In his shop and on the mountain, barber and competitive snowboarder Nate Soucy stays sharp.
Nate Soucy had the sort of childhood often invoked when nostalgic types long for “the way things used to be.” Growing up in Madawaska, a literal stone’s throw from the Canadian border, he was free to roam, as long as he was home by dinnertime. When he wanted a dirt bike, his father told him to get on his bicycle and go down the road to ask a farmer for a job. His close-knit family “loved to play”—at a nearby lake in the summer, and in the winter, on the snowy trails of Mont Farlagne, just over the border in Edmundston, New Brunswick. On “powder days,” his mother, Vivian, would pull Soucy and his sister out of school. “We’d wake up in the morning and she’d say, ‘I’ve already called; you’re sick. Get your stuff, we’re going to the mountain.’”
At seven years old, Soucy took up snowboarding, the sport that would become the center of his life. “The mountain was my babysitter,” he says. The only American snowboarder on the runs, Soucy was already showing fearlessness and skill. Because he was small, he became a target for pranks by the Canadians. “I couldn’t have a locker; I would ride with my sandwich and a juice pack in my jacket.” With a reputation as a daredevil, he was also the “test dummy,” he says. “They’d build a new jump and point a finger at me; ‘If Nate clears this, we can all go.’”
Meeting Soucy at his sleek, single-chair barbershop on India Street, I see little sign of the wild man he once was on the mountain. But I soon learn he got into cutting hair with the same envelope-pushing style he brought to snowboarding, and at about the same age. “I used a straight blade to shave my buddy Guy’s head into a spider web,” says Soucy. “On Saturday night in northern Maine you go to Catholic Mass. His mom got home, looked at him, and said, ‘No way are you going to Mass looking like that.’”
Soucy was just 12 when he entered his first freestyle snowboard competition at Mont Farlagne. He found the judging to be capricious. In American contests, he usually ended up on the podium; in Canada, he was overlooked. After his father urged him to race instead, he discovered boardercross (now called snowboard cross in the Olympics), in which four to six snowboarders compete for the best time on a course with berms, drops, gap jumps, and other obstacles. For him, it was a perfect match, and at 17, he competed in his first boardercross, which he won easily. “Back in the day, you were either an alpine snowboarder who knew how to carve a turn, or you were a freestyle snowboarder and you knew how to jump,” he says. “I was already doing both.”
After graduating high school, Soucy went to college for a year while continuing to race, hoping to turn his skill into a career. But at the time, the lucrative sponsorships that had once allowed competitive snowboarders to make money were starting to disappear. He was also plagued by injuries: a fractured pelvis in 2004, a torn rotator cuff in 2006, a broken ankle and torn ligaments in 2008. Each time, he healed and continued to compete, eventually deciding in 2004 that cutting hair, which he was already doing for his friends, would provide income and flexibility. “I thought, ‘I could do hair twice a week and snowboard the rest of the week,’” he says. Soucy studied at Pierre’s School of Cosmetology (now Empire Beauty School) and worked on both men’s and women’s hair at local salons. In 2010 he blew out the ACL in his left knee and separated his right shoulder in the same crash; these injuries inspired him to go out on his own. He found a modestly sized space on India Street, and with his father Charles’s help fitting it out, opened Nathan Charles Cuts for Men with a clear mission in mind. “A lot of men don’t feel comfortable walking into a hair salon, but aren’t looking for a barbershop either,” he says. “I blended the two.”
By the winter of 2012, Soucy had switched back to alpine snowboarding, and was at the NorAm Championships in Quebec, a qualifier for the World Cup Tour. Following his first run, walking across the trail, he slipped on a piece of ice and tore a ligament in his ankle. “I felt really good, and to have it all pulled out from underneath me, in a split second like that, was super disappointing,” Soucy says. He credits his faith for allowing him to accept that the setback was a sign to change his focus. This didn’t mean he would quit completely, however. “Snowboarding is my first love,” he says. “Competing was about testing myself.” Two years ago, he became involved in the MCCP Moonlight Challenge, an annual ski and snowboard race held at Shawnee Peak to benefit the Maine Children’s Cancer Program at Maine Medical Center. The two teams he sponsored placed first and second last year, and he was the fastest male snowboarder down the course. “It’s an honor to be part of it,” he says.
When he opened his business, Soucy gave himself a year to see if his idea would work. Six years later, a loyal clientele keeps him “full from open to close every day,” he says. The shop is open just four days a week, so he can still snowboard in the winter, and ride his Harley or mountain bike in the summer. “I don’t know what kind of retirement I’ll have some day, so I might as well enjoy life as I go along,” says Soucy. “I work super hard when I need to, because I know when it’s time to play, too.”