Words: Paul Bourdon
The Renaissance (noun) : the period of European history between the 14th and 17th centuries when there was a new interest in science and in ancient art and literature especially in Italy
: a situation or period of time when there is a new interest in something that has not been popular in a long time
: a period of new growth or activity –Merriam Webster
From French for “rebirth”…
Something special is happening in snowboarding. You can see it in the edits from crews across the globe. You can see it in shapes from Spring Break, Arbor, Burton, Jones, PowderJet, and Gentemstick. It’s playing itself out at events like the Dirksen Derby, and the Holy Bowly. Snowboarding is waking up from its corporate X Games hangover and rediscovering itself by looking at the past, when the emphasis in the sport wasn’t on triple corks and gold medals; but rather creativity, style and individuality. In a word, back then the emphasis was on freedom.
If you started snowboarding a couple of years ago, you might not be aware of the cultural shift that is taking place, but if you’re a crusty old dude like me, what you’re seeing should stoke you out. It’s not that I long for the “good ‘ol days,” I simply yearn for authenticity. I look for what’s real. Snowboarders in leather pants sponsored by Harley Davidson, and doing ads for Gillette aren’t authentic. I get that those guys are just trying to make a living from doing what they love, but do they have to be so soul-less about it?
The original renaissance period in Europe began in Italy and sparked artistic and cultural revolutions whose influences are still felt today. Prior to the renaissance, perspective didn’t exist in art. Polymaths like Da Vinci and Michelangelo re-defined what was possible in art and science. It was a time of educational and political reform and a resurgence of learning based on classical sources.
A similar thing is happening in snowboarding today. Like all movements the snowboard renaissance started slowly and hasn’t happened all at once.
If you were to ask what kick-started the snowboard renaissance, it would be hard to look past the Robot Food movies of the early 2000s. At a time when tricks were becoming more technical and contests were becoming more hyped and corporate, the Robot Food guys stepped back and dared to ask the question, “what happened to just having fun with your buddies?” The Robot Food trilogy of films stepped away from the “pack as many bangers into 40mins as possible” formula and instead favored style and fun as the foundation for the movies. They didn’t just make you want to get out and try that back rodeo 9, they made you actually want to go snowboarding with your friends. Those films were fun, plain and simple.
The Robot food movies gave younger riders inspiration to get creative with their riding. You wanna backflip a 3-stair set? Go for it!!! You wanna 50-50 across the top of 15 warehouse palates? Go for it!!! You just wanna straight air over a drop and make some nice looking pow turns a la Travis Parker in ‘Lame’? GO FOR IT!!! Of course the technical stuff was still there too; but the emphasis had changed and snowboarding benefitted. Within just a few years, more people began to question whether the X Games and the Olympics were actually good for snowboarding. Many people that began riding in the early and mid 90s shared Terje’s views regarding the Olympics and a backlash against ‘gymnastiboarding’ sparked debates over which was more rad: a double cork 1080, or a smooth back 1. Of course no clear consensus has ever been reached. Still, the idea that soul and style were just as important as technical wizardry led the snowboarding community to look back upon itself and its past to see where are we taking things and if aerial snowboarding was really the definition of progression we were after. Big name competitive pipe riders like Kazu Kokubo, Jake Blauvelt, and others walked away from the pipe and began to return to freeriding on natural terrain.
This growing segment of pros returning to natural terrain pushed board designers to start offering their riders highly-specific, highly-functional shapes meant to destroy natural terrain in deep snow. Burton released the Fish in 2002 sparking a shape revolution that is still taking place. By looking back at the functional shapes developed to ride pow before snowboards were even allowed on chair lifts, designers had stumbled upon an almost forgotten market segment: the all-mountain freerider. Sure there were ‘all mountain’ shapes available between 2002-present, but they were essentially just bigger park boards with a directional flex pattern. It wasn’t until boards like the Fish and Malolo were released that designers were able to start to step outside the ‘popsicle stick’ box and start playing with more ideas for what kind of shape works in a snowboard.
Always an artist, Corey Smith. http://springbreaksnowboards.com/
That spirit of innovation and experimentation is alive and well today in snowboarding. Renaissance men like Corey Smith (Spring Break) and Taro Tamai (Gentemstick) are leading the shape revolution by putting shapes out there that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but are also a blast to ride in almost any conditions. Take a look at the offerings at from nearly every manufacturer at this year’s tradeshow and it’s safe to say we’re in the midst of a paradigm shift regarding snowboard design.
Bet our forefathers never thought to add wild animals to snowboard events! Josh Dirksen.
Certainly the most important aspect of the snowboard renaissance is the re-birth of snowboard culture. We are beginning to take our sport back from those who wish to exploit it. We as snowboarders are saying “fuck you” to the mainstream just as we did in the 80s and 90s. This backlash is expressed in events like the Holy Bowly, Gerry Lopez Big Wave challenge, and the Dirksen Derby, which step away from traditional competitive formats in favor of accessibility and self-expression.
If you are reading this, you have a stake in snowboarding’s future. You are part of the renaissance. We don’t need the support of companies who don’t care about snowboarding to survive. We need the support of companies and individuals who believe in the spirit of snowboarding. The re-emergence of legends like Jamie Lynn, Brian Iguchi, and Chris Roach emphasize this point. Meanwhile crews like the Yawgoons, Jupiter People, Warp Wave, and the Lot Lizards embody this movement with a renewed focus on not only progression, creativity and style; but a DIY soul that harkens back to the classic period of riding during the mid 90s.
Some argued that having the mainstream spotlight shine on the sport was good for it, and for a time snowboarding’s popularity exploded. As fate would have it, this growth was not sustainable and left some questioning “Has snowboarding lost its edge?”
Snowboarding has not lost its edge.
Sure the numbers in some jackass’s financial ledger may suggest that snowboarding is in decline, but we’re just trimming the fat. This era is arguably the most exciting time to be a snowboarder since the golden era of the mid 1990s. We are in the middle of a snowboard renaissance and the course we are poised to take moving forward has the perspective of the past to guide it in a direction that we as snowboarders should be proud of.
If you can ride it, ride it. Photo: Sean Callaghan, ICKS.