FlawsyFiles recently made the ridiculous claim that there never was an “us” in snowboarding, snowboarding was never ripped from us and that the scene is loaded with a fake history. But I’m about to disagree.
For me it started way back at Christie Mountain, home of the Blue Hills Beast and the racialistly coded slogan, “Christie Mountain, you’re all white.” I remember seeing some dude up there with a K2 board, just blasting girl methods off anything. I’m pretty sure they weren’t even called girl methods back then. The dude was pulling tricks that were way cooler than my rawdog, spread-eagles off gutter jumps. Even at 9-years-old, I knew that guy’s shit was wicked awesomer.
I should note that at this point in life, my exposure to snowboarding was essentially through TV, and TV has always made it look like some super lame bullshit. Sure, they would show footage of Damien Sanders back-flipping off a cliff in hard boots, but were they going to show him filing his teeth into fangs (Did this ever really happen?)? Were they going to show his harem of Black Flys fly girls?
But something about seeing that guy riding in person clickity-clacked with me. I wasn’t any sort of a stand-out kid. On weekends I rode bikes and played football with my friends in our parents’ yards. We would have sleepovers and sneak out of our homes, just to see what it was like. It was boring. But when I saw that guy on a snowboard, I knew I wanted to be part of that. Fuck it, it was pretty much over. I was already hooked.
It’s like an addiction. It’s just the way some of us are. We’re simply wired that way.
I can only liken it to growing up gay—this comparison I can only speculate on and do so with no intention of trivializing the struggle that it must be to grow up gay.
But I went through middle school struggling to fit in on various sport teams. Not because I wanted to, but because it was what you did. If you didn’t join the team you were pushed even further out of the acceptable crowd. It was a crowd I was already on the edge of thanks to oversized pants, chain wallets and heroes like Steve Graham and Gilligan Yoder. So I played along, and at football games I sat on the bench waiting until the last four minutes to play.
Like all kids, I eventually found those like me—those who were just as obsessed. They became my “us.” In a way it’s where I learned what snowboarding was all about. Backyard picnic table sessions, driving around for hours to find a good road gap in Wisconsin, picking up skateboarding only as something to do when we couldn’t snowboard, and fanboying over all the new decks at the shop in August—all of that is the shit that creates an “us.”
Snowboarding in those days was accepting of so many kinds of people, so long as you were a little bit on the fringe. If you had a snowboard, you could hang. Often anyone on the shred had a similar outlook. The school-sponsored team sports weren’t for them. They weren’t very good at free throws or interceptions. But none of that mattered, because, snowboarding was simply about you choosing to do it and the awesomeness you found hanging out in sub-freezing temperatures.
The public image of snowboarding was reckless. It was still six-year old images of Damian doing back-flips off cliffs. They kept their distance. But had the public gotten any closer it would have been worse. Cigarette smoke, white dudes with dreadlocks, missing teeth, drug use, bar fights and puke breath were par for the course. Snowboarding was as gnarly as the skate and surf crowd it devolved from, or at least that was the way snowboarders told the stories. And often snowboarding was mocked for this. Look at the snowboarder in Ski Patrol. Classic public perception. Disgusting. Being represented by a three-faced dude in a movie wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but whatever, it was Hollywood. Hollywood ruins everything.
Perhaps I am looking back at youth with a rose-colored lens, but I refuse to believe that completely. My evidence comes from the fact that it is still easier for me to talk to snowboarders than most skiers. There is something that connected this pastime to each of us, and we share that bond.
Then something happened. It’s hard to say when. I would guess around 1994, but I’m sure those older then me would say around 1990. Bob Klein would probably claim around 1982. But everyone got invited in—it wasn’t just for the outliers anymore. Snowboarding was thrown in the Olympics. Snowboarding became less of a lifestyle and more of an activity. There were snowboarding teams and snowboarding coaches.
Instead of being snowboarders, suddenly snowboarders were supposed to be athletes. People committed to making their bodies the pinnacle of performance for one task only. And just as athletes participate in their sport after school, so did snowboarders. And if they had some inherent skill, they snowboarded a little in college and then they probably stopped. Sure, if it was on TV on a Sunday afternoon they would watch it, reliving their glory days.
I love those dudes who gave up snowboarding after college. It was like hacky-sack or soft drug use to them. I particularly like it when they try to dump their 7-year-old gear on craigslist for anything more than 10% of retail.
This is what lead to capital S Snowboarding. These are the Toddlers and Tiaras Tindies© (copyright 2012 Keef Love) crowd. These are the athletes you’ll continue to see in TV ads. Not just snowboarders, but Snowboarders. They are destined to be the pretty face of snowboarding. Allowed to have just enough edge to make parents call it edgy. Shaun White is Will Smith.
And therein lies the dichotomy of snowboarding. Capital-s Snowboarding will from now on be commercial-friendly, coached, TV-ready and soulless. Meanwhile, snowboarding will be night sessions, sleeping on couches, trunk beers, in the streets and halfway into your sister’s pants. So much of snowboarding is still on the edge of Thunderdome and Snowboarding has become the Truman Show.
And I’m way older now. My body is starting to fail me. I’ll still snowboard every chance I get, and I’ll watch Snowboarding every time it’s on TV. To me, Snowboarding is my football. These days I’m geeking out over the technical aspects of clothing and when I find someone who wants to talk about it as much as I do, it creates a new “us” in snowboarding. And then you start discussing the cuts of coats and pants and how it’s necessary that you have at least 4 jackets ready to go at anytime. When you find someone who understands you’re nerding-out 12 months a year. There is still an “us,” it’s just not found in Snowboarding.