Snowboarding in 1987, 1997, 2007 and 2017.

Words: Anders Hagman.
Illustration: Chris Gordon.

Just realizing I have now spent more than 20 years on a snowboard was a weird experience. I now feel like a senior citizen. I also suddenly feel fit to make a few comparisons and predictions – comparisons between snowboarding yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let us make some 10-year leaps, starting way back in 1987…

Snowboarding in 1987 equalled being a pioneer, not entirely unlike being a trapper in the Wild West. There was probably some lost soul in each snow-covered town in Europe falling over on a plank at this time, but it was unlikely that this person would meet another in the same situation. Even though this might sound like a lonely life, it wasn’t. He or she probably felt as lonely as a sugar cube in a barn full of flies. An average day on the hill would mean explaining “it’s called a snowboard”, “no, it’s not that difficult” and “no, you can’t buy or rent a board around here – but I’ll let you try mine if you want” approximately 50 times.

Sporadically we’d then meet another boarder and focus on the real issues. These were “how bad do your feet hurt” and “how have you modified your bindings”, as well as “have you heard of this amazing guy called Craig Kelly”.

Pretty much all of the boards were way too long, way too stiff, and some of them even had a fishtail. A lot of riders used what was called a “plate binding” and tall, stiff ski boots… Needless to say we probably thought we looked cooler than we actually did.

Look at a video from that era now – some are available on youtube.com – and you’ll notice that anyone could have been a pro back in those days. If we could only travel back in time, we’d all probably easily beat Craig with a few 360s in the Soda Spring World Masters, winning a grand prize cheque of about $1,250.

With poster-boy Craig in the lead, Burton Snowboards from the East Coast of the USA was the No 1 brand. Some fair rivalry from the Californians at Sims Snowboards and their hero Terry Kidwell did, however, exist in the freestyle arena.

Jumping to 1997, things have changed dramatically. It’s almost impossible to grasp the difference these 10 years in snowboarding history made. The number of snowboarders world wide had been growing madly – probably doubling each year – and so had the number of good riders. A few hundred of the best were now battling it out in their home countries trying to make it to the first ever snowboarding event at the Winter Olympics (held in Nagano, Japan, 1998). A few really goods ones did, however, skip this entirely, most notably Terje Håkonsen, dissing the circus completely. Terje had dominated the sport for almost a decade now, but during that decade the International Ski Federation – FIS – moved from ignoring snowboarding to trying to make it into another discipline of skiing. Then it embraced snowboarding in its own peculiar way. As you may understand, those who had seen all of this take place had their reasons to be a little reluctant to join the party.

The ski industry completely jumped on the bandwagon. Soon there were boards made by every brand of skis and by a few hundred snowboard companies as well. Each brand needed team riders, so becoming one wasn’t that hard, even though the level of riding had picked up tremendously. Most riders on the pro tour did back-to-back 720s, which became a predicable trademark of the time in every halfpipe competition.

Burton was now the number one brand by far, but hadn’t yet spawned any siblings.

Catching up with 2007 is something really not worth spending time on. We all know what it’s like, don’t we? We just need to open our eyes and observe it. So let’s leave the current to those who are able to catch the moment, like the pics in the rest of this magazine.

1080s in every different direction is a must if you want to make it to even talking with a brand about becoming a team rider, not to mention a pro.

One more thing is, however, worth noting: that having grown madly for its entire lifespan, snowboarding is starting to mature in a lot of senses. It’s remarkable that the number of riders may for the first time no longer be growing. This means there are as many people retiring from snowboarding as there are newbies, probably levelling out the age curve as well.

Snowboarding will probably not be at the top of any hype-list in year 2017 either. The coming decade of ups and downs, occasionally interrupted by a splash of interest after each winter Olympics, will however by that time have created a firm breeding ground for those who have opted for snowboarding as their prime life-hobby-thing. As no-one will have started riding due to a hype, each rider is more committed than today. To be a snowboarder now is not something you brag about, it’s something you are, no matter what the public opinion is. I guess you can sort of compare it to what skateboarding is today, or even the way cross-country skiers look at themselves.

The silly fights over naming of tricks with skiers will be over. Everyone will be comfortable with that there are four ways separated by 90 degrees in which you can face when going down a hill. What’s on your feet will be of lesser importance.

There will also be heaps of old farts talking about “the core old days”. Yep, those exist already today, but they will multiple in numbers – and yes, those grandpas will be as bitter as the old surfers we see today.

On the other side of the spectrum there will be kids riding back and forth to kindergarten as if the snowboard was an extension of the their feet. Riding will be so natural to them they will not even think of it as another activity, just another way of playing. These will be the kids who make Tony Hawk Extreme Skateboarding a reality… Now let’s do a quiz and see if you can guess the number of degrees you need to be able to spin – and land – consistently to be able to reach the podium at a pro event?

My prediction is that Burton will still be the brand most often related to snowboarding, but they will in addition to boards, clothing, shoes, etc, be selling motorcycles, cars and cruise ships, all under various futuristic brand names. An aging Bill Gates will be looking over his shoulder. Global domination will be close.

Anders Hagman is a Swedish former pro who believes his mature age (of 35) provides him with a right to snake when dropping into a pipe or park.
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