So far this season, Best Ever has covered tricks that have played important roles in defining snowboarding’s style and driving its technical progression. From Romain’s cab 9 to Devun’s switch backside 180, these tricks are seen as benchmarks in our sport’s development, and a memorable meeting of talent and terrain. But what of the tricks that we don’t still use to measure a rider’s technical ability or style, the tricks that history remembers less favourably - are they any less worthy? The answer is no, which is why this month we are looking at the snowboarding equivalent of a leper: the frontside rodeo.
It’s probably best to start at the beginning of this trick’s particular story, because it is very unique. It is one of the few tricks that can legitimately claim European citizenship, and despite a meteoric rise to prominence it did not stand the test of time. Indeed, in pro snowboarding terms, the frontside rodeo is all but extinct.
As with most hybrid tricks it is almost impossible to say who did the first rodeo, but if I was a betting man I’d have the house on one of the following names: Daniel Franck and David Vincent. While their attitudes and style were polar opposites (Franck applying himself to halfpipe competition, Vincent exploring his mind with the help of mushrooms) they did have something in common. Both came from gymnastic backgrounds and were blessed with natural poise and incredible power-to-weight ratios. It is this that leads me to the conclusion that these two riders came up with the rodeo first… that and the fact that I saw David Vincent doing them in Sainte Foy in early ’96, and Franck had them on rails that summer at Mt Hood. The key is, Franck and Vincent both had low centres of gravity and were natural spinners frontside or backside, and at the time everyone took off their toes for both rotations. As the quest for bigger frontside spins started, these two gymnast/snowboarders started cranking their toe edges into take offs like GS racers, and at some point the ‘rodeo cork’ was born.
This beautiful off axis rotation that allowed the rider to lay out midair with the board above their head - facing away from the landing - was crowned with the fact that you could spot the landing even before you reached the apex of the jump. At a time when the majority of people still got their fix from print media it was captivating to see on the page, and in 1996, once word got out, everyone wanted it in their bag of tricks. Predictably, the immediate ripples were felt closest to the epicentres of its creation. Across the valley from Sainte Foy in Les Arcs, Youbi was perfecting a stalefish variation that reached the public domain in a magazine and provoked a lot of head scratching as to how he had achieved such an incredible position in the air. Round the corner in Val d’Isère, Gumby was experimenting by applying it to big mountain terrain (with success and failure in equal measure) and across the pond, Franck’s Mt Hood demonstration of the trick saw the likes of Tom Gilles, Dave Downing, Kevin Jones and Chris Englesman pick up the mantel and milk the rodeo for their video parts. Meanwhile, in the UK Duncan Carr was stomping them on dryslope and making them look good. ‘97 was the heyday for the frontside rodeo.
By ‘98 Peter Line had done a backside rodeo, and frontside rodeos were old news. Snowboarding was progressing so quickly that the frontside rodeo was left behind, and while it was still evident in the late 90’s, the advent of flat, heel edge frontside spins sounded the death knell. Most tellingly, although it was never really openly debated, there was also an air of huck about the trick; elite echelons of the snowboard world saw the frontside rodeo as a poor man’s excuse for technical freestyle, a stigma that younger generations perhaps picked up on.
With such a short time in the spotlight, the frontside rodeo really belongs to its creators. Not having to compete against anyone post ‘98 has saved Franck and Vincent’s legacy on the trick, and while I personally witnessed David’s first efforts mouth agape, he was unable to commit his genius to film and thus the Best Ever title belongs to Daniel Franck. Soak it up! No matter what the trick Nazi’s say it is a wonderful trick that is effectively snowboarding’s equivalent of a museum piece. That is, unless you bump into Jon Weaver in Mayrhofen, he’s got a banger of a 7 up his sleeve if you ask him nicely.