No move on a snowboard can match the majesty of the classic method grab. Chris Moran considers why this trick above all others has stood the test of time.
Years ago I watched Shaun White, Mason Aguirre and Danny Davis fight it out in the Nippon Open pipe. Shaun eventually laid down the winning run with all the casual inevitability of a be-towelled German tourist claiming a deckchair*. As the last person drop in (and with the winner’s cheque already banked), he had a run to spare. Did he robotically repeat his winning run – technically the best he could do? No – he decided to thrill the crowd by doing straight airs as big as he could down the pipe. Hand on heart it was the best thing I’d seen in ages, and the cherry on the cake was a huge method air, caught so sweet in the tranny that it looked God himself had the Flying Tomato by the bobble on his beanie.
Ah yes, the method air – the perfect tango between snowboard and snowboarder. To the untrained eye it’s a simple heel-edge grab with the back foot pushed out; but to a connoisseur, it is the ultimate barometer of style. Do them well and they evoke the elegance of a classically-trained ballet dancer. Do them badly and you might as well grab a jester hat, put some skis on, and chuck a few daffies.
To the untrained eye it’s a simple heel-edge grad with the back foot pushed out; but to a connoisseur, it is the ultimate barometer of style
Other sports have their own version of the method and it’s remarkable how similar their traits are. Bike riders flick their back wheel in what’s known as a “whip”, footballers have the scissor kick (watch it in slow-mo to see the twisted style element), and kitesurfers and wakeboarders have the railey – where the emphasis is on keeping your back arched as long as possible. In fact virtually every sport has its own version of the method, and the aesthetics of each are enough to inspire endless pub arguments and fill countless columns. They inspire the same kind of passion that made Ernest Hemingway dedicate a full book to his love of bullfighting – with the artistic merit of a Matador’s cape flick taking up large chunks. I’m not about to go to the lengths of Death in the Afternoon, because I know that debating the merits of who’s got the best method in snowboarding is a pointless exercise, on a par with trying to decide scientifically which is the fittest member of Girls Aloud. (Clearly, by the way, it’s the ginger one…)
Nah, just joking. Of course I’m going to spout off about who I think does the best methods. And do you know who I’m gonna pick? I’m going for Gigi Ruf. He may be three foot six, but he can soar through the air like an albatross, taunting mariners and snowboarders alike with his masterful backscratchers. With my art critic’s beret on, I would go so far to say that his method is a composite of all the greats from the past, distilled into one pleasing and tasteful flight. And what’s great about this particular trick is that Gigi’s method – like all methods in fact – is as unique as a fingerprint. You don’t have to be a member of CSI Miami to differentiate between snowboarders. Of my riding buddies, I could identify their silhouetted methods as easily as I could recognise their faces. Like faces, you don’t ‘choose’ your method – your method chooses you. It’s a reflection of your true style, a kind of window into your psyche. Think of the method as a magnifying glass, and your style an ant, forever being chased around the bin-lid of life. Do them well and they’ll reward you with a warm feeling. Do them without soul and there’s a chance the sun’s laser beam will catch you up and fry you to a Rippey**
Not that one’s method is a static beast – they change over time. And like a tortured artist endlessly painting sunflowers until perfection is attained there’s a time when your Method is at its spangling best. From then on, it’s on a downward slope (no pun intended). This is your Method purple patch, a brief, fleeting window when it’s at its absolute best. I used to love riding around with my earphones in listening to Bowie’s Space Oddity and chucking a few methods off cat track hits. Today, sadly, it’d be more fitting to do ‘em to his Laughing Gnome song.
Skaters’ version were stuck in an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It wasn’t until snowboarding came along that the method found its natural home
The method has a funny history. Legend has it that vert-skater Neil Blender invented and named the trick almost by accident after entering a highest air contest in California in 1985. The rules stated that the air would be measured from the lowest point of the riders’ body or board, so Neil grabbed his board and arched his back to squeeze as much height out of the trick as he could. He reckoned that this was the best ‘method’ (as he put it) for winning highest air contests. The name stuck. Neil went on to create a variation on the trick that involved pushing down on the board, but this time, he lavished more care on the naming of it. He called it a ‘lien air’ (his own name spelt backwards) and it’s this that is the move he’s most associated with. Strange then that the method has gone from strength to strength, while the lien air didn’t catch people’s imaginations in the same way. Somehow, Neil isn’t remembered for his most famous creation. He’s much like Salmon Rushdie in this respect: after missing out on the celebrity that could have come from coining the cream cake slogan “naughty, but nice!” he ended up being famous for having a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini.***
While vert skaters were quick to adopt the method, its development eventually met with a natural barrier. The amount of time in the air was fleeting, and though Steve Caballero and Christian Hosoi pushed the skate version of the trick to its limits, it was stuck in an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It wasn’t until snowboarding came along that the method found its natural home. The key of course was more time in the air. By the late 1980s, riders like Terry Kidwell were throwing methods of everything they could find: cliffs, newly-built halfpipes and piste rollers.
Worst of all was the suitcase air. If Simon Cowell could do methods, they would be suitcase airs
“A good air is like hangliding,” said Chris Pappas in the 1988 video Snow Daze (accompanied by pictures of Terry Kidwell and Shaun Palmer throwing methods – whitelines.com/snow-daze). “When you’re body is just bent out of shape.” Ah yes, Shaun Palmer; a man whose methods looked so lazy, so stylish, and yet so rebellious, that everyone wanted to get involved – for a time they were know as ‘palm airs’. Chris Roach was another Californian who went big and pushed his back end around. His methods were so unique, and so kicked out, that people started calling them ‘grassers’ (Roach lived in Grass Valley). Ever kicked your back leg out to try and hit a tree stump or piste sign? You’re following in Roach’s tracks my friend.
Of course there were other early variations of the method that failed to set the world alight. ‘Crossbones’ were methods with the rear hand which never really caught on. Some said they made you look like a fat kid snatching at a difficult-to-reach seatbelt. The space grab was a method with the board pulled vertical that didn’t look right; the tourist method involved grabbing the board in the right place and bending the knees, but without the twist at the hips. Worse than the tourist method was the ‘suitcase air’ – reaching all the way across the base of your board to grab the toe edge in order to pull or “wedgie” the Method upwards. If Simon Cowell could do methods, they would be suitcase airs.
Like faces, you don’t chose your method – you method chooses you
Although the pure method remained untainted by such abominations, it continued to develop and its form was pulled in different directions. In Europe, Norway’s Terje Haakonsen put down a benchmark method of sorts. Terje’s version leant heavily on Neil Blender’s original concept – go as high as possible and strain the board and arms above your torso like Ethan Hunt avoiding the ground in a Mission Impossible abseil. With a grab above the front binding (and far enough along the nose to be sometimes called a ‘nethod’) Terje could stall over his transitions like an eagle circling on a thermal. They were awesome.
North American riders, and especially those in the Pacific Northwest, decided that the most stylish method was more of a twist of the lower body that pushed the base of the board outwards. The aim was to grab the board on the heel edge between the bindings – preferably without any gloves on – and tweak the trailing hand all the way around. Best done off a straight jump, or thrown off a cliff, they were the definitive way to travel through the air. Jamie Lynn owned them. “Shaun Palmer had some pretty good methods before Jamie’s time,” said Peter Line in a recent Transworld interview, “but once Jamie took over it was like, “Okay that’s a method.”
Gigi’s method is a composite of all the greats from the past, distilled into one pleasing and tasteful flight
With nearly thirty-years of tweaking – if you’ll excuse the pun – the humble method is nearing perfection. But today’s riders – standing on the shoulders of earlier style gods – are still evolving the trick, taking it into the future – higher, further, faster and more twisted. From Travis Rice’s slow-mo tree bonk Method in The Art of Flight, to Frederic Evensen’s version, in which he stalls the movement so late that he has to twist his upper body almost backwards to get straight for the landing. You know what we’re seeing here? We’re witnessing the coronation of the method as the King of all snowboard grabs.
To prove the point, the 2011 Aspen X Games’s Big Air contest was preceded by what (for purists at least) was the undoubted highlight of the weekend: the Best Method Contest. Jamie Lynn, Nicolas Muller and Terje were all invited, but it came down to Chas Guldermond, Scotty Lago, Mason Aguirre and Greg Bretz lining up for the younger crowd, with Ross Powers and Peter Line representing the legends. Even though Chas triple-boned his method, the top honors went to Scotty Lago (watch it on whitelines.com/xgames-best-method) whose stylish, stalled grab owed perhaps more to the Euro lineage than any other. But it’s the fact that people of Terje’s generation could be invited to ride the X Games in 2011 that makes methods so special. They are the perfect way for all riders to measure themselves against the best riders to have ever strapped in, because they’re not super-complicated. If you wanna go toe-to-toe against the legends of our sport, from the past to the present day, then all you gotta do is strap in, get in the air, push that back leg out, and hear the squeak of your binding as you soar.
Now don’t that feel good?
*Copywrite Stan Boardman circa 1987.
** Sorry Jim, your methods weren’t for me. I still love your backflips though.
***A subject expertly mined by Fame Academy’s Lemar in the song “If There’s Any Justice in the World”.