Taken from Whitelines Issue 102 Spring 2012
Words: Matt Barr
I was talking to a friend recently about a well-known up-and-coming ripper. The kid had just won a big inner-city rail contest, deservedly taking home the pay cheque and the kudos that goes with the most high-profile win of his fledgling career.
Not that my friend was too stoked. The problem? The kid had been wearing a helmet during the contest.
“The other guys aren’t wearing helmets. Skaters don’t wear helmets when they’re hitting handrails. Why the hell is a snowboarder?"
At the time I dismissed it as just another boozy snowboarding argument. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised it’s a viewpoint that throws up any number of talking points.
The first one can be summed up in a sentence: Kevin Pearce and Sarah Burke. I wonder what Kevin or Sarah’s family would think about somebody suggesting that anybody wearing a helmet in a competition was somehow less core or deserving of victory? I’d sure be interested to know.
The other objection that springs to mind is that, for most riders, the idea that wearing a helmet might be in any way uncool went out of fashion with the step-in binding*.
Personally, there are plenty of things I find completely weird about snowboarding recently, from the frankly bizarre tall T trend to the fact that Nike make snowboarding boots I might actually wear one of these days. But that’s what happens and how it has been since the dawn of time. Things evolve. Change occurs. To paraphrase the great sci-fi writer Douglas Adams, if you’re under twenty, any new development like this is completely normal; if you’re in your twenties, it’s vaguely strange but with any luck you might be able to make a career out of it; if you’re over thirty, it’s nothing more than evil proof that things aren’t as good as they were back in your day and that modern life is total, utter rubbish. As Adams put it: “Apply this rule to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are."
"Even now, in 2012, some snowboarders STILL have an inferiority complex when it comes to skateboarding"
The other thing that is really interesting about this story is what it reveals about attitudes at the core end of snowboarding. Which is that even now, in 2012, some snowboarders STILL have an inferiority complex when it comes to skateboarding.
I mean, maybe it’s just me, but if you were going to pick out one fundamental difference between skateboarders hitting handrails and snowboarders hitting handrails, it wouldn’t be their helmets. You’d probably mention the rather more glaring fact that a snowboard is stuck to a rider’s feet, while a skateboard isn’t. Or you could pick another random difference. Like the fact that skateboarders don’t tend to build little snow ramps or use weird pulley systems in order to get onto rails in the first place – whereas at most inner city rail comps and in plenty of videos, snowboarders do exactly that.
The point is that there’s not really any way around the fact that snowboarding is basically easier than skateboarding. It’s one reason why skateboarders think snowboarding is a bit of a joke. No amount of slagging off an eighteen year-old kid for wearing a helmet is going to change that.
Personally, I think it’s about time we accepted – even celebrated – the fact that snowboarding is basically different to skateboarding, and that there might even be certain advantages to this state of affairs. After all, having the thing attached to your feet (or maybe even wearing a helmet) means the sport can borrow certain influences from skating, yet progress in weird and wonderful ways unique to snowboarding. Take Jed Anderson. Here’s a kid who can skate, is absolutely killing rails on a snowboard – and he’s wearing a helmet. Guess he didn’t get the memo either.
Being strapped to your board also means snowboarders can experience certain fundamental board-riding pleasures our skate cousins will never get to experience. Like what? How about the powder turn? Or do they not count any more unless you do them on a skate deck (complete with trucks and wheels) in Alaska?
Sure, maybe you think that in the wider standing sideways scheme of things, skateboarding is fundamentally gnarlier and more credible. You might even be right. But that’s OK. After all, as a certain group of pro riders have been saying a lot recently, “we are snowboarding". We’re different to those other guys.
How about we all just finally accept that and get on with it?*For any kids scratching their head at the phrase ‘step-in binding’, yes brands like Burton did try to market them. Certain top pros even wore them. Even on handrails.