Defining Moments – Ingemar Backman breaks record for highest air

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Riksgransen 1996: Ingemar Backman pushes the boundary.

Before sponsored world record attempts snowboarding seemed a far simpler, less competitive place. Few people outside of our little world seemed to care about how high a rider might soar or how many rotations they might do down a halfpipe. The Olympics were yet to kick-in, the X games were in their infancy and levels of progression were marked by the new tricks showcased in videos released every October. Standout tricks were always the talk of the scene, with conversations like “did you see so and so’s 900?” becoming the ‘watercooler moment’ of the year.

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Few tricks stand out from this era quite like Ingemar Backman’s epic backside air, thrown down on the edge of the Swedish and Norwegian border back in April of 1996. At only 20 years old Ingemar was already a star in the snowboarding world. His knack of blending an effortless style with original tricks often led to comparisons with his fellow Scandinavian rider, Terje Haakonsen. But although a similar age to Terje, Ingemar was somehow part of a newer generation. He was the first pro rider to come out of a sports school in Sweden that had started to include a snowboard programme. Fellow pupil Johan Olofsson also went on to huge snowboard acclaim, although neither followed the competition route that the school had tried to instill in its pupils. Instead, both riders were feted by the magazines and film-makers of the era, which fostered the idea that they could showcase their incredible talents through backcountry stunts. Johan went on to put down one of the most seminal first descents in Standard Film’s TB5, while Ingemar absolutely stunned the snowboard world with this 6.5 metre backside air during a wind-down session at that year’s Diesel 55 DSL comp.

It was a method so influential at the time that it graced the cover of practically every snowboard magazine around the world, while some shaky footage of the run-in, coupled with the sound of the crowd erupting, made it onto the opening sequence of Mack Dawg Productions Stomping Grounds in late 1996. Although it has since been eclipsed by several people, notably Heikki Sorsa at the 2001 Arctic Challenge and Terje Haakonsen just last spring, Ingemar’s air has the distinction of being simply organic. No one knew he was going to push the boundaries that far, and there was certainly no prize money in it for him.
Always incredibly shy in front of a dictaphone, Ingemar shrugged the feat off at the time, claiming it was only because he’d hiked a little higher than the other riders that had also been sessioning the quarterpipe. Clearly there is more to the story, but he has never publicly acknowledged what pushed him to take so much speed into what was actually a sketchy, hand-built transition. It could have gone horribly wrong, and at those heights broken bones are the minimum he could have hoped for. Of the few attempts he had at going ballistic, the one frozen for prosperity here perfectly captures the era. Outstandingly stylish, he managed to squeeze every bit of speed out of the run in – even though he nonchalantly tail-slid a rock on the way down. Once airbourne Ingemar soared skyward, eventually kicking that back leg out just at the apex, proof that what you do when you’re up there is just as important as how high the air might be. Incredibly, his feat isn’t on youtube, but to see a similar air of Ingemar’s, check out www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhYZAYlj930

What happened next:
Since that day in ‘96 Ingemar has continued to snowboard, having had a pro model first on Atlantis (the board in the shot) followed by a move to Allian in 1998. Perhaps the two biggest decisions in his life were helping to establish the Swedish clothing company We in 1999, followed by a move to San Diego in California where he lived (surfing as much as possible) up until 2006. Whilst in America Ingemar took up Poker, entering his first event in 2005 in Baden, Austria, where he picked up a cool $53,788 in the European 7-Card Stud Championships. He has since turned pro and returned to Skelleftea in his native Northern Sweden. He is sponsored by www.martinspoker.com (where he has a daily blog) and has raked in over $130,000 in total prize money since the Austrian win. With WESC continuing its rise as one of the hottest clothing companies in the world, even those winnings are likely to be small change for this humble, quiet-spoken snowboarder from the arctic circle.

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