Debate Features

Last lift: Urban Snowboarding

Published in Whitelines Magazine Issue 95, February 2011

Words: Guy Chapman

Anyone who has seen Dan Brisse and Cale Zima’s recent parts in Now/Here will undoubtedly been blown away by the extraordinary images of them sailing over fences, onto ledges and across huge roof gaps. Like a real life Tony Hawk videogame, the scale of the tricks – and their urban setting – is truly mind-blowing. Some will inevitably dismiss their antics as not being ‘proper’ snowboarding, but in my opinion, if you’re strapped in (ornot, Noboard fans) and having fun, you’re snowboarding. But has this particular branch of riding all got a bit out of hand? Are the risks these riders are now exposing themselves to too great? Have we pushed things a jib too far?

Dan Brisse, Photo: ANDY WRIGHT

The fact that snowboarding is inherently dangerous shouldn’t be news to anyone reading this mag, and urban riding in particular has always had more than its fair share of ‘consequences’, as our pond side peers so deftly put it. In 2003, legendary director Mike ‘MackDawg’ McEntire opened Shakedown with a quote proclaiming that, “What is expected from a pro snowboarder in this day and age I consider to be inhuman. I have the utmost respect for this crew and anybody else pushing the sport to new limits.” JP Walker then kicks off the film proper, starting with him explaining (over some fairly graphic shots) how he had “got pretty broke off this year. Nothing too serious though, until I woke up in the hospital with a broken jaw and all my teeth missing.” Uncomfortable viewing, and that’s before the Montell Jordan soundtrack kicks in.

If an industry veteran like McEntire thought the demands placed on pro snowboarders in 2003 was inhuman, what would he make of today’s rail scene, with bungee ropes, tow-ins and gaps the size of car parks? Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I get the same sinking feeling watching Now/Here as I do during the opening scenes of a Casualty episode (“It’s ok Mum, I’ll just get the barbecue going with this petrol”). It feels like an accident waiting to happen, and my concern is that what was once an unpleasant tumble down some concrete steps is now a high speed splat into a concrete wall. Clearly, these riders are highly skilled, super experienced and know what they are doing – as far is it possible to know what you’re doing whilst breaking new, and very dangerous, ground. I like to think they have a team physicist to hand plotting trajectories, calculating speeds and adjusting for wind, but I suspect preparations involve little more than a licked finger in the air, a quizzical look and a, “Hmm, fifty mph?”

As snowboard fans, we are at least complicit, if not partly responsible for, this escalation. If you’ve bought this magazine you’re participating in the classic trick-exposure-sponsorship cycle that beats at the very heart of the snowboard industry. Progression is integral to snowboarding, and as riders we are endlessly fascinated by the next big thing. My own personal progression, however miniscule, is why I keep strapping in year after year. The difference between me and the pros, however, is if I scurry off with my tail between my legs when I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, the worst I can expect is a good natured teasing from my mates. After scoping, prepping and assembling camera crews, you have to wonder to what extent Brisse, Zima and the like feel they can then turn around and say, “You know what, I don’t really feel like jumping a house today.” They might have the best jobs in the world, but it’s worth remembering that these are jobs nonetheless. Brisse and Zima are marketed on their urban shred credentials(and yes, it feels horrible thinking of them in such commoditised terms) so if they back away from this style of riding, for better or worse, someone else will step up. No shots for them means no sponsors, and no sponsors means they’re back paying to shred with the rest of us punters.

Is this the natural progression of urban riding, or are we all guilty of supporting an Evel Knievel sideshow that’s destined for tragedy?

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