Evan Strong celebrates after competing at the PyeongChang Paralympics. (Photo: Mark Reis)
What’s next after appearing in two Paralympic Games? In Evan Strong’s case, take some time off and come back for a third.
Strong was named to the 2021-22 U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Team this past September after taking a couple of years off. At the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, he captured silver in banked slalom, and took gold in snowboardcross at the Sochi Games in 2014. He also finished fourth in snowboardcross in PyeongChang and won silver at the 2017 world championships.
While Strong has always been competitive by nature, spending time with family became a priority following PyeongChang. When his wife Mariah became pregnant with their second daughter Isla, Strong decided to take some time off.
“After the South Korean Games, I was already on the world circuit for close to 10 years,” explained Strong, 35, who currently resides in Nevada City, California, in the Sierra foothills. “I needed a break.”
Born in San Francisco, Strong grew up in Hawaii and fell in love with skateboarding at an early age. At 13, he had already signed his first skateboarding sponsorship, and was on the cusp of turning professional at 17.
But a week and a half before his 18th birthday, Strong was struck by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle on Maui’s North Shore. The accident led to the partial amputation of his left leg. Once he recovered, Strong was determined to compete in as many sports as he could. It was then he came across a snowboard magazine. Because of his delicate physical condition at the time, he was captivated by the use of a chairlift to get to the top of a mountain, and snow sounded more appealing than concrete.
“I was flipping through the pages looking at these pictures of snow-covered mountains,” Strong recalled. “I’m like, ‘Oh man, that looks so fun. I can’t believe I’ve never done this before.’”
Strong was so energized by the prospect of snowboarding he moved to Lake Tahoe in 2007 and took a job at the Northstar California Resort. He buried himself in his new passion and began winning medals in several X Games, world championships and world titles. Through an invitation from Dan Gale and Amy Purdy of Adaptive Action Sports, he participated in the United States Snowboard Association national championships in the adaptive division. Strong competed in all five disciplines: slopestyle, halfpipe, slalom, giant slalom and boardercross, and became the first man to win gold in snowboarding at the Sochi Games.
“I grew up skateboarding and surfing,” Strong explained. “Snowboarding is like the holy trinity of the board sports. Coming from Hawaii, I never experienced snowboarding until after my accident. Being able to ride on snow and experience the tops of mountains …” His voice trails off as he tries to put into words the feeling of freedom the sport has given him.
Strong enjoyed his family time with Mariah, Isla and older daughter Indie. But he continued to stay active during the break. He competed in skateboarding at the X Games and took part in the Dew Tour. He even got the opportunity to surf the North Shore of Maui, which had been a long-time dream.
“I’ve been super active and have been able to keep enjoying what I’m so passionate about, and I’m progressing and getting stronger,” Strong said. “I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to come back and compete on Team USA for boardercross again. I just did some of my work when nobody was looking.”
Strong, who owned an organic vegetarian restaurant for six years, has devoted himself full-time to being a professional snowboarder since 2015.
“I’m living the dream, and I’m very fortunate,” he said.
While he hasn’t done any public campaigns for specific groups against drunk driving, Strong gives public speaking engagements on the subject every chance he gets.
“I’ve had some great privileges of being able to share my story with other people,” he said.
Strong is eager to test his new Donek B-1s, an advanced B-1 snowboard designed specifically for world cup racers.
“It’s going to be cool to race these boards this coming season and see if they hold up to the other racers on the circuit,” Strong said. “It’s easy to be giving it throttle, and that is how I like to be able to ride a boardercross track.”
At the 2018 Games, the U.S. snowboarding team racked up five gold, five silver and three bronze medals. As world cup competition gets underway and the clock ticks closer to the Beijing Games, Strong feels good about the team’s chances of repeating that historic performance.
“Everybody’s healthy and looking strong,” he said.
With Beijing being his primary focus, Strong isn’t one to look too far ahead. But he believes the time away has rejuvenated him both mentally and physically.
“It’s good to be back, because I feel better than ever,” he said. “I’m ready to race.”