Gigi Rüf - Whoever hears this name, immediately knows what it's all about: snowboarding! The Bregenzerwald native is one of the biggest icons of his sport. Why? Because he embodies this lifestyle like no other, starring in over 30 video parts and attracting attention with photos in and on magazines. With his incredible talent and entrepreneurial spirit, he became a snowboarding legend. In the interview he talks about his beginnings in Damüls and reveals why he is still so successful today.
Christian, where does your nickname "Gigi" come from?
I'm the youngest of four siblings and my sister couldn't pronounce my name properly as a child. Then she said something like "Kiki" and "Gigi" came out of that. The name has remained with me to this day. There is also a "Gigi" in Damüls, who, like the village itself, plays a not so unimportant role in my career. Christian Klocker was one of the colleagues in the circle of friends of my sister, who is four years older than me, and through whom I found my way into snowboarding.
What brought you from your birthplace Au to Damüls?
My mother is a Damüls native. Her home village was known as a snow-sure area and even then did more for snowboarding. I started there when I was eleven, following the older kids. That was 1991 - and snowboarding was the blatant new thing in our village. I got to ride with my sister's "cool" gang for the first time. They were, as we say, "snotty kids" and couldn't sit still on the back pew in church. But they could skateboard and snowboard, and they embodied this new lifestyle that fascinated me so much.
The guys always had the best snowboards and the best bindings. They were sponsored by sporting goods stores with the latest gear and it was the first time I heard about this career. I also wished for that and asked for support from the local stores. Then I also joined the "Soulsurfers Damüls" and was allowed to participate in the junior world championships as a 16-year-old. That's when I noticed that I was riding at the top of the country. But the races were never that important to me. Once I had my foot in a company, it was more about marketing and product development for me.
Your grandmother also influenced you along the way. How so?
Yes, my Damüls "Äle" (Bregenzerwald dialect for grandma) knitted me a cap from the sacred Burton catalog, which I still have today. Through this "do-it-yourself" spirit, I also got into the commercial side of snowboarding. I worked with companies as a pro model and developed my own products. With Burton and Nike, I later launched entire collections and pulled out all the stops in self-promotion that you can pull. For me, snowboarding was initially about getting to know people and learning how the hustle works so I could get my gear. Competition-wise, I was already present as well, but so much was just developing in freestyle. When the international federation structure collapsed, it didn't really affect me because I was already an integral part of the team with the sponsors. I gave myself away to marketing and then ended up doing photo shoots, video parts and in catalogs.
Why did it work so well with you as brand ambassador?
Maybe because of my work ethic and because I grew up in the mountains. I've always appreciated working with the photographers and film producers. The way they do their work under the worst conditions in the storm and snow impressed me and spurred me on to give my best. I was never too shy to do a run or jump again. I just loved snowboarding and couldn't get enough of it. I even picked up most of the skills during photo shoots. It also landed me on the cover of the Burton catalog, which was printed millions of times - that was my breakthrough. I still finished business school, but then my parents also saw that I could earn my money with snowboarding.
At the age of 19 you participated in events and competitions, shot your first video parts and gradually rose to the elite of snowboarding. How did that happen?
My sponsor Burton paid for an "Around-the-World-Ticket" for me to fly to Japan for a halfpipe race and from there to the USA for a competition. My team manager put me in touch with a film production there, where I was allowed to participate in Lake Tahoe as the first Central European. The planned two weeks turned into two months. A song-length video part from the film "Destroyer" was awarded and then ran in the stores and on TV. In the same year, I was voted "Rookie of the Year" by the biggest American snowboard magazine and traveled to Las Vegas for the award ceremony. That put an additional professional stamp on me. Since then, I shoot at least two video parts every year, one abroad and one in Europe with my colleagues.
You feel more comfortable in powder, away from the parks. Why is that?
There's also a funny anecdote about this from Damüls. As young guys, we mostly skied the Uga lift. If someone then asked where we were skiing, everyone said "Mir gli" (Bregenzerwald dialect for "I don't care"). After that we christened the Uga-Run "Mir gli-Run". It runs directly under the lift, in powder snow off the slope. Back then, I already preferred to follow natural conditions and jumped over lift track edges. Unlike today, there were also no real snow parks yet.
Later on I found out that parks rather limit me, because the paths are already predetermined. I just like the fact that the snow drifts are the way they are. That's why I've always stayed true to my roots. I didn't want to slide on railings, but preferred to take trees. That's how I became an all-rounder and was able to create my own style. My first film shoot in Alaska showed me at that time that I was not a good snowboarder at all. Step by step, however, I was able to approach the huge cornices in this terrain, which made me a better rider.
You also need the right material for that. Is that why you started your own snowboard brand?
Yes, too. I had a good run with Burton, but I wanted to reinvent myself. That's why I went head to toe with Volcom to develop my own snowboard with them. But as a publicly traded company, they have skateboarding as well as music and clothes in addition to snowboarding. The project never really fit into the budget planning. As a result, I decided to just go through with my idea myself. With my "SLASH ATV" model, I created a snowboard for all conditions that has set the tone for the last ten years. I didn't want to make a conventional snowboard with anti-bend, so I took away the curve in the front, which you don't need to ride. A reactive board that adapts to the conditions of the slopes. I channeled everything into SLASH that makes the perfect board for me. I've always been an active snowboarder who thinks beyond riding. Whether it's tricks or product development, I always want to create something new that hasn't been done before. Even the smallest doer can make the biggest wave with it.
In my own company, I am now a salesman and a developer, all in one. I have the models produced in Europe, in Poland to be precise, and I collaborate with colleagues and artists. Unfortunately, people today are under so many impressions through social media that it is less and less valued. It's the same in sports, whoever makes the next hit is known for 15 minutes. But with SLASH, I also tie my colleagues from the past back in and can give them something back. For years I was on the road a lot in the world, now I can cultivate these friendships again more.
The founding of SLASH was not only an entrepreneurial drive, but also a sporting one for you.
Right. I joined Nike after Volcom, shot another huge video project and competed again. In Alaska, I learned that even a simple jump can look gigantic against this great backdrop. It changed my perspective on snowboarding and I found out how I want to and can move in this natural environment. With the "Natural Selection Tour" came contests that were made for me. I came in second at the first event and a year later I won the contest. That was a quantum leap, which I owe solely to my snowboard. My specially designed freeride board with the pointed nose, which didn't even exist in this form for freestylers at the time, helped me achieve this success. As a result, I have become more frugal with what I have already achieved. I often ask myself how I managed to do all that.
You are now 40 and father of two children. What are your plans for the next few years?
Actually, as a father, you become a little more cautious. But the good thing is that powder snow is soft. Also, fitness-wise, I'm preparing well for the season with my cousin Philip as a personal trainer. It's also nice to see that my kids have the same approach to sports. We go snowboarding, skateboarding, mountain biking or hiking together. I still ride a lot in the winter, and I don't want to lose the connection with nature and the sporting side. I will continue to develop my snowboard brand and use my experience to promote new talent.
Snowboarding is simply still the most awesome feeling for me. To surf in deep snow and live out my creative potential. To feel and appreciate nature and the conditions. Jumping into my career was definitely my most blatant jump. I've always tried to combine snowboarding with the values I learned as a young boy. That's why I want to continue making video parts and inspiring people with my stories. The next shoot will take place this year in the Damüls Snowpark. They say the best comes at the end.