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Talking Points

Air + Style 2014 and Big Air Snowboarding: Has it Come to This?

Christophe De Groof is a Belgian snowboard trainer, head judge and event organiser, who fired us over some words about this weekend’s Air & Style Big Air contest in Beijing.

With three backside 1440 triple cork variations taking the top three podium spots in the super final, Christophe looks at the causes and possible solutions to the ever-increasing big air monotony.

Words: Christophe De Groof

Finally! Last weekend, the riders had their first major stop of the 2014-2015 season. The Air & Style, one of the biggest events in Snowboard competition, was on! One hour later, I was left with a dull, bummed feeling …

Being responsible for organizing competitions at a national level, I understand the importance and difficulty in choosing the right format. Sometimes few options are possible, especially when hosting a Big Air event. Competitors at national level have a diverse range of abilities because of differing training opportunities, and are easy to divide by age of the rider, years riding etc. In the end the goal is to reward the best rider of the pack and most of the time, the “best trick”-format will do the job just fine.

Imagine going to a concert and hearing the same song played over and over again, 28 times…

At the “elite level” – as the World Snowboard Tour puts it – things are more complicated. Every rider has access to the world’s best kickers, trampoline sessions, gym’s etc., and enjoy support from personal trainers and physical therapists. These features ensure that young riders quickly ascend to the same level of riding. The more competition you get amongst riders, the more the progression you have in tricks, which has been great for our sport. Think about the rapid evolution in corking the last few years. The drawback? Now there is only one way to reach alpha status in modern competitive snowboarding – by stomping a triple cork a.s.a.p.!

Of course, progression has now flattened, as the size of kickers hasn’t grown proportionally with the tricks those guys are willing to throw down. And they just want to spin more and more, because of course, they want to earn a living, and this is what many current formats force them do to.

These days, almost every rider at the start of such a major event, has a 1440 on lock. So how do you distinguish yourself from your peers?

Try to land a 1620 or leave it up to who puts down the best (triple) 1440. Peetu managed to land a sketchy 16. Apparently Yuki did one too, earlier on the day. At least that’s what the commentator told us, (we couldn’t enjoy it because for some reason, live broadcast isn’t possible any time sooner than the 3rd round… Round 2: 16 riders x 3 tricks = 48 tricks – not shown! Why?)

Anyway, we got to enjoy 36 “elite” tricks, live on stream. I sat down with a piece of paper, ready to name and judge the different tricks… It turned out to be the easiest job ever! This is what I wrote down:

– 14 times backside 1440 (10 times with mute + 2 times stalefish + 2 times indy)

– 7 times switch backside 1440 mute

– 7 times backside 1620 mute

– only 2 times a frontside spin…

After the second round I dropped the paper, took the little one on my lap and showed him some magic: “Daddy’s going to the call the next 4 tricks, watch me!” Imagine going to a concert and hearing the same song played over and over again, 28 times… It would make you wonder why you paid €60 to attend it…

Is snowboarding narrowed down to mute grabbed, backside spins? Do these 8 guys only like to spin backside? I guess not, backside spinners also prefer cab spins, as switch backside and frontside combos just fine. No, it’s the format that is responsible; pushing the riders to show the best trick that they have on lock.

Why not change the format in a way that riders have to show how technical their riding really is?

Air + Style have changed the format in such a way that no creativity or spin direction is needed to be crowned the best rider of the pack. Go big – spin really fast, spin as much as possible, or go home! It’s perhaps not the best idea to let riders repeat a trick for the 3rd time when they bailed on one of the previous ones. Not only does it get boring, it creates the idea that it is OK to have only one direction of spinning and grabbing in your book. Aren’t we all trying to teach them kids to build up their technique, by spinning each number of rotations in every direction?

But hey, in the end it’s up to the judges to make out who won, right? They have to decide who stomped it best, who had the longer grab, who had the highest amplitude… Judging is a hard job and will always be associated with its inevitable subjective factor. The only way to evaluate such similar tricks, as objectively as possible, is to rely on technological tools. Are we going to lose ourselves in counting airtime, measuring height, grab time and degrees of rotation? We narrow our sport down to details and for spectators it looks like roulette: “next time the other guy will take the gold, if he has a bit more luck”.

Why not change the format in a way that riders have to show how technical their riding really is? For example: 4 tricks per heat, adding the 2 best tricks with opposite spin directions? In slopestyle competitions, overall impression judges are used, because everyone believes it is important to reward a dynamic run, different directions of spinning, progression, sequence of tricks, and I guess those criteria could/should become as equally important in Big Air competitions.

Our sport has evolved over the past few years, but the formats didn’t. If we want to point out the best rider of the pack, we must look for a format that really brings out the most technical rider.

Let’s hope major events are willing to put some thought into this issue and search for ways to change the format in the future. If not, I’m afraid our kids will be punished to watch 70 backside triple 1620 mute’s, thinking: has it come to this?

Footnote: Thumbs up for Stale Sandbech, trying to lighten things up, showing some variations in his grabs and throwing down the most stylish trick of the evening!

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