Two retired athletes turned coaches, two fledgling Olympic sports, two sides of the country: The stories of Max Henault and Trennon Paynter are entwined in many ways, histories on snow in British Columbia and Quebec, propelled by trampolines, and on course to help Canada grasp gold medals in the mountains near Sochi, Russia, a year from now.
Paynter, 33, is head coach of the Canadian national halfpipe ski team. The squad’s star was the pioneer of women’s ski halfpipe, Sarah Burke, who died training last year, but there has always been depth.
Canada, under Paynter’s direction, is a multiple-medal threat in Sochi, with Roz Groenewoud and Megan Gunning taking silver and bronze at the recent X Games in Aspen, Colo., and the likes of 2012 X Games silver medalist Noah Bowman among the men.
Henault, 33, is a technical coach for Canada Snowboard, a development coach and consultant for equipment maker O’Neill, and runs his own coaching business, Maximise. His guidance has helped lift three snowboarders to the podium at X Games.
He worked with Mark McMorris when the now-star 19-year-old was in his mid-teens; and is coach of Sebastien Toutant, who won gold at X Games in slopestyle (2011), and Maxence Parrot, 18, who took silver in slopestyle this year in his X Games debut.
Max Henault was 11 when he bought his first trampoline, cutting grass in his Montreal neighbourhood to make the cash for his dream. (And he constantly had to haul it around his backyard, as his parents didn’t want it sitting in one place and wrecking the lawn.)
The bouncing Henault was an aspiring snowboarder but on a trampoline he didn’t really know what could be accomplished until late in his teens, when he witnessed the work of his then-girlfriend, trampolinist Marisol Pelletier.
It stuck. Henault was a pro snowboarder until 26, when he busted his ankle and started to lose sponsors. “After the nicest life in the world, what am I going to do? It was gnarly to think about,” Henault recalled.
He’d always had a penchant for coaching others – and saw the trampoline as an innovative edge. He made the trampoline in his Montreal backyard the centre of his work and first discovered Sebastien Toutant when he was 12, while Henault was a team manager for O’Neill and casting for young talent. Within six years, Toutant had won X Games gold.
Mark McMorris, who has three X Games golds and two silvers, also spent a year or so under the tutelage of Henault. The next talent came via Facebook, when, in 2010, Maxence Parrot messaged Henault: “Could you train me please?”
Like Toutant and McMorris before him, the trampoline has popped Parrot to the top of his sport in a dizzyingly short time. Henault and Parrot are working on never-before-seen snowboard tricks on the tramp – “secrets,” for now.
And, now, an academy has been established, as Henault looks to further extend his ideas about coaching and snowboarding, by raising young talent through his methods.
Last year, north of Montreal, he bought an old lodge that had been converted into a home at a long-shuttered small ski hill. He has a small rope-tow and a series of rails to practise tricks. For the summer, he’s also installed a super tramp – about six metres by three metres – from Dave Ross’s Rebound Products in Toronto, which he’d purchased last year for about $20,000.
Henault is hesitant to boastfully promote what he’s built – but he is proud, and excited. “This is the best school you can have. It’s like Harvard for lawyers.”
Last month, ESPN named Trennon Paynter one of the “50 most influential people in action sports,” putting the Canadian at No. 46.
It has been a long road. Paynter spent about a decade on Canada’s national freestyle team, skiing moguls, but badly injured his pelvis in 2000, and was bumped from the roster. He turned to Australia, where he had been born to Canadian parents, before being raised in B.C.’s East Kootenays – and skied for Australia at the 2002 Winter Olympics, an experience that resonated.
He then turned to coaching, getting a gig with the Alberta provincial team, one that evolved to a focus on ski halfpipe as the event joined the world championships in 2005. But the team evolved quickly and became no longer really a provincial team, more so a national team, but not in official name. It lost Alberta’s backing, and became an independent enterprise.
Driven by the passion of Sarah Burke, and led by Paynter, the small team of about a half-dozen scrapped their way to events, barely underpinned by funding from parents, fundraising – and Paynter’s credit card.
“I was running the team on my credit card, renting cars, hotels, flights, whatever – and hopefully we raised enough money to pay it off,” Paynter said. “And the athletes were all putting in their personal money. It was a bit of a struggle. I never really knew if we’d make it another season.”
Results piled up and, in 2011, it became legit, as ski halfpipe received the Olympics nod. Money then piled in. There was brief hesitation, Paytner recalled – “This is what we’ve always wanted, but is this what we want?” – but the wealth, from money to experience, was of course no question. “The Canadian Freestyle [Ski] Association: they know how to put people on the podium.”
It also added bounce to Paynter’s backyard in Squamish, B.C., which already featured two trampolines (his and one from friend Rory Bushfield, Burke’s husband). The scene was, like the team had been, something of a cobbled-together training ground – “it wasn’t exactly up to spec,” with various trees and such around.
Once the team was official, Own the Podium program money helped buy a larger super tramp (again from Rebound Products in Toronto) – except they didn’t have a warehouse or similar to install it, so Paynter figured he’d put it up, at least temporarily, in his backyard. It worked perfectly, a hit with the athletes last summer, and will be a training epicentre again when the snow melts.
“We’re stoked on using it outside,” Paynter said. “Crank the tunes, fire up the BBQ, train in the sun. It’s awesome.”