Progression. Progression, progression, progression... I have had a problem with this word of late. For starters, it’s everywhere, as if those saying it/plastering it on slogans/using it as a description of their latest technology are worried it if they don’t keep repeating it as a mantra it might stop happening! But it’s not just the ubiquity of the word. It’s what it implies – that people are worried about it and the way it’s going. And, to my mind at least, we shouldn’t be.
People talk about triple corks, and wonder if the Torstein and McMorris brigade are reaching the limits of feasible advancement. People talk about rails, and how many kinks Dan Brisse’s knees can absorb before they collapse under him. People talk about lines and how there can’t be many gnarlier lines to ride than the ones Xavier, Jezza and others have already ridden in predominantly penguin-inhabited countries. But should we really be stressing about it? As the oh-so-clichéd “progression of man" hoodies donned by Val d’Isere-holidaying students (“..but, wait for it, yah, the last guy in the line, yah, wait for it, is a snowboarder!!") remind us, evolution happens gradually, over time. A mutation here, a genetic tweak there, an extra 270 here, the removal of a high-back there. And anyway to me, a lot of that talk is kind of beside the point. Because for the vast majority of us those questions are irrelevant. We’re never going to be doing that kind of stuff are we? It might be hard to admit, but most of us are (to a greater or lesser extent) punters. (Deep breath, suck it in – accept it, it’s basically true). However, just because we should stop worrying about the progression of the elite, doesn't mean we shouldn't think about our own progression - what each and every one of us can do, day-in, day-out to improve and push our sport, whatever level we are at.
One of the benefits of being 28 going on 69 (weeyhe... wait, urgh) is that I am starting to really think about my riding and think about it in an analytical manner. For the last 10 years I have just gone riding and tried new tricks, techniques or lines relatively blindly. I have landed some and landed on my head with others, and generally I’ve had a lot of fun doing so. But I have also fallen into the classic trap: if I nail something, I end up doing it over and over and over again because it feels frickin’ awsum. If I fuck it up, I worry about who saw me, think about how much it hurt and then don’t try it again. This has lead to two main things, namely 1) A modest bag of tricks, and 2) Boredom. But recently, as a fully proper growed up person I have realised that there is a pretty simple solution to both: Work harder.
“What, work?" I hear you say, “Isn’t snowboarding all about having fun?" Well yes it is, but hear me out. My new approach is not only a shit-load more fun than those two words might make it look, it also makes up for the gradual shrinking of balls that old age has brought (metaphorically speaking of course). Landing stuff after first or even a couple tries is wicked, I’ll admit. You feel good that you thought it through for two seconds, went for it and came up smelling of roses. But if you don’t nail it then just hucking it again and again without thinking about it is not gonna change much. Copying ‘trick tip’ sections of mags might help, but it won’t solve everything. Because snowboarding is lot about how you feel when you’re riding, and how you visualise something.
Thinking about your riding, I have found, plays just as much part in improving as having cajones akin to two medicine balls in a hammock.
So my approach (and it’s hardly revolutionary I know, but it’s made a difference to me) is to break a new move down and think clearly about everything I’m doing. If I don’t land (or land sketchily, or flap around in the air like a dying fish) I follow the mantra of try, think and adapt. I try something. I then think about the individual moves I’m making and the consequences they might be having. I then adapt my technique to might counter-act any problems I’m having. Why am I making a slight toe-side carve before popping? Where am I going to land if I carry on in the direction I take off in? How am I going to make your board base flat against that rail? Simply thinking about body position and board manipulation, I have found, plays just as much part in improving as having cajones akin to two medicine balls in a hammock.
And here’s the thing, I have found that the satisfaction of finally nailing something after multiple try, think, and adapt cycles is even more rad-iculous than if it was effortless. If you don’t believe me, watch any online ‘behind the shot’ video where the pros messes up a bunch of times before stomping the shit out of something. Those cheers you hear? They’re there for good reason, and often have more to do with how much work the rider put into the shot than the actual sheer technicality or impressiveness of it.
Having said all this, I’ve also found it pays to split your riding time up. Being an obsessional little snow nerd who can work away like a twat until they dial the exact technical board angle to take off from, doesn’t make you fun or fun to be around. People like that should be confined to their own private training facilities (ahem) and learning when to chill on that aspect and return to some fun old favourites during a park session is a skill in itself. I’m not talking about wimping out and saying you can’t do it, but going away, loosening up and getting some distance under your p-tex will relax you and let the ride frustration simmer down. It can do a lot to restore your confidence, and confidence (as everyone will have told you since the age dot) is key. If you do that and then go back and make that switch backside spin/gnar pillow line/hardway-270-into-the-jaws-of-the-kinky-beast your proverbial lady-pooch nine times out of ten you’ll find your previous hard work will have made a difference.
The Helgasons may take the piss out of "studying" triple corks, but talking to them it's clear that they think about their tricks.
I am aware that this has ended up sounding more like a lecture on technical Teutonic snow coaching rather than the informative British essay on progression that I started out with. But here is where I put it all into context. The way I see it, if everyone that gets on a snowboard thinks of something they want to achieve that day, that week or in the next year and goes out and aims for it with just a little considered effort then the sport as a whole will continue to progress. Thousands of collective, hardworking, thinking fun-bots, smashing up hills across the globe will bring progression; so (as I said earlier) let’s not worry about the bigger picture too much or pontificate on “where it is all going." Let us applaud the pros and industry that are coming up with new tricks, new spots and new lines, but also let’s make our own contribution, lets work hard at what we want to achieve. We need to remember that it is all just a bit of fun but so long as we are all trying to hit reach our own small goals we will keep on keeping on. Amen.