Sixteen-year-old Alex Henniffent is an athlete, and he’s serious about the sport he loves. But living in Grand Falls-Windsor, Henniffent doesn’t have the opportunity to join a team for his sport, or go to weekly practices. He doesn’t have dozens of opportunities for local tournaments each season, or a support network of coaches, teammates, or organizations to support his dedication to what he does. He doesn’t even have a designated place to practice.
Henniffent is a snowboarder, and the passion he’s cultivated for his sport is all his own.
“When I was younger, I played sports (like hockey) where you have a coach telling you exactly what you’ve got to do and I just didn’t find it fun, I didn’t enjoy it,” explained Henniffent. “With snowboarding, it’s all on you, you don’t have to depend on anyone, you can decide what you want to do and when you want to do it…but there’s not many resources around Newfoundland and Labrador that help people who want to snowboard get anywhere with it.”
Henniffent said he began snowboarding when he was around 12 years old after a trip to White Hills with his parents.
“The more I did it, the more I enjoyed it.”
Although Henniffent said he enjoys the independent nature of snowboarding, he said the lack of resources in the Exploits region, and Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole, can be a struggle. He said there’s very few opportunities to compete, and when there is, they’re mostly just for fun. He said he goes to competitions when he can, and he’s managed to make a few friends around the island that also enjoy the sport.
He and several of his fellow local boarders even started a snowboarding apparel company called Voltfuse – they sell their clothing designs online, and use the proceeds to support other local snowboarders.
“I like to look at (Voltfuse) as my only sponsor,” he said with a laugh.
For the last couple of years, the bulk of Henniffent’s practicing has taken place right in his backyard. When the snow comes, he practices every day after school learning new tricks and honing his style. During the off-months, he still boards when he can; he and his father take snow left behind at local stadiums after rink maintenance and dump it in his backyard.
“I’m lucky to have such supportive parents,” he said, adding he’s already been able to practice twice this year despite not having any snow.
This summer, Henniffent took his passion and skills to another level when he attended the Camp of Champions in Whistler, B.C. The program touts itself as being the premier snowboarding skills camp, and claims to have helped hone the skills of some of the biggest names in the snowboarding world.
“It was amazing,” said Henniffent of his camp experience. “I met so many people who are the same as me, have the same goals and enjoy what we’re doing. I learned so much.”
Henniffent said he plans to go back to the camp for as many summers as he can to continue to improve.
Though only in Grade 11, Henniffent already has lofty goals for his future. He said right now he doesn’t feel he has the skills to compete on a national level, but he eventually would like to compete nationally and internationally.
“I feel like if I keep doing what I’m doing and progressing the way I am, in a few years I might be good enough to (compete nationally),” he said. “Competing in the X Games or the Olympics is a dream, but it’s a high goal for someone from Newfoundland.”
Though Henniffent said he hasn’t decided what he wants to do after highschool, he said he always wants to keep snowboarding in his life. He’s already started combining his passion for the sport with one of his other interests – video recording and editing.
“Snowboarding is all I want to do…I don’t want to make lots of money, I just want to be able to do what I love for the rest of my life,” he said. “You can travel all of the world and do it in new places so it never gets old, it’s never the same.”
Henniffent said for the next few years, his plan is to practice, learn as much as he can, and attend every competition he has the opportunity to.
“My main concern is to get as good as I can, film as much as I can, so I can prove to (sponsors) that maybe I am capable,” he said.
Henniffent said he hopes he can eventually help snowboarding become a more accepted sport in the area, and help provide more resources and support for other enthusiasts.
“People look at snowboarding as just going down a hill, but there’s a whole other side of it, which is what I do – rails, jumps, powder riding, contests, and filming,” he said. “People who grow up here in Grand Falls-Windsor are prompted to play (the same sports). I want to make an impact on Newfoundland and show there’s other sports out there that people can really get into.”