OK, here’s a question for ya. Snowboard history geeks will love this one. What do David Benedek, Jim Rippey, Reto Lamm, Marko Grilc, Terje Haakonsen, Stefan Gimpl, Kevin Pearce and Ingemar Backman have in common?
Yep, they’ve all won the legendary Air & Style competition – still probably the most prestigious big air comp in the world – at some stage over the last 20 years.
So why is this news now? Well, because all of those mentioned above were gathered together tonight, possibly for the first time ever, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this venerable competition.
The occasion was the Burn Style Session, a special one off event to celebrate the 20th birthday of the Air & Style on the eve of the main competition in Innsbruck.
But such was the hype surrounding the night – and the size of the crowd that all-time rider list attracted – that you’d have been forgiven for thinking this was the main event.
In afternoon practise, the big guns of snowboarding past were throwing down alongside the big guns of snowboarding present. Seb Toots cab doubles would be followed off the kicker by Mike Basich’s straight airs.
Devun Walsh’s signature no-grab BS180s were backed up by Jamie Lynn’s legendary methods. And while some of the young guns were clearly training for the comp tomorrow, others were just enjoying the chance to throw down.
As the crowds filed in for the evening session, anticipation was building. And MC Henry Jackson – despite suffering from a miserable bout of food poisoning – did an amazing job of whipping them into a frenzy.
There were too many incredible tricks to mention them all, but here are a few: Arthur Longo going absolutely massive on a backside 7, possibly the most stylish ever; Iikka Backstrom rejecting grabs altogether in favour of an enormous shifty; Terje Haakonsen throwing a double poke method followed by a one-footed ride up the enormous Burn can; Gigi Ruf hitting rails; Jamie Lynn drifting miles to the right and eating shit.
There was a moment – after Grilo had been crowd the most stylish man on the planet for a frontside rodeo and a double wild-cat backflip – where the organisers appeared to loose the crowd a bit.
A lengthy presentation speech about the Air & Style trophies – the Rings of Glory – sounded like something more suited to a Tolkien convention than a snowboard event. There were jeers and a bit of singing from the 6,000-odd people.
But it was short-lived. And by the time the riders who’d won the event more than once – an exclusive club consisting of Terje, Ingemar Backman, Jim Rippey and Stefan Gimpl – started getting on stage to collect their commemorative rings, everyone was cheering again.
A special welcome was reserved for Austrian local Stefan Gimpl, the only dude to win the contest three times.
The man known as “the Gimp” may not not have been the raddest rider, or the most down with the kids, even at the peak of his career, but this was his event. He ruled it for three years between 1999 and 2001.
And despite the fact that he’s a short, smiley guy, the response the crowd gave him tonight – on appropriately epic night of celebration for an epic event – was a cheer fit for a king.