Skip to main content

High performance sport and high performance design require many of the same characteristics - self confidence, passion, dedication, and creativity to name but a few... In this blog, #BrandwaveTeam’s latest (and fastest) new addition, Alena Zavarzina talks about her unconventional path from world champion snowboarder and Olympic medalist to creating iconic graphics and campaigns for some of the worlds leading sports brands.

I find it challenging to write about myself, so let’s pretend that you know me… The best way to describe myself? I do sports. I also did Olympics. I now do graphic design.

I am a World Champion and an Olympic Bronze Medalist in Giant Slalom, having started snowboarding when I was ten years old. In 2000, there weren’t many of us in Siberia, where I am from. It all began as a lifestyle hang-out group for kids who didn’t belong to conventional sports groups. Alongside myself, there were 10 other misfits, who were probably excluded from various gymnastics, football, and swimming sports clubs. We liked snowboarding because it wasn’t a sport. It was a lifestyle, an adventure. Like learning how to ride a bike, snowboarding gave us the sense of ultimate freedom.

We were massively into snowboard graphics. It was the early noughties, and the snowboarding culture still had an air of ‘grunge subversion’. We learned that people, like Shaun Palmer, got paid to be icons of debauchery, and we wanted to be those legends.

Every October, we bought a snowboarding magazine, Doski (Boards), a Russian equivalent to Transworld Snowboarding. We daydreamed about the next board we would get (as if.) Naturally, the graphics were replicating our favourite rock bands’ tour shirts: ants, bugs, guns, and porn actresses. It felt dangerous and attractive. We listened to System of a Down, The Prodigy, and The Offspring, religiously watched Jackass on MTV, and talked about shredding powder pretty much every day of the year.

The other thing that interested me was sports gear. When I started snowboarding, our club made us this tacky uniform… and of course, we had to wear it. Snowboarding clothes were expensive, and there wasn’t any in Novosibirsk, so I had to make do with those horrific nylon yellow pants with massive foam knee pads. I hated them deeply. That is why, when I got my first pair of Billabong pants, I realised that good design was the key. I was determined to work in the industry.

Design was significant for me from an early age. I was the only person who wrote school papers in Courier New because Times New Roman really bothered me. I had a scrapbook where I would carefully sketch my favorite logos in black ink. I could read tea labels for hours. Although I wasn’t aware of what to do with those random passions, I wish somebody would have told me – “this is graphic design you are interested in, Alena.” But no luck. I ended up doing two years of decorative arts in a traditional Russian art school. Two years of academic drawing, painting, sculpture, and matryoshka glazing. Luckily, the Olympics made me quit that nonsense, and for the next 12 years, I focused strictly on turning left and right fast on a snowboard for money. For money and fame, of course, who am I kidding? But even amid my professional snowboarding career, I kept thinking about design. I designed my own merch to intimidate the opponents. You see, getting that advantage is crucial. Tight merch makes you look professional and put together as if you know what you are doing. It makes your opponents wake up in cold sweats, thinking they have nothing on you. So why not? Victory at all costs.

I made our team get a real logo, designed stickers, and branded the entire Russian snowboard team. We even collaborated with O’Neill on our Olympic season’s kit design. I knew it was going somewhere, but didn’t know where. So, when I finally stopped snowboarding, it took me a little while to determine that I wanted to connect my future with graphic design and art direction.

Being a high-performance athlete, I decided to come to London and apply to Central Saint Martins, as I heard it was the best school in the world. I got in, and now I’m in my final year of the Communication Graphic Design course. This summer, Brandwave allowed me to work in an industry that I feel so deeply connected to – the outdoors. Even though I feel nostalgic for the performance times, I am excited to be a part of a group of like-minded people and learn a new profession. With pro snowboarding now in the past, it’s a good thing that apres-ski remains the same. So, see you on the slopes soon.

Alena Zavarzina