Professional action sports competitor Ryan McElmon states that in his line of work, there’s something called a “flow state.” It’s elusive, mind you. And every competition is rife with those who get there and others who don’t. Best practice in achieving that mindset? Using your ears. McElmon chatted with us about the Power of Sound and shared his playbook on the “flow state” and more.
POW Audio: How does music enter your everyday life?
Ryan McElmon: Honestly, music plays a huge role in kind of all of the action sports community, and for as long as I can remember, music has had one of the biggest influences on my skiing and biking, just getting me through workouts and all that stuff. The biggest thing in our sport is getting in your flow state and I think music really helps put you in that flow state, where you’re just acting natural and doing everything to the best of your physical ability.
POW: Talk about how you use your ears when you ski.
Ryan: Most people actually ski and compete with headphones in. But when I compete, I take my headphones out and I don’t listen to any music.
When I’m competing I like to hear everything that’s going on around me. You have to be hyper-aware of your surroundings when you’re in these competition scenarios or even when you’re just out learning new tricks because it’s a winter sport—we’re at the whim of Mother Nature. In a split second, things can change. You’re going 40 miles per hour into a jump that’s 90 feet, and if that wind shifts from a downhill wind to an uphill, you’ve got to make that change in a split second to make sure you’re not going to land too far or too short and really hurt yourself. Hearing that wind whip by your ears is a big deciding factor in how well you do.
POW: Are there sounds you look for at the end of a competition?
Ryan: The best runs are the ones you don’t remember. Because that’s when you’re in the most hyper-focused flow state. The only time you kind of remember anything from a run is when you make a slight mistake or you have to make that adjustment because of the wind.
If you have that perfect top-to-bottom run you really don’t remember anything except your coach at the top giving you nuts or whatever your ritual is. At the bottom, it’s the crowd a little bit and the speaker, usually just the announcer over the PA system saying something about your run or making a joke about it.
POW: If we were to record the sounds of a bike race or ski run, would you be able to listen back to that recording and determine the quality of your performance?
Ryan: When you have a perfect run, all the rails—which are the big metal things that you slide—and all the takeoffs would sound really clean and smooth. There would be no catching, there would be no “tinging”. All of the takeoffs and landings on the jumps would be a smooth “swooooosssssshhhh.”
Biking, I’d say is similar but a little bit harder just because the big metal bike—or carbon bike—is making a lot more noise as you rattle down the hill. But based off just the pure smoothness or impact of the runs, you’d be able to tell.
POW: How much do you think sound is a part of your everyday life?
Ryan: So huge because listening to music when I go biking or when I go skiing or in the gym to get me through that last workout—that’s all huge. But on the side of media, when we create social media which has become such a huge part of our lives, all the sound design—or the music—is what’s engaging.
All that sound makes such a difference in how much you engage in everything. Being able to take advantage of all your senses and being able to realize how lucky we are to have all these senses is huge.
POW: What is the power of sound to you?
Ryan: The power of sound is being able to put whatever you want over speakers and put you in a different place and a different time. You can change your mindset with sound, and I think mind over matter is the most important thing for anyone in anything they want to do. And I’d say of all the senses, what you hear is the biggest game-changer in being able to change your mindset.