Saturday September 26, 2015

Justin Trudeau built for speed and risk, says snowboarding pal

Justin Trudeau's passion for snowboarding motivated him to teach others the sport.

Justin Trudeau's passion for snowboarding motivated him to teach others the sport. (Justin Trudeau/Facebook)

Listen 5:34

One of Justin Trudeau's closest snowboarding buddies, Sean Smillie, says the Liberal leader is, "one of the most dangerous people in the world to snowboard behind."


Justin Trudeau carves through a gate during a celebrity slalom race in Mont Tremblant, Quebec on Dec. 12, 2003. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Smillie first met Trudeau in the mid-1990s when the two were working as snowboarding instructors in Whistler, B.C. He recalled Trudeau's "ridiculously long snowboard, totally built for speed" and how he loved taking sharp corners.

While Trudeau wasn't reckless, Smillie said he wasn't safe, either. "As someone who spent a lot of time riding with Justin, it was always touch and go."

Back in the '90s, when Trudeau was a student at the University of British Columbia he would drive up to Whistler on weekends. Once there, he'd crash on Smillie's couch and teach teens how to snowboard for a program called Ride Tribe.

Trudeau and Smillie

Sean Smillie (left) and Justin Trudeau. (courtesy Sean Smillie)

"Justin drove an exceptionally crappy car," Smillie recalled. "We used to nickname it the Staff Car. More often than not, we'd be huddled around a little heater in the front seat. I'd have to hop out at intersections and push the car so it wouldn't die. It was always a miracle we made it to where we were going."

Smillie has high praise for the Liberal leader's skills as a teacher. He said Trudeau was great at motivating sullen teenagers with an enthusiastic game of Simon Says, often starting snowball fights to get their attention. 

"Regardless of their skill level, Justin would always make sure they had a blast, running up and down the mountain," Smillie said.

Trudeau in car

Justin Trudeau in his not entirely trustworthy car. (courtesy Sean Smillie)

Years later, after Trudeau became a teacher at Vancouver's West Point Grey Academy, Smillie got to see his old friend in action there, too. Trudeau invited Smillie to speak to his class about his job in the video game industry.

"Justin was one of the most encouraging teachers I've ever seen," Smillie said.

Just a few months ago, the two friends got together for dinner one night in Vancouver and reminisced about the '90s with other snowboarding pals.

"Justin's enthusiasm [for politics] pretty much matched his enthusiasm for being in the mountains, snowboarding and hanging out with friends," Smillie said.
"He's still the guy I knew back in Whistler."

DNTO's special episode about the personal stories behind our party leaders airs Saturday, September 26th at 3 p.m. on CBC Radio One.