If tricks, style and timing are everything you need to be a success on the hill, then for the guys at the company signing the pay cheques, having a marketable ‘attitude’ is equally essential. This is a tricky thing to define, but we all know it when we see it. It could be the cool guy in the pub who wears it better than the rest of us, or Freddie Mercury getting everybody in Wembley Stadium to clap their hands in unison while wearing the type of outfit that on any other Saturday night would see him run out of most UK towns at the sharp end of a pitchfork. Whatever it is, if you aspire to be a legend, you need it in the locker.
There’s good news though, as this is definitely the easiest part of the equation for the would-be legend to master. After all, most pro snowboarders are (God love ’em) not the most fascinating of characters once you get them off the snow and point a dictaphone in their direction. In a world where “it’s all about riding powder with your friends” tends to pass as insightful comment, anyone who does possess an actual personality tends to stand out like Usain Bolt out on the piss with the Swedish women’s handball team.
Attitude is a tricky thing to define, but we all know it when we see it
Sadly, since the glory days of Shaun Palmer, pickings have been pretty slim in this area. That may be because Palmer set the bar pretty high when it came to column-inch garnering behaviour. There was the clown haircut. The repeated deportations from Japan. That all-round sporting ability that saw him go from snagging a snowboard contract whilst riding a home made stick to competing in downhill mountain biking, motocross and even skiercross events. Is it any wonder that most other shredders since The Palm’s heyday have seemed a little, well, beige in comparison?
So who do we have in snowboarding these days? With Jamie Lynn, it’s his artwork and an indefinable ‘he’s so mysterious’ air that have combined to make him the complete package. Nicolas Müller’s enigmatic techno-hippie schtick also seems destined to earn him a place at the Annual Legends Brodown. For Shaun White, two Olympic gold medals, a perfect X Games pipe score and (last season at least) a pair of really stupid trousers have helped to keep him in the public eye.
But what if rocking a daft pair of kecks isn’t really your style? The only other way of standing out we can think of is by being the awe-inspiring, slightly aloof figure that changed the sport in so many ways that other pro shredders still have to duck under your shadow each time they strap in. In surfing, people like Jeff Hakman, Gerry Lopez and Tom Carroll continue to be hugely important figures for precisely this reason. “I think surfing really values its traditions and creates icons,” muses surf journalist Ben Mondy. “That’s the reason brands can still use them as a tool without alienating the grommets.” In snowboarding, we’re pretty bad at venerating these icons – at least while they’re alive, anyway. Indeed, since the tragic death of Craig Kelly there’s only really been one candidate for the role: the great Terje Haakonsen, who has been (as a recent Burton ad put it) ‘snowboarding’s conscience’ for two decades. Terje’s peerless riding record, combined with gestures such as boycotting the 1998 Olympics and the near universal respect he commands among snowboarders, would seem to make it a cert sponsors such as Burton continue to recognise his value to the brand and sport as a whole.
As we’ll see though, in the ruthless snowboarding industry even a flawless personal pedigree such as this is no guarantee that you’ll be able to ascend to the level of legendary board-riders like Slater, Hawk or Curren. For that, you will need truly understanding sponsors…