SAS Talents: Owe Ridderstråle - The ice cool pilot
Name: Owe Ridderstråle
Occupation: Captain, SAS
Focus area: Long-haul
Early career: Amateur ice dancer
Number of years with SAS: 30
If you’ve been an elite figure skater, you’re well set for a career as an airline captain. Former ice dancer and SAS veteran Owe Ridderstråle has 17,000 fight hours under his belt, having served with SAS for the past 30 years. Early on as a first officer, he piloted DC9s and MD80s, moving on to Boeing 767s and 737s and eventually becoming a captain 19 years ago. Now 54 years old, in the past 18 months, he has flown long-haul on the Airbus 330.
“I definitely have ice dancing to thank for my career with SAS. It was the best preparation I could have had,” says Ridderstråle. Commitment, loyalty, resilience, discipline and persistence are just a few of the qualities of a figure skater that are also required of a pilot. “With daily three-hour training sessions on the ice, we had to be dedicated – even at 8am on a Sunday morning.”
It makes sense given the level at which Ridderstråle was competing – he and his ice dance partners Maria Ström and Åsa Agblad won Sweden’s national figure skating championships in 1987 and 1986. With Ström he then won silver in the Senior Ice Dance section of the Nordic Figure Skating Championships in Gothenburg in 1983, while he and Agblad went on to win gold in the same competition in Upplands Väsby outside the Swedish capital in 1987.
Realizing he couldn’t make a living from skating, moving on was obviously painful. “You leave your partner – you’re a team. Besides, things were just starting to go really well for us.” The melancholy is palpable. “We were working towards the European Figure Skating Championships when I gave up.”
Having made what was a necessary sacrifice, a career in the cockpit was somewhat inevitable for Ridderstråle. “I was destined to become a captain one day. My father and his brother were both sea captains – and their other brother was in the Swedish Air Force.”
So when he saw an advertisement for the flight training program at the School of Aviation in Ljungbyhed in southern Sweden, Ridderstråle knew he had to apply and a new career beckoned.
Today, he is as fond of his colleagues at SAS as he was of his skating partners. “They are like my family. And you have to take care of your family. I don’t put myself on a pedestal, and I’m not the authoritative type. While I like to set high standards, I prefer my colleagues to help me decide how we want the flight to pan out.”
After 30 years in the air, to him it may be “just a job,” but looking down on the gigantic ice floes in Greenland and seeing the Northern Lights above Siberia still puts him on a high every time.
His undying passion for skating keeps him active though and seven years ago he was approached to appear in “Stars on Ice,” the touring figure skating TV show. “Suddenly I got a call, asking if I’d train a young woman called Anki Edvinsson. I honestly thought it was a joke. When I realized they were serious, I told them I’d have to think about it. I hadn’t performed for 22 years! Still I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself.” And of course he didn’t. The pair came sixth out of 12 – a respectable result, “even if I thought we deserved to do better.”
The day after the second episode – broadcast live one Saturday night on Sweden’s TV4 – Ridderstråle found himself back in the cockpit. “We flew to Milan, and there I was at the airport, signing autographs for my passengers! One of the air hostesses had told them about my appearance in the show.”
Ridderstråle is just one of the many multitalented people working at SAS. One colleague, Annika Åström took part in the Iron Man triathlon in Hawaii in 2014, another has written books, while another writes pop music. “We might all look pretty similar in our uniform, but underneath each one of us is unique,” smiles Owe Ridderstråle.
Owe Ridderstråle's favorite destination: New York
Things to do: Take a walk over Brooklyn Bridge, visit Brooklyn Brewery, walk the High Line, an elevated park on an old rail line
For the foodies:
Eat seafood at the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. A traditional establishment opened in 1913, that serves great oysters of all kinds and sizes. Skip the biggest ones, unless you enjoy chewing on them.
89E 42nd Street
If you like bacon in everything and in all forms, try BarBacon. I’ve eaten plenty of bacon for breakfast at various Scandic hotels, but this place is true bacon heaven.
836 9th Avenue
At Caliente Cab they serve good Mexican food. Besides that, their generous Margaritas are very good. Try the pineapple Margarita.
61 7th Ave S.
If you would like to listen to some good live music, I’d suggest Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. It’s just a short walk from Cab Caliente. They claim to have the best live music in New York.
115 Macdougal Street
Text: Birgitte van den Muyzenberg