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June 26, 2006

Where Did the Rebel Factor in Being a Snowboarder Go?

So Adam at Highly Obsessed and I have been having a discussion on his site relating to smaller board companies and just the industry in general. Transworld Snowboarding had an article about the small snowboard manufacturers that got Adam thinking about the maturation of the snowboard industry.

It is my premise that snowboarding has become exactly that which it set out to destroy--namely the ski industry. Snowboarding is the new skiing--a sport that cuts across virtually all age groups and is tailored to the wealthy high end niche of people that can afford to head up to the mountain and drop $1000 a day on lodging and lift tickets and another couple grand on equipment. Hell, Burton is marketing jackets that contain headphones in the hood and iPod controls for a stiff $600+. They are no longer selling to the grungy edgy kid, but rather, they have moved beyond the original core of the sport and the skaters that gave the sport its popularity as a countercultural statement against the masses of skiers that dominated winter sports.

I am constantly in these discussions with my friends who almost all snowboard about how lame it is to two plank it. Skiing is not cool like snowboarding. Skiers are 60 year old men on straigh as an arrow 210's wearing 80's hotpants and hanging out at the lodge in their sweaters. Then it is from my baby brother who wants to snowboard at 11 and who I have offered to allow to do just that when he pays for his equipment, lift ticket, and condo to stay in. It was when he said, "But skiing isn't cool like snowboarding. None of my friends ski, they all snowboard" that I realized that the snowboarding phenomenon has gone beyond something rebels do to be rebelous. Now, I ski unlike all my friends to be a rebel and to be different. And with that, it takes some good natured teasing, but I dish it out back at them. There is nothing rebelous about snowboarding anymore. And there is something that is emerging about twin tip skiing that represents a new counterculture. Shawn White is phenomenol, but so is Tanner Hall. Throwing crazy stuff in the pipe, but one represents the commercialized and overhyped and supermarketed winter sport, and the other is a name rarely heard of. Bode gets all the attention, but Jeremy Bloom and Tanner Hall are no names outside of the industry unlike the entire world that knows who Shawn White is.

This is an article from Nagano and 1998:

Snowboarders like to be different and they cultivate the image of radical youth.

They love to rail against authority and don't care who knows it, but that seems to be as far as they want to go. They'll talk about wanting to spare the environment, but don't seem to give a thought to the fact that someone bulldozed a substantial part of it to give them a place to ride.

They say they don't like the stilted formalities of other organized sports, and especially the stuffy, over-regulated world of the Olympics.

Fair enough, but at the same time most admit they longed to be here if only so that they and their sport get the recognition only the Olympics can bestow. They carp constantly about what amounts to a very unrestrictive Olympic dress code, but rarely mention the fact they signed an agreement to abide by it. They claim the creeping commercialization of their sport is crass, but several of them are said to be making high six-figure incomes. And those who don't are pressing hard for their sponsors to come up with more cash.

On the plus side, they seem to truly understand the dangers of second-hand smoke, but that's a column for another time.

The bulk of the riders who showed up for a Nike-sponsored press conference here did so to announce that they were getting new clothing or would push new products for the company that has a nice little ambush marketing scheme playing out of a car barn here. None mentioned the apparent conflict between being "free to be me" and "just doing it" for cash. Most seemed to not even recognize it.

So now we have a conflict. Just as Bode Miller is conflicted because he wants to play the "Small Town Kid from New Hamshire who did not even have indoor plumbing", he also wants to sign massive endorsement deals, wants to appear on 60 Minutes, have his own radio show on Sirius, then wants to complain about all the attention that gets paid to him. Burton does not pay Shawn White's paychecks out of Jake Burton's personal account at a fledgling startup, but rather the corporation writes the check out of their massive bankroll from selling gads of product.

Now, I firmly believe that Snowboarding is being turned into a punchline as a counterculture statement by politicians and by 60 year old men trying to be hip and young and cool like all "them damned kids these days" by dropping their skis and doing what the cool kids do and snowboarding. There is a term for them, crossovers. Crossovers from skiing. I have another term for them. Combovers. They are the 50 year old mid-life crisis victim that pays for the hair plugs at The Hair Club for Men and drives a Corvette.

It isn't that I have a beef against my buddies who snowboard. I own a snowboard or two and planned to learn to do both so that I can write about both. There are several camps within snowboarding, but the big ones are the pothead-burnout stoner kids that have to sell something to pay for a lift ticket or got their gear as a trade from one of the guys they sell to from the basement of their mom's house. That is the root of the sport. These kids smoke on the lift, and not cigarettes. Then there are the wannabe rich kids. You know, the kids that mom and dad can afford to pay to take ski vacations with and who get the $1000 board and bindings for Christmas from mom and dad. There are the parents of these kids as a seperate category that want to remain young and hip and so they stop skiing because they think snowboarding at 50 helps you stay cool. Finally, my friends that I ride with are twenty and thirty somethings that are doing well, have good jobs, have disposable income, and do it as a group activity.

But notice, that the first category is what the sport was orignally about. And now, lift ticket prices and gear prices have washed these kids out of the sport, yet people still want to believe that snowboarding is a countercultural statement. That it is edgy still.

This may be the worst example of why I think snowboarding has lost its edge:

Notice the cute little flower on the vest.

Notice how John Kerry rides Burton. That is what Burton is marketing to because these guys have the bucks. Burton is not about being edgy, but rather about selling gear. How can Jake Burton represent a countercultural non-corporate element when he is selling gear and marketing Nike style?

Posted by Justin at June 26, 2006 12:03 PM

Comments

Interesting.
I often wonder about how a company like Burton can start out so ghetto, then get really nice cool stuff that's well designed and cutting edge, then sell out completely to the point that their stuff sucks again and represents nothing more than big business. It's sad to see the process play itself out.
I started snowboarding twenty years ago when snowboarding was NOT cool. I've endured all the heckling over the years but kept at it because of one thing: it works for me and I like the way it feels. It's funny how now snowboarding is becoming uncool in some ways but I don't give a rat's a** what others think, I do it for myself. Always have and always will.
It always trips me out though how some people heckle others for what they ride on. Who gives a sh*t? It's like the huge industry that's built around noticing what "celebrities" do, who really gives a sh*t?

Posted by: steve at July 4, 2006 08:23 AM

The sport is cool in so many ways. I love the history of it and the struggle to get resorts to even allow snowboarding, of which Jake Burton was a driving force to make the change happen. But it has evolved from a sport that no one wanted, to the sport that everyone does, to the point where Shawn White may as well be appearing on MTV's TRL because he has done appearances everywhere else.

Snowboarding and the companies that sponsor the riders have turned the sport into a "professional sport" in the sense that endorsements, gear companies, and marketting firms own the industry now. Snowboarders have agents and negotiate which gear to ride based on $$$$.

This is the NBA. Or the NFL. Or MLB. Where Nike's rule the world and Reebok and Converse compete to sign the big name stars. And at the center of the conversion from cult Xtreme sport to mainstream weekender hobby is Jake Burton and Burton Boards.

I ski because I love to ski. I love a powder day when the slopes are totally empty on a weekday when I am skipping work and it does not matter what gear I am riding at all. No one is there to see me or carve up my freshies. I don't care whether my Atomics are last year's model or whether I have shaved or showered in the last week. I am there to ski. And having buddies there who ride makes it all the better. There is no need to impress with what gear you use, it is all about the mountain and the conditions and your friends and hanging. And that is what is so sick to me about the gear companies. They are trying to destroy my sport by making it a high school popularity contest about who has the most money and the newest gear. If I wanted to keep up with the Jones's I would have a boat and quads and jet skis and head to the lake in my lifted 4x4 F-350 Diesel and toy hauler.

This is a sport that you can do on old 210's with 80's hotpants the same as you can on new twin-tips. And nothing is better than watching some 50 year old on tele's throwing 360's and then getting into his crappy van and going to his bartending job so that he can simply live at the mountain and ski every powder day. That is what it is about.

Posted by: Justin B at July 4, 2006 02:10 PM

Ok, so it looks to me like the real problem is the difficulty in finding like minded riders now. I am one of those previously mentioned poor edgy kids riding sh*t to do the only thing that makes them forget about succeeding in this world. I have since grown up, and ten years later, still love to snowboard in the winter. The only problem is that the riders suck now. I don't mean they are watered down and it's gone corporate. I mean that the rider simply suck! Period. They aren't good at jumping, they have no riding style. They aren't cool at all. I stopped riding for four years to do some travelling, and when I returned, all the guys who were loving landing a new trick, and loving the comeraderie between snowboarders were gone and replaced by small groups of guys who barely get any air and all they do is slide along wooden rails at an exremely slow pace.
When I ride, I still feel like a rebel because I ride twice as fast as anyone around me, I olly and spin off every lip and little bump I find. And when I go to the park, I say [edited] it to the bs slo-mo rails, and use the mini-launch up the rail as a launch pad and jump over the whole mini bsthing! People think I'm nuts, but I'm a rider and not a poseur!

[sorry to edit the content for language] =)

Posted by: Captain at July 17, 2006 09:06 AM