Feeling the tug. Photo: Matt Georges
We've dipped into our archive once more and this time pulled out our feature from issue 129 on the effect that towing in has had on snowboarding. Grab your portable internet communicator and read this on the bog...
How Winches & Bungees Changed Snowboarding
[Words: Tom Copsey]
Jibbing has been an integral part of snowboarding since skateboarders first strapped in to snowboards and started looking to take their style of riding to the snow. Riders swiftly progressed from hitting non-snow features in resorts in the late 80s to sliding primitive park features and taking the first tentative steps at riding rails in town. After a short period of hibernation, the tail end of the 90s saw jibbing blow up with riders raised on a healthy diet of street skating like JP Walker and Jeremy Jones ushering in a new era of urban riding, and it’s safe to say it’s not looked back since.
But, as everyone knows, snowboarding’s constitution demands tricks, style and progression in equal measure. Once riders had mastered the diverse lexicon of rail vocabulary – from boardslides, to switch back lips, to pretzeling out and spinning on and off – what then? Where was there to go? The obvious answer was to longer and longer lengths of metal and ‘crete, with increasingly higher consequences, but there’s a point where a 60 stair front board one year will only be outdone by, what, a 90 stair one the next?
The other alternative was to look at the urban landscape with a more open mind and hunt for creative, innovative and unique spots to keep everything fresh. And this certainly also happened, though one thing was acting as a handbrake to any real evolution of street riding – unlike skateboarders, snowboarders can’t push. Speed and getting the right amount for a hit is always paramount and the simple fact was that a shove from your buds or a dropin ramp will only get so far, and while a car tow-in can work, you need significant room and you sure can’t get away with razzing your motor all over the pavement that easily.
Finger On Da Trigger Productions’ director Cole Taylor remembers the lengths his crew used to go to to session their patented brand of oversized urban features: “There was a lot of stuff that we couldn’t hit that we wanted to and we couldn’t figure out how to get enough speed. At first we were using crazy pivots with 300 feet of rope and a car in parking lot that was like half a block away but we'd figure out a way to fucking pull a rope off of a sign to a pole... It was pivoting off 4 different spots and getting yanked by a car but as we were travelling we'd find a lot of things that we couldn’t use the car."
With urban riding in danger of stagnating, a rethink was needed. Enter tow-ins.
[Lucas Magoon's full part from FODT's Hard To Earn, one of the first movie crews to experiment with bungee whip-ins.]
PULL MY STRINGS
More often than not snowboarding has taken its lead from skateboarding or surfing, but today’s ghetto superstars have to doff their cap to a couple of sports with a little less sideways street cred: wakeboarding and skimboarding. Debate about who first used a winch or a bungee for snowboarding first could rage between literally tens of people, but what’s for sure is that the first shots we saw at Onboard came from Peter Lundström and his lovingly handcrafted beast, The Machine, in the spring of 2008.
The previous summer, on our dryslope tour of the north of England, Peter clapped eyes upon a wakeskating tow-in winch that set light bulbs popping off in his skull. Rather than try to track down one of these, Peter decided to get his hands dirty and make his own. “It was a blend of stoke and fear," he laughs today when remembering the reaction of his crew of riders the first time he unveiled his creation. “It had no muffler and it would spit fire the first few times we used it. It was a mean machine. I remember shooting with Eiki Helgason one of the first times we used it and he nearly ripped my arm off with it by fiddling with the throttle while I was winding it out."
Others had seen similar wakeboard winches around the same time and, rather than knocking one together themselves had purloined one to experiment with, with similar tales of bafflement, fear, stoke and close calls with decapitation. However, despite still ironing out the creases of this new bit of urban shred kit, the overall consensus was that this was the missing piece of the urban puzzle – the speed the winch generated blew the doors wide open on what was possible on the streets.
But the motorised winch was not the only thing tugging jibbers in new directions. Around 2006 in the US a company called Banshee Bungee was having moderate success in the skimboarding market with their handled bungee cords but were looking to branch out. As marketing coordinator Brad Shrum explained: “We were looking to find some new areas where it could take off. One of the snowboarding companies got a hold of them one day as one of their guys had seen some kids out on the beach using this bungee and thought that we'd really like to give that a shot and see what we could do with it."
It turns out these guys were the FODT guys, a movie production company that has made its name in no small part due to their inclination to uncover and hit massive, unique urban features. Cole Taylor remembers, “the reason we got interested in the bungee was because there was a lot of stuff that we couldn't hit that we wanted to and we couldn’t figure out how to get enough speed… We'd find a lot of things where we couldn't use the car and so we had to figure out another way, and that's where the bungee kind of got us stoked." FODT were early adopters to both methods of towing and their movie Hard to Earn was in no small part responsible for spreading the word.
[Banshee Bungee 2010 Promo Video]
Cole’s quick to admit to being fearful of people’s reactions to the “big rubber band" when they saw it for the first time in their movie, but the crew quickly discovered the positives. “The bungee is definitely the MVP unless you're hitting something that's just really, really gnarly," he explains, continuing “[it] is really convenient. You know, you can hit everything with it and you can climb up on rooftops and you can get in weird alleyways, you know? You can get into some really tight nooks and crannies and use that thing where everything else won't work."
Once Hard to Earn dropped in 2009 and word of the bungee began to spread with more and more crews started partnering up with Banshee and investing in their own winches. Today most crews use a mix depending on the situation of the spot. Cole breaks it down: “The winch is nice because you can start out nice and slow and get the right speed without getting whipped into it super crazy off the beginning. The bungee can be a little bit crazy if you’re pulling it back with lots of people and it's really intense, it's like it'll rip your arms off, but the winch when it comes into play is if you really need gnarly speed to do roof gaps and stuff like that. But then you also need 100 feet or whatever of space, you know, to get the rope." Isenseven’s Alex Schiller, who first started working with tow-ins 3 years ago, backs up Cole’s assessment of ‘horses for courses’: “The bungee definitely makes it easier in terms of flexibility and mobility. Nobody needs to make an effort to just go and throw the bungee in their boardbag, just in case you might need it. With a winch you can really go out of your way and get creative and do spots nobody else can do, unless they also have a winch. It's important to stick out from the other crews and if that means hitting an "impossible" spot then that's cool." His Isenseven colleague, Tom Elliott, is more firmly in the winch camp, as he recalls: “The first winch I came across was Ludde’s from his rail mission dream van. Winches are amazing and I wouldn't do a trip without one now... Well, given the choice."
UNLOCK AND ROCK
Today you’d be hard pushed to find a crew shooting urban snowboarding who don’t have a bungee or a winch in their downtown arsenal. However, they’re not without their risks. “Let's just say watch our Umea Pirate Log from this year and you’ll see what can go wrong," winces Basti as he recalled their buddy having his fingertip surgically removed by a winch on a trip to Sweden for Bottom Line. Elliott has an equally fearsome memory of when bungees go bad; “We were using a bungee and as Benny [Wetscher] threw it away before jumping the bungee whipped forward and wrapped around his legs in mid-air. It was an 'Oh fuck!' moment as his legs stopped and his body continued moving forward over the gap. Half a front flip later he was safe on the landing but far from happy about the situation."
[Pirates Log episode with the DIY finger surgery.]
Regardless of what method of towing in riders adopted, the end result was that suddenly there was a whole new world of possibilities to be explored. The urban environment is now able to be viewed in a totally different light to what it was not even 5 years ago: flat rails, gaps... hell, now even the wall of a house is now a sessionable spot and, as everyone knows, when it comes to shooting photos or videos, it’s vital to bring something fresh to the table each year.
“Both the bungee and the winch (if you have a powerful one) open the doors to a lot of spots that we would not even have looked at before, because of no speed, so it is great," says Basti, “although it’s kind of a love/hate relationship, especially with the winch, in our case "The Grinch." Schiller is also in the tough love camp: “I still rather enjoy a spot with natural inrun. I actually don't enjoy filming with the winch at all," he confesses. “It's loud, it stinks, it always breaks, it's heavy, it's dangerous… but then again, there are a bunch of spots you can't hit if you don't have a winch.. And if all works well, you'll get some amazing and special shots. The bungee just makes life easier, whereas the winch opens up new doors when it comes to spot selection."
The variety of features that are now able to have snowboarding’s great and good spank the life out of is obviously a big deal for the scene, the sport's progression and constant evolution of this niche of snowboarding, but there’s also another facet that’s easy to overlook. With the ever increasing price of lift tickets, urban riding is another way to get one’s winter gnar on without filing for bankruptcy. Despite the jeers of the fortunate mountain dwellers who’ll be at lengths to tell you what ‘real’ snowboarding is, the fact is that by definition the only things you need to be ‘real’ is snow and a board. And there's a lot of cities in the world that get plenty of snow but aren't blessed by nearby mountains - there's now more incentive than ever for snowboarding to keep growing and evolving in less alpine environs, and to have more kids stoked on shred.
While winches might be out of reach for many urban kids, the bungee is the real deal for the regular Joe rider: "You grab a couple guys and you can go out and session something, a rail or whatever," say Cole of their benefits. "I mean you could even setup a picnic table that has no hill in a park and bungee into it off of a tree, you know? There's endless things that you can do with the bungee and so all levels of snowboarding really benefit from it, whether you're a beginner to somebody gnarly going for the cover of Onboard."
[Pat Moore's frankly mind-blowing X Games Real Snow Entry this year. Made possible in part due to tow-in contraptions and in part due to Pat's unfeasibly large spuds.]
And while the little guy will certainly reap rewards, it's the pros who'll ultimately unleash towing-in's true potential. As this article was being wrapped up we tuned into the X Games Real Snow entries and had our minds fried by the likes of Dan Brisse, Pat Moore and Bode Merrill writing the next chapter of urban tow-in shredding. 60-foot gaps, freakishly large transfers... These things are allowing a select few riders to drag snowboarding to a whole other level.