Published in Onboard Magazine Issue 120, February 2011
Words: Danny Burrows
Panting our way through Autumn like thirsty dogs we, the Onboard crew, finally quenched our thirst for shred at the local resort of Spitzingsee in early December. The snow wasn’t epic, even though some resorts nearby were claiming a metre of fresh, but it was good to feel the cut of an edge on snow and knock a few hits into the banks of the piste.
In the same week the TTR series kicked off in earnest with China putting its ex-Olympic stadium to use, hosting the inaugural Beijing Air&Style. It was a homecoming of sorts for snowboarding as the local factory workers could finally watch the gear that they assembled for export being put through its paces.
Tom, the web-itor, and I spent that afternoon writing a blowby- blow blog on the .com as the world’s best rippers fired off a volley of perfect hammers on a jump that, judging by the riders’ low-impact landings, was built with mathematical precision.
Seppe Smits stormed in from the flatlands of Belgium ousting last year’s tour winner Peetu Piiroinen in the semis and stomped into a second place with a faultless back 12 – apparently a prerequisite spin for events these days. The Canuk, Seb Toutant, and his balls of steel were the clear winners, bowling a Cab 12 double to clear the lane, having somehow kept his cool after a slam that had he been a cat would have cost him 8 lives. Podium climbing aside, Bang earned Onboard’s high-funf for a back rodeo stale, opting for style over rotation, closely followed by Elias’s front 10 melon, which he seasoned with a poke that would have made Ingo proud.
Without question it was a good event, if, as a conscientious human being, you were able to put aside the feeling that by holding it in China snowboarding was legitimising the country’s abysmal record of human rights abuses and poor record of environment neglect.
Also, there was another itch and that was that the event bore an odd coupling of title presenters: Oakley was logical, but Shaun White? When did he become a brand? Absent from the riders list he did appear at the base of the jump grinning broadly, his red mane flowing over the collars of a pea coat and surrounded by rigid police officers of the sort you find clearing Tiananmen Square. A broad definition of presenting, perhaps.
When I asked the TTR what the deal was I was forwarded a statement from Air&Style that read “Shaun White will not compete at the Oakley and Shaun White present Air&Style in Beijing. He will be present at the event and focuses on his duty of being an ambassador for snowboarding in China”. When did riders not riding become ambassadors for snowboarding?
There are plenty of things in snowboarding that bear the names of pros, like signature boards and outwear and a short list of events including the likes of Gumby’s Big Day Out or Joni and Jussi’s Invitational but they are all things that they have earned or owned. Shaun himself has a whole cupboard full of gear bearing his name and deserves them all but White Presents Air&Style? Why? In my conspiratorial mind a sign flashes: CULT OF PERSONALITY, which Wikipedia describes as arises “when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” White has that heroic public image and deserves a little flattery and praise for his riding but he god forbid that he becomes a personality bigger than his riding for in the end he won’t be the one to benefit; perhaps financially, yes, but spiritually? I think not.
In my opinion it is as a reaction to the manifestation of a saleable and sanitized face of snowboarding that a new generation of shredders are riding beyond over priced resorts, in homemade parks and on the streets. They are foregoing expensive technical wear for jeans, the music is hipped out
grunge and, in the case of gangs like the Gremlinz, guns, booze, bongs and bitches are what defines their take on the shred – it’s like Whisky revisited. This is snowboarding in the raw; unsavory and in need of a parental guidance sticker. But it’s snowboarding’s rebirth as a subculture and apart from the guns and bongs it is fucking awesome. I have the greatest respect for riders whose riding has earned them pro models and the like but I don’t, like I am sure many snowboarders, don’t want to be sold a cult of personality. After all we should be able to choose our heroes, not told who they are.