even thought about snowboarding yet. I’m just trying to experience every day.
What about summertime? Are you traveling for snowboarding?
Yeah, my whole last summer I snowboarded, which I don’t think I can do again. Maybe I could, I always say, I’m not going to snowboard this summer, and then I end up going everywhere there’s still snow.
This summer I’m hoping to maybe enjoy some summer activities and surf and just get some sunshine on my white, translucent, jacket-covered skin.
Who determines your schedule? Do your sponsors figure out where you’ll be going?
I do, to an extent, but if I gotta go on a trip, then I gotta go on a trip. But otherwise, I’m fortunate enough to not have anyone telling me when to wake up or where to be at a certain time. I can generally create my schedule.
So for a trip, do your sponsors call you up and say, Hey, we’re planning on going with a group of people to this destination?
Yeah, that’s pretty much it. They’ll say, We have this trip on these dates, we want you to be involved. Can you go, yes or no? And then usually it’s yes. I’ll probably try to be a bit more selective these days just because energy is hard to sustain sometimes. And you’ve got to know when to pump the brakes a little bit and just recoup a little bit longer than you think you can.
Going back to your sponsors, who are your sponsors currently and how did you get them?
I guess it all started from the shop in my town growing up, which was Eastern Boarder. This guy Spike who worked there was like the facilitator. It was one of those occasions where someone sees something in you and then they start broadcasting it. He was like, Mike clearly wants to do this, let’s give him the chance. He got me in touch with CAPiTA and I started riding for them.
And when was this?
Probably when I was 18. And CAPiTA was making a movie, so I got in on that and was able to film some stuff. From there it was another person who saw something in me from the East Coast, Paul Danchak. He said, We think you’d be a good fit for Volcom, and I got on Volcom.
That was about the same time?
Maybe a year or two later. And then Vans happened right after that, and Electric and Crab Grab gloves. They all sort of happened consecutively.
What kind of arrangements do you have with them and has it evolved over the years?
Yeah, just standard contracts where they support me in whatever way they can and I snowboard for them in return. Wear their product and work with them on projects and art. I’m really thankful for the companies I ride for.
Let’s talk about your Mike Ravelson pro model CAPiTA snowboard that you’ve got your own artwork on. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Yeah, I’ve been riding for CAPiTA for a long time now on their am program, and this year they decided to bump my good friend John O’Connor and me up to the pro rankings. And as a token of their appreciation, they made a board with my graphics on it. They did one limited run and got rid of all those pretty quickly, so they’re in the process of doing another run right now. Those are for sale at certain shops in America, Europe and Asia. So it’s a nice little gift from them. I’m really excited about it.
How did they choose that specific design?
It’s a piece of art that I did for some Volcom promotional stuff a year ago, for some t-shirts and a tote bag. It’s just a drawing of a simple sun and star people that I did in one of my notebooks and scanned. It seems to have resonated with a lot of people. It’s got a lot of meaning. It’s cool to look down and see something that you created on your snowboard. It’s another one of those things that’s like fuel.
You’ve mentioned before that true expression is one of the things you value most, and you think that art can help people figure out who they are so they can create their own paths in life. Are there any key insights or moments from doing your art that have served as catalysts for you?
Yeah, a lot of them, I think. Even if they’re just small moments where maybe you’re writing in your notebook and you’re really focused on something that you love and the whole world shuts out. For example, maybe you’ll be writing and you don’t even realize what you’re writing, but your pen and hand are moving. It’s almost like some other worldly force putting stuff out there. Maybe you’re not even conscious of it. But when you look at it afterwards you’re like, Oh man, that’s beautiful.
I think it’s the same thing for snowboarding. It’s these moments where everything just shuts off and you’re just present. Those moments – and they’re few and far between – I think you spend all of your waking moments to get those. For me, I think it’s a lot of small moments – just sitting alone with a guitar or a notebook or riding a trail alone – that are the main inspirations for the rest of it.
Another thing you said is that following your own path can be hard because you have to trust yourself. So how do you deal with doubt and when have you really had to trust your gut?
Yeah, I think that probably comes from making every mistake in the book first. Over time you begin zoning in on what is working and try to follow your gut instinct. You can feel it when you make a decision that is against your beliefs or someone else’s. I think it’s just tuning into what you know. You’re either doing something right or wrong and you just hope to stay on the right track.
Okay. So right now then, do you make your living from being a snowboarder?
Is that mainly from sponsors or do you still do any contests or other things?
Just from sponsors.
So how did you do it financially in the early days when you were just on flow [gear-only sponsorships]?
My parents are by no means wealthy, but if I needed a couple hundred dollars in a tough time, I was fortunate enough to have someone who could send it. And looking back that was big because I was just starting to make enough money to basically live.
I spent a lot of time scrounging, and luckily I had people to scrounge with, like Christian [Buliung] who worked at a restaurant. When we had no money, he’d bring home some breadsticks or soup. So there was always food.
There’s a long time where you’re not making any money, but that’s okay. Because this is what you have to be doing just to keep going. So you all pull some change together and buy some potatoes or something. I think as long as you’re eating, everything’s going to be all right, which we were.
Now it’s all changed. Luckily it’s gotten to a point where it’s paying off and I can start maybe saving some money.
What are some things you’re still trying to figure out?
All the stuff that I’ve been trying to figure out my whole life. I don’t think anything ever changes. I guess just working on myself every day and finding ways to experience the world as best I can. That’s mainly it for me.
Is there anything specific you do to work on yourself?
I think just drawing and being creative. I think a lot of people are pent up and don’t have any outlets to pour stuff out onto, but you’ve really just got to pour your heart into something and let all those things on your mind spill out, whether it’s on snowboarding or drawing or writing or cooking, cleaning. You can be brooming and be like, Oh, okay – you just think of something and maybe it makes a little more sense. Just finding ways to make sense of everything.
Yeah, quiet moments. I spend a lot of time by myself as well. I think that’s an important thing to do these days in a world where you can constantly be stimulated by something, especially phones, TVs, computers – really anything. I would say meditation, but I don’t think I’ve ever really meditated. But maybe you sit down quietly for a bit and just try to reduce yourself to nothing for as long as you can.
How do you think you’ve carved out your own uniqueness, differentiated yourself from other snowboarders, artists or musicians?
I guess I always had really creative inspirations. Everybody steals so I just happen to be stealing from people who were really creative and it’s like, fake it till you make it.
So I was always exercising these outlets of creativity and looking at things differently because my inspirations looked at things differently. I think as time goes on, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll experience some individualism and you become your own person instead of just being a clone.
In my case, maybe it didn’t happen until the last couple of years, but once it did, I started creating my own kind of style. You take stuff and then work really hard, make all the mistakes and then maybe you do something that people start identifying as yours and not just a byproduct of other people or things. It takes experimentation, trying new things. I try not to do the same thing every single year.
You’ve said, “Everything is so individualized these days when, in reality, it should be about people you’re creating with.” Can you tell us why you feel collaboration is one of the most important things?
Probably because I spent so many years worried about myself. I’m constantly worrying about my image and what I’m doing when really we can’t do anything without the people around us. No matter how talented you are, no matter how much money you have, you’re only as good as your army or your troops and your family and the people you surround yourself with. So once you realize that, then you know that you’ve got to be working with the right people because you can’t do anything by yourself.
I have so many talented friends that now I get to work with because they’ve been doing all the same stuff as me. And now we’re at a point where we’re going to work and learn together. I think that’s what it’s really all about.
Which leads us to EP, a Transworld SNOWboarding Riders’ Poll nominated short film that you and Brandon Cocard put together in two weeks. You describe it as “the feeling of a snowboard session and garage jam session into one piece.” The film includes seven original tracks and footage where you are snowboarding and jamming. Can you describe what the process was like creating the project in what seemed like a really short amount of time?
Yeah, the process was really cool, very interesting. It’s everything you dream about.
I think while filming EP we were realizing the potential of it being just the beginning of something bigger. You’ve got to have the right environment and schedule. There’s a dynamic because some of the music, it’s not as easy as just going out and filming snowboarding. It’s really good to have energy to play music and be creating that type of stuff.
Did you show up knowing that you were going to put together a short film and then have original music? Was it planned ahead of time?
Not really. Our team manager was just like, Hey, you guys want to get together and try to do something like this? And we were like, Yeah, of course. I think it was like, go there and jam, see if you guys can make some music, document the process and we’ll see what happens, which is what we would’ve done anyway. And then Skylar [Brent] was there and he’s amazing at what he does and he was able to capture us.
He did the filming?
Yeah. He’s a long-time friend and it’s always good to work with him. I think once we started it was like, yeah, this is easy. It’s stuff that you do anyway. If you’re in Tahoe and you’re at Brandon’s house, youplay music. You snowboard all day and then you making music at night.
In this case I was new to the whole making music thing. So the whole time I was learning— first of all how depleting it was, how fun it was. I was just kind of observing like, whoa, this is crazy because Brandon is so talented but he’s also been doing it for a long time, he’s so well versed in it. I was just taking information and digesting it. And now I’m at a point where I have self-edit recording software myself and I’ve been putting some energy into that.
Was playing bass your main role?
I was mainly playing bass but I played guitar on a song — basically anything that I’m most needed for at the time. Because my style of guitar playing is really different than Brandon’s and his style of bass playing is so different from me. It just kind of depends on what the song is asking for.
We’re probably going to do another one here in Salt Lake and the next one that we do is going to take it to the next level. I think we’re going to know exactly what to do. The first one was just us going through the motions, doing as best as we could. But the whole time I was thinking, the possibilities are endless.
Awesome. So what are some of your proudest moments or biggest successes?
The night that we got the boards and we were dubbed pros, that was a nice night because I didn’t really expect it. When it happened I was just kind of taken aback. John’s my good friend and I was just hanging out with him, my girlfriend, his girlfriend— so it was just a good night to start off with. And then that happened and it was like, whoa. Just a beautiful night with good people.
Proud moments are hard for me because I try not to even think about differentiating the moments too much. I try not to bask too much in the successes or failures, they are all kind the same. I guess I just like the feeling of being in my work, playing music or snowboarding or drawing or skateboarding or just all this stuff that I get to do. I would say I’m proud to experience those moments every time.
What do you do to grow or develop your fan base and be seen?
People, connections, giving a hug, touching someone’s hand, community. Obviously, the first thing that pops into my mind is Instagram and everything like that. But I don’t invest too much into all that stuff, even though it’s helpful, because I don’t feel like I connect that much with the stuff on Instagram or a lot of what I see online right now.
I think it’s when I see someone snowboarding or I see someone playing music or I see someone just existing [in person] then I’m like, Oh, whoa! You know right away whether or not they have something that’s genuine, just the look in their eyes or something. And that’s when I get excited because that’s what everybody strives for and everybody’s looking for. And I just think that a lot of that gets misconstrued over all the social media platforms. It just comes down to being around like-minded people with the same energy as you.
What’s some advice you wish you were given?
I guess how relationships are no joke and maybe if your heart isn’t fully in a relationship, to realize that and end it and not prolong certain things because you can really hurt people. I think that maybe you don’t even feel it at the time, but down the road, it creeps up and you realize that you actually really hurt someone and that hurts you the most. To not want so much and not string people along for your ride because it’s not all about you. It’s about everybody.
Be honest with yourself and others. That’s mainly what it is because you don’t have those problems in relationships if you’re honest. So don’t lie to yourself, just be honest.
What drives you?
Sun that shines in the morning, waking up, I really like the days. Days are nice because I think I’m at a point where I can appreciate them more than I could in my past and more than I see others around me. It’s easy to see sometimes when someone’s just not there and has gone grey and they don’t have any light left in them.
I’m really thankful for my lifestyle and my life and what I get to do. I’m always thankful for every day and just feeling alive.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Artist’s work (images, audio and/or video) courtesy of the artist unless otherwise noted. All other photographs by Kim.