Many sporting professions boast having certain talents that reach the pinnacle of their game at an early age, winning titles and progressing the sport they have so much passion for. Even though many Slopestyle athletes are pretty young in most cases, this year’s World Champion raised the bar even higher, or should we say lowered it age wise.
After only one year on the FMB World Tour, Emil Johansson rode the best most consistent season by an 18-year-old the sport has ever seen. Even though the young Swede wasn’t able to win an FMB Diamond Event, a feat which he will surely get back to accomplishing soon, Johansson was a constant Top 5 competitor at every world-class event this season. This resulted in him becoming the youngest FMB World Champion in the history of the FMB Diamond Series. We caught up with Emil to talk about the past, the present and the future.
All Slopestyle or Dirt Jump athletes wanting to compete against Pros or wanting to collect first FMB World Tour points as an amateur, can get hold of their FMB License for the 2018 season from January 1, 2018, on www.fmbworldtour.com.
Hi Emil, thanks so much for taking the time. What are you up to at the moment? How is the off-season treating you?
I have been off the bike for a few weeks, dealing with back pain. But I will be back on my bike again soon, hopefully.
How has it been since winning the FMB World Championship title?
I would have to say, it has been awesome! I got to go to both Nine Knights and the Backwoods Jam and I also got to do some riding back home in Sweden. So, it’s been good – up until the back injury.
Looking back at the season, what was your personal highlight on the FMB World Tour this year?
Oh, that is not an easy question to answer. I have to say the first thing that comes to mind is the contest I got my first ever win at – FISE Montpellier. Overall though, the whole season was amazing.
At the age of 18 you have become the youngest World Champ in the history of the FMB Diamond Series. When did you first hear about or see Slopestyle? What attracted you to the sport?
When I grew up the World Tour wasn’t a thing yet, but I was already riding bikes and the sport grew. When I was about 11 the World Tour was going on, but back then I didn’t really know anything about it. I was just riding because I thought it was fun and I saw some videos of Martin Söderström and others doing crazy things. I really enjoyed watching that stuff and wanted to be a part of it. So, I carried on from there. I grew up close to a spot an hour away from my home and started going there once a month. At the beginning I was still very much into Ice Hockey and Handball, but my passion for biking grew quickly and soon I was going there 3 times a week. It kind of escalated pretty quickly (laughs). I found myself enjoying riding more and more.
When did you actually start riding dirt jumps and how did your parents react?
Well, when I was about 11 I tried to convince my parents to get me my first proper dirt jump bike. 2011 I bought a two-year-old bike from Teo Gustavsson, a Swedish rider I really looked up to back then. At a certain point I just fell in love with the sport, but couldn’t do much, when I started out. I really enjoyed the feeling of trying a trick and figuring it out though. I motivated myself a lot by sticking my first Tuck-No-Hander. It’s kind of crazy, that that was probably the first trick I learned. I think my parents would have liked me to do 'normal' sports in the beginning instead, but as soon as they saw how much I enjoyed riding bikes they supported me to the fullest.
You mentioned Teo Gustavsson before. Who else did you look up to when you started out?
Well, I mainly looked up to all the older Swedish riders at that time. You could probably name anyone and I would have looked up to him. But there were also other Europeans and North Americans, that impressed me back then. I grew up in an area of Sweden, where a lot of guys would ride, so there were a number of local riders I met as well.
People say that Martin Söderström is kind of a mentor for you. In which way has Martin helped you out in the past months?
Yeah, Martin has been a really helpful guy. I came on to the scene pretty quickly and I did not know much, so he helped me out with a bunch of stuff. I’m really thankful for that.
How do you approach developing new tricks?
I don’t know really. I just get a feeling, that something might work and if it works out in my head, I will try it in a foam pit first and then on a mulch jump. It is a never-ending process. It’s just playing with what you see on a bike and then you try to mix it up and do something different. That’s how I end up finding new tricks.
Do you develop them in contests as well or only when you are not in “contest-mode”?
Like I said it is a never-ending process. I could be eating dinner at home with my mum and dad and thinking up new tricks. It happens everywhere. Preferably, I like to take my time when I learn tricks and not go for something that I have never done before in my contest run. In Innsbruck though I had a feeling that, I could maybe pull off a new trick right away. So, I went for it in my second run. It didn’t work out perfectly, but that was my first try ever. I hadn’t even thought about it before. I know my limits though and trust myself with this kind of instinctive feeling to try out something new.
You don’t seem to feel any pressure whatsoever during contests, well at least it looks like it. Do you feel pressure?
I always put pressure on myself to be able to perform at contests, but I do the sport cause I enjoy it, so I do my best to stay calm.
The sport is at such a high level at the moment. You, Nicholi and Brett all have such different riding styles. What aspects of Nicholi’s and Brett’s repertoire or style do you like?
I like the way they have their “own” tricks and their own style of riding. I enjoy watching them both pushing the limits.
Looking on to the next season, which events are you looking forward to most and what are your expectations for 2018?
My plan right now is to get back on the bike and start training for the next season asap. Overall I'm just looking forward to another season of contests.