Native Vermonters Luke Haddock and Chris Colbourn call themselves artists, but you won’t find their work on a canvas or in a gallery. For that, you’d have to go outside: to city streets, to parks, to mountains. Haddock and Colbourn are sponsored athletes—although they’d both refute that title; their styles of snowboarding and skateboarding, respectively, are more accurately described as art forms. “I don’t want to call it a sport,” says Colbourn. “You could, but I don’t know. It’s more of an artistic expression mixed with a sport.”
Both were born and raised in the Green Mountains in the early ‘90s. Both have since traveled the world in pursuit of their skate- and snowboarding dreams, but another dream keeps them tied to home: both are seeking a college degree, and both are doing so through CCV’s Center for Online Learning.
A Changing Profession
Luke Haddock started snowboarding in the third grade. “I guess it all started one day in my neighbor’s backyard. He got a snowboard and I was very curious, so I went over and he let me try it out. I strapped in, stood right up and rode it all the way down the hill until I crashed into his house and broke his snowboard. And that was day one, and from there I was in love with it.” The Richmond native says he got a snowboard for Christmas that year and spent the rest of the winter riding at Cochran’s Ski Area. From there, he says, he graduated to Bolton Valley, the much larger mountain in the area.
Since then, Haddock has snowboarded across the U.S. and in Canada. He’s a professional sponsored by the company Technine, and he’s also heading into his last semester at CCV. After graduating, he hopes to transfer to Vermont Tech. He’s been taking classes on-ground and online; given his lifestyle of constant travel, he says “online makes sense. [It’s] great because it really allows me to be free to do things that I want to do.”
While he’s spent past winters riding at mountains across the country, this winter Haddock’s home base is Sugarbush Resort in Warren. On a recent frigid Monday morning, he sat at the base of the resort’s terrain park preparing for another day of riding. As he laced up his boots, he described balancing pro snowboarding with being a college student.
“I think the sport is changing,” he says. “The average snowboard bum that’s uneducated that just decided to drop out senior year of high school isn’t gonna make it anymore in the professional industry of snowboarding. I think so many of the snowboarders now are getting college degrees.” He talks about the importance of having a “Plan B”: with the rigorous physical demands—and the risks—of being a pro snowboarder, he says it’s wise to not assume you can spend your whole life riding. “I had a pretty interesting thing happen to me where my sponsors really wanted me to come out to Salt Lake City and shoot, and it was this big opportunity, the team owner was telling me ‘this is your chance.’ And I was so hyped up on it and just so driven to impress that I went out there first thing, day one, hit this giant wall ride first try, and ended up breaking my pelvis and my collarbone.” Haddock says that was a big learning moment, and one that reinforced his desire to earn a college degree.
“I think any kid that is looking at doing something like what I’ve done should definitely look at the online option of school,” says Haddock. “I would keep your options open with everything. I think looking back, I definitely wish that I’d gotten into going to school a bit younger. I also was really blessed to be able to travel and be so free for a long time, I did a lot of finding who I was as a person in that timeframe.”
Inspired by Design
When Chris Colbourn was still in elementary school, Burlington’s Talent Skatepark opened up just down the road. “I was a little nervous to go,” he says, “but once I did, I realized that that was the place for me.” He spent most afternoons there, skating three or four hours a day, through high school, and gained his first sponsor at the age of 14.
For Colbourn, skateboarding has been about friendship, and about a sense of community, since those early days at Talent. “I just kept making more and more friends every time I’d visit, and sharing something that was so special with other people without having to even talk about it. We could skate together and just enjoy each other’s company.”
After finishing high school, Colbourn says he wanted to pursue skateboarding as well as an education. “CCV was geared toward my schedule,” he says. “I had so much going on at the time with skateboarding taking off, and I was realizing that I could potentially move somewhere with [skateboarding] and make it happen. I wanted to take school seriously but also be ready to move if I had that opportunity.” So he took a year of on-ground classes at the old Burlington campus, living at home and working to save money, before moving to LA in 2011 to make a go at pro skateboarding. And he’s kept up with schoolwork ever since. “Online classes have helped me continue, and it’s great to know I didn’t just put the pencil down when I moved,” he says.
These days, Colbourn is a team member for Element, one of the leading names in the industry, and he’s working toward a Graphic Design degree at CCV. He’s interested in the intersection between art on the page and art in three dimensions—the creative work he’s doing on a skateboard. And he’s found a place where that overlap is common. “It’s fun because there are a lot of people out in LA doing what I would like to see myself doing in the future, and I’m just working on putting myself in that situation more and kind of shadowing a few friends I have that are graphic designers,” says Colbourn, who says he decided to pursue his degree because he was inspired by the controversial designs he’d see on skateboards on shop walls. “If I choose the people I skate with wisely, I can pick their brains about photography and graphic design all day.”
Despite now living 3,000 miles from Vermont, Colbourn has a genuine interest in staying connected, and not just virtually. “The hardest part about moving and transitioning to a new life out here has been trying to stay involved in the skateboard community that is Burlington, Vermont,” he says. “Because that’s what really gave me drive. I try to visit as much as I can. I’ve been lucky enough to come back once per summer at least, and I’ve been bringing more people back, trying to show them the beauty of this place.”
Throughout his skateboarding career, Colbourn has shared a sense of mutual support with his peers. “Growing up in a small town in Vermont made it kind of easy because nobody really had a big ego. My friends and I were all on the same level, we were all motivating each other to gain a sponsor or two or just to progress in skating and keep having fun with it,” he says of starting out. “When I moved to California, I surrounded myself with a large group of skateboarders who take it a little more seriously and really have a drive to make a career out of it, which has been very inspiring.”
Colbourn says skateboarding has encouraged him to meet new people, create strong friendships, and put himself out there. “I’ve definitely learned more confidence in my everyday life, whether it’s on a skateboard or off one,” he says. “Just being fully involved and willing to try your hardest in whatever you’re doing seems to lead to great things.”
Loyal to Vermont
It goes without saying that Haddock and Colbourn have been blessed with talent and opportunity, yet both are surprisingly humble about their successes. They both give credit to the people and places that have supported them from the beginning. Earning a degree at CCV makes sense; for these two, CCV is flexible and accessible, but it also represents connection. Haddock and Colbourn are dedicated to their communities and to their passions—and to their home state.
“I definitely have dreams of moving back East,” says Colbourn. “Every time we visit the [Burlington] skate park, either at Talent or at the waterfront, we end up running into some kid that I know or they’ve known me. It’s fun to mix it up and meet more people face to face and hopefully inspire some kids around Vermont.”
The same is true for Luke Haddock: “Vermont will always be my home, for sure.”