Eddie the Eagle is a legend. People normally think of him as a laughing stock – that goofy-looking bloke who entered the Olympic ski jump on a whim and came a distant last sporting spectacles and a moustache. Indeed, to many he is the epitome of the heroic British failure, and if he’s remembered fondly by the nation it’s in a patronizing kind of way – the same way we remember the Sinclair C5, or that elephant that shat in the Blue Peter studio. But to me he is a legend. In a sport when most kids start jumping at around 7 or 8 years old, and peak in their late teens, Eddie – a former plasterer from Cheltenham – didn’t even start till he was 28. He’d only been skiing for two years before he went to the ’88 Games in Calgary, was 20 pounds heavier than the average competitor, and had practiced back in England by jumping double decker buses. He had a dendex slope in his backyard with a small ramp, and no sponsors. That’s pretty damn hardcore. If you’ve ever stood at the top of one of those terrifying ski jump run-ins you’ll know exactly what I mean.
All well and good, you might say, but what’s that got to do with snowboarding? Well for me, he sums up everything that’s different about being a British rider. By rights we shouldn’t really be snowboarders. It’s not like skating where you can grab your deck any time of the day and head out into the streets. Us snowboarders are forced to wait, often for months on end, for a snatched trip to the snow – only to come back to reality with a bump when we find ourselves picking up the bags in Stansted or Luton. Even those of us who work in resorts all winter will normally endure a long, dry summer away from the mountains. But the thing is, we make the best of it. My mate Ceri lives in a small house in the suburbs of Manchester. He spends his evenings leaping around on a trampoline in the garden practicing rotations, and his days in the local snowboard store (where he’ll often be found strapped into a spare board in his trainers, jibbing the bench in the boot-fitting area). In the true spirit of Eddie the Eagle, he’s currently working on plans for a backyard rail. Most Friday nights, Ceri will drive the length of the M62 to the indoor slope in Castleford, where he sessions a strip of real snow approximately 150m long, with a whopping vertical descent of 40m.
Despite these obvious limitations, us Brits are getting better at snowboarding every year – as this issue of White Lines can testify. It includes a round-up of the action at the British Championships, where the standard of riding pretty much blew me away. We’ve also interviewed the makers of the latest UK movie, The Playground, who believe some of our homegrown riders are getting as good as the foreign pros. As it happens, they’ve spent the last season living in a giant house in Austria where – with familiar eccentricity – they constructed a mini park in the garden. If it’s true that there’s a revolution afoot, it really does look like it’s this contagious enthusiasm that’ll open the door. Just as British skaters like Geoff Rowley honed their talents on the dodgy paving of Liverpool and Edinburgh before taking America by storm, maybe it’s the bodge-job rails and ever-increasing snowdomes that will breed our first bona fide superstar? We’re never likely to produce a big mountain freerider in the Jeremy Jones mold but a JP Walker… why not? To give us the best chance of success, the people in charge of the indoor slopes would do well to learn from their European equivalents in Holland and Belgium. We sent a crew indoor veterans to check them out, and received tales of perfect kickers and imaginative set-ups upon their return. Read all about their trip later in this issue.
Whatever and wherever you like to ride, no doubt an idle summer spent watching England lose the football has got you chomping at the bit for your next trip. One thing’s for sure, it’s been too damn hot – bring on the snow!