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Hagen Kearney

Don't be fooled by his surfer-esque good looks, complete with shoulder-length, sunkissed blond hair. Hagen Kearney actually prefers snowboards (and skateboards) to surfboards. The 6'2", 22-year-old Florida native (that explains his beach boy looks) moved to Telluride, CO, 13 years ago after a family vacation turned them on to a cooler climate.

“I've been freestyle snowboarding since 2000. It's pretty gnarly,” says Kearney, who even sounds like a surfer. Around age 14, he began experimenting with different forms of freestyle, including slopestyle (picture Tony Hawk-like tricks on a snowy terrain park) and snowboardcross (when two to four racers simultaneously compete for time on a challenging mountain slope). He ultimately chose snowboardcross after landing scary hard on his head during a slopestyle session. Focusing all of his attention on this one winter sport has paid off.

Kearney had his breakout season in 2011-2012 when he earned eight top 10 finishes, including three first-place wins, at the North American Cup series. That season, the rising star joined the U.S. Snowboarding Team and made his debut in the World Cup circuit. The following season, on December 8, 2012, Kearney took home his first World Cup win with teammate Nate Holland in the two-man relay event at Montafon, Austria.

“At a regular World Cup event, we're all trying to beat each other even though we're on the same team. In the team relay event, you actually get to cheer for your buddy. It was nice to stand on the podium together,” says Kearney of riding with Holland, a six-time X Games gold medalist. “He's definitely someone I look up to,” he adds. Though Kearney is the new kid on the block, the handsome rookie has already proved that he can hang with the best. He made the finals in almost all seven World Cups that he entered.

“With a lot of hype comes a lot of pressure. I've been learning to deal with it. I don't mind it, but I try not to let it boost my ego,” says Kearney, who works on honing his skills at both the International Snowboard Training Center in Silverthorne, CO, and the Center of Excellence in Park City, UT, where he currently resides. This humble remark surely comes from Kearney only after learning the hard way what happens when the hoopla go to his head.

“Before I was on the national team, I was racing for a World Cup spot in Telluride and I was the favorite to win. I pulled out of the start during the first two-man heat and was smoking this kid. I was so far in front that I got super cocky and did this huge backflip off the last 50-foot jump. As I landed, the kid caught up and beat me to the finish by the tiniest bit,” says Kearney. “While my coaches thought the backflip was sweet, they were like, 'Don't do that again.' I was so embarrassed.”

Let's hope the Sochi-hopeful keeps it in check out in Russia, too.  —Cristina Goyanes