Snowboarders have the reputation of being downhill daredevils, and they seem to enjoy the same panache as surfers. In fact, because their sport is new, while surfing is relatively old, they also carry with them the image of adventurer. It has been described by many as a rush, not unlike that of skiing, but with the added attraction of novelty.
In fact, in addition to its place as a new sport in world competitive sport, snowboarding has racked up a justifiable reputation for danger. A JOPERD study (2003) calculated the number of injuries per 1,000 times an athlete participates in a specific sport activity over the course of a year in order to determine the highest injury rate. Not surprisingly, boxing, with 5.2 injuries per 1,000 exposures, racked up a higher rate than participants in any other sport. Also not surprisingly, snowboarders and tackle football players tied for second with 3.8 injuries per 1,000 exposures, higher even than the toothless horde of hockey players whose injury rate rang in at 3.7 injuries per 1,000 exposures.
Proving that snowboarding really is more dangerous than alpine or downhill skiing, that sport rang in at a mere 3.0 injuries per 1,000 exposures.
By way of contrast, the JOPERD study chronicled the safest sports. There were baseball at 1.8 injuries per 1,000 exposures, basketball at 1.9 injuries per 1,000 exposures, and wrestling at only 1.4 injuries per 1,000 exposures.
It is apparent, then, that snowboarding truly is as dangerous as it looks, thereby attracting only the most daring of athletes, whether professional or amateur. And, according to the JOPERD study (2003), it is truly much more likely to cause injury than its warm-weather counterpart, surfing; surfing produces only 1.7 injuries per 1,000 exposures.
The demands of the sport itself include speed, skill and coordination, according to Biff Wayne Clark, a 18-year-old pharmaceutical executive who adopted the sport after finding skiing too boring. He also thought the clothes were cooler (Morgan, 2004).
While snowboarding, as an international competitive sport, is fairly new, in fact, the first snowboard-like piece of equipment was made in 1929 by M.J. Burchett also called Jack. He cut a long, wide shape of plywood and secured both feet to it with some clothesline and horse reins (snowboarding2 Web site). Shortly after that, surfing became known in the United States (beyond Hawaii), in the 1930s. However, it would take until 1963 for the first true snowboard to be developed. Tom Sims, and eighth-grade student, created what he terms a “Ski Board” for a class project (snowboarding2 Web site).
That did not immediately become today’s snowboard. In 1965, Sherman Poppen invented a toy for his children that he called The Snurfer; it consisted of bolting two skis together. However, perhaps the fact that his invention became locally popular, even to the point of Poppen organizing Snurfer competitions (snowboarding2 Web site), helped spur the eventual popularity of the equipment.
By the 1970s, a ‘sport’ known as ‘traying’ was popular at East Coast colleges in winter. Students would take cafeteria trays and sit on them to slide down slopes of hilly campuses in the snowbelt (personal communication). One of them, Dimitrije Milovich, got the idea, in 1970, to stand on the tray. A surfer, he began to develop snowboards based on surfboard and ski technology (snowbaoarding2 Web site). Milovich called his snowboard “winterstick” and was written up in the March edition of Newsweek.
The drive toward bona fide snowboards was taken up by Jake Burton Carpenter, who began making snowboards with steam-bent wood or fiberglass.
In 1977, Mike Olsen built a snowboard in woodshop in high school. By 1984, however, he was immersed in snowboards and quit college to form a corporation, Gnu, to make snowboards. The magazine Powder published an article about the new snowboards and the freestyle movement took off (snowboarding2 Web site).
Even before that, however, in 1982, the first International Snowboard Rae was held outside Woodstock, Vermont. According to snowboarding2 Web site, “The goal of the race appeared mostly to be ‘survival’ because the race consists of a steep icy kamikaze downhill run, called ‘The Face’ (snowboardigng2 Web site).
This element — raw danger — seemed to have formed the substrate for the sport, even after it became more a freestyle event than a race per se. In 1985, the appearance of the first snowboarding magazine seemed to support that concept; its name was Absolute Radical, later changed to International Snowboarding (snowbaording2 Web site).
A year later, Regis Rolland, a French snowboarder, starred in the movie “Apocalypse Snow,” an even that launched snowboarding in Europe, resulting in the creation of championships such as the one at St. Moritz in Switzerland (snowboarding2 Web site).
In 1994, snowboarding was recognized by the International Olympic Committee and became an official Olympic sport in 1998.
Proving that snowboarding is both a demanding sport and one not for the fearful, a first-person account in Combat Edge, a military magazine, offers an insider’s look at what snowboarding is really like.
The author, Abraham Lustgarten, describes his own typical amateur experience:
Maneuvers like face plants, front flips, back flips, cartwheels, butt flops, and headstands aren’t rad new acrobatics. They’re some of the clumsy maneuvers I somehow manage to perform every time I strap on my snowboard — and they hurt. I’ve learned never to underestimate the ability of a snowboard to coax my body into violent contortions and strange episodic wipeouts. Statistically, snowboarding is no more dangerous than skiing, but somehow the impact of a fall always seems more sudden, harder, and less forgiving.
Admitting that snowboarding is risky, however, he recommends taking steps to decrease chances of serious injury or death while “carving your single-track autograph on the slope, your body swaying like a new-age dance when you find that melody of balance and rhythm” (Lustgarten 2001).
Lustgarten’s advice is:
Follow the Buddy System” because often, snowboarders fall face-first into a snow hole or lose control and smack into a tree; often, only a buddy can free the snowboarder or summon help.
Know Your Limits.” Lustgarten notes that almost all ski and snowboarding injuries result form excessive speed and loss of control. That can happen more easily in unfamiliar conditions or heavy snow, or in bad weather. Steep slopes can also contribute to increasing danger. However, fatigue and crowds can also sap a snowboarder’s strength or focus and result in injury or death.
Lustgarten recommends evaluating the environment for all these factors, and above all, avoiding cockiness. Applying the correct skills to the appropriate terrain is also a key tactic for staying alive while pushing the limits. “According to the National Ski Patrol more than 75% of ski area deaths are the result of advanced skiers and snowboarders losing control while pushing the limits of intermediate terrain” (Lustgarten, 2001).
Tune your gear.” Lustgarten advises keeping edges sharp and bases waxed for help making critical turn and for sliding safely over ice patches. Adjusting bindings to match conditions and your own weight and ability is crucial, too. “According to the National Ski Patrol, a skier’s risk of tearing their Anterior Cruciate Ligament or ACL is about the same as a division one college football player. Skiers are 365 times as likely to tear a knee ligament than non-skiers. Tuning your equipment may be the thing that keeps you walking next summer” (Lustgarten, 2001).
Dress appropriately.” While Clark noted he adopted the sport partially because of the cool clothing, serious snowboarders, like Lustgarten, layer their clothing, so they can strip down to stay cool in the hot sun or pile up if the weather turns angry. Lustgarten advises waterproof gloves or mittens because snowboarders often find their hands touching the show; goggles and sunglasses protect against UV rays and blowing snow, and sunscreen is not for sissies, it’s for those who want to continue snowboarding until they are old and gray, but unwrinkled and skin cancer-free.
Camel up.” Lustgarten proves snowboarding is ‘cutting edge’ by referring to staying hydrated and well energized by the instruction Camel up. Fluids help a snowboarders’ body adjust to changing altitudes and prevents sickness, headaches and pulmonary edema that can result from changing altitudes for unprepared athletes.
Wear a helmet.” While snowboarders have resisted this essential safety equipment, speeds that exceed 50 mph have changed many minds about it. Lustgarten says, “If you like to ski or snowboard the trees and the steeps, then a brain bucket is only common sense” (2001).
While snowboarders often use commercial areas, well-designed and employing safety patrols, many still prefer the rigors of the backcountry. Lustgarten advises taking a cell phone along, and acquiring advanced knowledge of snow conditions that would allow avalanche analysis. Safety gear such as shovels, transceivers and first-aid kits are also beginning to accompany snowboarders to the outback.
Skiing is wimpy in comparison
Snowboarding in fresh powder is like floating through whipped cream, according to one 20-year veteran of the ski slopes who left his skis behind after only one snowboarding experience. He describes the “sheer joy of swooping down the slope on one board instead of two” (Davidson, 1994). Davidson was, obviously, an early adopter. Despite its dangers, ski instructors say snowboarding is easier to learn than skiing. Its rhythmic moves are described as “downright liberating. No hard boots, no poles, no crossed tips: just you, the board and a giant frozen wave” (Davidson, 1994). Better still, snowboards “excel in warm conditions that can be difficult or even hazardous for skiers” (Davidson, 1994).
Balance, and the ability to lean forward, bend your knees and stretch out your arms are basic. Leaning to adjust body position, mainly with sinking and rising movements, operates the board. The ability to take a fall is crucial; according to ski patrols, the most common snowboard injury is a sprained wrist, which is why many snowboarders wear wrist protection. Once a neophyte is over the first day of snowboarding, however, the risk of injury decreases dramatically; 75% of injuries occur on day one (Davidson, 1994).
The typical snowboarder
There probably is no typical snowboarder. Because it is easy to learn, it attracts people beyond youth. Because it allows access to wild natural beauty, at attracts outdoors adventurer types. Because it is a new and dangerous sport, it attracts daredevil types. In short, snowboarding is a sport that can be, and is, enjoyed by a wide variety of people, despite the fact that surfer-looking, well-muscled young men are still the poster boys for the sport.
Davidson, B. (1994, Feb.) Never too old to shred – snowboarding.
Sunset. Retrieved 11 November 2005 from www.findarticles.com.
Injury rates in sports. (2003) JOPERD — The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 74(9), p. 9. Retrieved 11 November 2005 from www.questia.com.
Lustgarten, A. (2001, Nov.) 101 Winter Sports – skiing and snowboarding. Combat Edge. Retrieved 11 November 2005 from www.findarticles.com.
Morgan, C. (2004, Feb.). Avid snowboarder lives for downhill adventures. Black Enterprise, 34(7), p. 143. Retrieved 11 November 2005 from www.questia.com.
The history of snowboarding. Retrieved 11 November 2005 at http://www.snowboarding2.com/history.php
According to the JOPERD study, it actually is more dangerous than skiing.
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