The road to pro | SierraSun.com

The road to pro

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Associated Press photoAndy Finch catches big air in a past competition.
AP | SCANPIX

Andy Finch was a small fish in the giant pond of competitive snowboarding. But that was then.

Now, the 24-year-old Truckee resident earns a living by executing technical and daring tricks high above the walls of halfpipes and lips of kickers at resorts across the globe.

“I travel so much it’s like a vacation when I get home,” Finch said of his profession and the Olympic Heights house he bought two years ago ” made possible through what was once just an expensive recreational hobby.

Growing up in Fresno, Calif., Finch learned to snowboard at the age of 12 at local ski resort Sierra Summit, on a 141 Burton Air. He took to the nascent sport quickly and entered his first competition at the end of that winter.

“I got whooped,” he said. “I shouldn’t have entered the advanced class.”

But the sound whooping did not discourage Finch. Instead, he continued to enter competitions, and then started winning them.

Before long, Sierra Summit locals couldn’t help but know the Fresno kid’s name as he stuck out like a sore thumb on the slopes of the small Central Sierra ski resort. And in the park ” where large table-top jumps such as “Showtime” drew apprehensive safety grabs from most who were willing to charge its ramp and boost over its 50-foot platform ” Finch dropped jaws of witnesses with soaring flips and rotating tricks.

On his 16th birthday he received his first sponsorships, from Palmer Snowboards and Swag Clothing. By 17, the age in which he began considering himself pro, he was receiving paychecks from his sponsors.

“I was a happy kid,” Finch said. “Then, I just started working my way up through the ranks. That was all I knew to do.”

Shawn Palmer, a South Lake Tahoe native and legend in the snowboarding industry who owns Palmer Snowboards, helped propel the young ripper.

“They wanted me to learn from the best, so they put me on the road with (Palmer),” Finch said. “I did a boardercross tour with him. He’s one of a kind. There’s no one like him.”

Finch, who specialized in speed events at the time, won a junior world title in boardercross at Telluride, Colo., in 1999, the year he graduated from Bullard High School. After two more years of competing mainly in boardercross, with fair success, Finch made a transition into riding solely freestyle in 2001.

Then he discovered his potential in riding a halfpipe, which at Sierra Summit did not exist. But with a natural tendency for amplitude and cat-like, feet-landing instincts, Finch learned quickly, and soon began wowing judges and crowds with his intrepid approach.

“I was kind of known for blowing it,” Finch said of his early halfpipe competitions, “but little did everyone know, every run I was in I was learning.”

Plus, he was competing against the biggest names in the business ” names like Jim Rippey, Daniel Frank, Todd Richards and others.

“It was intimidating,” Finch said, “but I loved it. I was so amped. It was my dream.”

By 2002 Finch had built a reputation riding pipe, and nearly earned a chance to compete in the Winter Olympics, with a fifth place finish at the qualifiers.

“I like the pipe because it’s easier to stay on top of the game,” he said. “I found a niche there.”

Now, with skills sharpened and numerous halfpipe titles under his belt, Finch will be vying for a spot on the 2006 Olympic Snowboard Team.

Finch is enjoying spending time at home for the moment, but in August he will be off to New Zealand to train.

“I’ll get my game face on then,” he said. “I’m really focusing on the Olympics coming up. After that, I can finally establish myself in the industry. Then, I can enjoy myself more instead of always pressing so hard.”

His strategy: “I’m just going to try to put on a show,” he said. “That’s what I always do.”