Don Szabo (aka Double O Szabo)…if you have not heard of Double O Szabo, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Don rode professionally for Nectar and Lamar Snowboards from the late ’80s till the late ’90s. He was a constant feature in snowboarding magazines and videos for over a decade. Don’s craving for adrenaline through action sports ended up cutting his snowboarding career short; in the late ’90s, after numerous shoulder surgeries, he ultimately walked away from professional snowboarding. He married his wife Heather in 2003. They had their first daughter in 2004, and second daughter in 2006. Heather Szabo courageously fought cancer for many years but lost her battle in April of 2015.
OGRT: Double O Szabo, it’s truly an honor to interview you. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard the past year has been on you and your family. Please accept our condolences. You just got back from a trip to Oregon where you reconnected with some old friends and basically got to hit the reset button on life. Talk about your trip a little if you don’t mind.
DS: After Heather passed away, a few people reached out from all over country offering me to come to them and have a vacation. I chose to go to Oregon to mountain bike and catch up with Kris Jamieson and April Lawyer and their families and had a great 90’s reunion tour. We mountain biked daily, threw in some SUP, I hooked up with Scott Downey and skated a fun skateboard park, also rafted, ate dinners, etc. We had non-stop fun and it was great to catch up with some old friends from the ’90s and reconnect even better than the OG days from half a life ago at a whole new level. At the same time, my two daughters went to Florida with my neighbors that have the same age daughters. This neighbor family has stepped up huge for us and are now considered family to us giving me freedom I have not had in a dozen years. They went to every theme park with both of our sets of daughters, they also had a blast in Florida at Disney, Epcot, Universal, etc. while I had a blast in Oregon doing my thing. My kids hang at their house and they come over to my house when I have the time and can have them over. It is a win-win situation and now I feel like I have some new family without the family headaches, it’s a good thing.
ORGT: I watched the Double 0 Szabo Videos #1 & #2 until the VHS tapes broke as a kid. I’ve always been curious as to how you got so many amazing shots in there; it was more than one run of filming, wasn’t it?
DS: Yea, The majority of both of them were filmed in a place we call Spot X up near Mammoth that is only accessible by snowmobile. Then we filmed some fill-in clips at Mount Hood and even a few clips up in Alaska. Dana Nicholson was shooting real bullets down at John Freeman who was filming up at the helicopter from the ground in Alaska. We were thousands of feet up in the same helicopter the day before, then the helicopter motor seized on them when they were filming this shot for the 00 skit. Luckily the helicopter only fell 50 feet to the ground with Dana and the pilot in it. They were both ok, they just had to hike to the highway and hitch hike back to Valdez where we were waiting. When they got there we said “what took you guys so long” LOL..it could have been a lot worse like a lot of situations in life.
Double O Szabo #1, from Chowder Pilots
Mr Don “Double O” Szabo #2, from Plastic Soldiers
OGRT: How did you get into snowboarding?
[pullquote]From age 18 to 30 years old I was able to make a living traveling the world and doing what came naturally.[/pullquote] DS: I was a sponsored vert-skater and my shop sponsor at the time was Green Sector. Don Jayne, the owner, put me on a snowboard and said to try it because it was like skateboarding. It was a natural feeling sport to me and I could quickly do skateboard tricks, flips, and spins and I was instantly hooked to the sport. My skateboard sponsors at the time, Life’s a Beach, Airwalk, and JT Eyewear were all pursuing this new market towards snowboarding. They got wind of my Snowboarding and said they would pay me to compete on my snowboard. I did the PSTA (Professional Snowboard Tour of America) and then the World Cup for a few years and did pretty well. I then convinced my sponsors that I wanted to make a living by riding my snowboard on natural terrain, capturing it on film for videos and magazine shots which was also good promotion for my sponsors. From age 18 to 30 years old I was able to make a living traveling the world and doing what came naturally. Myself and others probably not realizing we were defining the course of snowboarding, we were just having a blast!
Check out Szabo skating in 1987.
OGRT: Those nitro combustible gastrointestinal propellants from Double 0 looked dangerous; were there any lingering after-effects?
DS: Ever since I used those fart pellets it never seemed to end. They don’t flame-like they did in the Double O skit but they still happen occasionally, braaaaap! LOL!
OGRT: What was your favorite pro model?
[pullquote]Timing is everything, some things timed out great in my life and some things hit the wall, you just gotta roll with the punches or your gonna hit the ground hard.[/pullquote]DS: All 10 of my Pro Models have a different stoke and meaning to me for different parts of my snowboarding career that I never took too seriously at the time. With my first couple Nectar horizontal wood plank models, I could freak out all of the skiers with what could be done on these things called a snowboard. I introduced snowboarding to Burt Lamar since we used to skateboard together in our early teens. I had four models with his company and had lots of good snow and many great times in many different parts of the world. My last two boards, I came out with my own line of Szabo Snowboards right at the collapse of the Japanese yen in the late ’90s. I had a great name over there since I went to Japan 7 years in a row but couldn’t sell anything at a trade show over there because of the recession that hit them hard at the time. Timing is everything, some things timed out great in my life and some things hit the wall, you just gotta roll with the punches or your gonna hit the ground hard.
OGRT: The skate industry seems to really be pushing the legends. Why do you think snowboarding has not followed suit?
DS: I think snowboarding has been all over the map. In the past it has been considered an imitation sport to skateboarding, sometimes compared to skiing. It has a racing aspect to some and I think has been overlooked in the legend department because it is not a single style sport that has developed. It is more of a montage of different things, but it is such a great sport to me. There are many of us that have defined what snowboarding is and do deserve recognition for making it what it is today. I remember going to multiple resorts and talking to management to allow Snowboards on their mountain. I would tell them that I have more control on this board than 99% of the skiers on their mountain. I got shut down many times but eventually, people saw what could be done and could have a lot of fun on these things called snowboards and the rest is history.
OGRT: Give us your favorite snowboard memory.
DS: Once again I cannot pinpoint my single favorite memory. From riding in the mountains in the early days finding and making jump spots and amazing skiers on what could be done on these things called snowboards. To going to Japan and poaching powder because they would not ride out of bounds, but we would. To lots of other powder and terrain riding at a lot of different resorts. Helicopter access in different places including Alaska which was whatever mountains you wanted to ride as far as you could see. To all the good times and friends made around the country and world that will never be repeated in my life again but are all great memories and make me smile from the inside out when I think about those good old days.
OGRT: What is it about action sports that you love?
DS: I love that you can go out and do them anytime you want, you’re not relying on anyone and can let your style come out naturally. Surfing, wakeboard, BMX, skateboarding, snowboarding, and many others that I have been into are all great sports. I have been riding moto (track, trail, desert, camping, etc.) more than the other sports for close to 20 years and it has been a blast because I just love it. There are consequences, I have had a surgery for every day of the week from those 2 wheels with a motor, I don’t get paid to break myself anymore but Adrenaline is my only addiction and I can’t or don’t want to stop riding. For the past couple of years I have thrown Mountain Biking in the mix which is half the adrenaline and twice the work at the level that I am doing it at but I am seeing a whole new world of beautiful trails and places. Some of the terrain is pretty sweet and you can challenge yourself as much as you want, but I am trying to ride smart and keep it on 2 wheels which happens most of the time. Now I want to go back to more snow spots in the off-season and enjoy them this way. Mammoth, Big Bear, Oregon, and even local So Cal. rides have opened my eyes to a whole new world. I have many other places I want to get back to on my mountain bike to enjoy some old snowboarding spots and many other places a whole new way.
Video from hills of Beaumont
More Szabo moto action
OGRT: When did you first start competing? Who were your first sponsors?
DS: I hit Boreal and Donner Ski Ranch in Tahoe in 85 and 86 when I first started to hear of competitions for Snowboarding. Then the World Cup in 87 in Breckenridge which led to Canada contests and U.S, Japan and Europe World cups for the next few years. My first sponsors were Nectar Snowboards, Life’s a Beach (Bad Boy Club clothing) JT Eyewear, Airwalk boots. When I started to ride for Nectar Snowboards and did a lot of my initial US travelling with Sonny Miller. He died last year of a heart attack in his mid 50’s which is just another reminder of how precious life is and you can’t take it for granted. There were not many if any out of industry sponsors back then and snowboarding was not a mainstream sport that companies were even looking at to get promotion from. Sponsors were for equipment that you needed to ride your board and companies that were into the sport were the ones that supported athletes that pursued the sport.
OGRT: Once you turned pro, how did it change your life?
DS: Turning pro just allowed me to continue to do what I liked to do and I just went with the flow. I competed near half my dozen year career and then did photo shoots and filmed for videos for the other half and just had fun and helped pave the way in snowboarding. As long as I was making a living and having fun that was all that mattered to me at the time. I was not the most forward thinking athlete like Craig Kelly and others that pushed the professional boundaries. We did help lineup how others made things happen to the next level which is how progression continues to happen in every part of every sport. People see what has been done and just take things to the next level. It is just how things get done and is just amazing.
OGRT: Given all you’ve been through in life, what do you hope to pass on to your daughters, or others that look up to you?
DS: I want them and others to realize that life is short and you have to enjoy this side of the dirt all that you can. You need to be responsible and try to enjoy something that you do for work but don’t get too caught up in it. Make time for the things you love to do and the people in your life. When life throws a wrench at you just realize you will get through the hard times and there will be good times again. Pursue your dreams and live life to its fullest because we all end up on the other side of the dirt eventually.
OGRT: What injuries have you had over your career and what do you do now for injury prevention (yoga, stretching, etc.)?
DS: I have had so many injuries throughout the years that I don’t even remember them all. This is a good thing that helps keep me charging forward and I intentionally try not to think of the bad consequences so I can continue to push forward charging things to get my fix. Many injuries have been from Moto that has been feeding my adrenaline addiction for nearly 20 years. At least I got paid to break myself for over 10 years on my snowboard back in the day. I have always done sports for the love of them.
Injuries included but are not limited to:
One left and three right shoulder surgeries, they shortened my snow career by me going out and riding Moto too early after surgery with my roommate at the time, Seth Enslow, and some friends. This caused multiple shoulder surgeries that made my sponsors stop paying me after a couple years so I turned my back on snowboarding. I was kinda pissed at the time but I realize you cannot keep getting paid for no exposure but I went a different direction in life. My shoulders have been fine ever since and since then I have been breaking myself for free just to get my adrenaline fix. Both ACL’s in my knees, multiple finger and toe dislocations, breaks etc. I have had a rod put in my lower leg tibia twice by breaking my tib/fib also from riding Moto. Broken wrist and other bones and many head injuries including waking up on a helicopter with three broken ribs and a punctured lung a few years ago with a week long hospital stay. I have accumulated a lot of action sports air miles but when things go wrong you get a horizontal vacation but it has been a great ride that I wouldn’t trade out. One of my favorite quotes I have heard is “when you’re riding your living and everything else is just waiting”. Steve McQueen, I heard it via Brett Johnson when we were filming for one of the Creatures of Habit videos.
As for injury prevention and stretching, I am not the best at staying on top of that part of the game. I do a few push-ups and pull-ups when I get around to it. I basically stretch to touch my toes and a couple of other basic stretches. I should be more on top of this stuff cuz I’m not getting any younger. I mostly think that whatever you are into you just have to do it. No gym will help your surf arms and the same with skateboarding, snowboarding, moto, or mountain biking. Stretch and strength train a bit but just get out and do what you are into is the best practice and conditioning for your sport of choice
OGRT: What do you think of the progression of skateboarding and snowboarding?
DS: The technical progression of skateboarding and snowboarding is insane! I think it has lost some of its individualism but you can only invent so many tricks without just trying to push existing ones further and adding rotations, etc. Competitions have also put a certain robotic twist into the sports cuz judging makes things have a certain criteria and a loss of self-expression. It has also gone from a few dozen professionals pushing the sport, to hundreds of talented kids. My hat goes off to anyone doing their best to try to make it happen and continue the progression of these sports.
OGRT: Who are some old guys that rip, that you still like to watch?
DS: I don’t have any favorites, in particular, I just like to get out and do my thing and whoever it ends up being with works for me. I don’t really pay attention to who is doing what. Tricks are for kids, life is busy and a lot of my focus is on my kids, work, and just getting out and doing what I can when I can and feeling the stoke as much as I can.
OGRT: What about the young guns? Any favorites?
DS: This might be a bit of a biased opinion but Trevor Jacob hit me up on Facebook six years ago and messaged me a paragraph to friend him. He said he was stoked on my old videos and mag shots and to FB friend him. Of course, I did and we have been riding Snow and Moto every year since and have become good friends. He did pretty darn good charging the Boardercross in the Olympics for being a freestyle kid and would have got on the podium if he didn’t make a mistake his last round. I was snowboarding with him in Mammoth the day before he left for Europe to qualify for the Olympics. He ended up winning over there and qualified for Boardercross which others didn’t think would happen. Check out his Nitro Circus section @ youtu.be/tZR9zxob3Qo . He has mad skills in many sports which I really respect and now I look up to him. He is a humble guy that respects the originators and is just a cool guy to hang with all around.
OGRT: Any shoutouts you’d like to give?
DS: I would like to thank Heather for giving me almost 15 good years until she went to the other side of the dirt because of her Cancer, #fuckcancer. For also giving me two amazing daughters that are a huge part of my life to take care of, teach, and expose to the beauty and things in life. To Black Flys, from day one putting pleasure before business. To GoPro for helping people record and document their action sports and life from any angle. To Three Brothers Racing, camping, and riding and who have been more like family to me since 97 than a moto parts shop. To Intense Mountain Bikes for making badass bikes and giving me a whole new way to enjoy the dirt on two wheels. To Seaside Visual, for over 15 years giving me the ability to make many companies the Stickers, Banners, POP, and promotional items they need to help promote their companies. I have been able to make a living and provide for myself and my kids and the freedom to enjoy life on my terms. And thanks to Facebook for creating the ability to stay in touch with people I have met around the country and the world and I have even met some cool people through FB. I have had many different experiences with many different people all over the place and it is cool to be able to see some things going on in their lives now. Even though it is mostly electronic communication it is still a connection that wouldn’t have happened without this technology. I hope to see or talk to other friends from my past at some point and till then, rock on!
OGRT: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this Don. Time to let em’ know…
DS: Old Guys Rip Too!