Q+A: Louie Vito (Freestyle Olympic Snowboarder)
The fresh-faced king of the mountain is newly tattooed and gearing up for another great season.
Louie Vito has been one with the snow almost since birth. By age 3, this freestyle Olympic snowboarder was happily swooshing down the slopes on skis. But then came the fateful day he and his dad spotted some boarders on the slopes. Curious, they tried it out, and soon thereafter, a family of skiers became a family of snowboarders.
Though Vito loved the idea of becoming an aerospace engineer, he was born to be an athlete. When he was younger he had contemplated becoming a gymnast, but it was his passion for powder that kept bringing him back to the mountain. In eighth grade he enrolled in the Stratton Mountain School, a boarding school in Vermont, and since then he’s never looked back.
Eventually, he turned pro, thanks in part to his competitive spirit. “No one remembers second—I don’t want anyone to beat me in anything,” he says. With that attitude, it’s no surprise he earned first place in the half-pipe at the 2011 European Winter X Games, first place on the Winter Dew Tour in 2011, a place on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, and a slew of other medals since.
Although he has yet to go under the tattoo machine for a piece that pays homage to the sport he loves so much, he has plenty of other tattoos that honor his family and his faith.
INKED: How many tattoos do you have now?
LOUIE VITO: I have almost my whole arm done. I have one big chunk left. My first tattoo was “Vito Family” in Italian on the inside of my arm. Carey Hart has a tattoo shop called Hart and Huntington in the Palms [in Las Vegas], and I was too young to go into the club, so Joe Maloof actually gave me money for my first tattoo and then the next time I went to Vegas I went to Hart and Huntington and he hooked me up. My mom always gave me St. Christopher medals for safe travels and protection when I was traveling a lot and away from home. Being as young as I was, I would break things—being a typical kid—and I was like, Why don’t I just tattoo it on me? I wanted it a lot smaller than I have it, but the guy was like, We’ll see the detail if it’s bigger. I called my friend Mason Aguirre, who is a snowboarder and one of my best friends, and he had more tattoos than me at the time, and I asked him what he thought. And he thought I should do it, so I did. So I have St. Christopher on my forearm. … I wanted just to have protection. I’m always traveling, always on the road, always doing tricks that could put me in a wheelchair or kill me at any second or end my career. I want as much protection as I can get.
And the next?
The next tattoo, my mom got for me. I went to Norm at Lowrider Tattoos—I really like his script—and I now have my mom’s initials on my wrist underneath the St. Christopher. Then on the top of my wrist after that I got my sister’s initials, so I now have this bracelet. I have the whole inside of my arm, so I asked my tattoo “big brothers” who should do the rest of my art, and my friend said Franco Vescovi. I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, and it’s part of my life, so I got St. Michael on top of my arm. I just got a Bible verse that means a lot to me, which is Philippians 4:13, right at the bottom of my biceps and just onto the top of my forearm—so it’s almost close to a 3/4 sleeve.
How did you decide on what kind of style you wanted?
Norm is now a good friend of mine and I would just hang out at his tattoo place in Hollywood, just because it’s right next to this gallery which has a lot of my friends’ artwork from Seventh Letter and MFK. I liked his script and I just asked him and trusted his judgment. Then I just put a lot of trust in him, and Franco is the best I’ve ever seen. I let them decide how it’s going to fit. I come in with an idea and they figure out how it’s going to work. Franco did the big piece on my arm and I’m going to have him finish it because I feel it’s best to just have one person finish it off.
What was it like getting your first tattoo?
It’s one of those pains that hurts when you’re doing it but as soon as they stop you can’t wait for them to start again. The way I think about it is if you’ve ever played Sting Pong, you know that when the ball is going to hit you it’s going to sting like no other, but you almost look forward to it. You almost want that pain. My most painful one was on the inside of my wrist because I had a bone graft in my wrist when I had a screw put in it, and so I had a scar.When Norm was going over the scar I could feel it just because of where it was. And then Franco is really light. He has his own gun called Bishop Rotary, and those are really quiet, and his tattooing—I don’t know if you just get used to it, but it wasn’t bad at all. The only thing that got tired was my butt, for sitting down for so long.
Would you ever get a snowboarding tattoo?
I probably will, but I just want to finish my arm first with the theme that I’m going with, and once I finish that, I will probably take a little bit of a break because then my arm will be completely done and that’s all my tattoos on one arm. And with the season coming up, I don’t know when I’ll have a second, but as soon as I get down there we’ll start it up. I kind of want to get my ribs done because I’ve heard how painful they are.
Thinking back to when you experienced snowboarding for the first time, do you remember what that was like or why you liked it better than skiing?
I was 6. In the Midwest, out in the boonies, it was something new. My family had a great time trying it. I think my mom was happy because of snowboarding’s image and the fact that my dad was also out there among a bunch of 15- and 24-year-olds. It was a pretty funny scene. But we both were having a blast just figuring it out.
It sounds like you have a good father. What wisdom has he imparted?
“If you’re in trouble, you’re doing well. If you fail, you succeed.” He has a quote for everything. They’re motivational and his thinking was sometimes a little bit ahead of snow- boarding’s time. When older snowboarders were getting ready for the Olympics in ’98, he would ask them about trainers, and they’d be like, It’s not cool. Now I have a trainer and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done.
Speaking of your trainer, it’s John Schaeffer, right? The same guy who trains Apolo Ohno?
He helped you lose 10 pounds and 10 percent body fat—did it really make a difference?
I’m pretty short and pretty stocky. So before I had a trainer, I had a lot of upper-body strength and weight. I met John at the Dancing With the Stars finale [Vito was a contestant on season nine]. Apolo was there, and I’m always that person where, if I meet an elite athlete, I have to [pick their brain] and apply it to my own life. John, from the moment he saw me, said, “I think you’re too top- heavy.” From the footage he watched, he said, “I think I can get you to 155.” What he would do is he wanted to slim me down and lower my center of gravity. But I was nervous because I have thick legs—like, tree-trunk legs—and a booty to match. I was like, I’m going to look like a bowling pin if I don’t lift upper body! He’s like, Trust me—you’re going to get smaller but look bigger. So I changed the way I ate and did his workouts, and before you know it, I was smaller. I got down to 135. At 135, I looked bigger than I was at 155.
Has it helped you?
Yeah. I’ll watch old footage and be like, Holy cow, I didn’t realize that I was that flat. I can’t believe I didn’t fall. When you land flat, you jar yourself. But [now] I don’t have to carve out of it—my upper body and my head are getting me out of it. Now my balance is better and I’m definitely stronger and I can take flatter landings now.
Does that mean no more Waffle House?
That’s my favorite restaurant! Well, I’m still allowed to zig- zag my calories. I’m going to eat enough for a small country tomorrow. [Ed. note: This interview was the day before Thanksgiving.] And I had Waffle House the last time I was home because that was my meal to get my calories up. My body burns it off in a day or so and I’ll be back to my normal weight.
“IF YOU’RE GOOD ENOUGH THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU.” – Louie Vito
INKED: So when you were first starting, were you ever nervous or afraid of doing a trick?
LOUIE VITO: You always have a little bit of a fear in you, but that’s what makes it so much better when you accomplish it. It’s like anything you accomplish, whether it’s fear or something physical. Any obstacle you have, if you overcome it, that feeling you have is so priceless. If it’s kind of a gnarly trick you might have more nerves before you land it, but you can’t even put into words how good it feels. That keeps pushing me in snowboarding. You want to keep going with that feeling because it’s so priceless.
For instance, you were the first one to do the backside 1080, which you did at just 17.
Once you get the taste of the contest, you want to keep on achieving that. I always shoot for the top and settle for less. You always want to set your sights high and your goals high. You want to work hard to be the best, be at the top.
What is the real difference when you’re out there between first and third place? Is it a mental game?
No one remembers second. I don’t want anyone to beat me in anything I do; I’m one of the most competitive people. If we’re playing Monopoly, I want to win. If we’re playing basketball—I’m 5 ?5 ?, I’m not Kevin Durant—I want to win. I suck at tennis, but I love playing tennis. I want to win. It’s just how I’ve been raised, and it’s how I am, pushing myself to be the best. I don’t want anyone to beat me in anything.
Does that ever come into trouble in your romantic life?
My dating life has been pretty relaxed. I travel so much that when I did have girlfriends, [they knew] that snowboarding is number one. When I was younger, the chance of me marrying [a particular] girl was pretty slim, and snowboarding was what was paying the bills. It’s getting me to where I want to go. I just want them to know I’m not going to skip a snowboard contest to hang out. I’m not going to go skip something that’s important because you want to go on vacation. The only time it has hurt my dating life is if they don’t understand that and I can’t make plans three months in advance because I don’t know what I’m doing three days from now.
When do you start planning for the 2014 Olympics?
It’s always there to keep you motivated, but you might not be training for that one thing. There are a lot of contests in between and I want to do well in those contests. But if I do well in those con- tests, it keeps me on the right path going in.
Do you have a pre-competition ritual that you do?
Normally I have this song that I strap in to. They usually tell you to get ready three people out, so I have one song that I listen to when I’m strapping in and one song that I listen to when I snowboard the actual contest. I listened to the same two songs every contest last year.
What are the two?
The song I listen to when I strap in is “Bad Meets Evil” by Above the Law, and the song I snowboard to is “I’m a Boss” because— well, one, because you got to keep telling yourself you’re the boss and you’re the best because then you’ll have the confidence to do it. Then there’s a line in the song that is: I’m only 23, I’m the shit now look at me. And I was 23 all last year.
Are you planning any tricks that you can tell us about?
No, I’ve learned a new trick over the summer, another double, so now I have five doubles that I can do and I just want to make up a good run. And it’s not necessarily one trick that will make a difference; it’s a combination of all of them.
I know your dad has a lot of mottoes. Do you have ones you hold dear when training?
One he came up with and one I live by is: “If you’re good enough they can’t ignore you.” I had friends going to snowboard school who would not really be in the scene, and the next thing you know they’re the biggest thing in snowboarding. I’ve always taken baby steps. If I do something, it’ll be like, meh. If someone else does it, it’s like the second coming of God. It’s like, I already did that. How come I don’t get any love for that? Just keep being you, things will come. That’s one quote I’ve always embraced. Another is be happy but don’t be satisfied, because if you’re satisfied, you plateau. At a contest, I’m stoked if I win—but if I lose, not even a Snickers will satisfy me.