Snowboarding-related debates are widespread these days, especially after the rise of the ‘keyboard warriors’ clogging up comments sections. We thought it’d be more dignified to thrash them out with two informed – but opposing – voices on this feature. This month it's a question as old as our sport: does snowboarding still ape skateboarding?
This first appeared in WL116.
Jason Horton is the former editor of Document and Method snowboard magazines.
OK, so I am going to start out by stating the obvious fact that snowboard freestyle is still heavily influenced by skateboarding, then move onto something more interesting, so I won’t bore us both senseless.
(Freestyle) snowboarding was invented by skater-snowboarders. The stylish-but-functionless act of grabbing your board replicates skateboarding, and Tahoe City Dump halfpipe and Terry Kidwell and yadda yadda yadda. Yes, snowboarding also innovates (see triple corks) and actually influences skateboarding via mega ramps and slopestyle courses, but the bottom line is skateboarding came first. Freestyle snowboarding’s whole aesthetic is based upon skate style and terrain. Always was, always will be – look no further than the skinny pants and shoelace belt trend. So yes, in that respect it still copies skateboarding, especially in the realm of urban jibbing where the connection to steel and concrete is at its strongest.
Now I’ve won the argument, let’s move onto the finer points – the difference between influence, copying and downright stealing. To illustrate this, I want to tell you about two musicians, Davy Graham and Jimmy Page. Davy Graham was an English Folk musician who revolutionised guitar playing in the early 1960’s. Inspired by music heard while travelling in Morocco and the middle east, Graham applied experimental tunings and scales to traditional English and Irish folk songs. In doing so, he created a sound that was both ‘influenced by’ and completely, mind-blowingly, original. In 1964 he recorded a guitar composition based on the traditional Irish song ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ using the unconventional DADGAD tuning. A blend of Celtic and eastern sitar music, it’s amazing – Google it.
In 1967, Rock star Jimmy Page recorded a near-identical version of Graham’s composition, first with the Yardbirds and later with Led Zeppelin. But – and this is the world’s biggest but – he called it ‘White Summer’… and claimed composer credit.
Graham used his influences to create something new. I say Jimmy Page copied Graham; others might say he was influenced. It doesn’t really matter, because by changing the name and claiming it as his own, Page stole it.
So there you have it. Snowboarders began by copying skateboarders (which is fine, because no one’s saying we invented the Stalefish), and they are still influenced (see Forest Bailey’s trousers). Crucially, they should really acknowledge that influence, because to do anything else is just… pulling a Zeppelin.
The word in this sentence that makes me disagree with the statement is ‘still’. Freestyle snowboarding in its early years, borrowed shamelessly from skateboarding. That is a non-negotiable fact. Grabs, tricks and spins all kept the same names, which made sense and stopped things getting confusing. Likewise, when the street revolution came in the early 00s, rail terminology was largely lifted from our wheeled brothers and sisters, again because it made sense. Bag ladies and zeeches got outlawed because with trucks they would result in a slam. Without judged contests, considerations like these helped develop street riding into what it is today, but back then snowboarding was emulating skating in tricks and style.
In cities that enjoy reliable snowfalls most rails have been shut down over the last decade, with every trick having been logged in video parts. To get that NBD for their section, riders started gapping kinked rails as well as spinning into and out of board slides and presses. This was all only a little bit after PJ Ladd had made a name for himself in skateboarding with super-tech ledge and rail tricks.
From there on though, I think it’s fair to say that snowboarding and skateboarding have diverged. The fact that snowboards have bindings meant that as their confidence and experience grew, they were able to hit rails which, at the time, were way bigger than skated rails, (that difference has now largely disappeared thanks to David Gonzales and others). At the same time, skateboard evolution took its own direction: Tricks got more tech (flips onto and off rails for example) and the rise of Street League pushed skate progression towards (now insane) consistency.
Meanwhile, the development of the hydraulic winch gave snowboarders as much speed as they could possibly need, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities. This extra speed coupled with a limited number of spots in places with reliable snow, led film crews to think up new shit, using regular street spots in new ways to get their shots: Rails into steep/high banks, big gaps onto rails and ledges, wall rides to rails, rails to wall rides, rail-to-rail transfers, ledges off roofs, urban gaps and street kickers for example. This started as a trickle of creativity, around the time of Patchwork Patterns, but quickly turned into a torrent of progression.
Sure, Rowley skated roof gaps, even back in the day, and many skaters have got shots on rails into banks, but the variety of modern snowboard obstacles, made possible thanks to the winch and the fact that more surfaces can be ridden on a snowboard, means that snowboarding ain’t copying no more! Some aspects of skateboarding are now borrowing from snowboarding, instead. You’ve only got to look at a ‘mega ramp’…