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Emil Johansson - Rise To The Occasion Interview

Catching up with Emil Johansson: insight on what he's been through and what's to come.

Emil Johansson - Rise To The Occasion Interview

Emil Johansson had a breakout performance in 2016. He rode to the top and won the 2017 FMB World Tour, blowing minds and taking podiums amongst the best riders in the world while oozing style and big technical combos. Over a year ago, Emil was diagnosed with a congenital 6th lumbar vertebrae defect and in July diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which left him unsure about what the future would hold, let alone whether he would be able to ride or not. He showed up to the biggest event of the year, unsure of what was ahead for him day to day and having hardly ridden beforehand - he overcame something bigger than the 4th place run he put together.

We wanted to catch up with Emil after he’s gotten back to his riding, now looking onward toward the future and the 2019 season to see what’s up - how he’s doing, what he’s feeling, and we really wanted to know - - how was coming back at the biggest slopestyle event of the year? 

Emil: It was extremely surreal! When I was boarding my flight to Canada, I did not think I was going to be able to ride during the week at all... so to get back into the mix at Red Bull Joyride was a blessing after going through so much this season and spending so much time off the bike.

i9: What has the recovery process been like and what made you come back so strong?

Emil: The recovery process has been very long and the progress has been very slow. It has been so much more than just one injury. So much stuff happened at once, at first I started having back pain and then during that time later down the road I also started having issues with my immune system where I would get sick all the time, leading me to not being able to rehab and train properly, which is what I needed to do to get back on the bike asap. In Sweden I was unable to find the right help to get my body fit and strong again, so I ended up in Munich where I have been fortunate enough to be able to get really, really good help, both for my back problems as well as for my immune system problems. In July I got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which, in my case, is located in my thyroid gland and affects my whole immune system. This is the reason I spent more than 50% of the year being sick until July, jumping back and forth between ok and sickness every other week. Right now my immune system is steadier and I am able to start pushing myself more. The more I push, the better my body recovers and answers to the supplements and medication. To be honest when you say come back strong that is not how I felt in Whistler. Due to the sickness, I was only able to spend 3 hours on the bike during the weeks before Red Bull Joyride and was only at the gym for a few hours in total during that period as well. 

i9: Everyone felt the emotion in your first run and your reaction in the finish corral confirmed it. Obviously emotional, what did finishing that first run feel like? 

Emil: Like you said, it was obviously a very emotional moment for me to land that run and come down to the finish corral. So many emotions came out at once and I just could not hold myself back. After all that I have gone through this year, I kind of proved myself wrong with that run and showed myself that I am still able to perform, even though I spent so much time off the bike. 

i9: In your post run interview you said you were so happy because at one point you didn't know if you'd ever be able to ride a bike again, let alone compete. What did that mean to you moving forward, for yourself? 

Emil: I have been through so much this past year and there were times where I imagined myself never riding a bike again. Waking up to pain for so long... just pushing through it as much as I possibly could. Finishing that run meant the world to me! It’s been a huge goal for me to just get back on the bike, but then to get back and be able to pull off a run without any slip-ups is even bigger...I still get goosebumps thinking about it. I have come such a long way from where I was back in January. 

Dropping in like an absolute Rockstar
Corked 720 high above the Whistler Village
360 double barspin to late downside tailwhip on run number two
Dropping into the finish area during his first run

i9: What has been your biggest motivation during all of this?

Emil: To get back to where I left off with a body that doesn’t give me pain or limit me anymore.

i9: Earlier in the year you have mentioned you like to keep your mind occupied with things other than bikes so that when you need to concentrate you can give it 100%, so, what else are you into?

Emil: During the time off the bike I started looking into health a lot to make sure I do everything I can to let my body rest and recover and not by any means make it worse by eating inflammatory food. 

i9: On the last day of Crankworx, we were out sessioning the new hip on Dirt Merchant when you and Max Fredriksson came by doing some party laps, how do you feel on your big bike compared to the DJ/Slopestyle bike?

Emil: Big bikes are sick, I have so much fun riding them. I was so stoked to get a few runs done in whistler this year on my new Trek Session and the more I ride downhill the more natural it feels. But since I spend most time on my DJ/slopestyle bike that is where I feel the most comfortable. 

Party trains post Joyride

i9: After seeing you boost to the moon at Audi Nines on your slope bike and in the same day hop on the freeride line, do you have any plans to ever compete in Rampage or attend some of the Fest Series? 

Emil: Big bikes are definitely a passion that grows every time I go ride bike park and I definitely want to spend more time on it in the future. Rampage is gnarly and so are all the Fest Series events, I do not know it if I ever take part in any of them... but it is a dream of mine.

i9: On the other hand, have you ever considered hopping on one of The Rise Party Master tours and blowing minds in the street world with Matt Macduff and The Rise crew? 

Emil: It would actually be pretty epic to do sometime. I do not really ride a lot of street, but during the offseason I spend a lot of time at skateparks, so maybe going street riding will happen naturally soon as well, haha.

i9: Being at the forefront of the sport, how do you feel about freecoasters being used in slopestyle? Do you think that could push the progression of riding and course building to new levels, and where do you think slopestyle is going overall? 

Emil: I definitely think component development, like a freecoaster, can push the sport forward. I love playing around with mine in the skatepark and doing all sorts of dumb stuff to see what it can be used for. When it comes to the sport, we are in an era right now where things are changing really fast; jumps are getting bigger, tricks are getting harder and the risk factor is higher. If you want to see where the sport is going, just look towards the riders – they are the ones shaping the future and honestly, I can’t even imagine where we will be 10 years from now – the World Tour has only existed for 8 years and look at all the things that have happened there. 

i9: Your story this year has been pretty inspirational, do you have any advice for people going through any hard times or rehab themselves?

Emil: My advice for people going through some hard times would be to really trust the process and really make sure they try to benefit from the hard times and learn how to understand and deal with their problems!

Emil has overcome something that most of us can’t grasp, we can read about it and comprehend it, but we may never be able to fully understand how monumental that feeling, that feat, was. One thing is for sure, he’s shown us that even in the face of adversity, your passion can allow you to do the unthinkable. His drive dictates his reality, which no doubt, is a big part of why he’s kicking ass at life. 

Cheers Emil. 

@IndustryNine @johanssoemil

Words & Images by @BurkeLawrence.Photo

If you were previously unaware of what Emil has been experiencing, here is a quick rundown from before Crankworx. 

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