We at Downdays don’t usually stray too far from freeskiing, and tend to steer clear of politics. We and most of our readers see skiing as a welcome escape from the troubles of the world.
However, we also take clear positions when needed, such as: Climate change is real. War sucks. And Fuck Putin.
A rising female talent with a style all her own, Dasha Agafonova-Knight is pretty big news, and her story is fascinating. I don’t want to give any spoilers for the interview, but I’m confident that Dasha’s entry into Superunknown XIX has the craziest backstory in the contest’s history.
Intro by Ethan Stone
Hometown: Born in Ekaterinburg, then lived in Saint Petersburg
Residing: Wenatchee, Washington, USA
Home resort: “I started skiing in Uktus and learned freestyle at Toxopark in Saint Petersburg. I’ve been traveling for the last few years, so I haven’t even skied yet where I live now.”
Sponsors: Line Skis
Dasha enjoying glacier life at Mount Hood.
Hi Dasha. Let’s start at the beginning of your story. When did you start skiing?
I started skiing when I was three years old. I did 15 years of racing until I tried freeskiing in 2015. I did it for a week, but then I broke my knee. I was kicked off the race team for that. I stopped racing, but I didn’t really try to ski park after that. I started doing freestyle again around two years ago.
Your transition to freestyle obviously went well, because you were a finalist in SuperUnknown XIX last year.
Yeah, that’s why I came to America. Two years ago, I really discovered park skiing and decided that’s what I want to do. I met a lot of friends and they told me about a whole industry that I didn’t know anything about. They told me to go with them, hit some rails and they showed me everything. I loved the whole community and a couple of friends told me about Level 1 and SuperUnknown. I didn’t know any of it, but I pretty quickly found out that I wanted to slide some rails!
It was like a fairytale that somewhere in the United States, there was this SuperUnknown contest. There had been two Russian finalists before, but they didn’t make it. So, I was told if I did make it, I’d be the first Russian rider to make it to SuperUnknown. This sounded like the biggest possible goal and everyone was super-excited.
I still don’t know the rules exactly, but I was told it had to be a mix of park and street. The goal was to do some street skiing, so I had to look for someone to do that with. I found a filmer, who was pretty excited to help me to hit some street. The war actually started the day we started to hit stuff. We got to the spot, built it and then we started reading news about a war officially starting. It was crazy, weird and I can’t really explain it. Everybody was so confused for the first couple of weeks. We didn’t even know if this was reality. What the fuck is this war?
We just decided to continue, because we couldn’t actually do anything about the war. We decided to focus on it even more. We were inspired by Phil Casabon and Brady Perron’s earlier films and the storytelling style. We just started filming everything that was going on in the country and kept hitting whatever spot we could. We made an entry for SuperUnknown, and made a movie from the rest.
In a lot of your shots you’re wearing a headscarf. Is that a traditional Russian one?
It’s actually just from ZARA. It’s not exactly Russian but I bought it in Russia, and I think it looks Russian style. There’s no real story behind it. My friend gifted it to me when I started to hit the street. It’s something I’ve brought with me though, because [at first] I was only coming to America for SuperUnknown, so I don’t have a lot of stuff with me.
I’m very upset about everything that’s going on. A lot of my Russian friends, and also myself, are very confused. We’re very sorry for Ukraine, but at the same time we don’t understand what’s going on.
Speaking of moving to the States, you’ve said many times that you’re against the war. what’s it like being a Russian person outside of Russia these days?
It’s fucked up. Nothing bad has happened to me, but in general, it’s definitely fucked up. With borders and stuff, I can’t officially go to a lot of places now. It’s very hard to cross any borders. When I was trying to get to SuperUnknown, it was already hard because of Covid. And the embassy was closed after a conflict between America and Russia a bit before the war started. After the war started, all embassies closed so I couldn’t even apply for an American visa. You had to find an embassy outside of Russia, but officially you’re not really allowed to apply if you’re not a resident of that country. To travel around the world, you need your Covid vaccine and none of the Russian vaccines are recognized anywhere else. When the war started, Mastercard and Visa blocked Russian accounts, so my card stopped working outside of Russia. I recently passed my American driving exam. I already had my license, but I had to redo it because I need some kind of document to get an American bank card. I spent almost a year without any cards. Stuff like that is really annoying.
In general, from the moral side, I’m very upset about everything that’s going on. A lot of my Russian friends, and also myself, are very confused. We’re very sorry for Ukraine, but at the same time, we don’t understand what’s going on. Every day you try and think about how you can help, but you realize that you’re not really able to. There’s nothing good about it.
We always hear that the news in Russia is pretty much fake and propaganda. Do you speak to friends in Russia about it?
It’s not allowed on TV, but you can find it all on the Internet. People research it all, but it just confuses you more. So many sources with such different news, from Ukraine, Russia or anywhere else. I’ve spent the last year researching as many resources as I can, on what exactly is going on, and I still can’t tell you what’s happening. I don’t understand.
I think there’s only one fact that I think it’s important for me to say: I’m against the war, but I love my country. It’s an amazing country with amazing people.
Dasha on freeskates: "It feels like you’re surfing and it’s an insane feeling in the pool."
On to something happier now. what are those little wheel things on your feet in “Turmoil”?
Those are called freeskates and they’re originally from California. I just got them as a present a while ago, as a bit of a joke, but I figured out how to ride them. They’re not super-functional, but they’re just a funny thing I have. A couple of years ago I saw some Instagram posts and got a bit curious about people doing tricks on them. It’s actually a really cool feeling when you ride them.
They’re not really functional to travel on or go to work on, but they’re very cool if you have a pool or something. It feels like you’re surfing and it’s an insane feeling in the pool. They’re small so they’re easy to put in your bag on a trip. I didn’t even bring a skateboard with me from Russia, but I brought those. It’s funny how people react.
You mentioned Phil Casabon and Brady Perron and how their videos inspired you. have you had a chance to meet them?
I’ve just been so inspired by them because I only started exploring the industry quite recently. I still haven’t seen so much, but somehow, and I’m really thankful, Brady and Phil were some of the first I saw. That was one thing that kept me focused, I was like, “that’s how skiing should look.” When I was racing, I pretty much hated it. I loved to ski, but everything else about it wasn’t really inspired. I definitely didn’t think it was what I wanted to do. Every time I wanted to do something in my own way or go in a different direction, the coaches went crazy and told me that wouldn’t work. Then I thought freestyle might be right for me, but after I broke my knee and I thought maybe it was not for me either. Then I tried a couple more times and it was still hard to understand whether it was for me or not.
Finally, I watched a couple of movies and some were Phil and Brady’s projects. That’s when I understood that that’s how I think skiing should look. That’s how skiing and art should be, when you feel it and figure it out. It’s just the art of movement and they’re showing it so well and including some philosophy. That’s why I thanked them at the end of “Turmoil.”
When I made it to America, after SuperUnknown,I went to Mt. Hood and I met Kevin Perron, Brady’s brother. They’re all pretty tight—Kevin, Brady and Phil—but they all live in different places. I just happened to meet Kevin, but we’ve been in touch since. I’ve also been in touch with Brady on Instagram and I actually met him a week ago at the Level 1 rail jam in Vermont. He just came up to me and he said, “Brady.” I looked at him and he has totally the same face as Kevin, so I was like “Perron?!” He said “Yeah.” It’s crazy, they have the same face! We were both very happy that we finally had the chance to meet, and I think we’re both actually pretty inspired by each other.
I still haven’t met Phil though, but freeskiing is such a small world over here. Everyone seems to know each other. I met Harald [Hellström] from Forre at the Level 1 contest, too. So, I think it’s just a matter of time before I meet Phil. I can’t imagine we would meet in Russia, but it’s so easy to meet someone here. In Russia, everybody exists on Instagram or YouTube, but here they all exist in real life!
Moving up in the world: Dasha is now rubbing shoulders with her heroes.
the freeski community is tight, what about the female community within it? You were in the “Bucket Clips” project; do you think it’s important for girls to stick together?
I don’t actually know the girls from Bucket Clips, I just got a message on Instagram about this female project and sent in my clips. I wasn’t crazy involved. I think the female community is doing pretty well though. It’s growing and everybody wants that to continue. It’s growing pretty hard actually, there are so many things going on and a lot of girls are pretty focused on it. I’m still pretty new, just excited to ski and pretty focused on that. I don’t try to fight for any rights or anything!
Maybe I just came at the right moment, because it seems like the girl community is doing pretty well. Even in Russia, it’s 50-50. It’s a newer community, but the girls are doing great. They separate the men and women in contests. They have their own prizes, and the prizes are equal, which is cool.
What do you hope to achieve now, in skiing and in life?
As I said, I came to the States for SuperUnknown. Then I was traveling a bit and I met this amazing boy Simon [Knight] and we got married. [The couple appears in the latest episode of Line’s Traveling Circus.] He skis and snowboards and we love to do everything together. Getting married was obviously a big change, and we’re still figuring stuff out. We’re going somewhere, but we’re not sure where. All we know is we’re going together.
We just finished organizing our plans for this winter yesterday actually. Skiing is easier than life and the future in general! I’m involved in Line’s two-year street movie. It’s Will Wesson and Patrick Ring’s project, and it’s going to be so dope! It’s definitely what the industry needs. I’ve already seen how it looks, and it looks very cool. I just can’t promise that it’ll come out this fall or maybe it’ll take longer. Also, Simon and I have a “Honeymoon/Sketchy Movements” project. We actually haven’t been on a honeymoon yet, so we plan to make a honeymoon video. That’s my plan for the season.
Do you want to give a shoutout to anyone who’s helped you on your journey?
I definitely wanna say a really big thank you to Will Wesson, he helped me a lot from the very beginning and he keeps on doing it. I also wanna say thanks to Line. They believed in me before I even come to the States, same with Will. I’m really thankful for Level 1 and specifically to Conor Smith for all their help and all their projects which keep giving me opportunities to continue growing. For sure I’m insanely thankful to my husband and all my new Knight family for their massive support. I also just want to wish some peace to everyone.