Can Surfing Save Snowboarding?
And/or what surfing can learn from snowboarding.
There have been studies suggesting that snowboarding is declining in popularity while skiing — yes, that skiing, the one with the poles and the tight garments and the Swedes — is all the rage amongst the younger generation of people who are cold.
I have read articles on the subject. Most of them feel as though they were written by reptilian ski overlords wearing Patagonia t-shirts and North Face jackets and Patagonia beanies and socks who approach life with the specific breed of arrogance found only in people who appreciated classical music as early as high school.
However, there is science to support their claims. The science is that the general public is less inclined to spend money on snowboarding, so the folks who work in that industry are having a harder time putting food on their tables periodically.
They say one of the main culprits of the sport’s decline is the inability for participants to age with it. When snowboarding first surged in popularity, it was rage-filled, edgy and cool then it morphed into a do-a-1080-or-GTFO mainstream phenomena. Makes sense why an angst-free 43-year-old with bad knees might not feel like they can relate.
Now, the good news: that’s changing.
There has been a movement in snowboarding and you may call it purist if you insist. Said movement is less about choreographed Olympic Gold runs announced by men with spiked hair and more about finding good snow in cool places and riding the natural terrain of the mountain as best you can. In other words, it’s getting surfier.
I talked to a dear friend, professional snowboarder Bryan Fox, about this. He recently put out a short film called Yesterday that exemplifies the cultural shift. Bryan surfs — a lot of pro snowboarders do, it seems — and he even put a wave in the clip. The wave is on a longboard and yes, of course, we all want to make fun of him for that (Hey Bry, sick glide bro), but I have seen him get properly barreled and do carves that Pancho Sullivan himself would look at and murmur, yeah, that was decent. He’s legit. I vouch.
Here are a few snippets of our conversation.
“Riding natural terrain is real spur of the moment. You have to be acting moment to moment — you can’t plan what’s going on. You have these instances where you’re like woah, I can’t believe that worked out.”
“One of the coolest things about surfing is that a 70-year-old can have as much fun with it as a 12-year-old. Snowboarding is finally evolving in the way that you can enjoy it without having to attempt these crazy physical exploits. It’s getting simpler, more like surfing, and you can have a great time just riding a snowboard down a mountain no matter how old you are.”
“We had this whole generation where the best people were these weird athlete prodigies. They might have had a snowboard on their feet, but what they were doing was closer to gymnastics than anything else. I’ll be interesting to see what happens in surfing with wave pools. Maybe there will be a generation of jocks and professional surfing will get really far away from the actual culture of surfing. But if that happens, it’ll probably just ignite the free surf side even more — that’s exactly what happened in snowboarding.”
In essence, surfing might just have the simplicity snowboarding needs to save itself from Shaun White, the X-Games and various reptilian forms. But in the end, maybe we can learn a thing or two from our friends on mountains. And yes, I am looking at you, WSL.