I heard an interesting conversation with a friend recently that got me thinking. We were talking about a well-known up-and-coming ripper (OK, it was Jamie Nicholls) who’d just won a big inner city rail contest. Looking at the coverage, he’d been killing it all day and had deservedly taken home the pay cheque and the kudos that goes with the biggest, most high-profile win of his fledgling career.
You’d think it was all good, but my friend saw things differently. The problem? The fact that he’d been wearing a helmet during the contest. For this skeptical onlooker, this wasn’t on at all.
“He’s wearing a helmet while riding rails! The other guys aren’t wearing helmet. Skaters don’t wear helmets when they’re hitting handrails. Why the hell is a snowboarder?”
At the time it was just a boozy argument about the usual snowboarding rubbish. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that, in today’s current snowboarding climate, it’s a debate that throws up any number of talking points.
The first one can be summed up in two words: Kevin Pearce. I wonder what he’d think about somebody suggesting that anybody wearing a helmet in a competition was less credible, core or deserving of victory? I’d sure be interested to know. At the time of writing, Sarah Burke has just died from traumatic head injuries, despite the fact that she was wearing a helmet. In light of these two incidents, are we really going to start telling pro kids they can’t wear helmets because it essentially means they’re less cool than skateboarders? To some, it would appear so.
The other thing that springs to mind is the fact that, for most kids these days, riding while wearing a helmet is actually pretty normal. For them, the idea that wearing a helmet might be in any way uncool or not core went out of fashion with the step-in binding*. Personally, there are plenty of things I find completely weird about snowboarding these days, from that frankly bizarre tall T trend from the other year to the fact that Nike make snowboarding boots that I am actually considering wearing one of these days.
But that’s what happens and how it has been since the dawn of time. Things evolve. Change occurs. To paraphrase the great Douglas Adams, if you’re under twenty, any new development like this is completely normal. If you’re in your twenties, it’s vaguely strange but pretty cool and with any luck you might be able to make a career out of it. If you’re over thirty, it’s nothing more than evil proof that things aren’t as good as they were back in your day and that modern life is total, utter rubbish. As Adams put it, ‘Apply this to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are’.
All that aside, what is really interesting about this story to me is what it reveals about attitudes at the core end of snowboarding. Which is that even now, in 2012, some snowboarders STILL have an inferiority complex when it comes to skateboarding.
I mean, maybe it’s just me, but if you were going to pick out one fundamental difference between skateboarders hitting handrails and snowboarders hitting handrails, it wouldn’t be the fact that this one snowboarder wore a helmet at a rail contest one time. You’d probably pick the rather more glaringly obvious difference: that a snowboard is stuck to a rider’s feet, while a skateboard isn’t.
Or you could pick another random difference. Like the fact that skateboarders don’t tend to build little snow ramps or use weird pulley systems in order to get onto rails in the first place. Whereas at most inner city rail comps and in plenty of videos, snowboarders do exactly that.
The point is that short of hitting handrails with a noboard or a snow skate, there’s not really any way around the fact that snowboarding is basically easier than skateboarding. It’s one reason why skateboarders think snowboarding is a bit of a joke. No amount of telling an eighteen year-old kid who’s just flung himself down a flight of stairs for a crowd’s enjoyment that helmets are wack is going to change that.
Personally, I’m thinking it’s about time we accepted (maybe even celebrated) the fact that snowboarding – whether hitting a rail or riding a half pipe – is fundamentally different to skateboarding. And that there might even be certain advantages to this state of affairs. After all, having the thing attached to your feet (or maybe even wearing a helmet) means the sport can progress in weird and wonderful ways that skateboarding can’t match. Check out Jed Anderson, above. Here’s a kid who can skate, is absolutely killing rails on a snowboard – and he’s wearing a helmet. Guess he didn’t get the memo either.
Having the thing attached to your feet also means snowboarders can experience certain fundamental board-riding pleasures our skate cousins will never get to experience. Like what? Er, like the powder turn. How about that one? So which is better now?
Sure, maybe you personally think that in the wider standing sideways scheme of things, skateboarding is always going to be fundamentally gnarlier and more credible. You might even be right. But that’s OK. After all, as a certain group of pro riders have been saying a lot recently, we are snowboarding. We’re different to those other guys.
Shouldn’t we just accept that and get on with it?
*For any kids scratching their head at the phrase ‘step-in binding’, yes brands like Burton did try to market them. Certain top pros even wore them. Even on handrails.