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At 34, Todd Richards can live with being the old man of snowboarding
Friday, 23 January 2004
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Todd Richards soars over Breckenridge, Colo., at the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, tuning up for the Winter X Games.

The story angle started surfacing two years ago. Todd Richards, senior citizen snowboarder. Only problem was, Richards didn't like the bit.

"I'd change the subject and skirt the issue," said Richards of his jousts with journalists.

Richards, 34, now embraces the Old Man and the Powder story line. Noting the differences between himself and many of his teenage rivals, Richards, who lives in Encinitas, said, "I have a few more crow's feet and not as much acne. And I can stay up as late as I want."

Richards can still hang with the kids, a fact he hopes to reiterate at the Winter X Games, which begin Friday in Aspen, Colo.

Richards is married and has a 2-year-old son. He grew up not on a snowboard, but on two planks. Raised in Paxton, Mass., he skied at 3 and didn't snowboard until he was 15. His acclimation and growth in the sport are similar to those with West Coast roots.

By his midteens he was skateboarding at shopping centers, the local library and grocery store, looking for ledges and rails to grind.

"You knew who the cops were by name," he said by phone from Aspen. "A lot of them were real cool. They'd say, 'C'mon, guys, this is the 15th time we've kicked you out in two days.' They weren't going to haul us into jail. What were they going to write us up for, skateboarding in the parking lot?"

For the geezers who frowned at Richards and his skateboarding buddies, grumbling, "What will these young punks ever amount to?" consider his portfolio.

Richards owns two homes, one in Encinitas, the other in Breckenridge, Colo. He has pulled down a six-figure salary for 10 years. In the late 1990s he signed a million-dollar endorsement deal with a snowboard manufacturer.

Besides the standard video game appearances, he had a supporting role in the2001 movie "Out of the Cold." Playing movie critic, Richards says of the film, "It's definitely a must-miss."

And with the help of a co-writer he has an autobiography on the bookshelves: "P Pipes, Parks and Powder."

Life is good. Between contests, video shoots, magazine shoots and demos, he snowboards a minimum of 200 days a year. By summer, he unwinds by practicing his other passion, surfing, hitting the waves twice a day when there's a good swell.

"I made a pact with myself that I'd never be photographed surfing. I wouldn't videotape myself surfing or compete," Richards said. "I go surfing to get away from everything else. That's why I love it. It's a full escape."

Richards has taken his snowboarding spills. After making the U.S. team when the sport made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Games (he finished 16th in slopestyle), Richards failed to make the 2002 U.S. team.

Frustrated at the scoring system that required almost compulsory moves, Richards performed a more free-flowing style, and paid the price.

"I tried to blow it off and pretend (not making the Olympics) wasn't that big a deal," Richards said. "But I was just kidding myself. I wasn't jumping through their hoops and it ended up kicking me in the (rear)."

Shaun White, the 17-year-old red-headed Boy Wonder from Carlsbad, is the face of the Winter X Games. ESPN promos feature him around the clock. Even though Richards ribs White by calling him Danny Bonaduce (of "The Partridge Family" fame), count Richards as one of White's biggest fans.

Richards likens White to Tiger Woods, Kelly Slater or Tony Hawk, an icon who lifts his craft to a new level.

"We watch Shaun and all of us count on one hand the number of times he falls," Richards said. "We used to get really annoyed, but now we embrace it."

Richards, though, concedes nothing to the prodigy. While his memorabilia counts five X Games medals, Richards hasn't earned gold since 2000. Hence, he has spent the past month in Colorado, honing his skills.

"I want to show 'em I'm still around," said Richards, "and there's a reason I'm still around."

By Don Norcross
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER



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