Words: Sean Miller
Our scene is dead. The smell of death is distinctive; like rotten red wine or soured meat, it is instantly recognisable and nauseating. Bizarrely, both riders and industry figures seem reluctant to acknowledge anything is even wrong. What was once a failure to evolve and challenge our sport has slipped into a state of ignorance, stagnation and now, I fear, rot.
Specifically, I am referring to the lack of professional development and opportunity given to our scene’s serious competitive snowboarders. I’m not talking about the need to hook up the masses with sponsors (there are plenty of ‘team riders’) I’m talking about our lack of intent to turn UK talent into global competitors.
In terms of facilities, the UK is possibly a world leader. Our country has six fridges, countless dryslopes and dedicated freestyle sessions around the country, all of which are accessible year round. There are arguably more riders in the UK than ever, and our younger ‘sponsored’ riders aged 13-16 are a match for any of their Euro or Yankee counterparts. But without a system in place to develop that talent, what prospects await them? None. For the majority of UK riders, once they graduate past their sweet sixteenth they enter an elephant’s graveyard away from the rest of the competitive snowboard world, never to return. Financially they are stunted and crippled, and the chances of success are very limited.
There is simply no clear structure, support or viable aspiration for emerging UK snowboard talent. British-based snowboard media and journalism has shrivelled to an all time low, while no brands or third party companies have taken a serious approach to producing a dedicated UK snowboard movie since the dissolving of Lockdown Productions back in 2007. Considering our snowboarding scene is supposed to be full of creative and forward thinking individuals, things look distinctly barren.
On the flipside, perhaps the riders aren’t pulling their weight? Maybe they’re not aware of the opportunities or duties that should be a consequence of being a professional athlete? It’s also possible that arrogance has partially blinded them to their own need to improve (big fish, small pond syndrome) or maybe UK riders just don’t have the desire to succeed? Chances are they see snowboarding as a temporary cool status and not as a platform for a realistic career. After all, if you’re being paid peanuts – and so are all your peers – why take it seriously?
Or, just maybe, the riders are subject to inadequate brand management, which sees them governed by unqualified or poor team managers, who themselves don’t have either the skills, willpower or budget to see their athletes truly succeed? If this isn’t the case, and team managers do care and invest in their riders, then why are so few British snowboarders transferring onto the global scene?
Whichever way you look at it, current British ‘professional’ snowboarding is in a sorry state, and the responsibility to induce positive change is a burden the scene must collectively share. Brands and riders need to take themselves seriously as independent representatives in the global snowboard community; snowboard teams need to be appropriately managed, with real investment and positive direction; creative video collaborations and other media projects need to materialize, and they need a platform for broadcast. This is undoubtedly our scene’s darkest hour – let us rage into the dying of the light.
If the general consensus in response to my argument is that professional riding should be primarily about carefree fun and enjoyment, then let’s slam the fucking casket shut on UK snowboarding now and say no more about the matter.
If, on the other hand, our scene does have any aspiration left within it, then we need to actually see it living and breathing. We need action. The onus is now yours. The death of our ambition surely only confirms the death of our scene.
Sean Miller is the former presenter of the UK-focused ‘Shred, Lies & Videotape’ podcasts.
Share your thoughts on this debate in the comments below